Comet Breaks Apart As It Passes By Earth

First Posted: Feb 16, 2017 03:23 AM EST

Breakups are not for couples post-lousy-Valentine's Day alone. It can also apply to comets.

Reports from said that Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann experienced its own breakup on its journey past the Earth. It is on its way towards the Sun beginning on the night of Feb. 12. Slooh members, using their company telescopes in Chile, witnessed the comet break into two pieces. However, it seemed to be the continuation of a process that was witnessed for the first time in 1995, and again 11 years later in 2006.

Slooh astronomer Paul cox shared that members were able to confirm the splitting of the nucleus of the comet and that they will continue doing so over the coming weeks. That is, if it even survives that long.

In the coming months, it is expected to face two of its greatest challenges for survival, first of which is the Sun. Cox explained, "This puts the comet's nucleus under tremendous stress from the Sun's gravitational forces-and it appears that this may have been responsible for carving up the nucleus in two."

If it survives the Sun, it will contend another challenge via the gas giant, Jupiter, which is known to chew up planets, thanks to its intense gravitational field. Comet 73P will come within 31 million miles of it, which, in space terms, is pretty near. "It certainly feels like it's only a matter of time before comet 73P is destroyed, disintegrating into a trail of cosmic dust," Cox went on, sharing that the end is nigh for the periodic comet.

Slooh has not been the only one observing the disintegrating comet, though. According to NASA, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer infrared space telescope will also be looking to observe Comet 73P. Report of where fragments of the comet are predicted to be found is also available on the official NASA website.

See Now: NASA's Juno Spacecraft's Rendezvous With Jupiter's Mammoth Cyclone

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