This July Fourth comet ISON, superficially resembling a skyrocket. The solar system is showing off some fireworks of its own. The comet is hurtling toward the sun presently at a whopping 48,000 mph. Watch the video… Image © NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
This time-lapse sequence of images from the Hubble Space Telescope shows comet ISON as it appeared on May 8, 2013. At the time the images were taken, the comet was 403 million miles from the Earth, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
The Hubble observations were made during a 43-minute span, and then compressed into a five-second sequence.
Unlike a firework, the comet is not combusting, but in fact is pretty cold. Its skyrocket-looking tail is really a streamer of gas and dust bleeding off the icy nucleus, which is surrounded by a bright star-like-looking coma. The pressure of the solar wind sweeps the material into a tail, like a breeze blowing a windsock.