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Astronomers analyzing debris from a comet that broke apart last summer spied pieces as small as smoke-sized particles and as large as football-field-sized fragments. But it's the material they didn't see that has aroused their curiosity.

Tracking the doomed comet, named LINEAR, the Hubble telescope and the Very Large Telescope in Chile found tiny particles that made up the 2,000-mile-long dust tail and 16 large fragments, some as wide as 330 feet. But the telescopes didn't detect any intermediate-sized pieces. If they exist, then the fundamental building blocks that comprised LINEAR's nucleus may be somewhat smaller than current theories suggest.

The Hubble picture shows that that LINEAR's nucleus has been reduced to a shower of glowing "mini-comets" resembling the fiery fragments from an exploding aerial firework. This picture was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on August 5, 2000, when the comet was at a distance of 64 million miles (102 million kilometers) from Earth.

Object Name:

*Credit:* NASA [] and Hal Weaver (The Johns Hopkins University)

Fast Facts:
Technical facts about this news release: About this Object Object Name: Comet LINEAR; C/1999 S4; (LINEARLincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research) Object Description: Comet Distance : The comet's distance to the Sun at closest approach was 71 million miles (114 million km). About the Data Instrument: WFPC2; STIS Exposure Dates: July & August 2000 Exposure Time: ~ 2 hours Filters: WFPC2: F675W (R); STIS: F28X50LP Principal Astronomers: Comet LINEAR investigation team: H. Weaver and P. Feldman (JHU), M. A'Hearn (Univ. of Maryland), C. Arpigny (Liege Univ.), J. Bauer (Univ. of Hawaii), M. Combi (Univ. of Michigan), J. Davies (Joint Astronomy Centre), M. Festou (Observatoire Midi-Pyrenees), M. Keesey (JPL), P. Lamy (Laboratoire d'Astronomie Spatiale), C. Lisse (STScI), B. Marsden (SAO), K. Meech (Univ. of Hawaii), Z. Sekanina (JPL) , I. Toth (Konkoly Observatory) , G.-P. Tozzi (Arcetri Observatory), D. Yeomans (JPL).