For astronomers, locating things at great distances is part of the show, but sometimes our Solar System takes care of the heavy lifting by bringing interesting objects within the Earth's width of the cosmic hair. Comets are one of these types of objects, and in a new blog post, NASA shows some adorable (though slightly blurry) images of the brightest comet of 2018.
This special ball of ice and rock is called 46P / Wirtanen, and the images you see here were captured on December 13, when the comet reached approximately 7.4 million miles from our planet.
The image of visible light (above) makes the comet itself a little hard to see, but it is there within the brightest central region of the diffuse blue cloud. This cloud is a mixture of dust and gas that the icy object begins to eject as it approaches and approaches the Sun. It is this material that forms the iconic "tail" we all expect from comets.
In the infrared image (below) you can see more clearly a well defined nucleus. These images helped scientists study closely the comet and learn more about how sunlight affects these types of objects as well as clouds of debris flowing around them.
"Comet 46P / Wirtanen orbits the Sun once every 5.4 years, much faster than the 75-year orbit of the most famous Halley comet," NASA says. "Most of his passes through the inner solar system are farther from Earth, making this year's display particularly remarkable."
NASA and other scientific bodies around the world have many reasons to study comets, especially in the wake of new research and theories that comets may have been responsible for supplying large amounts of water to our planet in the distant past. If this was indeed the case, we may have comets to thank for our very existence.