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The Hubble Space Telescope has captured unprecedented images of a comet breaking up as it approaches the Sun. Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann is a fragile chap, and is set for an Earth fly-by on 6 May.

Hubble Space Telescope Advanced Camera for Surveys image of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 fragment B on April 18, 2006. Photo: NASA

The space-glamour shot pictured shows several dozen "mini-comets" trailing behind each main chunk, associated with the ejection of house-sized lumps of surface debris.

Astronomers will be tracking the path of 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann over the next few weeks. They'll be looking to see if and how the fragments survive a trip round the Sun. ®

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