Comet Hartley 2, officially designated 103P/Hartley, will pass by the earth at an unusually close distance later this month, providing a treat for professional and amateur astronomers alike.

A handful of comets pass by the earth every year. Hartley 2 will pass by the Earth on Oct. 20, just 11 million miles away at its closest distance, according to NASA scientists.

"We are imaging the comet every day, and Hartley 2 is proving to be a worthy target for exploration," Mike A'Hearn, NASA EPOXI principal investigator from the University of Maryland, College Park, said in a statement.
Comet Hartley 2 will make a close approach to the Earth on October 20.
 (Courtesy of NASA/JPL)
Comets are composed primarily of dust, water, rock, ice, and frozen gases like carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and carbon monoxide.

Hartley 2 was discovered on March 15, 1986, by astronomer Malcolm Hartley using images from the UK Schmidt Telescope Unite in Australia.

The comet takes between six and seven years to make a full orbit around the sun. It was observed in 1991, 1997, and 2004.

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