howl: Comet and stars, photographed by Hubble, 17th September 2000.
The comet, 14P/Wolf, can be seen at right (in the smaller square pane of Hubble’s field of view) appearing to move upward against the background stars.
14P/Wolf was discovered in 1884 by Maximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf, then only 21 years old, in an observatory built in his back garden. At the age of 25, Max Wolf earned his PhD from the University of Heidelberg, where he remained for a distinguished career in astronomy. With his frequent collaborator Edward Barnard, Wolf was a pioneer of astrophotography; published an early photographic star survey; and together discovered dark nebulae are interstellar dust clouds.
As well as several comets, Wolf and Barnard have the even rarer honour of a star named after them: Wolf 359, and Barnard’s Star; both red dwarf stars amongst the Sun’s nearest neighbours.
The comet has a Jupiter-crossing orbit, currently of 8.7 years; twice since its discovery (in 1922 and 2005) gravitational interaction with Jupiter has shifted the comet’s orbital parameters, and will do so again in 2041.
Image credit: NASA/ESA/STScI. Animation: AgeOfDestruction.