NASA’s Deep Impact Space Probe Takes Images of Comet ISON [Videos]
NASA’s Deep Impact Space Probe has sent back images of the recently discovered comet ISON.
The comet was discovered in September 2012 by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevsky and Artyom Novichonok, and was named after their night sky survey program, the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON).
Currently Comet ISON is just a faint point of light moving through the darkness of space, somewhere near the orbital pattern of Jupiter.
This for now, but during the later months of 2013, October, November, and December, Comet ISON has the potential to be visible with the naked eye, even in broad daylight as it moves past our Sun.
Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab, and Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program, part of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), have been discussing how far away the comet currently is and what sort of interstellar light show it may present to us when it finally gets here in late fall.
“Comet ISON is a sungrazer. The orbit of the comet will bring it very close to the sun, which we know can be a spectacular thing,” said Battams, adding “But for an object at such extreme distance, it is actually very bright.”
“The comet’s glow suggests that [it] is spewing gas and dust from a fairly large nucleus, in the 1 to 10 km range” says Matthew Knight of the Lowell Observatory.
The potential for a spectacular interstellar light show all depends on Comet ISON’s flyby through the atmosphere of the sun, at little more than 1,000,000 km from the surface of the sun. If the comet survives the sun’s radiation it could emerge from the other side glowing almost as brightly as the moon, and would be visible for a small amount of time next to the sun during broad daylight.
Some in the media have called ISON the “Comet of the Century.”
Don Yeomans of the JPL thinks the naming of the Near Earth Object is a bit premature. “I’m old enough to remember the last ‘Comet of the Century’,” reminding us that comedian Johnny Carson had made fun of the comet on the Tonight Show. “It fizzled. Comets are notoriously unpredictable.”
“Comet ISON has the potential to live up to the hype, but it also has the potential to do nothing.” Said Battams.
The comet may have a tail that strings along behind it, similar to Comet Lovejoy, which flew a similar path in 2011, and Comet ISON would be a most spectacular visual experience if it were to partially break up.
“If Comet ISON splits, it may appear as a ‘string of pearls’ when viewed through a telescope,” Battams indicates. “It might even resemble the famous Comet Shoemaker – Levy 9 that hit Jupiter in 1994.”
Whatever happens, whether Comet ISON melts and burns out in its orbital path through the Suns atmosphere, or if it survives to give us all the light show of the century has yet to be determined, but keep a watchful eye, you won’t want to miss this.
Watch this video from ScienceAtNASA titled, ScienceCasts: Comet of the Century.
Watch this video from NASA/JPL titled: NASA’s Deep Impact Spacecraft Images Comet ISON
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