by Alex Autin

Comet ISON Appears Still Intact


On November 21 Comet C/2012 S1, ISON entered the field of view of the HI-1 camera on NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) appearing to still be intact. NASA’s twin STEREO probes, which are designed to observe the sun, can see sun-diving comets even when the glare becomes intense. The above image shows Comet ISON joining Earth, Mercury, and Comet Encke in the field of view of STEREO-A’s Heliospheric Imager. (Comet Encke is a periodic comet which completes its orbit of the Sun once every three years, the shortest period of any known comet.)

Comet ISON’s grand entrance!

‘The dark ‘clouds’ of stuff you see coming from the right are density enhancements in the solar wind, and these are what are causing all the ripples you see in comet Encke’s tail,‘ explains Karl Battams of NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign (CIOC).‘I can pretty much promise you that we’re going to see ISON’s tail doing that in a couple of day’s time, but on a much larger scale!’

Battams also points out that Comet Encke and Comet ISON are converging for a photogenic close encounter. ‘No they’re not going to hit each other, in reality they are millions of miles apart, but as seen from the STEREO-A spacecraft, they are going to get very close! We are probably a couple of days away from seeing two comets almost side-by-side in that camera, with long tails flowing behind them in the solar wind. To say that such an image will be unprecedented is rather an understatement.’

WOW!! To recap – Comet ISON is still plunging toward the Sun and brightening as it heads for its perilous close encounter on November 28th. Because the comet is moving into the glow of dawn, it will soon be impossible for cameras here on Earth to track it. Fortunately, however, NASA’s fleet of solar spacecraft are able to follow the comet into the glare. In the  next few days STEREO-B, the Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), and the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will join the hunt, providing continuous views all the way to ISON’s perihelion, or closest approach to the sun, on Thanksgiving Day. If ISON survives this encounter it should put on a nice show during the first week of December!

Above Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/STEREO/Karl Battams/CIOC


Image credit: NASA/MSFC/Aaron Kingery

Comet ISON shows off its tail in the above three-minute exposure taken on November 19, 2013 at 6:10 am EST, using a 14-inch telescope located at the Marshall Space Flight Center. The star images are trailed because the telescope is tracking on the comet, which is now exhibiting obvious motion with respect to the background stars over a period of minutes. At the time of this image, Comet ISON was some 44 million miles from the sun, 80 million miles from Earth, moving at a speed of 136,700 miles per hour.

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28 responses

  1. Looks like a sperm!

    November 23, 2013 at 9:23 am

    • LOL!! You just made me take another look, and yep – you’re right, it does! :D

      November 23, 2013 at 9:38 am

      • I don’t even want to extrapolate on that thought :)

        November 23, 2013 at 10:11 am

        • It’s ok John, I’ve already done that for you. :)

          November 24, 2013 at 6:20 am

  2. I like the way Encke waggled its tail. Isn’t it incredible how we can get these views? I love it. The recent brightening and this evidence make me a bit more hopeful ISON will survive and put on a beautiful show. So far so good.

    Thanks for this today, Alex. You do good work. :-)

    November 23, 2013 at 11:17 am

    • Woohoo!! Did Jim just say he was a bit more hopeful about ISON’s survival?!! Mr ‘Don’t Get Your Hopes Up’?! :D

      Actually, Jim, the brightening kinda had me concerned that the nucleus had fragmented, but even still I was, and still am, determined to ride ISON out – for better or worse.

      November 24, 2013 at 6:30 am

  3. that first video appears to be a race! … A Shiner Bock must be the grand prize.

    November 23, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    • A cold, icy, shiner bock, Frank. For that, I’m pretty sure I could out-run ISON even though it’s traveling at like 136,700 mph ;)

      November 24, 2013 at 6:33 am

    • Hmmm….my browser doesn’t support the graphics. That probably means I have to like, you know, update something…..

      November 24, 2013 at 6:34 am

      • Go lightly with the update stuff. Don’t do it now just before ISON events. It is a 3D rendering of the Crab Nebula region. You can live without it.

        Previous comment…I am hopeful…but reality has struck before with other comets that were ‘of the century’ variety and weren’t. :-(

        This one will be different. :-)

        November 24, 2013 at 6:59 am

        • I always go lightly with updates, to the point where my computer has to be screaming in agony before I click on ‘Update Now’. ;)

          My opinion on ISON’s ‘of the century’ status is that it is, and will be, what it is – AND if it does epically fail, I best enjoy the hell out of it now! Which I am!

          November 24, 2013 at 7:18 am

          • Your attitude is good. Make the best of what you’ve got. Keep that up. It will take you far and help keep you happy. :-)

            November 24, 2013 at 10:32 am

  4. Your posts are filled with brilliance.

    November 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    • Well, they’re filled with something Richard. There are some who would use a word other than ‘brilliance’ – but I like your term ;)

      November 24, 2013 at 6:36 am

  5. Hard to wrap my head around this…so cool! I can feel ISON gathering it’s forces to play “Chicken”…GO ISON GO!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 24, 2013 at 9:02 am

    • LOL!! I love that – comet ISON plays chicken with the Sun. If it wins, Suzanne, you best get that camera and telescope ready!

      November 24, 2013 at 9:23 am

      • Do you think there will be time?!

        November 24, 2013 at 11:34 am

        • Yep, I do. I mean, if it survives.

          November 25, 2013 at 5:22 am

  6. Two comets side by side with their tails blowing in the solar wind. (sounds like a good intro for a sci-fi novel!)

    November 25, 2013 at 10:03 am

    • I would read that! As is always the case though, Chica, fact is cooler than fiction (but, yeah, some sci-fi comes really freakin close!!)

      November 25, 2013 at 8:12 pm

  7. So hoping to see ISON. We’re told 28th is going to be the best date but today has gone very cloudy but we hope…. Thank you for another brilliant post!. I date my interest in all things spacey to be postAlex. PreAlex, the stars were just the stars! :)

    November 27, 2013 at 9:58 am

    • Hi Sally, on tomorrow (Nov 28) ISON will reach perihelion, or its point of closest encounter with the Sun. If (a BIG if!) it survives this encounter and reappears from around the Sun on its way back out into space it should then put on a show for us in the pre-dawn hours in December.

      November 27, 2013 at 12:06 pm

      • Thank you for that, Alex. I was getting confused about when we could (hopefully) see ISON :)

        November 27, 2013 at 12:18 pm

  8. Just a question…. a website I was looking at to see where in the sky to be looking for ISON, said if the bright light we see is moving, it won’t be the comet – why is that when it is travelling at 136,700 mph? Sorry if that’s a really stupid question! :)

    November 27, 2013 at 10:02 am

    • No, this is a good question, and I don’t actually know the answer, but I’ll take a stab and say it may be because of its distance from us. Sort of like us being able to see the ISS move overhead, but can’t actually see the movement ofMars. We should however, again if it survives perihelion, be able to track ISON nightly as it makes its way back to the outer solar system throughout the month of December.

      November 27, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      • I’ll look forward to that – and your updates.Thank you :)

        November 27, 2013 at 12:34 pm

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