The Facts About Newly Discovered Comet ISON

Comet ISON as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope

Comet ISON was discovered in September 2012 by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok.  They are part of a night sky survey program called the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON).  The comet was named after this program.

Comet ISON has the potential to be one of the best comets this century!  There are a couple of reasons why.  The comet is fairly large.  Current estimates are that the comet’s nucleus is between three and four miles wide.  In addition, Comet ISON will fly by the Sun at about 700,000 miles above it’s surface.  This near encounter with the Sun should create a viewing spectacle for us here on Earth shortly after it encounters the Sun on November 28, 2013.

The Hubble Space Telescope imaged Comet ISON on April 10, 2013.  As you can see in the above image, the comet already has a large coma and an enormous tail.  This is somewhat surprising since the comet is still pretty far from the sun.  It is just inside the orbit of Jupiter at a distance of 386 million miles from the sun and 394 million miles from us here on Earth.

Hubble took this image in visible light and blue false color was added so you could see more of Comet ISON’s actual structure.

We’ll keep you updated as the comet approaches the Sun throughout the remainder of the year.

Credit: NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team

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