Hubble brings faraway comet into view

Apr 23, 2013
Comet ISON may appear brighter than the full Moon around the time it approaches the Sun Nov. 28, but it is not yet visible to the naked eye. The Hubble Space Telescope snapped this image as ISON hurtles toward the sun at about 47,000 miles per hour. The image was taken in visible light, and blue false color was added to bring out details. Credit: NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team. This image was taken in visible light, and blue false color was added to bring out details.

(Phys.org) —The NASA Hubble Space Telescope has given astronomers their clearest view yet of Comet ISON, a newly-discovered sun grazer comet that may light up the sky later this year, or come so close to the Sun that it disintegrates. A University of Maryland-led research team is closely following ISON, which offers a rare opportunity to witness a comet's evolution as it makes its first-ever journey through the inner solar system.

Like all comets, ISON is a "dirty snowball" – a clump of mixed with dust, formed in a distant reach of the solar system, traveling on an orbit influenced by the of the Sun and its planets. ISON's orbit will bring it to a perihelion, or maximum approach to the Sun, of 700,000 miles on November 28, said Maryland assistant research scientist Michael S. Kelley.

This image was made on April 10, when ISON was some 386 million miles from the Sun – slightly closer to the Sun than the planet Jupiter. Comets become more active as they near the , where the Sun's heat evaporates their ices into jets of gases and dust. But even at this great distance ISON is already active, with a strong jet blasting off its nucleus. As these dust particles shimmer in reflected sunlight, a portion of the comet's tail becomes visible in the Hubble image.

This contrast-enhanced image of Comet ISON, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on April 10, 2013, shows dust particle release on the sunward-facing side of the comet's nucleus, the small, solid body at its core. The image was taken in visible light with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3. Blue false color was added to bring out details in the comet structure. Credit: NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team

Next week while the Hubble still has the comet in view, the Maryland team will use the space telescope to gather information about ISON's gases.

"We want to look for the ratio of the three dominant ices, water, frozen carbon monoxide, and frozen carbon dioxide, or ," said Maryland astronomy Prof. Michael A'Hearn. "That can tell us the temperature at which the comet formed, and with that temperature, we can then say where in the solar system it formed."

The Maryland team will use both the and the instruments on the Deep Impact space craft to continue to follow ISON as it travels toward its November close up (perihelion) with the sun.

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User comments : 5

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Aaron1980
1 / 5 (2) Apr 23, 2013
Hitching a ride on a comet. Comets are already moving at an incredible speed compared to rockets and engines we have. Why not fly to a comet as it comes by, hook on to it for a ride out and then rocket off at a distance to keep on going in a different direction at the speed acquired from the comet.
grondilu
5 / 5 (2) Apr 23, 2013
Hitching a ride on a comet. Comets are already moving at an incredible speed compared to rockets and engines we have. Why not fly to a comet as it comes by, hook on to it for a ride out and then rocket off at a distance to keep on going in a different direction at the speed acquired from the comet.


Because as you mentioned, they move at a very high speed. Ever tried to walk into a moving train?
Aaron1980
2.5 / 5 (4) Apr 23, 2013
we've already impacted a comet. Why not impact it with a robotic vessel that can take off from the comet after it gets a nice boost or a ride out?
Eoprime
1 / 5 (1) Apr 24, 2013
You need to bring your Rover down in one piece,
when to accomplish this your are almost at the same speed as the comet.
Nothing really gained afaik.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Apr 24, 2013
Why not fly to a comet as it comes by

Because
a) it might not be heading where you want to go. Space is big. MUCH bigger than you seem to think. This ain't the movies where you fly to Mars in a few hours.
b) to 'hitch a ride' you have to first get up to the same speed it has in order to attach to it. And if you're already at that speed (and direction) then there's no point in attaching to it in the first place, is there?
You will not 'acquire a boost' from a comet (unless you smack into one - and that won't do your craft any good)

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