NASA's solar observing fleet to watch Comet ISON's journey around the Sun

Nov 22, 2013 by Karen C. Fox
Comet ISON entered the view of NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory on Nov. 21, 2013, where it can be seen with Earth, Mercury and comet 2P/Encke. Four NASA solar observatories will watch ISON on Thanksgiving week until it slingshots around the sun on Nov. 28, 2013. Credit: Karl Battams/NASA/STEREO/CIOC

It began in the Oort cloud, almost a light year away. It has traveled for over a million years. It has almost reached the star that has pulled it steadily forward for so long. On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 2013, Comet ISON will finally sling shot around the sun. Here its inward journey through the solar system will end—either because it will break up due to intense heat and gravity of the sun, or because, still intact, it speeds back away, never to return.

Catalogued as C/2012 S1, Comet ISON was first spotted 585 million miles away in September 2012. Scientists were instantly intrigued, not because spotting it so far away meant it might be very bright and beautiful once it was closer to Earth—though this may indeed turn out to be the case if it survives its trip around the sun—but because this is ISON's very first trip into the inner . That means it is still made of pristine matter from the earliest days of the solar system's formation, its top layers never having been lost by a trip near the sun. Along Comet ISON's journey, NASA has used a vast fleet of spacecraft and Earth-based telescopes to learn more about this time capsule from when the solar system first formed.

During the last week of its inbound trip, ISON will enter the fields of view of several NASA Heliophysics observatories. Comet ISON will be viewed first by the broad field of view seen by NASA's Heliospheric Imager instrument aboard its Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, Next the comet will be seen in what's called coronagraphs, images that block the brighter view of the sun itself in order to focus on the , the corona. Such images will come both from STEREO and the joint European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO. Then, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, will view the comet for a few hours during its closest approach to the sun, known as perihelion. The X-Ray Telescope on the JAXA/NASA Hinode mission will also be looking at Comet ISON for about 55 minutes during perihelion.

Comet ISON (Comet C/2012 S1) was still in one piece in this Hubble Space Telescope image taken on Oct. 9, 2013. A host of solar observatories will watch it slingshot around the sun Nov. 21-30 to see if it breaks up at that point or continues on intact. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

All of these observatories will have different views. STEREO-B will be the only one that sees the comet transit across the face of the sun. In SDO's view, the comet will appear to travel above the sun, and the SDO instruments will point away from the center of the to get a better view for three hours on Nov. 28. In addition to learning more about the comet itself, these observations can make use of the as a tracer to show movement in the solar wind and solar atmosphere.

The dates of viewings by these observatories are as follows:

  • Nov 21-28: STEREO-A Heliospheric Imager
  • Nov 26-29: STEREO-B coronagraphs
  • Nov 27-30: SOHO coronagraphs
  • Nov 28-29: STEREO-A coronagraphs
  • Nov 28: SDO
  • Nov 28: Hinode

Explore further: NRL-developed telescopes await the approaching comet ISON

More information: www.nasa.gov/ison

Related Stories

ISON comet has lost individual fragments

Nov 21, 2013

One or more chunks could have split off from the nucleus of comet ISON in recent days. Two wing-like structures in the gaseous environment of the comet, which have been photographed by a team of scientists ...

Comet C/ISON details emerge as it races toward the Sun

Oct 11, 2013

Scientists are unraveling more information on Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) as it continues on its journey toward the Sun. Comet C/ISON will skim 730,000 miles above the Sun's surface on Nov. 28 and has the potential ...

A six-minute journey to study Comet ISON

Nov 14, 2013

In an example of an extremely tight turnaround, a NASA-funded team has spent six months preparing for a mid-November launch to observe Comet ISON during a six-minute sounding rocket flight. The Far-ultraviolet ...

A new view of comet ISON

May 03, 2013

Here's a new image of Comet C/2012 S1 ISON, as seen on May 1, 2013 by Ernesto Guido and Nick Howes of the Remanzacco Observatory. They used the 2 meter La Palma Telescope. Their initial approximation of the ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

13 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

14 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

14 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Apr 16, 2014

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Chronic inflammation linked to 'high-grade' prostate cancer

Men who show signs of chronic inflammation in non-cancerous prostate tissue may have nearly twice the risk of actually having prostate cancer than those with no inflammation, according to results of a new study led by researchers ...