We thank our lucky stars for the Comet ISON, which is passing the Sun for the holiday, to the delight of scientists and stargazers. ISON, also known as comet C/2012 S1, will pass the Sun at just 0.012 Astronomical Units (~1.1-million kilometers above the solar surface), which qualifies it as a Sungrazing Comet.
ISON’s perihelion event is on Thursday from 18:00 – 20:30 UTC (1:00 – 3:30 p.m. EST). Where peri means close, and helion means Sun, so the perihelion is the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Sun.
Comet ISON is a mass of ice and rock debris that is compared to the size of a shopping mall (think: where you go on Black Friday). There is potential for Comet ISON to either melt and dissipate due to its proximity to the sun, which would lessen its dramatic visual effect, or, if the comet remains intact it may provide better science such as comet light curve analysis and spectacular observations with the naked eye. The comet’s next steps are somewhat of a cliff-hanger. At last look, it appears to be avoiding meltdown and instead is weathering its journey as a sungrazing comet with some showy outbursts along the way. Potentially it is one of the brighter comets of the past hundred years.
Comet ISON is a new comet. It comes from the Oort Cloud that sits within our solar system in the interstellar space beyond our heliosphere, beyond our planets. ISON is having its first ever experience with the Sun’s immense gravitational pull and intense radiation.
NASA has requested a committee of cometary experts to be formed and coordinate an observing campaign, as we witness the vaporizing of pristine solar system material as it nears perihelion.
Join with the science community, NASA, and gazers to follow the latest status on Comet ISON on their websites and briefings via internet:
- NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign, their blogs, and the observation logs)
- Spaceweather.com realtime ISON image gallery — amateur photos
- Sun Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation (SECCHI) website
- Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) website
- Comet ISON News Twitter feed
- Bruce Betts – Planetary Society Director of Projects Twitter feed including Comet ISON (Random) Space Facts
- Nov. 28 at 17:45 UT / 9:45 PT: Solar Dynamics Observatory will off-point to view comet ISON
- Nov. 28 at 18:00 UT / 10:00 PT: NASA Google+ Hangout featuring Alex Young, Dean Pesnell, Karl Battams, and Phil Plait
- Dec. 2 at 17:00 UT / 9:00 PT: Google+ Hangout featuring Emily Lakdawalla, Alex Filippenko, and Padma Yanamandra-Fisher