NASA Gets Early Picture Of 'Comet Of The Century' Due This Year - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

NASA Gets Early Picture Of 'Comet Of The Century' Due This Year

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YAHOO.COM - A NASA spacecraft has captured its first photos of comet ISON, an icy wanderer that some scientists say could dazzle as a "comet of the century" when it swings through the inner solar system later this year.

The photos were taken by NASA's Deep Impact probe and reveal comet ISON as a bright, dusty ball moving against a star-filled background. The spacecraft snapped the pictures on Jan. 17 and Jan. 18 from a distance of about 493 million miles (793 million kilometers).

Comet ISON has been the focus of much anticipation among scientists and stargazers because of its potential to put on a spectacular display in late November, when it makes its closest approach to the sun. Some forecasts predict the comet could shine brighter than the full moon. As of mid-January, the comet's tail was more than 40,000 miles (64,400 km).

Some projections state that comet ISON, which is officially designated comet C/20012 S1 (ISON), could shine extremely bright in the nighttime sky, possibly even rivaling the full moon. Whether the comet will meet expectations or fizzle out remains to be seen, but it has already become a target for NASA and amateur astronomers. [Photos of Comet ISON in Night Sky]

"This is the fourth comet on which we have performed science observations and the farthest point from Earth from which we've tried to transmit data on a comet," Deep Impact project manager Tim Larson, of the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement Tuesday (Feb. 5) "The distance limits our bandwidth, so it's a little like communicating through a modem after being used to DSL. But we're going to coordinate our science collection and playback so we maximize our return on this potentially spectacular comet."

The Deep Impact spacecraft has flown close by two comets, Tempel 1 and Hartley 2, and taken detailed observations of another — comet Garradd —before turning its camera eyes on Comet ISON. The spacecraft used its Medium-Resolution Imager to snap pictures of ISON during a 36-hour period between Jan. 17 and 18, NASA officials said.

Comet ISON was discovered in September 2012 by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok using a 15.7-inch (0.4-meter) telescope of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON), near Kislovodsk. The comet is most likely making its first trip through the inner solar system from the Oort cloud, a vast shell of icy objects at the outer edge of the solar system that extends one-third of the way to the nearest star, NASA scientists said.

 

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