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The Path of Comet ISON

Comet C/2012 S1, better known as comet ISON, may become a dazzling sight as it traverses the inner solar system in late 2013. During the weeks before its Nov. 28 close approach to the sun, the comet will be observable with small telescopes, and binoculars. Observatories around the world and in space will track the comet during its fiery trek around the sun. If ISON survives its searing solar passage, which seems likely but is not certain, the comet may be visible to the unaided eye in the pre-dawn sky during December.

Watch the animations on this page to visualize ISON's voyage through the inner solar system, or build the paper model of its orbit to track the changing positions of Earth and the comet.

Like all comets, ISON is a clump of frozen gases mixed with dust. Often described as "dirty snowballs," comets emit gas and dust whenever they venture near enough to the sun that the icy material transforms from a solid to gas, a process called sublimation. Jets powered by sublimating ice also release dust, which reflects sunlight and brightens the comet.

On Nov. 28, ISON will make a sweltering passage around the sun. The comet will approach within about 730,000 miles (1.2 million km) of its visible surface, which classifies ISON as a sungrazing comet. In late November, its icy material will furiously sublimate and release torrents of dust as the surface erodes under the sun's fierce heat, all as sun-monitoring satellites look on. Around this time, the comet may become bright enough to glimpse just by holding up a hand to block the sun's glare.

Sungrazing comets often shed large fragments or even completely disrupt following close encounters with the sun, but for ISON neither fate is a forgone conclusion.

Following ISON's solar swingby, the comet will depart the sun and move toward Earth, appearing in morning twilight through December. The comet will swing past Earth on Dec. 26, approaching within 39.9 million miles (64.2 million km) or about 167 times farther than the moon.

The comet was discovered on Sept 21, 2012, by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok using a telescope of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) located near Kislovodsk.

Learn more about sungrazing comets.

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Other multimedia items related to this story:
     Comet ISON Approaches Perihelion (id 4017)
     Chasing Comet ISON (id 4098)
     Sun Grazing Comets as Solar Probes (id 11158)
More information on this topic available at:
http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/smallworlds/cometison.cfm
http://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/timeline-of-comet-ison-s-dangerous-journey/
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/swift/bursts/ison.html

Comet ISON is now approaching the inner solar system. Discovered last year, the comet remains unusually active for its distance from the sun. If current trends continue, ISON could rank as one of the brightest comets in decades when it makes its close approach to the sun in late November. This animation shows the comet's approach and departure from the inner solar system from various perspectives. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio Watch this video on YouTube.    Comet ISON is now approaching the inner solar system. Discovered last year, the comet remains unusually active for its distance from the sun. If current trends continue, ISON could rank as one of the brightest comets in decades when it makes its close approach to the sun in late November. This animation shows the comet's approach and departure from the inner solar system from various perspectives.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Watch this video on YouTube.

For complete transcript, click here.
Duration: 1.9 minutes
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This animation shows two views of comet ISON's path through the inner solar system.  The first is a view following the comet along its orbit.  The second is a view perpendicular to ISON's orbit. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio Watch this video on YouTube.    This animation shows two views of comet ISON's path through the inner solar system. The first is a view following the comet along its orbit. The second is a view perpendicular to ISON's orbit.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Watch this video on YouTube.

For complete transcript, click here.
Duration: 1.5 minutes
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Still of all four views of ISON orbital path.    Still of all four views of ISON orbital path.

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From now through October, Comet ISON tracks through the constellations Gemini, Cancer and Leo as it falls toward the sun. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Axel Mellinger, Central Michigan Univ. More of Axel Mellinger's images here .    From now through October, Comet ISON tracks through the constellations Gemini, Cancer and Leo as it falls toward the sun.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Axel Mellinger, Central Michigan Univ.

More of Axel Mellinger's images here.

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From now through October, Comet ISON tracks through the constellations Gemini, Cancer and Leo as it falls toward the sun. No Labels. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Axel Mellinger, Central Michigan Univ. More of Axel Mellinger's images here .    From now through October, Comet ISON tracks through the constellations Gemini, Cancer and Leo as it falls toward the sun. No Labels.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Axel Mellinger, Central Michigan Univ.

More of Axel Mellinger's images here.

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The Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope aboard NASA's Swift imaged Comet ISON (center) on Jan. 30, when it was located about 3.3 degrees from the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini. At the time of this 5.5-minute optical exposure, ISON was about 5,000 times fainter than the limit of human vision and was located 375 million miles (604 million km) from Earth and 460 million miles (740 million km) from the sun. Credit: NASA/Swift/D. Bodewits, UMCP    The Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope aboard NASA's Swift imaged Comet ISON (center) on Jan. 30, when it was located about 3.3 degrees from the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini. At the time of this 5.5-minute optical exposure, ISON was about 5,000 times fainter than the limit of human vision and was located 375 million miles (604 million km) from Earth and 460 million miles (740 million km) from the sun.

Credit: NASA/Swift/D. Bodewits, UMCP

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The Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope aboard NASA's Swift imaged Comet ISON (center) on Jan. 30, when it was located about 3.3 degrees from the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini. At the time of this 5.5-minute optical exposure, ISON was about 5,000 times fainter than the limit of human vision and was located 375 million miles (604 million km) from Earth and 460 million miles (740 million km) from the sun. Credit: NASA/Swift/D. Bodewits, UMCP    The Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope aboard NASA's Swift imaged Comet ISON (center) on Jan. 30, when it was located about 3.3 degrees from the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini. At the time of this 5.5-minute optical exposure, ISON was about 5,000 times fainter than the limit of human vision and was located 375 million miles (604 million km) from Earth and 460 million miles (740 million km) from the sun.

Credit: NASA/Swift/D. Bodewits, UMCP

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Short URL to This Page:http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?11222
Animation Number:11222
Completed:2013-03-11
Animator:Tom Bridgman (GST) (Lead)
Video Editor:Scott Wiessinger (USRA)
Producer:Scott Wiessinger (USRA)
Writer:Francis Reddy (Syneren Technologies)
Series:Narrated Movies
 Astrophysics Visualizations
 Astrophysics Stills
 Comet ISON's Journey into the Light
Goddard TV Tape:G2013-030 -- Comet ISON
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
 
Keywords:
SVS >> Comet
SVS >> HDTV
SVS >> Sun
SVS >> Hyperwall
SVS >> Heliophysics
NASA Science >> Planets and Moons
SVS >> Sungrazer
SVS >> Sungrazing Comets
Related Documentation is available:
Paper_Model_of_Comet_ISONs_Orbit.pdf
 
 


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Many of our multimedia items use the GCMD keywords. These keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation:
Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version 8.0.0.0.0

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