ISON Slingshots Around The Sun On Thanksgiving

Comet ISON, NASA

Comet ISON, NASA

Comet ISON, NASA

Comet ISON is about to be out of view from Earth as it slingshots around the sun. The 3 mile wide chunk of primeval ice from the birth of our solar system will skim barely over the surface of the sun, just 1.1 million miles away, classifying it as a Sungrazing comet . In fact it is a large Sungrazing comet and as such is of particular interest. If the temperature doesn’t vaporize the rock and ice that make up the comet, the colossal gravity of our sun could well tear it apart.

Already astronomers think some pieces of the comet have broken off, creating wing-like structures and resulting in the brightening that has been observed in recent days. If ISON isn’t pulled into the Sun by gravity, and it’s moving pretty fast so there’s a good chance it might survive the close approach, then in December it’ll round the other side and possibly be even more spectacular than it has been.

To see Comet ISON the best thing to do is get in touch with your local amateur astronomers club or science museum. This is just the kind of thing that science museums, local observatories and astronomers clubs like to cooperate on. We drove out to a state park to get outside of the glare from the city and some very kind folks allowed us to look through the eye-piece of their gorgeous 8″ telescope that they had painstakingly set up and sighted on ISON already.

Mercury was gorgeous, ISON was amazing, we also saw Jupiter, Orion, Vega and the Pleadies. Sure we were up before sunrise and it was cold but a few mugs of hot chocolate or coffee and it was an adventure that everyone enjoyed. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime, especially since ISON has never been seen by our species before. Astronomers think this is the first time it has come into the inner solar system from the Oort cloud approximately 1 light year away and there is a good chance it’ll never be seen again by our kind. ISON has spent the last 4.5 billion years in the Oort cloud.

Even now there is uncertainty as to what will become of ISON. Will it survive Sungrazing our own star? Will it plunge into the stellar inferno? Will it survive only to be ejected from our solar system entirely? Or will it fly back out into the Oort cloud from whence it came and return again in 190 million years – 350 million years or more? Because no one knows what will happen when it slingshots around the sun, no one knows for certain what ISON’s ultimate fate is just yet.

ISON NASA Deep Impact Spacecraft

ISON NASA Deep Impact Spacecraft

Stargazing, comet watching, these are the kinds of things that families and communities can do together for very little money. Our local science museum had people on hand to talk about the comet and our solar system. Next time I’m bringing a couple dozen doughnuts to share.

The Latest News for Comet ISON

Hubble's view of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) on April 10, 2013. This image was taken in visible light. The 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

Hubble's view of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) on April 10, 2013. This image was taken in visible light. The 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

Hubble’s view of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) on April 10, 2013. This image was taken in visible light. The 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

NASA’s Hubble Telescope took an amazing shot of Comet ISON in April that shows its coma against the velvety backdrop of space. The coma is already approximately 3,100 miles across (approx: 4,988.97 km). The really mind boggling thing about this is that early measurements indicate that the nucleus that is producing this enormous coma is no more than 3 or 4 miles across (4.828 to 6.437 km).

There is some speculation that it could get as bright as the full moon come late November, early December after it skims a bare 700,000 miles (1,126,540.8 km) above the surface of the sun on November 28th during the swing around before heading back out of the solar system.

For more information and to keep track look to NASA’s website.

Nerdly News from NASA:Wave to Cassini Be An Extra on In Saturn’s Rings

This simulated view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the expected positions of Saturn and Earth on July 19, 2013, around the time Cassini will take Earth's picture. Cassini will be about 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away from Earth at the time. That distance is nearly 10 times the distance from the sun to Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This simulated view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the expected positions of Saturn and Earth on July 19, 2013, around the time Cassini will take Earth's picture. Cassini will be about 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away from Earth at the time. That distance is nearly 10 times the distance from the sun to Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This simulated view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows the expected positions of Saturn and Earth on July 19, 2013, around the time Cassini will take Earth’s picture. Cassini will be about 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away from Earth at the time. That distance is nearly 10 times the distance from the sun to Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

I love NASA. I really do. Astronomy has always fascinated me. One of the most beautiful pictures to come from NASA is the picture shot by Cassini in 2006 of Saturn backlit by the sun. I’m sure you’ve seen it before. Well on July 19, 2013 the Cassini spacecraft is going to take another photo of Saturn backlit by the sun and the Earth is going to be in the shot. A great deal of care must be taken when shooting a photograph like this because there is danger of blinding the cameras when looking back at the sun. Because of this pictures looking back towards the heart of our solar system are very rare. In fact NASA has only taken 2 of them. For this special third photograph NASA would like to make special by including all of us. The fine folks at NASA want us Earthlings to take pictures of ourselves waving at Cassini and send them to NASA via social media. You can read the details at the official NASA website.

Those who follow along on my blog will know that I’m also keeping track of an amazing movie coming out in 2014 called In Saturn’s Rings. They’re taking IMAX quality photos of Saturn and other objects taken by Cassini, millions of them, and creating a breathtaking real animation of what it would be like to go to Saturn. They also want your pictures of you waiving at Cassini and they want to put them in their movie. You can send your photos to their email at nfo@sv2studios.com

In Saturn's Rings Wave at Cassini Promo

In Saturn’s Rings Waive at Cassini Promo

Also keep an eye on comet ISON. And you can do that real time at this fantastic website: The Sky Live. ISON is a new visitor to the inner solar system.

Here’s the deal, and it is kind of a big deal; this November the solar system is putting on a show for us. A new comet will make its appearance in the fall and is called ISON, official designation C/2012 S1, named after the International Scientific Optical Network. According to NASA this is ISON’s first trip into the inner solar system. ISON was discovered in September of 2012 by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok. What’s amazing is that we only just discovered this comet less than a year ago.

ISON is swinging towards the sun right now and is expected to pass very close at its perihelion. Once it comes around the other side, say around December, it may be bright enough to be visible to the naked eye even through the light pollution of being in a city. There is some speculation it might be visible during the day. Astronomers are hesitant to make any promises because it’s impossible to tell what will happen when ISON goes around the sun but there is a good chance it could be huge.