Comet ISON joins us this year from the Oort-cloud and is barreling toward the Sun for the very first time. The formal designation of the comet is C/2012 S1 representing a non-periodic (“C”) object discovered in “2012” in the second-half of September (“S”) and was the first comet discovered during that half-month (“1”). To help the name roll off the tongue a bit more smoothly, ISON represents where the discovery is officially attributed at the Russia-based International Scientific Optical Network.
Discovered last year during a series of observations between December 28, 2011 and into 2012 until its official announcement on September 24, 2012, Comet ISON has been watched closely since first being spotted between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. NASA’s many tools on active duty have had their go at Comet ISON including Deep Impact, Swift, Hubble, Spitzer, the Mars team, STEREO, Juno, MESSENGER, SOHO, as well as many ground-based observatories and amateur astronomers.
What will be ISON’s Fate?
Earlier in the year, Comet ISON was anticipated to be the comet of the century, but as it approaches closer to the Sun’s radiation, its fate is up for grabs. While many of us in the United States are filling our bellies with a bounty of goodness, November 28, 2013 will be the day that decides Comet ISON’s future. It might dwindle away to oblivion under the Sun’s forces — as is just now being reported at Spaceweather.com that astronomers in Spain are observing a change in the composition of the comet nucleus, possibly indicating that it is already breaking apart (read more). It might also break up into bits of comet as its nucleus becomes increasingly unstable, or — and what so many are hoping for — it will survive the fly by of the Sun and will emerge so bright that it will be observable on Earth during the daytime.
If Comet ISON does survive, then the month of December will offer many opportunities before dawn to make your own observations in the Northern Hemisphere looking toward the East. The animated infographic below provides a visual daily map to help you point your binoculars in the right direction and witness a comet making its first pass through our solar system.
For more information, videos, and images check out NASA’s Comet ISON Watch
UPDATE: November 28, 2013 @ 11:58 pm CST
During many Thanksgiving Feasts today, and some of the ensuing surges of shopping around the country, Comet ISON completed its spin around the Sun. The initial reports and visuals appeared to suggest that the nucleus broke up and the out-gassing tail fizzed away. The following SOHO time-lapse image shows an incredible pass of Comet ISON and a definite reduction in the intensity of the tail:
However, the fate of Comet ISON might not be settled just yet. Scientists are frantically reviewing data to determine what is going on — apparently with the media breathing down their necks! — because there is a hint of a re-ignition for Comet ISON or some other celestial surprise that will certainly offer new insight and data into the amazing functioning of our Universe. New science is happening right now, sloshing through leftover turkey and microwaved mashed potatoes and gravy.