Thursday, October 17, 2013

NASA: Comet ISON Intact While Plunging Towards Sun

NASA scientists say that a new image of the sunward plunging comet ISON suggests that the comet is intact despite some predictions that the fragile icy nucleus might disintegrate as the sun warms it. 

In the above NASA Hubble Space Telescope image taken on October 9, the comet's solid nucleus is unresolved because it is so small.  If the nucleus broke apart then Hubble would have likely seen evidence for multiple fragments, scientists say.

In the image, the coma or head surrounding the comet's nucleus is symmetric and smooth. According to NASA, this would probably not be the case if clusters of smaller fragments were flying along. Also, a polar jet of dust first seen in Hubble images taken in April is no longer visible and may have turned off.

Comet ISON was inside Mars’ orbit and 177 million miles from Earth when photographed. The comet will pass closest to the Sun on November 28, 2013 and is predicted to make its closest approach to Earth on December 26, 2013 (at a distance of 39.9 million miles.)

Article Source and Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)