Hubble Video Shows Comet ISON Approach
July 2, 2013

New Hubble Video Showcases Comet ISON’s Approach To Sun

Watch the video "Hubble View Of Comet ISON"

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Comet ISON is on course to potentially light up our night skies in November as it makes a close pass by our Sun. However, we don't have to wait until November to get some cosmic eye candy to go along with our Independence Day festivities.

NASA released a new movie (see above) showing a sequence of Hubble Space Telescope observations taken over 43 minutes as the comet hurtles through space at 48,000 miles per hour towards the Sun. Comet ISON is captured in a time-lapse movie made from a sequence of pictures snapped on May 8, 2013.

During the short video, comet ISON travels about 34,000 miles through space, or seven percent of the distance between the Earth and the Moon. The skyrocket-looking tail in the video is really a streamer of gas and dust bleeding off the icy nucleus, which is surrounded by the comet's bright starlight-looking coma. The pressure of solar wind sweeps the material into a tail.

The comet warms as it moves in closer towards the Sun, making the rate of sublimation increase. Sublimation is a process similar to evaporation except that solid matter transitions directly into gas without first going through a liquid phase. As the comet gets closer to the Sun, it will get brighter and its tail will grow longer. When this happens, the comet could potentially become so bright it may be seen from Earth in broad daylight.

Recent released images from the Gemini Earth Observatory showed comet ISON is on course to produce an easily visible, brilliant view in our night skies in November. The series of images span from early February through May 2013, showing the comet's course towards our local star. The collected data has given scientists hints as to the comet's expected behavior and the potential for it to present a show this fall.

Researchers have warned that although predictions say the comet will likely put on a great show, nothing is a guaranteed.

"I'd be remiss, if I didn't add that it's still too early to predict what's going to happen with ISON since comets are notoriously unpredictable," said astronomer Karen Meech at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy (IfA).

Dennis Bodewits, an astronomer at University of Maryland at College Park, said this comet does have potential to become one of the brightest comets of the last 50 years.