Image Credit: NASA, ESA, SOHO – Video Editing: Babak Tafreshi (TWAN)
After failing to appear for Sun staring spacecraft at perihelion, its harrowing closest approach to the Sun, sungrazing Comet ISON was presumed lost. But ISON surprised observers yesterday as material still traveling along the comet’s trajectory became visible and even developed an extensive fan-shaped dust tail. Edited and processed to HD format, this video (vimeo, youtube) is composed of frames from the SOHO spacecraft’s coronographs. It follows the comet in view of the wide (blue tint) and narrow (red tint) field cameras in the hours both before and after perihelion passage. In both fields, overwhelming sunlight is blocked by a central occulting disk. A white circle indicates the Sun’s positon and scale. With questions to be answered and the tantalizing possibility that a small cometary nucleus has survived in whole or part, surprising comet ISON will be rising before dawn in planet Earth’s skies in the coming days.
Sungrazing Comet ISON reached perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun, yesterday, November 28, at 18:45 UT. The comet passed just over 1 million kilometers above the solar surface, a distance less than the diameter of the Sun. These two panels follow ISON before (right) and after its close approach, imaged by the LASCO instrument onboard the Sun staring SOHO spacecraft. Overwhelming sunlight is blocked by LASCO’s central occulting disk with a white circle indicating the Sun’s positon and scale. The bright comet is seen along its path at the bottom of the before panel, but something much fainter exits near the top of the after panel, potentially a dust tail reforming from the debris left from ISON’s perihelion passage.
Video Credit & Copyright: Copyright: Juan Carlos Casado (TWAN, Earth and Stars)
Explanation: Will Comet ISON survive tomorrow’s close encounter with the Sun? Approaching to within a solar diameter of the Sun’s surface, the fate of one of the most unusual comets of modern times will finally be determined. The comet could shed a great amount of ice and dust into a developing tail — or break apart completely. Unfortunately, the closer Comet ISON gets to the Sun, the harder it has been for conventional telescopes to see the brightening comet in the glare of the morning Sun. Pictured in the above short time lapse video, Comet ISON was captured rising over the Canary Islands just above the morning Sun a few days ago. If the comet’s nucleus survives, the coma and the tails it sheds might well be visible rising ahead of the Sun in the next few days or weeks. Alternatively, satellites watching the Sun might document one of the larger comet disintegrations yet recorded. Stay tuned!