Comet ISON’s Thanksgiving Journey Around The Sun To Reveal When The Solar System First Formed

Pristine matter of the Comet ISON originates from the earliest days of the formation of the Solar System

By Ajit Jha on November 23, 2013 4:58 PM EST

The Comet ISON began its journey well over a million years ago, in the Oort cloud, almost a light year away. Now, the comet has nearly reached the star which has propelled it forward for so long. On Nov. 28, 2013, Thanksgiving Day, the Comet is expected to finally sling shot around the sun.

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This is where the Comet's inward journey through the solar system will come to an end for either one of two reasons. The comet may break up and disintegrate from the combined heat and gravity of the sun. Or if intact it may turn around and speed out of the solar system never to return.

Scientists were intrigued when Comet ISON was spotted for the first time in September 2012 while it was 585 million miles away. Scientists are intrigued by the comet, first cataloged as C/2012 S1, not just because of its bright and beautiful appearance that was revealed as it came closer to planet Earth, but also because ISON is making its first trip into the inner solar system.

Because this Comet ISON's first trip, its top layer has not been eroded. Therefore the comet is comprised of pristine matter from the earliest days of the formation of the solar system. NASA's vast fleet of spacecraft and telescopes are constantly in the process of monitoring the comet to learn when and how the solar system first formed.

The Comet ISON will come under the radar of several of NASA's heliophysics observatories during the last week of its inbound trip. The comet will be viewed first by NASA's Heliospheric Imager instrument aboard its Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO). The comet will be observed through a coronagraph, producing images that block the brighter view of the sun itself in order to focus on the solar atmosphere, the corona.

The images will come from the combined performance of STEREO and the joint European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Thereafter, the comet will be viewed for few hours by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) during perihelion when the Comet is closest to the sun. During perihelion, an X-Ray Telescope on the JAXA/NASA Hinode mission will be able to view Comet ISON for about 55 minutes.

The different placement of all these observatories allow scientists to have different views of the comet. From the SDO's view, the comet will appear to travel above the sun. The SDO instruments will point away from the center of the sun to get a better view for three hours on Nov. 28. The STEREO-B view will be the only one to see the comet in transit across the face of the sun. In addition to learning about the comet itself, the comet will be observed as a tracer to depict the movement in the solar wind and solar atmosphere.

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