Comet ISON getting closer, putting on 4th of July show

Hubble image of Comet ISON May, 2013

Hubble image of Comet ISON May, 2013
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Comet ISON is approaching the sun at 48,000 miles per hour. As it does the tail grows longer and brighter. This November it could reach naked eye visibility and be a spectacular site. It may even be visible during they day and be what some are calling the “Comet of the century”. “Comet ISON is a sungrazer,” explains Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab. “The orbit of the comet will bring it very close to the sun, which we know can be a spectacular thing.”


There have been several comets which could have put on a good show but ultimately did not. Comets are extremely hard to predict. “I’m old enough to remember the last ‘Comet of the Century”, says Don Yeomans of NASA Near-Earth Object Program.  “In 1973, a distant comet named Kohoutek looked like it would put on a great show, much like ISON.  The actual apparition was such a let-down that Johnny Carson made jokes about it on the Tonight Show. “It fizzled,” says Yeomans. “Comets are notoriously unpredictable.”

Comet ISON May 2013 with Scale.

Comet ISON May 2013 with Scale.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)


Video of Comet ISON May 2013.
ISON’s swift motion is captured in this time-lapse movie made from a sequence of pictures taken May 8, 2013, by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. At the time the images were taken, the comet was 403 million miles from Earth, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

The movie shows a sequence of Hubble observations taken over a 43-minute span, compressed into just five seconds. The comet travels 34,000 miles in this brief video, or 7 percent of the distance between Earth and the Moo

About the author

Recipient of many prestigious NASA Awards including the Exceptional Public Service Medal and the Robert H. Goddard award. Experience includes working for NASA, as a contractor, in satellite design, construction and operations. Expert in the satellite operations concepts and ground systems including command, control, and science data processing.