Comet ISON Flight Path Animation

Comet ISON flight path

Animation of Comet ISON flight path. Individual image credit NASA. Animated GIF created by Jason H.

As you can see from this animation we are going to get an excellent view of comet ISON or the “Comet of the Century” as some have called it. Many thanks to Jason H. for creating this animation. The animation shows how comet ISON is predicted to pass out of the plane of the planets after its encounter with the Sun, (although from above it looks close to Earth, the side view however shows that it should be well above the plane of Earth’s orbit by the time ISON is on its way out. Recently there was some concern that it had broken into pieces but this turned out to be not the case, so there is still hope for a good show.

Read: Comet ISON intact, We may still get a good show 

If Comet ISON works out as expected, the STEREO spacecraft should have a spectacular view. The movie below shows the geometry of the STEREO Ahead (red) and Behind (blue) spacecraft during the passage of Comet ISON (orange). The top panel shows the view from above looking down on the orbital plane of the planets (the ecliptic plane), while the bottom panel shows the view from the side. Note that the comet’s orbital path is highly inclined to the ecliptic plane. As the comet approaches the Sun, it comes in at a fairly shallow angle, but leaves at a much steeper one, carrying it well above the ecliptic plane. If one only looked at the top-down view, it looks like the comet passes close to the Earth around the end of December, but the view from the side shows that this is not really the case