Monday, January 25, 2016

Results From Comet ISON Observing Campaign Published

A series of digitally enhanced images showing the evolution of ISON’s coma morphology after an outburst event that occurred on Nov. 12, 2013. Notice the development of wing-like coma features approximately two days after the outburst.  Image credits: N. Howes and colleagues; Z.-Y. Lin and colleagues; D. Vogel; C. Pruzenski and colleagues; and E. Gomez and colleagues).

Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) had a very close approach to the Sun during November 2013 before it was destroyed by intense solar radiation. Comet ISON was monitored for nearly a year before its final demise. As the observing geometry of the comet was not ideal for continuous observations from a given location for more than a few hours per night, the Planetary Science Institute (PSI) Senior Scientist Nalin Samarasinha led a global effort to monitor the evolution of its coma morphology. The other organizers of the campaign included PSI Senior Scientist Beatrice Mueller.

The team collected images from both professionals and amateurs. Results from this campaign are now published in the journal Planetary and Space Science, where authors describe the evolution of coma morphology and place constraints on the activity and rotation of the nucleus of Comet ISON. This work highlights the relevance of professional-amateur collaborations for astronomical research. 

A network of observers around the world can provide a much better time coverage of the evolution of coma features than that from a single location.

ISON circled the solar system in the Oort cloud, more than 4.5 trillion miles away from the sun. At some point a few million years ago, something occurred – perhaps the passage of a nearby star – to knock ISON out of its orbit and send it hurtling along a path for its first trip into the inner solar system.

When Comet ISON was first spotted in September 2012, it was relatively bright for a comet at such a great distance from the sun. Consequently, many people had high hopes it would provide a beautiful light show visible in the night sky throughout December 2013. That potential ended when Comet ISON disrupted during perihelion. However, the legacy of the comet will go on for years as scientists analyze the tremendous data set collected during ISON's journey.


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