Comet ISON 2013: Near-Earth Approach to Occur on December 26

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By Jenalyn Villamarin | February 25, 2013 12:53 PM EST

NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft will continue to observe and capture images of the comet C/2012 S1 ISON. The comet will make another remarkable near-Earth approach at an approximated distance of not more than 40 million miles on December 26.

Though the initial results indicated that ISON is still on the outer Solar System, the comet is already an active one. According to NASA scientists, ISON could be the "next great comet" with the Deep Impact spacecraft designed to observe the comet.

"We are continuing to observe ISON. It is observable from Deep Impact into mid-March 2013," Michael A'Hearn, an astronomer at University of Maryland, stated. The imaging project on the Comet ISON is anticipated to acquire infrared data and light curves that can aid in defining the comet's rotation rate aside from the visible-light images.

Two Russian astronomers discovered the comet ISON on September 21, 2012 with the use of a 16-inch telescope from the International Scientific Optical Network near Kislovodsk. Then, NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office indentified the comet's orbit that showed a first-time travel in the inner Solar System.

ISON's first images were captured last January 17 and 18 with Deep Impact's Medium-Resolution Imager from a distance of 493 million miles (793 million kilometers). "This is the fourth comet on which we have performed science observations and the farthest point from Earth from which we've tried to transmit data on a comet," stated Tim Larson, project manager for the Deep Impact spacecraft at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Spectators can view comet ISON's safe approach to the Earth and Sun. If ISON carries on after its closest approach to the Sun, it is suggested to best observe the comet's head and tail from November 2013 to January 2014.

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