ISON Image of the Week

An astrophotographer targets ISON  (Oct 28, 2013)


This gorgeous image of comet ISON was recorded by prolific astrophotographer Damian Peach on October 27, 2013. [Image credit: Damian Peach]
Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) continues to thrive and brighten up nicely!

It seems like we're saying this almost every week now, but that's definitely a good thing! As a dynamically new Oort Cloud comet, and not a particularly big one, ISON is definitely a comet that is at an elevated risk of fragmenting, disrupting or generally fizzling out. However, much of that risk is because ISON is also a sungrazing comet, which means its orbit takes it extremely close to the Sun and exposes it to extreme doses of solar radiation and intense gravitational stresses. These factors could certainly spell ISON's demise, but they don't fully come into play until ISON gets very close to the Sun later in November 2013.

Right now, comet ISON doesn't actually realize it's a sungrazing comet - it hasn't grazed the Sun yet! So we can only apply Oort Cloud comet "rules" to it, and it seems to be following those rather nicely. The rate at which it has brightened up has more-or-less followed predictions and, despite some speculative comments and negative press, ISON is blossoming into a rather beautiful comet!

This fact is being demonstrated by amateur and professional astronomers all over the world now, with new images of the comet appearing online daily. One of the most amazing images we have seen so far was the one you see opposite. (Click to enlarge: you won't regret it!)

This exceptional image was recorded by prolific astrophotographer Damian Peach from his home in Selsey, on the UK's south coast, on October 27, 2013. He maintains a website on which you can see many examples of his fantastic astrophotography work, imaging planets, comets, and other deep sky objects, and he has a gallery of ISON images that stretches back to March of this year! In his latest image, we clearly see the 'green glow' surrounding ISON's nucleus that we blogged about just last week, and the less colorful but ever-growing dusty tail flowing out behind the comet.

Damian has been doing this for many years and has an array of advanced equipment to enable his endeavors, but they are certainly not prerequisites for observing ISON. For a few weeks now, it has been a backyard comet, visible to modest telescopes in relatively dark skies. If you have a telescope, and haven't observed it yet, the next couple of weeks are likely to be the best chance you'll get before ISON realizes it's a sungrazer! At that point, its proximity to the Sun will begin to make it an increasingly difficult target until it becomes lost altogether in twilight skies to all but the most powerful of telescopes. At that point, we have to simply trust the comet and hope that it can survive its extreme passage past the Sun and emerge into the December night skies as a beautiful naked-eye comet!

Every week this year we will put up a new image related to Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON). If you have a cool image you'd like us to consider, please send it to sungrazer@nrl.navy.mil, along with a description and any credits you would want applied. We'll contact you if we choose to use your image on the CIOC Website.

See our ISON Image of the Week Archives for earlier picks!