Popped in for more on ISON: http://m.upi.com/story/UPI-56201360195462/
ASADENA, Calif., Feb. 6 (UPI) -- NASA says one of its spacecraft has captured an image of a comet some scientists predict could provide the cosmic "light-show" of the century late this year.
The image of the comet ISON, appearing as a bright, fuzzy ball of light moving against a star-filled background, was snapped by the space agency's Deep Impact probe from a distance of about 493 million miles, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said Wednesday.
"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," Tim Larson, Deep Impact project manager at JPL, said.
ISON was discovered on Sept. 21, 2012, by two Russian astronomers, and NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, based at JPL, has plotted its orbit and determined the comet is more than likely making it first-ever sweep through the inner solar system.
This suggests the comet's pristine surface has a higher probability of being laden with volatile material waiting the sun's energy to heat up and boil off, creating a comet "tail" that may provide a spectacular site from Earth as ISON passes close to the sun in November.
Now I hate to put high expectations- its one of astronomy's greatest downfalls, hyping things then getting the general public in a frenzy, only to be disappointed and ask 'why are we spending our money on this crap?'
That said, this was the first I'd seen of the 'first pass into the inner solar system, pristine surface covered in volatiles.' They'd been heralding this solely because of its orbit bringing it closer to the sun than all but the most legendary comets. Combine that with a surface covered in ice and the like, on what was already a relatively large object, frozen since the sun was born billions of years ago? This may well turn out to be the most stunning comet in recorded human history - millennia. It could defy even the grandest of displays... It certainly sounds like the odds are stacking up in favor of an unprecedented tail, brightness and size. Saying that, it'll be a dud, but the end of the year can't arrive fast enough for me.