A comet that could put on a dazzling show when it zooms through the inner solar system later this year is already blasting out huge amounts of gas and dust, new observations by a NASA spacecraft show.
Images taken on June 13 by NASA's infrared Spitzer Space Telescope reveal that dust and carbon dioxide gas are streaming off Comet ISON, forming a tail about 186,400 miles (300,000 kilometers) long, researchers said.
These images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope of Comet ISON were taken on June 13, 2013, when ISON was 312 million miles (502 million kilometers) from the sun. The lefthand image shows a tail of fine rocky dust issuing from the comet, blown back by the pressure of sunlight. The image at right shows a neutral gas atmosphere surrounding ISON, likely created by carbon dioxide fizzing off the comet at a rate of 2.2 million pounds per day.
"We estimate ISON is emitting about 2.2 million pounds (1 million kilograms) of what is most likely carbon dioxide gas and about 120 million pounds (54.4 million kg) of dust every day," Carey Lisse, leader of NASA's Comet ISON Observation Campaign and a senior research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., said in a statement.
Comet ISON was 312 million miles (502 million km) from the sun — 3.35 times farther than the Earth-sun distance — when Spitzer made the new observations.
Comet ISON is becoming more active as it warms up during this epic journey. Researchers expect to get an increasingly detailed look at ISON's composition over time, because different materials boil off at different distances from the sun. Much of the carbon in the comet appears to be locked up in carbon dioxide ice. > view full article
The newly discovered Comet ISON will whip around the sun on Nov. 28, 2013, at a distance of just 730,000 miles from our nearest star.
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