First photo of approaching comet snapped

Feb. 6, 2013 at 7:04 PM

PASADENA, 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.

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