Comet ISON is still intact suggests new Hubble photograph

Astronomers, scientists, and amateur skywatchers around the world are all hoping that Comet ISON remains intact as it makes its trip towards the Earth. If the comet remains intact, it will put on one of the brightest light shows in the nighttime sky seen in recent times. However, some fear that the comet will break apart and might not survive its brush with the sun.

The Hubble Space Telescope took a photograph of ISON on October 9 while the comet was inside the orbit of Mars. The photograph was taken when the comet was about 177,000,000 miles from Earth. The photograph shows that the nucleus of ISON appears to be intact.

There is still a chance that the comet will break apart before November 28 when it makes its closest approach to the sun. ISON will come as close as 730,000 miles to the surface of the sun, which is very close on a cosmic scale.

Officials with the Space Telescope Science Institute in charge of operating the Hubble said:

In this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image taken on Oct. 9, the comet's solid nucleus is unresolved because it is so small. If the nucleus broke apart then Hubble would have likely seen evidence for multiples fragments.

Moreover, the coma or head surrounding the comet's nucleus is symmetric and smooth. This would probably not be the case if clusters of smaller fragments were flying along. What's more, a polar jet of dust first seen in Hubble images taken in April is no longer visible and may have turned off.

A pair of amateur astronomers from Russia discovered comet ISON in September 2012. The comet is making its first trip to our inner solar system and originated in the Oort Cloud. If ISON survives its brush with the sun on November 28, it will put on a light show in the sky in early December.