NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft has officially acquired its first images of comet C/2012 S1 (ISON). Scientists anticipate that this particular comet won't just keep to the far reaches of space, though. Instead, ISON will put on a show for Earth as it passes through the inner solar system this fall.
Discovered in September 2012, ISON could just become the comet of the century. It's due to pass spectacularly close to the sun in November, which will make it shine brightly and put on a show for stargazers; some scientists estimate that it could even be seen during broad daylight.
Currently, the comet has a dust and gas tail that reaches over 40,000 miles long; this particular feature will make it visible to the naked eye later this year. Since this is the comet's first-ever visit into the inner Solar System, scientists are planning on studying its long tail more closely. It will give them the opportunity to examine just how the dust and gas frozen in the comet will change and evolve as it is strongly heated during its first passage close to the sun.
The comet itself was first discovered by two Russian astronomers using the International Scientific Optical Network's 16-inch telescope near Kislovodsk. Since then, NASA'S Near-Earth Object Program Office has charted its orbit and has determined its general path through our solar system. At its closest, it will be 40 million miles away from Earth on Dec. 26 2013.
The spacecraft, Deep Impact will record data on ISON during a 36-hour period in mid-January. While this comet may be spectacular, though, there's also another possible fate for the icy missile. Because it is passing so close to the sun, there is the chance that it could melt and break apart, which means less excitement for stargazers everywhere.
Want to see the images of the comet? You can find them here.