You can now buy the recently released book, Fall of a Thousand Suns: How Near Misses and Comet Impacts affected the Religious Beliefs of our Ancestors. It is available through iBooks and Amazon.


This website only lists information on modern-day comets and meteor showers. The book, however, thoroughly investigates how specific ancient impacts and near misses changed religious beliefs around the world.

Viewing Comet ISON

Observations of Comet ISON


First Observation of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1)

First Image of Comet ISON

First image / observation of Comet ISON

Credit: ISON in Russia (September 21, 2012)

The first image of Comet ISON was taken by the Mount Lemmon Survey on December 28, 2011. Pan-STARRS also captured the comet on January 28, 2012. However, Comet ISON wasn't identified in either image, until after its official discovery on September 21, 2012 by astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonon. Nevski and Novichonon viewed and identified the comet in images taken by the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON). ISON, was founded in 2004, and consists of 23 observatories in 10 countries.


The discovery was announced by the Minor Planet Center on September 24, 2013. The comet was officially designated C/2012 S1, but became popularly known as Comet ISON.












Video of Comet ISON viewed from NASA's Deep Impact Spacecraft (January 17, 2013)

On January 17 and 18, 2013, NASA's Deep Impact Spacecraft recorded the first video of Comet ISON from space. Deep Impact is using infrared, light curves and visible light images to study and track Comet ISON. On January 18, Comet ISON was 493,000,000 miles (793,000,000 km) away from the Sun. This means the comet is between Jupiter and Saturn. However, on January 18th, it had already developed a tail that was 40,000 miles (64,400 km) long.


Deep Impact was designed to study comets, simply more closely. A probe from Deep Impact even successfully hit Comet Tempel-1 (9P/Tempel) in order to discover the chemical composition beneath the icy surface.  For once we created a crater, albeit a small one at 492 feet (150 m), on a comet rather than the other way around.




Images from Gemini Observatory (February 4 - May 4, 2013)

Comet ISON from Gemini Observatory

Image of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1)

Credit: Gemini Observatory (February 4, 2013)

Gemini Observatory, in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, captured a series of images of Comet ISON between February 4 and May 4, 2013. The images showed the comet's amazing activity, despite its distance from the Sun.


At the time these images were taken, Comet ISON was 360-455 million miles (580-700 million km) from the Sun. In other words, it was just inside the orbit of Jupiter.















Webcast of Comet ISON (March 25, 2013)

On Monday March 25, 2013 the Slooh Space Camera featured Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) in a 30 minute live webcast broadcast on The Slooh Space Camera will continue to dedicate one night a month to the comet and broadcast its observation of Comet ISON live, until will it reaches perihelion on November 28, 2013.


ISON could be one the most spectacular comets in recorded history, but astrophysicists including Don Yeomans, head of NASA's Near Earth Object program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, are quick to point out that it depends on how Comet ISON holds together as it approaches the Sun. Several comets that approach the Sun as closely as ISON, have fragmented due to the enormous heat and gravity of the Sun.




Image of Comet ISON from Hubble Telescope (April 10, 2013)

Comet ISON from Hubble Telescope

Image of Comet ISON from Hubble

Credit: NASA / Hubble Telescope (April 10, 2013)

An image of Comet ISON take in early April of 2013 was released on April 23, 2013.


The image was taken on April 10, with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3. At the time, the comet was 386,000,000 miles (621,000,000 km) from the Sun and 394,000,000 miles (634,000,000 km) from Earth. It has passed Jupiter and is continuing to brighten although it is still far too faint to be seen with the naked eye. Its apparent magnitude is 16. Its tail is estimated at 57,000 miles long. Its speed 48,000 miles per hour.


A five-second video of Comet ISON was assembled using images taken by Hubble over the course of 43 minutes of observations.


Its still uncertain whether Comet ISON will continue to increase in brightness enough to claim the title of "The brightest comet in the 21st Century."





Viewing Comet ISON - Spitzer Space Telescope (June 13, 2013)

Comet ISON from Spitzer Space Telescope

Two images of Comet ISON

Credit: Spitzer Space Telescope (June 13, 2013)

An image of Comet ISON take in early April of 2013 was released on April 23, 2013.


The Spitzer Space Telescope imaged Comet ISON on June 13, 2013. Contrary to the NASA press release, scientists still do not know whether Comet ISON's tail contains carbon monoxide. "In any case water vapor should take over as the main "driver" of ISON's activity in late August when the comet crosses a magical "ice line".














Comet ISON image by Damian Peach (Sept 24 - Nov 15, 2013)

Damian Peach captured these images of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1).


Comet ISON composite by Damian Peach

Image composite of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) from September 24 to November 15, 2013.

Credit: Damian Peach




Viewing Comet ISON - Comparing Notes (August 1-2, 2013)

Astronomers met for the Comet ISON Observer's Workshop at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory on August 1 and 2, 2013 to discuss Comet ISON. The workshop will be streamed live on from 9 am to 5 pm ET.




Observing Comet ISON - The BRRISON Project (September 29, 2013)

The Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at John Hopkins University helped to design and launch a revolutionary science balloon called Balloon Rapid Response for Comer ISON (BRRISON). The decision to build this ballloon was made after the discovery of Comet ISON. It launched on September 28, 2013 in order to be ready for ISON's closest approach to Earth. Program Manager, Dewey Adams, at APL said, “such a program would normally take 18–24 months to develop.” A team of 30 at APL is attempting to make sure that launch happens in twelve months.


Why did NASA task APL with this mission? The APL launched a Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory (STO) to study the Milky Way. This Milky Way mission led to the creation of the BRRISON balloon.


So what was the BRRISON Project intented do? According to APL's website, "[The balloon carried] a 0.8 m telescope and optical and infrared sensors to study the comet from above nearly all of Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere is opaque at the light wavelengths that scientists want BRRISON to measure, which means those measurements are not possible from the ground. BRRISON will observe Comet ISON in the near-infrared and in the near-ultraviolet and visible wavelength ranges at an altitude of 120,000 miles (23 miles). The near infrared camera will measure the ratio of carbon dioxide (CO2) to water (H2O) emissions from the cometary nuclei as a vital diagnostic of the comet’s origins. These are unique observations that cannot be obtained by any other means. The near ultraviolet and visible camera will observe at the wavelength of the hydroxyl (OH) emission from Comet ISON and will test and characterize the effects of atmospheric turbulence on optical observations at balloon altitudes."


“Getting [BRISSON’s] instruments above the atmosphere is critical," says Program Manager Dewey Adams.


After it was completed in early September, BRRISON was transported to Fort Sumner, New Mexico where it was launched on September 28, 2013. Unfortunately, BRRISON sufferred a malfunction on September 29, 2013 and was unable to collect data.




Comet ISON Images from Mars Satellites and Rovers (October 1, 2013)

Comet ISON Mars

Comet ISON (C/2012 S1)

Credit: Image courtesy of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) NASA/JPL

On October 1, 2013, Comet ISON reached its closest point to Mars. It was 11 million kilometers from the Red Planet, six times closer than it will ever come to Earth.


In the months leading up to the event, astronomers hoped the close-pass would make for some interestingimages from satellites orbiting Mars, and the cameras attached to the two rovers on Mars. Curiosity Project Manager, Jim Erickson, promised, " When we get to the point when Comet ISON is in the sky I'm sure we'll do some observations of it, depending on the time period when its visible." Some of those observations occurred on October 1, 2013, courtesy of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). These images can be seen to the left.


Although MRO was designed to takes images of the Martian surface, its HiRISE camera had occasionally been used as a telescope to look into space.


Curiosity, one of the two rovers on the Martian surface, is also outfitted with twelve cameras (Hazcams and Navcams) and five science cameras. Although the rover's cameras were primarily designed for looking down, Curiosity's Mastcam is mounted to the end of a robotic arm. The arm can move the Mastcam at almost any angle.


NASA's Directory of Planetary Science Jim Green told Universe Today that NASA was very interested in using its orbiting and surface assets at Mars to study Comet ISON.


The close pass of Comet Siding Spring to Mars on October 19, 2014, may provide even more incredible images of a comet. There was enough wiggle-room in the calculations of Comet Siding Spring that NASA initially gave the comet a 1 in 600 chance of hitting Mars. As of April 15, 2013 the chance of an impact was decreased to 1 in 120,000.


It's debated whether or not a meteor shower will occur on Mars after the passing of Comet Siding Spring. Regardless, auroras all over the planet might be observed by the orbiters and rovers. However, if Siding Spring passes 21,000 miles from the surface of the planet, its coma will intersect with the Martian atmosphere. The aurora will be most spectacular for a period of around five hours as the coma passes through the atmosphere. MAVEN, a NASA orbitter scheduled to arrive at Mars in September will be able to study the effect of Siding Spring on the Martian atmosphere.




Comet ISON image by Damian Peach (November 15, 2013)

Comet ISON captured by Damian Peac

Comet ISON (C/2012 S1)

Credit: Damian Peach

Damian Peach captured this stunning image of Comet ISON.


















Comet ISON Images from STEREO-A (November 25, 2013)

Comet ISON Mars

Comet ISON nears the Sun's corona (C/2012 S1)


A U.S. / NASA spacecraft, known as STEREO-A, captured the image on the left of Comet ISON as it neared the Sun's corona on November 25, 2013.


STEREO-A and B are two U.S. spacecraft. Both were launched in 2006. One orbits the Sun ahead of Earth. The other orbits behind our planet. The two spacecraft allow for stereoscopic (3D) imaging of coronal mass ejections. They also allow for unique images of comets, and other celestial objects, to be taken when the view from telescopes on, or near, Earth have obstructed views.









Comet ISON observed by SOHO (November 29, 2013)

First Image of Comet ISON

Part of Comet ISON survived its encounter with the Sun, but dissapated a couple days later.

Credit: Solar and Heliospheric Observatory

(November 29, 2013)

After the European Space Agency prematurely declared Comet ISON destroyed by the Sun's corona on November 28, 2013, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured these images of some small part of ISON "coming back to life."


NASA issued a statement on November 29. "Late-night analysis from scientists with NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign suggest that there is at least a small nucleus intact.”


Karl Battams, head of SOHO's Sungrazing Comets Project for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, said "From the beginning, ISON has confused, surprised and amazed us, and in hindsight its latest little escapade really should not shock us," Battams said. "Nonetheless, this has been one of the most extraordinary comets we have ever encountered, and just goes to reiterate how beautiful, dynamic and exciting our universe is." The ability for Comet ISON to "come back from the dead" has caused some astronomers to refer to it as the zombie comet.


Unfortunately, the nickname was short-lived. The comet all but dissapated a few days later. Only small fragments, several meters wide, survived.




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