Comet ISON | Unique Viewing Opportunity

Comet ISON is going to pass very near the Sun on Thursday November 28. The extremely close encounter brings it closer than 1,000,000 miles of the surface. Earth is 93,000,000. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio offers this animation of the trajectory of ISON. (1 min 28 sec)


Whether it survives the passage intact is not known. The world is waiting anxiously in hopes that it will, and that ISON puts on a brilliant display. It has been hyped as the comet of the century. That might not happen. Many groups and individuals are preparing viewing campaigns to document the passage during perihelion. The Solar Dynamics Observatory is preparing to view ISON in high definition with its telescopes.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory SDO is always staring at the Sun. It does so at ten wavelengths. Images are captured every ten seconds and relayed to Earth. Here are three examples of the ten. Each captured image is a full disk view of the Sun in high definition detail. The images are publicly available. They are part of the studies to give us here on Earth advanced warning of solar storms that would impact us.

The public is invited to view these close up high definition images and compiled short movies at their website. What is special about ISON’s perihelion passage is that the public will be treated to these HD images along the trajectory with the possibility of seeing the tail of ISON live.

On November 28, 2013, the SDO spacecraft will point slightly off of the Sun as ISON moves through perihelion. Images and movies should appear on their website sometime between 12:45 pm and 1:00 pm ET. Note those are Eastern times.

The diagram below shows three boxes where SDO will be aimed during three parts of the passage. Click if you need a larger view.

ISON path with imaging boxes – SDO

Before 12:45 ET, visit the SDO Comet ISON page. I will be testing my connection well before to make sure I will get in. You should visit the page upon reading this post in order to familiarize yourself with it. They have provided sample images to show how it should look. Once there, you will see a portion of the page that looks like this, but larger and without the yellow arrows. I added them to this image. Click on one of the four View Kiosk buttons to see what SDO will show you on the 28th.

In this example, I clicked on the first Kiosk button and was presented with a screen that looks like this image. After a few moments, several images have been downloaded to a player. The controls are at the bottom of the actual player window. Try it out.

Example of Kiosk image player window. This image does not run player. – SDO

If all goes as planned, we might be able to see the tail of ISON upon approach, perihelion, and departure from the Sun. It will probably be faint. The nucleus will be too small to detect even in the HD images. If ISON appears to be exiting the approach view window, go back and select one of the View Kiosk buttons in the middle row of perihelion views. Likewise for departure.

Good luck. I hope we can see it.


16 thoughts on “Comet ISON | Unique Viewing Opportunity

  1. Good morning Jim, another excellent report from you – and on one of favorite topics! Anything Comet ISON, and the SDO, does is terribly exciting.

    I’m wondering if you’ve read the latest from CIOC, there have been reports of dramatic changes in the comet’s dust and molecular emission rates which may possibly be an indication that the nucleus has disrupted. The complete report can be found at

    While this morning’s outlook isn’t very good, I still maintain this is a win-win event!

  2. Hi Alex. No, I just now followed your link to read that report. Big changes happen daily.

    I agree this is an exciting win-win no matter what. Many eyes and instruments are trained on it. It will be a good show of something. We just don’t know what. 🙂

    Thanks for stopping in. See you later

  3. Reading this just after your Hoover Dam post, I guess I’d better revise my estimation of what can and can’t be accomplished today – at least a bit. There are marvelous things being done every day. Just think how much more could be accomplished if we put our minds and our political will to it.

    Love your response to Alex. Truly not knowing what will happen is a good part of the fun. Besides, it will give the non-football watching households something to watch on Thanksgiving!

  4. So far no luck seeing it on approach. We’ve had clouds low in the sky this last week. Predicted upcoming weather is not promising either, so I’ll be watching it remotely too. Thanks for the link. Fingers crossed it survives perihelion.

    • I have been out several times on recent clear mornings. Charts showed me where to look. It was too dim or the sky too bright. Never did see it with my eyes.

      Next week, we will hope for a better display if it survives. I have my fingers and toes crossed.

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