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The NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Feb 27, 2013

Comet Lovejoy, the brightest sungrazer in decades, two days after its close encounter with the Sun in 2011. Comet ISON reaches perihelion in November 2013 and may become significantly brighter than Comet Lovejoy.

In November 2013, comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) will pass the Sun at just 0.012AU (~1.1-million kilometers above the solar surface), classifying it as a Sungrazing Comet, and potentially a spectacular one! Comet ISON is still very far away, and thus it remains difficult to predict exactly how bright the comet will become in November.

However, there does exist the potential for this to be one of the brightest comets of the past century. To that end, NASA has requested a small committee of cometary experts to be formed to coordinate an observing campaign for this comet, under the assumption that it will become easily-visible by the latter part of 2013. The individual members of the team are listed at the bottom of this page.

Campaign Goals
The goals of this NASA campaign, and thus of the CIOC Team, are to assist both ground and space-based NASA observatories, and private observatories around the world, in obtaining the most scientifically useful observations of comet ISON.

Sungrazing comets are unique objects that experience the most extreme thermal and gravitation forces our solar system has to offer them. However, rarely do we get to see these objects more than a few hours before their demise. Comet ISON offers us the rare opportunity to study a Sungrazer in great detail, for an extended period, and place it in the context of other comets.

Observing Sungrazers, particularly as they get close to the Sun, can require a different approach from a scientific stand-point. Also, many of NASA space-based observatories and spacecraft are not designed or intended to observe comets, but nonetheless have imaging and spectroscopic capabilities that can be adapted to this task, and return valuable and unique science results.

We have already contacted several major observatories and space missions asking for their support of the cometary community in observing ISON, and as November draws near we will post individual observing plans online. Note that the purpose of this Campaign is to facilitate, support and encourage the scientific community to pool its resources towards a common goal or target, and promote ongoing ISON observing plans at a high level.

To pursue specific observing campaigns, please contact the individual observatories mentioned below. To apply for research funding support, please contact the NASA PATM and PAST and NEO programs, or the NSF AAG program.

We would like the entire cometary and solar community to have access to all available observing data. At the very least, there is a great benefit in collecting and posting representative nightly results from the different observing teams.

This should help observers plan their next runs and quickly understand any important changes for the comet. Thus it is the desire of the CIOC that all data and observations are made immediately and publicly available online for use by the scientific community. However, this is at the discretion of the individuals and missions involved, and is not controlled by the CIOC Team.

Which missions and observatories are involved?
We are still in the process of talking to programs, but as of right now there are several that are accepting proposals for observations. Specifically, proposals are being accepted by the Keck Observatory, InfraRed Telescope Facility, National Solar Obervatory, Big Bear Solar Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope. The National Science Foundation is also enthusiastic about observers proposing to study ISON.

For space-based mission, observing campaigns are planned by the SOHO, STEREO and SDO solar missions; by Spitzer, Chandra and Hubble space telescopes; and by the Deep Impact, JUNO, Mercury MESSENGER, Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter missions. Other missions at or on Mars are looking into observing ISON, as are a handful of other NASA Planetary missions. We welcome and encourage our international partners to contact us and join in the fun!

Where can I get more information about Comet ISON? And about the Campaign?
We will soon be posting a comprehensive "guide" to ISON, so please keep checking back for that. There are several useful websites you can follow to keep up with the latest brightness estimates for Comet ISON.

In particular we recommend Seiichi Yoshida's ISON page, the Minor Planet Center's (MPC) Ephemerides page, the MPC's Comet ISON page, and the Comets-ml Mailing List (which is about comets in general, not just ISON).

Our group is focussed on primarily on encouraging and coordinating NASA assets to facilitate Comet ISON observations, but we certainly invite and encourage observatories from around the world to offer their resources to the community, share their results, and enable as much science discovery as possible.

Of particular interest will be dust measurements ("Afrho") and gas production rates (most notably water production), and these are observations that we will encourage be sent to the CIOC Team. Our focus will be observations in the months surrounding perihelion, though these measurement will also be critical in the months leading up to perihelion as they will allow us to better anticipate the future behavior of ISON.

Astrometric measurements and brightness estimates, however, should continue to be submitted to the MPC, and not to us. Please note that all data submitted to the CIOC will be made publicly available. We will establish formal guidelines on observatory participation and data submission in the coming weeks.

How bright will comet ISON be?
While this page is not meant to be an FAQ, this is by far the most common question we get, and thus the official response of the NASA CIOC Team is as follows:

Comet ISON has the potential to reach significant brightness, to the point that around perihelion in late November it may briefly be bright enough to be seen in the daytime skies next to the Sun. However, this comet is still an unknown quantity and there certainly also exists a possibility that this comet may not attain these levels of brightness, and indeed could even "fizzle" before reaching us; it is still too early to make definite predictions.


Related Links
Comets and the Sun at NRL
Asteroid and Comet Mission News, Science and Technology

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