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For Immediate Release

July 15, 2013

Media Contact:
Geoffrey Brown
(240) 228-5618 or (443) 778-5618

Comet ISON Observer’s Workshop Set for Aug. 1–2

Held at Johns Hopkins APL, meeting also to be streamed live online

How NASA Space Assets Will Observe Comet ISON

NASA has quite the space fleet tracking ISON:

Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO): SDO will have the ability to observe ISON under extreme-ultraviolet light when the comet is closest to the sun.
Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO): SOHO will observe ISON as it passes by the sun in late November.
Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO): STEREO will observe ISON as it passes by on its way to sun in late November.
MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER): MESSENGER will observe ISON as it passes by Mercury on November 19 on its way to the sun.
Balloon Rapid Response for ISON (BRRISON): This sub-orbital balloon will be launched in mid-September to study ISON from above nearly all of the Earth's atmosphere.
FORTIS: This sounding rocket will be launched in mid-to-late November to obtain ultra-violet spectra from ISON.
Hubble Space Telescope: The Hubble Space Telescope observed ISON in April–May and will see it again in October and December (if ISON survives).
Spitzer Space Telescope: The Spitzer Space Telescope observed ISON on June 13. The comet was 310 million miles away from the sun.
International Space Station: Astronauts will be able to observe Comet ISON as it passes by Earth in late November.
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO): LRO will observe ISON as it passes by the moon in late November.
Swift: In January and March, Swift observed ISON when it was 460 million miles away from the sun.
Curiosity Rover: Curiousity will observe ISON as it passes by Mars. Closest approach is October 1.
Opportunity Rover: Opportunity will observe ISON as it passes by Mars on its way to the sun on October 1.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO): MRO will observe ISON as it passes by Mars. Closest approach is October 1.
Deep Impact: Deep Impact imaged ISON for the first time on January 17 and 18 from 493 million miles away.

Ground-based observers include:

Amateur Astronomers: You—with a telescope or binoculars in November
Research Telescopes: NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, Keck Observatory, and many more

Credit: NASA

A workshop will be held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., on Aug. 1–2, 2013, to maximize the scientific opportunities and data gathered during the upcoming visit to our solar system by Comet ISON. This rare type of comet, discovered in late 2012, is about to swoop into the inner solar system. In late November, it will pass within 684,000 miles of the sun, categorizing it as a sungrazer comet.

“This is an extraordinary event,” says APL’s Carey Lisse, head of NASA’s Comet ISON Observation Campaign (CIOC) and organizer of the workshop. “Comet ISON will help show us what the recipe for building the solar system was. Comets like ISON are the dinosaur bones of solar system formation.”

Comet ISON is believed to come from the distant Oort Cloud, a roughly spherical collection of comets and comet-like structures about one light-year away from the sun. ISON may contain the same fundamental building blocks that led to the formation of life on Earth some 3.5 billion years ago, so scientists are keen to study it using modern instruments and observatories located around Earth and the solar system. NASA is leading an effort to observe and study this comet, providing the use of its available resources including currently operating spacecraft, ground-based telescopes and the Balloon Rapid Response for ISON (BRRISON) project, launching this fall.

This is likely ISON’s first visit to our solar system, which makes predictions of its travels somewhat uncertain. “It remains difficult to predict exactly how bright the comet will become in November,” says Lisse. “However, the potential exists for this to be one of the brightest comets of the past century. We encourage observers from around the world to study this fascinating comet.”

Confirmed workshop speakers include Kelly Fast, Lindley Johnson, Mike Mumma and Diane Wooden from NASA; Mike A’Hearn, Tony Farnham and Lori Feaga from the University of Maryland; Andy Cheng from APL; Jian-Yang Li from the Planetary Science Institute; Karel Schrijver from the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory; and the CIOC team.

Pre-registration is required for attendance; members of the working press and media should also register to attend. The workshop will be streamed live and archived for later viewing.

Learn more about NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign at

NASA’s Comet ISON Toolkit is at:

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