The Comet ISON was observed in the night sky by NASA’s probe ahead of Thursday's solar encounter. It was spotted as it whizzed by the planet Mercury.
NASA’s probe which was quite close to Mercury sent back photographs of Comet ISON to earth. Several other space missions are also on standby to record the journey of the comet through its path across the sun. On November 19th brand new images were taken of the icy object as it shot along the orbit of Mercury.
NASA’s Sun-Watch Stereo-A probe also caught a brilliant photo on November 21st. The comet’s brush with the sun will be observed with keen interest by a number of solar probes on Thursday. The heavenly object will come within slightly more than a million kilometers of the sun’s surface.
NASA’s Messenger has been closely focused on ISON and another comet, Encke since the past 30 days or so. All sorts of scientific facts about the two astronomical bodies were collected by spectroscopic and imaging facilities.
The Messenger probe was not originally intended for recording comet encounters. And while Encke will be under observation for some time longer, the passionate inquiry into the trajectory of Comet ISON will dwindle after November 26th. There is a reason behind this. It will be too near the sun for any possibility of exploratory activity.
"Comet encounters were not considered when the Messenger mission was designed," Messenger principal investigator Sean Solomon, of Columbia University, said in a statement. "If Encke and ISON share a few of their secrets on the formation and evolution of the solar system, the Messenger team will be delighted with the scientific bonus."
However, several other space missions are said to be taking on the baton of observatory functions from the Messenger probe. These include: Stereo-A, Stereo-B, the SOHO spacecraft, the Solar Dynamics Observatory and Japan’s Hinode probe.
Watch Video of Comet ISON and Encke Entering into STEREO Probe Field of View on November 21st.