This movie from NASA’s STEREO spacecraft's Heliospheric Imager shows Comet ISON, Mercury, Comet Encke and Earth over a five-day period from Nov. 20 to Nov. 25, 2013. The sun sits right of the field of view of this camera. Comet ISON, which will round the sun on Nov. 28, is what's known as a sungrazing comet, due to its close approach.
Foreshortening or the angle at which these images were obtained make Earth appear as if it is closer to the sun than Mercury. If you look closely you will also see a dimmer and smaller comet Encke near comet ISON.
A comet’s journey through the solar system is perilous and violent. A giant ejection of solar material from the sun could rip its tail off. Before it reaches Mars -- at some 230 million miles away from the sun -- the radiation of the sun begins to boil its water, the first step toward breaking apart. And, if it survives all this, the intense radiation and pressure as it flies near the surface of the sun could destroy it altogether.
Even if the comet does not survive, tracking its journey will help scientists understand what the comet is made of, how it reacts to its environment, and what this explains about the origins of the solar system. Closer to the sun, watching how the comet and its tail interact with the vast solar atmosphere can teach scientists more about the sun itself.
Image Credit: NASA/STEREO
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.