Spectacular Comet ISON Shines Bright in New Photo from Chile Telescope

Comet ISON Seen by TRAPPIST Telescope at La Silla Observatory
This new view of Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) was taken with the TRAPPIST national telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory on the morning of Nov. 15, 2013. The robotic telescope is operated from a control room in Liège, Belgium. (Image credit: TRAPPIST/E. Jehin/ESO)

A dazzling new image captures Comet ISON blazing up as it heads toward its highly anticipated close encounter with the sun next week.

The photo, taken with the TRAPPIST national telescope at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows Comet ISON streaking through space in the early hours of Nov. 15, a brilliant blue cloud of material surrounding its core.

"The image is a composite of four different 30-second exposures through blue, green, red, and near-infrared filters," ESO officials wrote today (Nov. 18) in a description of the photo. "As the comet moved in front of the background stars, these appear as multiple colored dots." [See more amazing photos of Comet ISON in the sky]

ISON was discovered in September 2012 by two Russian amateur astronomers. The comet is in the home stretch of its first-ever trip through the inner solar system, which will bring it within just 730,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) of the sun's surface on Nov. 28.

If the comet survives that close pass, it could put on a great show for skywatchers throughout early December, experts say. But folks hoping to catch a glimpse of Comet ISON don't need to wait until next month; after two outbursts earlier this month, the comet became visible to the naked eye, low in the east-southeast sky just before dawn.

Skywatchers aren't the only folks eagerly tracking ISON's progress. Scientists have trained a number of instruments on the comet, hoping to learn key details of its composition by noting which gases boil off as it gets closer and closer to the sun.

Editor's note: If you snap an amazing picture of Comet ISON, Comet Lovejoy or any other night sky view that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

You can follow the latest Comet ISON news, photos and video on SPACE.com.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.