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MESSENGER Detects Comets ISON and Encke

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MESSENGER Detects Comets ISON and Encke, Prepares for Closer Encounters

NASA's Mercury-orbiting MESSENGER spacecraft has captured images of two comets -- 2P/Encke and C/2012 S1 (ISON) -- setting the stage for observations later this month when both comets will be substantially brighter and much closer to Mercury and the Sun.

ISON was discovered in September 2012 by amateur Russian astronomers, who observed with a 16-inch telescope that is part of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON), after which the comet was named. On November 28, ISON will fly within 700,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) of the Sun's photosphere, at which time it is expected either to flare brilliantly or disintegrate.

As part of an ISON observation campaign involving ground- and space-based NASA observatories, as well as many other observatories around the world, MESSENGER has been poised for several weeks to collect observations of ISON. From November 9 through November 11, the probe's Mercury Dual Instrument System (MDIS) captured its first images of the comet.

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ScienceCasts: Two Comets to Fly By Mercury on Nov 18 & 19

Visit http://science.nasa.gov/ for breaking science news.

Consider it a cosmic coincidence: On Nov. 18-19, two comets (ISON and Encke) are going to fly by the planet Mercury in quick succession. NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft will have a front-row seat for the rare double flyby.

Credit: NASA

Source: NASA - Multimedia

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