By Tariq Malik
A NASA spacecraft scanning for the most powerful explosions in the universe has captured a photo of Comet ISON, an icy wanderer that could potentially dazzle stargazers when it swings close to the sun later this year.
NASA's Swift satellite, which is typically used to track intense gamma-ray bursts from distant stars, photographed Comet ISON on Jan. 30, with the space agency unveiling the photo today (March 29). By tracking the comet over the last two months, Swift has allowed astronomers to learn new details about how large the comet is and how fast it is spewing out gas and dust.
"Comet ISON has the potential to be among the brightest comets of the last 50 years, which gives us a rare opportunity to observe its changes in great detail and over an extended period," said Lead Investigator Dennis Bodewits, an astronomer with University of Maryland at College Park (UMCP) who helped obtain the new image.
Some astronomers have predicted that ISON could be the "Comet of the Century" when it makes its closest approach to the sun in late November. But a recent analysis found that the comet is not brightening as expected, and may have a ways to go to meet such expectations. . . .
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