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Comet ISON still intact, to be visible by October end

Washington, Oct 20 (): A new image taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope during the sun-ward plunging of Comet ISON suggests that the comet is still alive beating up the predictions that it may crumble as the Sun warms it. By October-end, comet ISON is expected to be visible through the telescope and by November-end or first week of December the comet will be at its peak and can be also seen by naked eye.

The image, which was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on October 9 from a distance of 280 million kilometres (175 million miles), gave a fine sight of the Comet ISON. The comet was inside the orbit of Mars and 285 million km from Earth when snapped.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which operates Hubble, said in a statement from the image captured on October 9, the solid nucleus of the comet is unresolved because it is so small. If the nucleus broke apart the image would be shown with multiple fragments.

The image suggests that the nucleus is almost surely still intact – the coma or head surrounding the nucleus of the comet is symmetrical and smooth. This would perhaps not be the instance if clusters of smaller fragments were flying along. Moreover, a polar jet of dust first seen in Hubble images taken in April is no longer visible and may have turned off.

The colour merged image was collected using two filters. In the picture, the coma of the comet appears cyan, a greenish-blue colour due to gas, while the tail is reddish due to dust streaming off the nucleus.

Comet ISON will pass closest to the Sun on November 28 and if it survives it will make its closest approach to Earth on December 26.

Ignacio Ferrin, an astrophysicist at the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia said the disintegration will take place before it reaches perihelion. Perihelion is the closest point to the Sun of the orbit, which comet ISON is supposed to reach on November 28.

Ferrin added there are also predictions for disintegration at perihelion. But based on the evidence, comet ISON will not get there.

The Lowell Observatory and Southwest Research Institute in Arizona said comets smaller than 200 metres (650 feet) across almost always are destroyed when passing at such a distance. Comet ISON appears be between 1,000 and 4,000 metres (1,000 and 4,000 yards) across. ISON can survive the solar furnace and gravitational rip at perihelion.