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ISON Update: Outbursts and Activity

26 Nov 2013, 13:45 UTC
ISON Update: Outbursts and Activity
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Astronomers around the world are watching Comet ISON now as it approaches the Sun, with varying results. The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) team in Chile reports that ISON's gas production is now about 10 times greater than it was earlier. The prodiguous amount of gas being given off and the related brightness of the comet allow astronomers to better analyze the compositon of the comet's icy nucleus. Astronomers are seeing a lot of water, carbon-bearing molecules, and some ammonia, among other compounds.

This is exciting for a couple reasons. First, it gives us a look at the composition of the objects of the Oort Cloud, a spherical region of debris near the edge of the solar system. Since the Oort Cloud objects are thought to be left over from the formation of our solar system, this tells us about how our Sun, planets and associated bodies came into existence. Second, astronomers theorize that comets may have helped seed planets with water and the precursors for life. The carbon-based compounds evident in ISON may be evidence for how organics are transported and delivered within the solar system.

The IRAM telescope in Spain finds ISON's brightness showing signs of ...

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