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Oort cloud tosses astronomers a cometary curveball

ISON delivers debris from the dawn of the solar system

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10:15am, October 25, 2013

GOING STREAKING  The Hubble Space Telescope has been taking images of ISON throughout 2013 to track how the comet changes as it approaches the sun.

Pretty much every major telescope in the world is gearing up to witness a meeting that has been scheduled since long before humans walked the Earth. Around Thanksgiving, Comet ISON, a mountain-sized chunk of primordial solar system, will approach within 2 million kilometers of the sun and either fall apart or slingshot back into deep space. Astronomers aren’t sure yet how much of a spectacle ISON will be for earthbound observers, but from their vantage point the comet is already providing a brief, unprecedented glimpse into what the solar system was like in its infancy.

“It’s the sort of thing I’ve been waiting for my whole career,” says Matthew Knight, a comet researcher with the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz.

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