Spectacular Comet ISON shines bright in new photo from Chile telescope

This new view of Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) was taken with the TRAPPIST national telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory on the morning of Nov. 15, 2013. The robotic telescope is operated from a control room in Li?¨ge, Belgium. TRAPPIST/E. Jehin/ESO

A dazzling new image captures Comet ISON blazing up as it heads toward its highly anticipated close encounter with the sun next week.

The photo, taken with the TRAPPIST national telescope at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows Comet ISON streaking through space in the early hours of Nov. 15, a brilliant blue cloud of material surrounding its core.

"The image is a composite of four different 30-second exposures through blue, green, red, and near-infrared filters," ESO officials wrote today (Nov. 18) in a description of the photo. "As the comet moved in front of the background stars, these appear as multiple colored dots." [See more amazing photos of Comet ISON in the sky]

ISON was discovered in September 2012 by two Russian amateur astronomers. The comet is in the home stretch of its first-ever trip through the inner solar system, which will bring it within just 730,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) of the sun's surface on Nov. 28.

If the comet survives that close pass, it could put on a great show for skywatchers throughout early December, experts say. But folks hoping to catch a glimpse of Comet ISON don't need to wait until next month; after two outbursts earlier this month, the comet became visible to the naked eye, low in the east-southeast sky just before dawn.

Skywatchers aren't the only folks eagerly tracking ISON's progress. Scientists have trained a number of instruments on the comet, hoping to learn key details of its composition by noting which gases boil off as it gets closer and closer to the sun.

TRAPPIST -- short for the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope -- has been monitoring Comet ISON since the middle of October, ESO officials said. Researchers use the instrument to study comets and detect and characterize exoplanets. TRAPPIST is operated by scientists in Liege, Belgium, about 7,500 miles (12,000 km) away from its site in the southern part of Chile's Atacama Desert.

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