A comet called ISON has been lighting up telescopes as it speeds toward a close encounter with our sun. The comet—called a sungrazer—was discovered in September 2012, when the ball of ice, dust, and gas was still farther away than Jupiter; it should reach the sun at the end of the month.
If all goes well, ISON will survive the close encounter and whip around the sun, creating a streak of light visible without a telescope during the early morning hours as it exits the solar system. In the meantime, astronomers across the world have been taking awesome photos of the comet, and the National Science Foundation has set up a contest to reward the best image.
On Monday, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics released new images of the comet moving in front of a backdrop of stars. The images were taken by retired school teacher Bruce Mellin, using a network of telescopes called the MicroObservatory that can be controlled over the Internet and is used in classrooms.