"The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean... Recently, we've managed to wade a little way out, and the water seems inviting." - Carl Sagan
Comet ISON caught on film by Deep Impact spacecraft
A comet likely to light up the skies later this year has been filmed from afar by the Deep Impact spacecraft.
Its path will put it spectacularly close to the Sun in November and if it does not burn up entirely, could be the “comet of the century”.
It already has a 64,000 km-long tail of dust and gas that will become visible to the naked eye later in the year - a trail scientists will study closely.
"This appears to be this comet’s first-ever journey into the inner Solar System and it is expected to pass much closer to the Sun than most comets," said Tony Farnham of the University of Maryland.
Comet ISON will make its closest approach to the Sun - at a distance of not much more than a million km from the Sun’s surface - on 28 November.
If this “sungrazing” comet survives intact, it should emerge from the near-miss even brighter than before, and could be lighting up our skies through January 2014 - perhaps even in broad daylight.
However, comets are unpredictable and can break up or fizzle out altogether even on their approach to the Sun - so sky watchers will surely keep their eyes on Ison.
Video credit: NASA