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What will Comet ISON reveal as it races toward the sun?

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Nathan Coleman
Reporter

Wednesday, November 6, 2013, 7:43 AM -

Sun grazing comets are not uncommon, but they're all generally very small.

What makes Comet ISON so special is the fact that it was discovered nearly a year before it reaches its closest point to the sun.

As ISON barrels towards the sun at 48,000 miles per hour, researchers are preparing for a treasure trove of information waiting to be discovered.

Extremely low temperatures in outer space preserve samples on comets that could be billions of years old.

"We can only observe those comets when they are close to the sun and they become active and bright," says research scientist, Dr. Jian-Yang Li. "And the brighter they are, the easier it's going to be to study them."

According to NASA, a comet’s journey through the solar system is "perilous and violent."

"A giant ejection of solar material from the sun could rip its tail off. Before it reaches Mars -- at some 230 million miles away from the sun -- the radiation of the sun begins to boil its water, the first step toward breaking apart. And, if it survives all this, the intense radiation and pressure as it flies near the surface of the sun could destroy it altogether," NASA explains.

Right now, Comet ISON is making that journey and will round the sun on November 28, 2013, at a distance of just 730,000 miles, NASA adds.

Cataloged as C/2012 S1, Comet ISON was first spotted 585 million miles away in September 2012.

NASA says, even if the comet does not survive, tracking its journey will help scientists understand what the comet is made of, how it reacts to its environment, and what this explains about the origins of the solar system.

You can check out the timeline of the comet's dangerous timeline here.

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