The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) MESSENGER spacecraft has been positioned to make an up-close observation and to collect data during Comet ISON and Encke's close flyby to planet Mercury. The robotic spacecraft's Mercury Dual Instrument System (MDIS) was able to detect and capture the first images of the comets on November 9 to November 11.

The Comet ISON and Encke images can be seen in the Christian Science Monitor report. Ron Vervack, a science team member of MESSENGER from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, revealed that the science team is excited with the detection of the 2013 Comet ISON.

"The comet hasn't brightened as quickly as originally predicted, so we wondered how well we would do. Seeing it this early bodes well for our later observations. Encke has been on our radar for a long time because we've realized that it would be crossing MESSENGER's path in mid-November of this year. And not only crossing it, but coming very close to Mercury," Mr Vervack shared.

Additionally, Ron Vervack revealed that observing the comets ISON and Encke from the MESSENGER probe serves as a golden opportunity for them to examine the two comets making its close pass to the Sun. NASA also assured that the MESSENGER's look at Comet ISON can give the astronomers enough data to predict its fate.

"MESSENGER is well equipped to study the composition of the icy wanderers, which should be shedding material like mad at this point," Mr Vervack stated. Though the science team member admitted in the Space Daily report that there are "complicating issues" that can impact the amount of data gathered, the team remains hopeful that everything will happen according to plan.

"[The] closest approach occurs during what we call a 'hot season'. So, for the health of the spacecraft, portions of each orbit must be spent in a thermally safe mode, which precludes gathering data over the entire orbit. We can't fill up the spacecraft recorder with comet data because doing so could cause a backlog that impacts our primary mission of collecting observations from Mercury," Mr Vervack explained.

The 2013 Comet ISON will be making its closest approach to the Sun on November 28 at approximately 700,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) away from the solar surface. A number of astronomers claim that the "Comet of the Century" will not be able to survive and eventually disintegrate while the others believe that Comet ISON can survive and put on a remarkable display until it makes a close flyby to planet Earth on December 26.

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