New Hubble images of Comet ISON are on the way. Today, Oct. 9, Hubble is taking another round of Comet ISON observations. What kind of condition is the comet in after its long journey across the solar system? Does it look like it'll survive its encounter with the Sun? We should know more soon.
Once the data beams down from Hubble, it'll take a short period to do the initial image processing and understand the results. We take some time to carefully process Hubble data in order to present the best possible information.
Nearly every Hubble observation consists of more than one exposure, and often many more. This makes it possible to remove features in the image that change from exposure to exposure, such as cosmic rays -- high energy particles that hit the camera detectors and create bright spots in the image. Although the data are extremely high quality to begin with, the instruments also introduce features that we are able to minimize through careful processing. By combining several images, we can remove these features and produce a much cleaner image. It does takes some time, though, to ensure that these processes are being done properly.
To produce a color image requires some additional steps that take time as well, since we must combine images taken through filters of different colors and reassemble the image in color. Again, we do this carefully so as not to introduce qualities in the image that are not known to be in the data.
We also need to understand what we are seeing in the image so that we can best describe its contents. We consult with scientists who are familiar with the sort of object under study to craft a descriptive, accurate explanation for the image.
Finally, when we produce an image with an accompanying news release, we must spend time to write, edit, and review the written text as well as the images and graphics that accompany a release.
So to sum up, though the observations are under way, don't expect the data to be available immediately. Both processed images and the original data are expected to be made available about a week after the observations.
We discussed this process in detail here.