Mark Thompson Astronomy

Spectacular Comet Earthbound

September 25th, 2012

Comet ISON was discovered on 21st September by the International Scientific Optical Network and early studies suggest it could become a spectacular object in our skies toward the end of 2013. The discovery of Comet ISON who’s official designation is C/2012 S1 (ISON) was made by a team of astronomers led by Vitali Nevski from Belarus. Using the 0.4 metres telescope near Kisovodsk in Russia they detected the comet which is currently shining at 19th magnitude making it currently beyond the reach of average amateur telescopes. But that will change dramatically as the comet heads toward the inner Solar System.

Its closest approach to the Sun will take place on 28 November next year when it will pass by less than 2 million kilometres. At this close distance to the Sun it will become dazzlingly bright shining thousands of times brighter than Venus, the brightest of all the planets in the sky, although its proximity to the Sun may make it hard to see. There is also a risk that the extreme tidal forces from the Sun could rip the comet apart into several fragments.

It all sounds very exciting. If the comet brightens as expected then it will be a stunning sight to the naked eye, even during daylight hours. But, and there is a but; comets are notoriously unpredictable so while predictions currently suggest it will be an amazing sight, it may end up being a damp squib. As 2012 draws to a close and 2013 arrives, more observations will slowly grant us more confidence in its prdeicted behaviour but for now all we an do is sit and wait, and watch.

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