Will Newly Discovered Comet ISON Be The Brightest Ever In History?

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How Bright Could Comet ISON Be?

Controversy is no stranger to the world of astronomy, and the latest buzz in the community of stargazers around the world is no different. Projected to be visible to the naked eye in late 2013, comet C/2012 S1--presently referred to as Comet ISON after the Russian’s International Scientific Optical Network used their 16 inch Santel reflector telescope in its discovery--was located just beyond the orbit of Jupiter.

But what exactly is controversial about the fascinating new comet? The arguments from either side of the scientific community concerns the brightness and visibility of this new found object. Some claim it will outshine the moon and perhaps even be clearly visible during daylight hours. Some of their peers however, say it is much too soon to tell and give a 30% chance the comet will live up to its billing. But why?

The Early Sky Was Covered With Comets

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History of Comets in the Ancient World

From the 2nd century BCE--Chinese records depicting  several comets with various shaped tails.
From the 2nd century BCE--Chinese records depicting several comets with various shaped tails. | Source
Notice the comet in the background in this painting by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)
Notice the comet in the background in this painting by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) | Source
Notice the spiraling gases coming from comet Biela in 1846 which has split into two pieces.
Notice the spiraling gases coming from comet Biela in 1846 which has split into two pieces. | Source

Harbingers of Doom or Bringers of Life?

The night sky was watched closely by ancient man, with comets especially being significant to the superstitions of many early cultures. Comets were often considered portents of bad luck before battles or other important events, or even the cause of death or disease among other catastrophes of the times.

Some scholars even believe Haley’s comet may have influenced the anonymous author of the Gospel of Matthew to use it as the basis for the Star of Bethlehem in 66 A.D. Because of the sudden appearance of the swastika in both Native American and other world cultures, it is suggested a comet--both spiraling and emitting four jets of vapor-may have appeared in the night sky.

Naturally such a scene would inspire awe among these primitive cultures and assure the now infamous design a permanent place in world history.

Comets too are thought to have possibly been the bringers of life to our world. Traveling great distances and often encountering other heavenly objects in their seemingly eternal voyages, who knows what materials of the stars they may finally deliver to a barren world?

One thing is for sure, there is water in abundance on many such objects, and water is essential for life as we know it.

Beautiful Sojourns

Comet Donati 1858
Comet Donati 1858 | Source

Last Comet To Hit The Earth?

In 1908 a fragment of the comet Encke is suspected to have exploded over the Tunguska river area in Siberia, flattening over 800 square miles of forest.
In 1908 a fragment of the comet Encke is suspected to have exploded over the Tunguska river area in Siberia, flattening over 800 square miles of forest. | Source
These photos were made in 1927, almost two decades after the catastrophic event at Tunguska.
These photos were made in 1927, almost two decades after the catastrophic event at Tunguska. | Source
Meteor showers are often caused by the earth passing through the tail or remnants of a past comet.  The annual Leonid and Perseid showers are prime examples.
Meteor showers are often caused by the earth passing through the tail or remnants of a past comet. The annual Leonid and Perseid showers are prime examples. | Source

What Are Comets Made Of?

Comets are thought to be ancient leftovers from the very beginnings of our universe. Most are made up of ammonia, water, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, as well as methane, rocks, dust and other space debris.

The sublimation of these frozen volatile substances--changing from a solid state to vapor without becoming liquid-- forms the often spectacular tail streaming from the comet for thousands of miles in its wake.

When a new comet is discovered entering our solar system on its orbit around our sun, old records are checked to see if they’ve been recorded sometime in the past.

Because they are easily noticed in the night sky, comets have been documented for thousands of years by our world's ancient cultures. Only after checking these old records was it finally determined Halley's comet returned roughly every 75 years.

The Chinese were especially adept at this with their notes and observations, being exceeding helpful with identifying returning comets.

It is theorized a comet could have affected the mass extinction of the mega-fauna in the Americas during the time of Clovis man.

Continent wide fires caused by an exploding comet could have destroyed the vast grass plains and eliminated the food source of the great beasts, and those which preyed upon them.

Many species of large animal disappeared forever from the face of the earth after this period of time.

The Oort Cloud

Artists rendering of the Kiiper-_Oort Cloud where ISON is suspected of originating.
Artists rendering of the Kiiper-_Oort Cloud where ISON is suspected of originating. | Source

Where did the new comet come from?

ISON is suspected of being a “new” comet, that is, one which is on its first orbit around the sun. If this is indeed true, then it originated in the hypothetical Oort Cloud surrounding our solar system. Approximately one light year from the sun, this orbiting mass consists of literally billions of frozen objects. It is thought to be the leftover material after the planets and moons of our solar system formed.

The earth’s oceans and rivers are theorized to be the remnants of comets impacting our planet during its past. When the earth was young, the skies would have been sprinkled with comets which had still not found other masses to unite with. It also appears possible ISON will have but one encounter with our sun and its array of planets.

Projected Orbit of the Comet ISON

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What could happen to ISON between then and now?

Since ISON is thought to be in its maiden voyage around the sun, it may have not been stressed by objects with a strong gravitational pull before. Depending on the makeup of ISON--whether it is a strong mass of solid rocky material or simply a giant, soft, and dirty snowball--this comet could be brilliantly spectacular object in the night sky, or a big disappointment for those looking forward to its arrival.

A soft comet may begin breaking up quickly when exposed to the sun’s pull or even separate into multiple pieces while still a long distance away from our view. ISON has never experienced such stress and it remains to be seen whether it can make it here for us to marvel at.

ISON will pass withing 1.2 million miles of the sun in November 2013. This is similar to the Great Comet of 1680 which was said to be so bright it was visible during daylight hours. Some scientists even suggest they are two seperate pieces of the same comet since their paths are so similar.

Come Along For The Ride

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So will ISON be the brightest comet in history?

The jury is still out on whether ISON will live up to its expectations. Its path so close to the sun will place enormous stress on the object and it is possible it will break apart or even explode. But this too could yield a spectacular light show for those of us here on earth.

It is also possible the comet could lose a lot of its material long before it reaches the point of it being visible to the naked eye. Perhaps we'll know something more before long as all eyes will be watching this strange new visitor to our solar system.

Check back for updates on Comet ISON's progress and I'll endeavor to give any new updates as they are gathered. Lets hope for the best seat in the solar system.

ISON Update

As of this day, November 21, ISON is scheduled to make its closest encounter with the sun on Thanksgiving day. The difference in the much anticipated comet's being a spectacular sky show, or merely being another less than flamboyant event depends on how the celestial body survives the encounter with our closest star.

Barely visible to the naked eye at this time, ISON can be seen just before daylight on Wednesday and Thursday morning if the weather permits. Look low along the eastern horizon at a spot near where the sun will rise to find ISON. Stay tuned for further updates on the comet's progress.


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Comments 17 comments

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

This is very interesting. I am one to rush out to view meteor showers and any comet that is said to be lighting up our night sky. A buzz about the arrival of this 'new' comet will be heard before long for sure and now I have a bit of a heads up about it. Thank you for sharing this with us.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 3 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Interesting stuff Randy. I went to an 'Evening with the Stars' at the Greenwich Royal Observatory just before Christmas where they were talking about this comet. Apparently 2013 is going to be a very good year for seeing comets, so I hope the clouds clear over here!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Pleased you found this hub informational, pstraubie48. It remains to be seen whether this comet will live up to the hype coming from some sources. Thanks for your time and comments.

SSSSS


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Good morning, Cynthia. Yes, we have a chance to view at least two such heavenly bodies this year according to the astronomers and ISON may indeed be spectacular. I love these types of events as astronomy has always been one of my favorite subjects to study.

Thanks as always for your time.

SSSSS


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

I'll be looking forward to this!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Me too, Will! I just hope it doesn't lose too much of its mass before it gets here. If not, it should be something for the ages. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Cool! It only took 12 hours for this one to be featured. Look out newbies, here I come! LOL!

SSSSS


farmloft profile image

farmloft 3 years ago from Michigan

Astronomy is fascinating. I hope ISON puts on a nice show.

I always like to know how something gets its name. I'm glad you explained the origins of the name ISON. Comets seem to be usually named after their discoverer.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Yes, because of the several astronomers of Russian origin, and the subsequent long names of each, the shortened name of ISON as the comet's designation seems to be preferred.

Hopefully this new comet will not disappoint those of us looking forwrd to it. Thanks, farmloft for checking this hub out!

SSSSS


paradigmsearch profile image

paradigmsearch 3 years ago from USA

This was total news to me. Thank you for this article! I am adding ISON to my hobby list for Year 2013. I do hope it misses us as predicted...


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

May be the Mayan calendar was off by a year, Para! LOL! More than likely it will hit the sun, if anything. Could be the coolest show ever, though. Time will tell.

Thanks for the read, Para!

SSSSS


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 3 years ago from North Carolina

ISON and the Oort Cloud are new ones here. Excellent write-up, Randy - a potentially bland scietific piece made enjoyable and informative by your always inimitable style. Definitely keep us updated, they are unforgetable sights. And oh, the Tunguska coment exploded just like a nuclear blast would have which still has debate swirling on just what exactly it was. Heck, at least the debate keeps peeps interested lol. Up n awe bro.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Good to hear from you, Alastar. I wrote this one just for the stargazers on HP. Yes, the Tunguska even is still fascinating. Thanks for stopping by and for your always great comments!

SSSSS


moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

Thanks for a very interesting hub. I didn't know about his comet. I will be watching for ISON. I hope it makes it here but not to close! Voted up.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks for reminding me I need to update this hub, moonlake! Yes, if it doesn't degrade too much before November ISON may give us a spectacular show. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

--RG


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 3 years ago from East Coast, United States

I guess I haven't been paying attention. This is the first I've heard of ISON. I remember back in the 1970's, the comet Kohotek (I bet I spelled that wrong) was supposed to be a big one. People planned outdoor parties for viewing. Of course, it fizzled and wound up to be a big nothing. On the other hand, I am kind of scared of comets.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Ha Delores, I remember the exact same thing about Kohoutek. (Had to look up the spelling cause you got me curious) ISON could be a bust too if breaks up too much as it encounters the sun. Keep your fingers crossed, because if it holds together this could be the brightest comet on record. Thanks for reading Delores, I appreciate your time.

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