Comet ISON - Brightest Comet Since The Great Comet of 1680?
Is A Great Comet On It's Way?
In the UK we may see later this year a very bright comet that is visible in daylight.
The comet which is called ISON was discovered as a very faint object in the heavens in September of last year. The potential brightness of the comet could make it one of the biggest astronomical events so far witnessed in the 21st Century. It could possibly match the brightness of the Great Comet of 1680.
It is believed by scientists that the comet has been journeying for millions of years towards our Solar System from the Oort cloud which is in excess of one light year from Earth.
When Could Comet ISON Be Seen?
It is predicted that during the late summer of 2013, that ISON will be visible using binoculars and small telescopes. By late October or early November the comet could well be visible on a clear night with the naked eye. Viewing of the comet should continue to be possible until the middle of January 2014.
The common pattern of comets is that their brightness increases gradually as they approach the Sun and then dim again when they head back to the outer Solar System. A crucial time for the comet will be the 28th November when it reaches it's nearest approach to the Sun (750,000 miles from the Sun's surface). This is called the perihelion. It is thought that at this time the comet will be brilliantly bright and be visible with the naked eye in daylight.
Scientists believe that the best time for viewing ISON will be in November and December of this year. It has been dubbed by some within the astronomical community as the Christmas Day Comet. It is anticipated that the comet will be at it's brightest at the time when it is closest to the Sun.
The Fascination And Fear Of Comets Through The Ages.
As long ago as 300 BC Chinese astronomers linked the arrival of comets with disasters of difference kinds.
In the Bayuex Tapestry there is featured an enormously bright comet that was viewed as a portent for bad events by King Harold's advisors. King Harold was killed and the Norman's conquest of England was successful. 1066 was a bad year for King Harold and a highly successful one for William the Conqueror. The comet could therefore be viewed as a mixed blessing!
Links between comets and disasters are contained within the predictions of Nostradamus.
The appearance of a comet that is visible to the unaided eye during daytime is a relatively rare event. It did however occur back in 1680. Many comparisons have been made between the Great Comet of 1680 and ISON, in particular aspects of their orbit. Some within the astronomical community have suggested that at one time they may have been a single comet.
The arrival of the Great Comet of 1680 was viewed as a sign that god was angry and that dire punishments would be visited upon unrepentant sinners. This was a widely held view across the known world and brought about much praying. It is perhaps unlikely that the arrival of ISON will herald such activity.
Will ISON Live Up to It's "Star" Billing?
What is unknown is whether ISON will live up it's " Star" billing. Other comets have in the past had a big build up and then subsequently fizzled out and been a big disappointment. Comet ISON on the other hand could be the "Great Comet" of this century. Nobody at this time can be certain.
As an astronomer I am excited about comet ISON as it could prove to be an event that is talked about long into the night for many years to come! However, I am not betting my house on it just yet!