The Great Comet of 2013 - Comet ISON (C/2012 S1)
Attention all stargazers! Make sure you mark your calenders for late 2013. This is when you should have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the brightest comet to visit our area since 1680. Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) will not be a threat to impact the Earth or the Moon, but certainly will pass close enough to our planet to provide quite an awesome cosmic display.
Creative Commons image courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Miketsukunibito
Comet ISON - What to Expect
Comet ISON (technically known as C/2012 S1) was discovered by a pair of Russian astronomers in late September 2012. The discovery was made using a telescope at the International Scientific Optical Network (or ISON) located in southern Russia. Its orbit suggests that it has originated from the Oort Cloud, a group of comets that orbit the Sun from a vast distance.
So why is the comet causing all this excitement? Firstly, ISON will pass relatively close to the Sun (just under one million miles at its closest point) this close approach will cause much of the comet's ice to melt, releasing gas and dust and producing what could be a tail of enormous length, perhaps long enough to stretch half-way across the night sky.
Secondly, the comet's projected path will put it close enough to the Earth (Don't worry-no impact danger here folks) that we will get a magnificent display. Those in the Northern Hemisphere will get the prime seats to witness the show in the weeks before Christmas 2013, as the comet could glow many times brighter than a full Moon (although not nearly as large).
Another reason for the heightened enthusiasm surrounding ISON is its close resemblance to the Great Comet of 1680. That comet was visible during the day and had a stunningly long tail. These two comets have a very similar orbital path, and researchers speculate that the two comets could be "related' because they may have fragmented from the same body. If this is indeed the case, astronomers hope that the ISON show here on Earth could rival that of the 1680 spectacle.
Not to be a wet blanket here, but it should be noted that comets have a history of not living up to their lofty expectations. For example, 2011's Comet Elinin was a much anticipated comet that disintegrated completely before reaching us, therefore nothing is guaranteed here. One can only hope that ISON will be a spectacular celestial event that we can all remember for years and decades to come.
U. S. Government public domain photo courtesy nasa.gov
An artist's rendition of the Great Comet of 1680. The comet was so bright and possessed such a long tail that it caused terror and hysteria across much of Europe.
Public domain image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Although ISON is expected to be naked-eye viewable for about ten weeks, the peak time to witness the comet should be in the middle of December where ISON will be shining bright in the nighttime Northern sky.
Public domain photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Quick Comet Query
Do you plan on viewing ISON in late 2013?
One Bright Comet?
Many astronomers predict that ISON will be so bright that it will be visible not only at night, but in broad daylight as well.
Links to More ISON Info
- New Comet Discovered -- Will It Be Spectacular? : Discovery News
A comet has been discovered beyond the orbit of Jupiter and it may put on a bright celestial show -- or it might just fizzle.
- C/2012 S1 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Detailed information on ISON from Wikipedia.
- Super-comet or super-dud? We'll see - Cosmic Log
A new comet superstar named C/2012 S1 (ISON) is heading for the spotlight starting in....
- A Newly Discovered Comet Is Headed Our Way | Surprising Science
Astronomers are unsure whether Comet ISON will burn brightly through the sky or simply....
- Newfound Comet C/2012 S1 May Dazzle in 2013 | Space.com
New found Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) could flare up into a dazzling celestial display in November....
If you want to see Comet ISON's next visit after it's 2013 arrival, you had better really take care of yourself. The comet is not expected to return to our solar system for another 900,000 years.