Newly discovered comet to give brightest 'sky' show ever next winter

Last Updated: Wed, Feb 06, 2013 10:40 hrs

The newly discovered comet ISON could give sky watchers one of the brightest shows ever in the night sky during its close-up with the Sun beginning November 2013, according to researchers.

Two Russian astronomers discovered the comet on Sept. 21, 2012, using the International Scientific Optical Network's 16-inch (40-centimeter) telescope near Kislovodsk.

A University of Maryland-led team of scientists, which recently began tracking and studying the comet with NASA's historic Deep Impact spacecraft, has made a new movie on it.

Its close encounter with the sun late this year also holds the potential for exciting new scientific insights into the composition of comets, the most pristine remnants of the early days of our solar systems, said Maryland astronomer Tony Farnham and other members of the Deep Impact science team.

"This appears to be this comet's first-ever journey into the inner solar system and it is expected to pass much closer to the Sun than most comets-within a distance of only a few solar radii," said Farnham, a research scientist at Maryland.

"Thus it offers us a novel opportunity to see how the dust and gas frozen in this comet since the dawn of our solar system will change and evolve as it is strongly heated during its first passage close to the Sun," he explained.

Farnham added that this comet also stands out because it was discovered much earlier on its first tour of the inner solar system than most other comets.

Comet ISON is already developing an entourage (coma and tail) of dust and gas that will continue to grow in size and reflected brilliance as it moves nearer to the Sun. Its first solar close-up will cause this luminance to peak and could result in an historic starring role in the night sky.

However, this hot encounter also could result in a spectacular breakup. If ISON survives, it is expected to shine even brighter as it moves away from the Sun-bright enough to be seen with the naked eye and possibly even brighter than a full Moon, according to astronomers.

In total, Comet ISON could be visible to sky watchers in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres for at least a couple of months, from about November 2013 through January 2014. (ANI)

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