Sunday, September 30, 2012

Comet to light up the night sky, brighter than full moon

Every so often stargazers can see shooting stars passing through the night sky. This spectacular phenomenon is not that uncommon, but such events are very short in duration. A comet currently passing by Saturn may however be a tad bit different: astronomers have calculated that when it passes by, it will be brighter than the light coming from a full moon. This will undoubtedly be a spectacular sight and the event is set to happen somewhere next year.

The comet was found in the constellation of cancer and is already visible using telescopes, as can be seen from the picture below. It is named ISON, or C/2012 S1 by its full name. According to astronomers, it is about 2 kilometres wide, making it a fairly big comet, and it is likely that it will pass by the sun starting from somewhere next year. It is believed ISON will become visible somewhere between the last months of 2013 and early 2014.
ISON as seen by a telescope, currently located between the two dashes.  Come back in a year for more spectacular pictures.
Time path
As said, it is currently travelling past Saturn, at almost a billion kilometres away from us. Due to gravitational pull by the Sun, it is expected to pass Mars at a distance of about 10 million kilometres, at which time it may be captured on film by Curiosity, NASA's Mars rover that is currently exploring the planet. Eventually ISON will get very close to the sun, at about 2 million kilometres distance, causing it to break apart. Around that time us earthlings would have the greatest visibility.

While ISON is at least a year away, it promises a spectacular sight, if it is indeed able to light up the sky brighter than a full moon. When the data gets closer, there is no doubt that we will hear more about it. Astronomers do advise caution, as the predictions are based on calculations that have a certain error margin.

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