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11/15/2013

Comet ISON is Suddenly Visible to the Naked Eye!

Since its discovery late last year (Septermber 2012), there has been a firestorm of speculation in the astronomy community over the eventual fate of Comet ISON.  

@NASA_GoddardPixThis image of comet ISON, taken this morning, has been cirulating twitter all day. Via @NSAA_GoddardPix

As I wrote about back in January, many astronomers and space enthusiasts were predicting that Comet ISON would become bright as the moon and visible during the daytime once it neares the sun in late 2013.   

Some even went as far as to say it would become "The Comet of the Century"!

Ison01

 However, as time went on and ISON drew closer to the sun, much of that talk faded as concern grew around whether or not the comet would survive its approach with the Sun.

As ISON got closer, it heated up, causing water and other gasses to evaporate from its surface and form a tail. The comet brightened, but not quite as much as early reports suggested it might. 

Now suddenly, the buzz has returned over the much anticipated comet.  According to the NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign, some big changes have occurred over the last 48 hours.  

Ison_lc_nov15The latest light-curve for Comet ISON (compiled November 15th).  Note that the black line is simply one possible model of the comet's brigtness.

Now that we are nearing the comet's closest approach to the sun, ISON has suddenly brightened dramatically over the last couple of days and now is visisble to the naked eye! 

NASA goes on the say, "Comet ISON's brightness appears to be around two orders of magnitude brighter now, with reports of visual magnitude in the region of +5 to +6. For those with very dark skies, this now makes it a naked eye object, and even for those in urban environments it is readily visible as a fuzzy green blob about half an hour before sunrise in the south eastern skies."

1450064_708456469165213_1145346030_nImage of Comet ISON from this morning. 

The comet will make it's closest approach with the Sun on November 28th.  The big question is, will it survive intact or will it break apart and fizzle out?  

If it does indeed hold together, then we will be in for a show during the month of December!

Ison02

See a great 3-D model animation of the path of ISON here.

NASA has a good short video on ISON and "Sungrazing Comets" available below.  

 

A comet’s journey through the solar system is perilous and violent. A giant ejection of solar material from the sun could rip its tail off. Before it reaches Mars -- at some 230 million miles away from the sun -- the radiation of the sun begins to boil its water, the first step toward breaking apart. And, if it survives all this, the intense radiation and pressure as it flies near the surface of the sun could destroy it altogether.

Right now, Comet ISON is making that journey. It began its trip from the Oort cloud region of our solar system and is now travelling toward the sun. The comet will reach its closest approach to the sun on Thanksgiving Day -- Nov. 28, 2013 -- skimming just 730,000 miles above the sun’s surface. If it comes around the sun without breaking up, the comet will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere with the naked eye, and from what we see now, ISON is predicted to be a particularly bright and beautiful comet.

Cataloged as C/2012 S1, Comet ISON was first spotted 585 million miles away in September 2012. This is its very first trip around the sun, which means it is still made of pristine matter from the earliest days of the solar system’s formation, its top layers never having been lost by a trip near the sun. Scientists will point as many ground-based observatories as they can and at least 15 space-based assets towards the comet along the way, in order to learn more about this time capsule from when the solar system first formed.

Even if the comet does not survive, tracking its journey will help scientists understand what the comet is made of, how it reacts to its environment, and what this explains about the origins of the solar system. Closer to the sun, watching how the comet and its tail interact with the vast solar atmosphere can teach scientists more about the sun itself.

Video and information courtesy NASA

Meteorologist Jeremy Kappell

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Comments

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it is very exciting.

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