Out near the orbit of Jupiter, a small light appears like any other star. However, when viewed with a large telescope, astronomers discovered Comet ISON is on its way.
According to NASA, Comet ISON is not an ordinary comet. It is predicted the comet will be visible even in daylight. NASA said ISON is a sungrazer, as it will orbit close to the sun.
Dr. Donald Isenhower, professor of engineering and physics, said Comet ISON was recently discovered due to gravitational pulls from Jupiter that changed its orbit from the Oort Cloud belt to the Kuiper belt in our solar system.
Russian astronomers, Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok, discovered Comet ISON in September 2012. Nevski and Novichonok named the comet after their night-sky survey program: the International Scientific Optical Network, or ISON.
NASA said Comet ISON could be the “Comet of the Century.” However, Isenhower said the comet might not be as spectacular.
Comet ISON’s brilliance depends on how well its tail will react from the sun. The comet is made up of water and dirt.
Dr. Jess Dowdy, associate professor and assistant chair of engineering and physics, said, “A comet is like a dirty snowball.”
A comet is usually watched not for its body, but the dust trail. Comets have two tails, a gas tail and dust tail. As the comet travels the dust tail leaves a residue of dust that lights up the sky.
“[The comet’s tail] depends on how close the comet travels parallel to the sun,” Isenhower said. “If the comet is too close it may break into pieces, if it is too far, the reaction from the sun is not enough and the tail of the comet will be weak.”
According to NASA, in 1973, Comet Kohoutek was discovered and said to be the “Comet of the Century.” However, as Kohoutek failed to produce a great dust tail, its sighting was rather disappointing.
“When I was a child, I waited months for Kohoutek to appear,” Isenhower said. “I followed the comet, but to my dismay the Kohoutek was not like what people described it to be.”
Isenhower said there are many variables a comet needs to meet to become the “Comet of the Century.” NASA said, on Nov. 28, the comet would be a little more than a million kilometers from the sun. If the comet survives the journey, it could emerge glowing brightly as the moon.
Whether or not Comet ISON will be the “Comet of the Century” is a huge gamble. Comets are unpredictable. 2013 may end with a worldwide sensation comet in the sky.
The dirty snowball that is currently traveling toward the sun will be best seen from the northern hemisphere. Moreover, if the comet endures the sun, it will fizzle bright enough to be viewed in the day. It would be best viewed across the North Pole.
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