Comet Coming to Earth in 2013

September 28, 20120 Comments

Is there a comet coming to Earth? Yes, say astronomers in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Russia and Uzbekistan.

Comet ISON, so named after the International Scientific Optical Network that first detected it, is due to come to a close perihelion with the Sun in November 2013. “Perihelion” means “point of closest approach to the Sun”. That’s when we hope that ISON will put on a fantastic display as it whips by the Sun like a slingshot on its way back into space.

Comet Coming to Earth in 2013

Faint, distant comets get discovered all the time, usually by robotic telescopes that sweep up huge swaths of sky every

Comet Coming to Earth

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clear night. Most come and go quietly. But a new find made on September 24th by a pair of amateur sky sleuths has the astronomy world atwitter (in this word’s traditional and modern connotations) with the prospect that it could become very bright late next year.

The discovery image of Comet ISON (C/2012 S1), as recorded by Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok on September 24th. At the time the comet was 19th magnitude — roughly 100,000 times fainter than the limit of unaided vision.
V. Nevski / A. Novichonok / ISON

It was first spotted as a faint, 18.8-magnitude object in images taken by Vitali Nevski (in Belarus) and Artyom Novichonok (in Russia) using a 16-inch (0.4-m) reflector that’s part of the worldwide International Scientific Optical Network (ISON). “We could not be certain that it was a comet,” Novichonok explains, “because the scale of our images is quite small [2 arcseconds per pixel], and the object was very compact.”

The next night they confirmed its cometary nature using the larger reflector at Majdanak Observatory in Uzbekistan, but by then other astronomers had done likewise. According to naming conventions established by the International Astronomical Union, that one day of uncertainty led to the comet being generically named “ISON” instead of “Nevski-Novichonok”. Its formal designation is C/2012 S1.

Read all about it here.

At its closest approach, this comet coming to Earth is expected to be very visible in the Northern hemisphere, particularly during a new moon period. Let’s hope the Northern winter does not interfere with the seeing!


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About the Author ()

I have enjoyed astronomy since I was a little boy, and wondered what all the little white dots were. My father bought me a 30 dollar reflector when I was about ten years of age. It had a cardboard tube and a rickety wooden tripod. Didn't matter-- I had the Universe at my beck and call!

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