A recently discovered comet that is rapidly approaching the Sun could outshine the Moon in 2013, researchers think. The comet may even be visible in daylight, as the Great Comet of 1680 was. It’s expected to be visible towards the end of the year, roughly from October until the following January.
“The recently discovered object, known as comet ISON, is due to fly within 1.2 million miles (1.9 million km) from the center of the sun on Nov. 28, 2013 said astronomer Donald Yeomans, head of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.”
“As the comet approaches, heat from the sun will vaporize ices in its body, creating what could be a spectacular tail that is visible in Earth’s night sky without telescopes or even binoculars from about October 2013 through January 2014.” With such a bright object in the night sky during the latter part of the year, it may somewhat drown out what will otherwise be a spectacular year of meteor showers in 2013.
The comet will need to survive its approach to the Sun though, for that to happen. And it’s possible that the comet could disintegrate as it gets close to the sun.
Comets like ISON originate from the Oort Cloud, which is a vast area full of frozen rocks and ice near the edge of the solar system. They orbit around 50,000 times further away from the Sun than the Earth does. Occasionally, some of these objects bump each other out of orbit, and are pushed into a spiraling orbit towards the Sun.
“On Sept. 21, two amateur astronomers from Russia spotted what appeared to be a comet in images taken by a 16-inch (0.4-meter) telescope that is part of the worldwide International Scientific Optical Network, or ISON, from which the object draws its name.”
“The object was slow and had a unique movement. But we could not be certain that it was a comet because the scale of our images are quite small and the object was very compact,” astronomer Artyom Novichonok, one of the discoverers, wrote in a comets email list hosted by Yahoo.
“Novichonok and co-discoverer Vitali Nevski followed up the next night with a bigger telescope at the Maidanak Observatory in Uzbekistan. Other astronomers did likewise, confirming the object, located beyond Jupiter’s orbit in the constellation Cancer, was indeed a comet.”
“It’s really rare, exciting,” Novichonok wrote.
Interestingly, comet ISON is following a very similar path to the famous comet of 1680, which was bright enough to be visible in the middle of the day. It is following such a similar orbit that researchers theorize that they may both originate from the same fragmented parent body.
“Comet ISON could be the brightest comet seen in many generations – brighter even than the full moon,” wrote British astronomer David Whitehouse.
“In 2013, Earth has two shots at a comet show. Comet Pan-STARRS is due to pass by the planet in March, eight months before ISON’s arrival. The last comet to dazzle Earth’s night-time skies was Comet Hale-Bopp, which visited in 1997. Comet 17P/Holmes made a brief appearance in 2007.”
Some more information on the comet of 1680:
“C/1680 V1, also called the Great Comet of 1680, Kirch’s Comet, and Newton’s Comet, has the distinction of being the first comet discovered by telescope. Discovered by Gottfried Kirch on 14 November 1680, New Style, it became one of the brightest comets of the 17th century – reputedly visible even in daytime – and was noted for its spectacularly long tail. Passing only 0.42 AUs from Earth on 30 November, it sped around an incredibly close perihelion of 0.0062 AU (930,000 km; 580,000 mi) on 18 December 1680, reaching its peak brightness on 29 December as it rushed outward again. It was last observed on 19 March 1681. As of September 2012 the comet was about 253 AU from the Sun.”
“While the Kirch Comet of 1680-1681 was discovered and subsequently named for Gottfried Kirch, credit must also be given to Eusebio Kino, the spaniard Jesuit priest who charted the comet’s course. During his delayed departure for Mexico, Kino began his observations of the comet in Cadíz in late 1680. Upon his arrival in Mexico City, he published his Exposisión Astronomica de el cometa in which he presented his findings. Kino’s Exposisión astronómica is among the earliest scientific treatises published by an European in the New World.”
“Although it was undeniably a sungrazing comet, it was probably not part of the Kreutz family. Aside from its brilliance, it is probably most noted for being used by Isaac Newton to test and verify Kepler’s laws. Some of the orbital elements of comet C/2012 S1 are similar to that of the Great Comet of 1680, which suggests the two comets may have fragmented from the same parent body.”