Comet Nears Sun and Will Soon Meet Doom, Say Astrophysicists

Image: Comet Nears Sun and Will Soon Meet Doom, Say Astrophysicists

Wednesday, 27 Nov 2013 10:21 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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Something has to give when the icy Comet ISON passes near the sun on Thanksgiving Day, according to Agence France-Presse, and most likely it will be the frozen ball of space dust.

Most astrophysicists believe the comet, which is left from the formation of the universe centuries ago, will simply succumb to the sun's blazing heat and melt away, reported AFP. Others believe the comet will survive, though much smaller for the wear.

AFP reported that ISON will pass 727,000 miles from the sun on Thursday where it will face temperatures of around 4,900 degrees Fahrenheit. The news agency said if the comet survives, it will be visible at night from December through February, coming its closest to Earth at 39.7 million miles on Dec. 26.

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"I think it has a maybe 30 percent chance to make it (past the sun intact)," said comet expert Carey Lisse, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

He told AFP that ISON is probably no more than 1.2 kilometers in diameter. "(A comet) is like a loose snow ball. (It is) maybe half or a third water and it's rather weak. The average size for a comet is about three kilometers diameter, so this comet is maybe about half the size of the average, typical comet."

NBC News reported that amateur sky watchers likely won't be able to see the comet screaming toward the sun. NASA's probes, including the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, will be able to pick up the action.

"If people want to observe it then, we strongly urge them to sit down in front of their computers and bring up the latest images . . . and they can watch it from the comfort of their own home without any risk," Naval Research Laboratory astronomer Karl Battams, told NBC News.

"We certainly don't want people to go outside and start waving binoculars and telescopes in the region of the sun, because that's extraordinarily dangerous," said Battams, a member of the NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign.

Space.com reported that Comet ISON was discovered in September 2012 by Russian amateur astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok. Since then, the comet has been closely followed and images captured by NASA spacecrafts orbiting Mars and Mercury and the Hubble Telescope, stated Space.com.

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