It looks like 2013 might be a great year for comet-spotting, including one so vibrant it could even outshine the full moon.
According to NASA scientists, a recently discovered comet called ISON is currently hurdling toward this uncommon celestial event and is on pace to become viewable by November 2013 — that is, if it first survives a close encounter with the sun.
Comet ISON will pass 1.2 million miles from the center of the sun on Nov. 28, 2013, astronomer Donald Yeomans, head of NASA's Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Reuters.
If it doesn't break apart amid the sun's heat, the ices in the comet that do vaporize will likely result in a remarkable comet tail, the most vibrant one in recent memory. Its path is one similar to a comet that passed near Earth in 1680 with a tail so bright it could be seen in the middle of the day.
Of course, there's a chance none of this could happen.
"This is quite possibly a 'new' comet coming in from the Oort cloud," said Karl Battams of the NASA-supported
Sungrazer Comet Project, "meaning this could be its first-ever encounter with the Sun. If so, with all those icy volatiles intact and never having been truly stressed (thermally and gravitationally), the comet could well disrupt and dissipate weeks or months before reaching the sun."
Currently, Comet ISON is in Jupiter's orbit, but will pass by Mars by October. Following that, it will make its way to the center of the solar system. If it survives, it could possibly make for one of the most remarkable celestial events for generations to come.
"But," Battams said, "there are more famous examples of comets that got the astronomy community seriously worked up, only to fizzle."
In March, Comet Pan-STARRS could be visible as it passes Earth.
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