A comet blazing toward Earth could outshine the full moon when it passes by at the end of next year – if it survives its close encounter with the sun. Comet ISON’s path is very similar to a comet that passed by Earth in 1680, one which was so bright its tail reportedly could be seen in daylight.
The projected orbit of comet ISON is so similar to the 1680 comet, sketched above, that some scientists are wondering if they are fragments from a common parent body.
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 November 28, 2013. 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.
If the comet survives, that is.
Comet ISON could break apart as it nears the sun, or it could fail to produce a tail of ice particles visible from Earth. Celestial visitors like Comet ISON hail from the Oort Cloud, a cluster of frozen rocks and ices that circle the sun about 50,000 times farther away than Earth’s orbit. Every so often, one will be gravitationally bumped out from the cloud and begin a long solo orbit around the sun.
On September 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. 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.
Comet ISON…could be the brightest comet seen in many generations – brighter even than the full moon.
The nearest single Sun-like star to the Earth might hosts five planets – one of which is in the “habitable zone” where liquid water can exist. Tau Ceti’s planetary quintet – reported in an online paper that will appear in Astronomy and Astrophysics – was found in existing planet-hunting data.
The study’s refined methods of sifting through data should help find even more far-flung worlds. The star now joins Alpha Centauri as a nearby star known to host planets.
The cool part about this story is that tau ceti is a naked eye star, in the constellation of cetis, near Pisces in the sky.
Go out and have a look. Someone on one of those planets looking at you would see you in constellation Bootes. At only 12 light years it about as close a neighbor as we could get.
A close call on tuesday, after an asteroid measuring 36m across whistled within a whisker of the Earth on Tuesday, only two days after it was first detected by astronomers. It measured just 36m (120ft) across, but the last known asteroid of such a size to hit Earth wiped out an area of Russian forest the size of London in 1908.
Space experts claim more extensive monitoring systems and an Armageddon-style protocol must be urgently set up, with an enormous asteroid measuring 300m across expected to make an even closer pass in 2029. The Apophis asteroid, first detected in 2004, will come within 22,000 miles (36,000km) of Earth when it passes by – nearer to the Earth than television satellites and so close it can be seen with the naked eye as a burning point in the sky.
Although there is no chance of the asteroid colliding with Earth when it passes by on Friday, April 13 of that year, there is an extremely small chance it could fall into a gravitational loop and come back to hit the planet in 2038, scientists claimed.