Around the world, astronomers are buzzing with anticipation over the approach of Comet ISON. On Thanksgiving Day 2013, the icy visitor from the outer solar system will skim the sun’s outer atmosphere. Word was that, if it survives its pass near the sun, Comet ISON might emerge as one of the brightest comets in years. Although the prospects for an extremely bright comet are not as good now as they appeared at ISON’s discovery in late 2012, still, astronomers and many others are anticipating this comet.
But, before most of us on Earth see it, Comet ISON will sweep close to Mars. Comet ISON is paying a visit to the Red Planet. On Oct 1st, the comet will pass within 0.07 AU from Mars, about six times closer than it will ever come to Earth. If ISON’s nucleus is much bigger than 0.5 km, it will probably survive its Thanksgiving Day brush with the sun. It could turn into one of the most spectacular comets in many years. This is a tune-up for another comet encounter next year. Comet Siding Spring, which will pass much closer to Mars in 2014.”
For now all eyes are on Comet ISON. An unprecedented number of NASA spacecraft – 16 – will be observing the comet. Astronauts on board the International Space Station will be watching, too. Meanwhile back on Earth, NASA is organizing a worldwide observing campaign for Comet ISON. The goal is to have every telescope on Earth pointed at the comet when it emerges from the sun. The Mars flyby will give us a sneak preview, providing data we need to predict what we might see on thanksgiving day, 2013