‘Brighter than a full moon’: The biggest star of 2013… could be Ison – the comet of the century

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A comet discovered by two Russian astronomers will be visible from Earth next year. Get ready for a  once-in-a lifetime light show, says David Whitehouse


At the moment it is a faint object, visible only in sophisticated telescopes as a point of light moving slowly against the background stars. It doesn’t seem much – a frozen chunk of rock and ice – one of many moving in the depths of space. But this one is being tracked with eager anticipation by astronomers from around the world, and in a year everyone could know its name.

Comet Ison could draw millions out into the dark to witness what could be the brightest comet seen in many generations – brighter even than the full Moon.

It was found as a blur on an electronic image of the night sky taken through a telescope at the Kislovodsk Observatory in Russia as part of a project to survey the sky looking for comets and asteroids – chunks of rock and ice that litter space. Astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok were expecting to use the International Scientific Optical Network’s (Ison) 40cm telescope on the night of 20 September but clouds halted their plans.

It was a frustrating night but about half an hour prior to the beginning of morning twilight, they noticed the sky was clearing and got the telescope and camera up and running to obtain some survey images in the constellations of Gemini and Cancer.

When the images were obtained Nevski loaded them into a computer program designed to detect asteroids and comets moving between images. He noticed a rather bright object with unusually slow movement, which he thought could only mean it was situated way beyond the orbit of Jupiter. But he couldn’t tell if the object was a comet, so Novichonok booked time on a larger telescope to take another look. Less than a day later the new images revealed that Nevski and Novichonok had discovered a comet, which was named Comet Ison. A database search showed it has been seen in images taken by other telescopes earlier that year and in late 2011. These observations allowed its orbit to be calculated, and when astronomers did that they let out a collective “wow.”

Written By: David Whitehouse
continue to source article at independent.co.uk

6 COMMENTS

  1. Have to say I get a bit worried when I hear about these predicted spectacular comets. I am old enough to remember the fuss over Comet Kohoutek in ’73. It fell way short of expectations. However, it would be great if we did see a spectacular comet next year. Hale-Bopp was a cracker, we could do with another good one! Some of the pics that were taken of Hale-Bopp were amazing, and imaging technology has moved on a lot since then.

    However, I suspect that it will just encourage the nutters, since these things are traditionally associated with disasters and bad fortune….. wonder how long it will be before they start appearing….

  2. I agree, Scottishgeologist; I expect the nutters will be on it soon. Especially with their recent Dec 21st failure. They need this to keep the dream of world devastation alive. How soon before the movie and fake Columbia Pictures website? Were I more of a prick, there is a lot of money to be made on this one. People love them some paranoia.

    Did I mention I have been put in charge of a spaceship shaped like a barn (very advanced camo). It will launch automatically when the comet collides with earth. Room for 1000 chosen people. You have to qualify as a person selected by the Quanti; the builders of the ship. Anyone can pay the $20,000 testing fee to see if you qualify but only the 1000 chosen get to ride. No refunds.

  3. This just goes to show how very important we are in the grand scheme of things! All this is being put on for our entertainment – isn’t it?

    I’d quite like to jump twenty miles into the sky.

    It’s a pitty Patrick Moore won’t be here to see it.

    He, Sir Patrick, was my maths teacher when I was very, very young; unfortunately far too young for his teaching to have registered with me, and my mathematics is appalling.

  4. In reply to #2 by aquilacane:
    Anyone can pay the $20,000 testing fee to see if you qualify but only the 1000 chosen get to ride. No refunds.

    Virgin Galactic has a $20,000 refundable deposit for tickets starting @ $200,000!

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