New comet might blaze brighter than the full Moon


A new comet has been discovered that is predicted to blaze incredibly brilliantly in the skies during late 2013. With a perihelion passage of less than two million kilometres from the Sun on 28 November 2013, current predictions are of an object that will dazzle the eye at up to magnitude —16. That’s far brighter than the full Moon. If predictions hold true then C/2012 S1 will certainly be one of the greatest comets in human history, far outshining the memorable Comet Hale-Bopp of 1997 and very likely to outdo the long-awaited Comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4) which is set to stun in March 2013.

The new comet, named C/2012 S1 (ISON) was found by the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) in Russia on 21 September when astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok captured it on CCD images taken through a 0.4-metre reflector. Its near-parabolic orbit suggests that it has arrived fresh from the Oort Cloud, a vast zone of icy objects orbiting the Sun, pristine remnants of the formation of the Solar System.

Written By: Peter Grego
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  1. Coooooooool.

    Brighter than the full moon sounds very pleasingly dramatic. 

    Yes, I know–subjectively judging a natural phenomenon on the basis of ‘drama’ or ‘coolness’ is not particularly scientific or mature–but the whole ‘sense of wonder’ thing that the late Carl Sagan excelled at is non-trivial from the perspective of engaging the general public in more substantive scientific questions and endeavors.

  2. Blaze is a funny adjective for a snowball, ok, I’m sure the third definition fits. Anyway, I’m glad this thing is arriving in November when it’s apt to be clear considering I live in almost perpetual cloud country.

    I wonder what the colloquial name will be and how many cults will form.


  3. @OP:disqus 

      Its near-parabolic orbit suggests that it has arrived fresh from the Oort Cloud, a vast zone of icy objects orbiting the Sun, pristine remnants of the formation of the Solar System.

    If it is its first trip after being deflected into the inner Solar System, if should have plenty of ice and volatiles to make a massive tail during a close pass at perihelion. 

    Other comets which have been past the Sun on several orbits are depleted at each pass, so become less bright as time passes.

    There has been good progress recently on the study of coments.… –    On February 14, 2011 (Valentine’s Day), Comet Tempel 1 became first comet to be visited twice by Human space probes, this time by NASA’s STARDUST/NExT Mission. Since a 2005 visit by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft, the short-period comet has completed more than one complete orbit around the Sun and approached the inner Solar System as close as the orbital distance of Mars. The comet appears to have undergone visible changes, including the changes in the size and number of surface features such as smooth patches, pits, and craters, and the loss of ice vaporized by the Sun or blasted off its surface by the Solar Wind into its tail as well as failing back on the object like snow, so that it appears to shrink, on average, by 25 to 50 centimeters (9.2 to 19.7 inches) with each orbit around the Sun.
    In addition, the collision with a 372-kilogram ( 820-pound) projectile launched by NASA’s Deep Impact probe in 2005 has created a 150-meter-wide (490-foot-wide) crater with a small mound in the center, as some of the ejecta of the impact apparently fell back down within the crater, but the crater’s relatively soft outline indicates that its edges have undergone significant changes since the 2005 impact

    Sandblasted by interstellar dust gains and
    irradiated over eons, long-period comets from the Oort Cloud are not exactly pristine relics from the birth of the Solar System

    Astronomical observations, however, now indicate that the Solar System has around 400 billion comets of a mile or two (two to three kilometers) in diameter, but the “‘domestic model’ of comet formation can account for a population of only about 6 billion” within Sol’s Oort Cloud. Since most of these comets have very long, highly eccentric orbits that are only weakly bound to their birth star’s gravity, Sol may have stolen quite a few from its less massive neighbors (NASA
    Science News; and Hal Levison’s November 8, 2010 presentation “Oort Cloud Formation – The Role of the Sun’s Birth Cluster”).

  4. The 2 million km perihelion refers to the Sun. Meaning its closest (or lowest) point to the sun will be around 2 million kilometers. This is quite near (Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, orbits at between 45 – 70 million kilometers). It says nothing about how near the Earth the comet will get, which is what the term ‘Near miss’ refers to.

    An asteroid slated to pass us in March 2013 at about 24,000km is referred to as a Near miss. I couldn’t find any definite boundary for the term, but it’s orders of magnitude closer than ‘millions of kilometers’. I think objects that pass within the moons orbit, or even within the orbits of our own manmade satellites are routinely called ‘Near misses’

  5. So 2013 is going to be an interesting year for astronomy. Cool. I can’t wait.

    Hopefully we will survive the end of the world as predicted by the Mayans… Otherwise that would be a bummer.
    Are there any nitwits who expect to be picked up by aliens like the Heavens Gate cult group in 1997?
    Anyway, it will be a spectacle, so let’s enjoy this wonderful show of nature.

  6. I was living on Quadra Island in 1997.  One snowy night I had to go walking down the road, navigating purely by feel. It was pitch black. I got to see Hale Bopp.  It was one of the magical moments of my life.  I hope everyone gets out to a low light area to appreciate the new comet.

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