Both astronomers and the general public has gone abuzz over Comet ISON thanks to a prediction released a year ago by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that stated that the comet could reach magnitude -11.6, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Additionally, besides being shadow-casting bright at night, the comet would be bright enough to easily be spotted during broad daylight. If Comet ISON were to become this bright, it would not be a first, but it would still be the astronomical event of the year should the JPL's prediction come true.
Now, as the comet comes ever to closer to Earth, robotic as well as human eyes will start directing their attention toward Comet ISON.
On November 28, the comet will pass a mere (in astronomical terms) 732,000 miles from the Sun. Is is this close pass to the Sun, and the resultant melting of the comet that, according to optimistic estimates, push Comet ISON to magnitude -11, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Unfortunately, though, the comet has been underwhelming so far. The good news: comets are unpredictable, which means that, literally overnight, things could change for the better as they did with Comet Holmes back in 2007.
Okay, comet hunters, here are some key dates to consider:
November 18: Comet ISON will be within a degree of Spica
November 23: Comet ISON will pass very near a planetary pair of Mercury and Saturn
November 28: Comet ISON's closest approach to the Sun, hopefully it will survive and if it does, a spectacular tail (McNaught on steroids) is a very real possibility
Early December: Comet ISON will be visible on both evening and morning skies for mid-Northern observers arnd circumpolar for the far North
December 26: Comet ISON makes its closest approach to Earth at 39.6 million miles
For an intriguing afterthought, according to comet hunter John Bortle through Spaceweather.com (go to the September 25, 2012 archived page), Comet ISON's path closely parallels that of the great comet of 1680, which was bright enough to be seen during the day (just like McNaught).
The best news: for once, this will be a Northern Hemisphere comet!
In the end, thought, the only way we'll be able to know what Comet ISON will do is to wait and watch.
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