The year 2013 may be a extraordinary year when it comes to the night sky. Many call this moment in time “the year of the comets.”
The night sky is full of comets, meteors, and asteroids; however, the year 2013 looks to be historic, in that Comet ISON will be passing our planet brighter than a full moon, with a tail so radiant it will be visible without binoculars or telescopes, at daylight.
The last time we observed such a celestial spectacle was when the Great Comet of 1680 made its orbit. This comet was the first comet ever discovered using a telescope, by German astronomer Gottfried Kirsch.
The Discovery of Comet Pan-STARRS
In addition to Comet ISON, another brilliant comet is headed our way this early spring. Comet Pan-STARRS is expected to pass our sun this coming March. This comet is also referred to as C/2011 L4 and was first detected in the night sky on June 5 and 6, in 2011, using Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS-1 telescope.
This telescope found Comet Pan-STARRS while it was scanning the sky for potentially hazardous asteroids that may hit our planet. However, researchers claim the comet poses no danger to us.
Comet Pan-STARRS will make its voyage approximately 28 million miles away from the sun. It is expected to be visible in the lower western sky shortly after sunset. We may never see this comet again in our lifetime; it won’t return for another 110,000 years.
Discovering Comet ISON
In September 2012, the International Scientific Optical Network, also known as ISON, discovered Comet ISON using a telescope in Russia. Also referred to as Comet C/2012/ S1, Comet ISON will likely be visible in December 2013 and into the coming year. It will be approximately 6.5 million miles away from planet Mars in October.
Comets are made up of ice. The closer they come to the sun, more icy materials vaporizes, which make them turn bright as they expand and swell up. Comet ISON has been in a deep freeze for thousands of years. When it passes the sun, it will become incredibly hot since it will be subject to temperatures close to 2 million degrees Fahrenheit. This could cause the comet to shatter particles throughout the sky.
This year we will be able to observe a spectacular celestial event; but remember, comets are notoriously unpredictable and occasionally, they do not perform as expected.
Let us hope the comets travel as expected.
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