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Will ISON be the Comet of the Century?

Posted in
Written by Melissa Mascarin on
Post Date: 
Thu, 2013/11/14

Have you been hearing about Comet ISON on the news lately? How can you track what may be the comet of the century? Here is a guide from The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada including resource links to help you learn more and keep you up-to-date about Comet ISON.

 

Discovery:

Amateur astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok spotted the comet in photographs taken by an ISON telescope in September 2012. The comet appeared unusually bright relative to its distance indicating that its nucleus may be between 1km and 10km across.

At the time of its discovery in late September 2012, Comet ISON was 1 billion km from Earth in the constellation of Cancer. In February 2013, NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft took a series of images of the comet. Preliminary results indicated that although the comet was still in the outer solar system, more than 763 million km from the sun, it was already active.

 

Key Date:

November 27th: Comet ISON will enter the field of view at NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) *

November 28th: ISON reaches perihelion at 18:00 PM EST/ 23:00 UT. During the Perihelion Passage, Comet ISON will make a hair pin turn around the Sun, approximately, 1.86 million kilometres from its surface.  

         

What`s with all the Comet ISON hype

Comets are notoriously unpredictable. Comet ISON has the potential to live up to the hype, but it also has the potential to do nothing.

The Sun’s Tidal forces and solar radiation have been known to destroy comets. A recent example is Comet Elenin, which broke apart and dissipated in 2011 as it approached the sun.  Elenin was a much smaller comet though. Comet Lovejoy, which flew through the sun's atmosphere in 2011, emerged intact and wowed observers with a garish tail for weeks.

Comet ISON is probably at least twice as big as Comet Lovejoy and will pass a bit farther from the sun’s surface so enthusiasts are optimistic that ISON could survive and put on a great show.

 

What Should You Do?

1.  Look for activities with you local RASC centre, http://www.rasc.ca/locations-across-canada

2.  Educate yourself; the RASC’s Observers Handbook offers tips on observing, drawing, locating and photographing comets

3.  Be wary of sensational headlines

4.  Gather more information from reliable science-based reports

 

The RASC has gathered resources for you to learn more about and track Comet ISON:

 

Resources:

History and Timeline of Comet ISON

NASA - http://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/timeline-of-comet-ison-s-dangerous-journey/#.UnulbvlzF8F

 

Weekly Updates

Aerith - http://aerith.net/comet/weekly/current.html

SkyNews- http://www.skynews.ca/comet-ison-update/

Astronomy Magazine – http://www.astronomy.com/magazine/events/comet-ison

 

Best Views of Perihelion

*NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) -

http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/data/realtime-images.html

 

Interactive ‘Comet of the Century’ Tracker: Where’s ISON Now?

Time Magazine Online-

http://science.time.com/2013/11/11/interactive-comet-of-the-century-tracker-wheres-ison-now/

 

Photo Contest

The National Science Foundation - Amateur Astronomer Photo Contest  

http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/cometchallenge/pdf/NSF_Comet_ISON_participants_guide.pdf

 

Sky and Telescope – Comet ISON Photo Contest - http://www.skyandtelescope.com/photocontest

 

Comet ISON Apps

Comet ISON – (US $0.99)  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/comet-ison/id615547037?mt=8

Comet Watch – (Free) https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/comet-watch-powered-by-distant/id710273903?mt=8