Comet ISON could light up the December sky (if it survives)
Animators at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. created this short movie showing how the sun can cook a comet. Such a journey is currently being made by Comet ISON. Video courtesy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Stargazers could be in for a treat early next month. If all goes well, Comet ISON will hurtle past Earth, leaving light-reflecting streaks of gas, water and dust in its wake and creating a spectacular light show in the sky.
But that comet has to survive a close encounter with the sun first.
The comet, named ISON after the International Scientific Optical Network, will be as close as it will ever be to the sun this Thanksgiving, less than 750,000 miles above the sun’s surface. Astronomers will be watching to see if solar radiation causes the comet to break apart as it slingshots around the star.
If it survives and if bursts of solar particles don’t interfere with the streaks of matter that form the comet’s tail, stargazers should be able to see the comet in the sky — even with the naked eye — in the first or second week of December, when its orbit will bring it closest to Earth.