Get ready to rock like it’s the year 1680! That’s the last time astronomers say the world was treated to a comet that was glimpsed during the daylight hours and dazzled clear across the sky at sunset.
Russian astronomers this week announced discovery of Comet ISON – saying that when the object reaches its perihelion (its closest point to the sun at about 1.16 million miles) on Nov. 28, 2013, the results here on Earth may be spectacular.
“Around that time, if the more optimistic predictions are accurate, it could become a very brilliant object, perhaps even visible in daylight,” writes PC Mag. “After making a hairpin turn around the Sun, the comet will head north, becoming visible in the morning and evening sky and likely growing a long tail. It will pass within about 40 million miles of Earth, and could remain visible to the unaided eye through January.”
How bright are we talking? Comets are known to be extremely fickle – and this isn’t the first time hopes have been raised for a celestial show only to witness zip. But some are predicting that Comet ISON could really be a 2013 holiday treat – with Astronomy Now magazine going on to exclaim that during its closest approach to the sun, it could burn brighter than the full moon. From the site:
“Comet brightness predictions sometimes exceed their performance. Amateur astronomers of a certain age may remember the Comet Kohoutek hype of 1973 – not quite the ‘damp squib’ it has been portrayed, since it reached naked eye visibility! Even if C/2012 S1 takes on the same light curve as Kohoutek it is certain to be spectacular, quite possibly a once-in-a-civilisation’s-lifetime event.”
As someone who remembers fondly 1997′s Comet Hale-Bopp, ISON has me excited. Regardless of its place in history, it will be cool to have a new object in the nighttime sky to enjoy going into 2014. Book a date for an evening in the country on November 28, 2013 now.
Photo credit: Creative Commons/Painting of the Great Comet of 1680