With Comet PANSTARRS now fading from view in the western sky, all attention is being turned towards Comet ISON – and what could not only be the greatest celestial event of the year, but also one of the best this century.
Why such confidence when we’re only thirteen years into the 21st? It’s because Comet ISON has the potential to rival the nighttime moon in brightness and even be viewed during the daytime hours – something that hasn’t happened since the Great Comet of 1680! Even better that PANSTARRS, this sungrazer is due to stick around for several months – plenty of time for even the laziest star gazer to catch it.
For all the hoopla, astronomers are still not sure if ISON will live up to expectations – a reality check due in large part to the fickle nature of comets and past soured predictions. Then again, it could also perform even better than expected.
“Comet brightness predictions sometimes exceed their performance,” reported Astronomy Now last year. “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.”
To prepare for ISON’s arrival this coming November, NASA has brought together a team of experts to organize a viewing campaign. The goal is gather as much information on the comet as possible from a variety of sources.
“It’s a rare opportunity that we’ve got such a long heads-up time, so we actually have time to organize a campaign like this,” Karl Battams, a scientist at the U.S. Naval Research Lab in Washington and a member of the eight-person CIOC Team told Space.com. “There’s a lot of new science that we could get from this.”
Besides observatories on the ground, the CIOC campaign is also leveraging eyes in space – with SOHO, STEREO and SDO solar missions; by Spitzer, Chandra and Hubble space telescopes; and by the Deep Impact, JUNO, Mercury MESSENGER, Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter missions all on board.
The campaign will also shortly post a comprehensive guide on ISON for anyone interested in taking part.
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