Comet ISON, a potential “Comet of the Century“, is on a rendezvous with the sun – with new photos showing increased activity as it moves past the orbit of Jupiter.
The Gemini Observatory captured the newly released set of images from February through May 2013. Each one shows ISON gradually increasing in brightness as it flies through our solar system. Astronomers expect the “dirty snowball” to pass within 10.8 million kilometers of Mars on October 1st and then fly a blistering 1.2 million kilometers above the sun’s surface on or about November 28th.
If ISON manages to survive its date with the sun, the comet will swing back a return trip through our solar system, making its closest approach to Earth on December 26th at a distance of 64.2M kilometers. Between November and December, if the comet doesn’t fizzle out, burn up, or break apart, its brightness could exceed that of the full moon – and potentially even make ISON visible during the day.
“It looks promising, but that’s all we can say for sure now. Past comets have failed to live up to expectations once they reached the inner solar system, and only observations over the next few months will improve our knowledge of how ISON will perform,” an astronomer at Lowell Observatory and a member of the Swift team, Matthew Knight, told NASA.
By December 10th, and given that everything goes well, Comet ISON may be a fine spectacle in the early morning sky as viewed from the Northern Hemisphere. Under dark skies, it may sport a long tail stretching straight up from the eastern horizon, from the constellations of Ophiuchus to Ursa Major. The comet will also be visible in the evening sky during this time but with its tail appearing angled and closer to the horizon.