Comet ISON – the brightest comet for a century?

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Comet ISON, first discovered out beyond the orbit of Jupiter, has people excited. Some are predicting that it may be the brightest comet seen for over a hundred years, however as any astronomer knows, that is a risky claim to make and one that can often turn out to be a gross over-exaggeration.┬áSometimes comets which promise dazzling displays can fizzle out with little warning – many will recall the relative disappointment of Comet Kohoutek in the 1970s. Comets are quite fragile things, and due to the nature of their composition, the very thing which gives them their beauty – the outgassing of their interiors and stripping of their nuclei by solar radiation – also destroys them. Comet ISON is a sungrazing comet, and as the name implies, it will pass very close to the Sun. This may tear the comet the apart, but if not, we may be treated to a spectacular sight – a comet which, when close to the sun can be seen in the daytime, and when it’s moved into the night time sky may even outshine the Moon.

Comet ISON is already on its way into the inner Solar System, and will be nearing the Sun towards the end of 2013. Let’s hope that it lives up to expectations – it could spark a new wave of interest, not just in comets specifically but in all aspects of the science and beauty of astronomy.

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