“Will Comet ISON fizzle … or sizzle?”

Science at Nasa has a great assessment of the potential for Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) to become the ‘Comet of the Century’.  Worth watching.

Just remember – “comets are like cats: they have tails, and do whatever they want to do.”

But as the Science at Nasa assessment notes

“Comet ISON is probably at least twice as big as Comet Lovejoy and will pass a bit farther from the sun’s surface” notes Knight. “This would seem to favor Comet ISON surviving and ultimately putting on a good show.

One of the most exciting possibilities would be a partial break-up.  “If Comet ISON splits, it might appear as a ‘string of pearls’ when viewed through a telescope,” speculates Battams.  “It might even resemble the famous Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 that hit Jupiter in 1994.”

A break-up would pose no threat to Earth, assures Yeomans.  “Comet ISON is not on a collision course. If it breaks up, the fragments would continue along the same safe trajectory as the original comet.”

Whatever happens, northern sky watchers will get a good view. For months after it swings by the sun, Comet ISON will be well placed for observers in the northern hemisphere.  It will pass almost directly over the North Pole, making it a circumpolar object visible all night long.

And Comet Lovejoy was spectacular.  Particularly if you were in exactly the right spot.  [Video courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center].

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