Slugger O'Toole

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“Will Comet ISON fizzle … or sizzle?”

Sat 19 January 2013, 2:45pm

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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Comments (4)

  1. Angry Planner (profile) says:

    Fingers crossed that it puts on a good show, its been 16 years since Hale-Bopp. I was in the final year of my B.Sc at Queens in 1997 and can remember seeing it in the sky every night.

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  2. David Crookes (profile) says:

    One good reason for city-dwellers to spend their holidays in the coiuntry is that they have more chance of seeing what goes on in the night sky when they’re away from urban street-lights. Many thanks for these links, Pete.

    Angry Planner, my best-ever astral night fell in August of 1990, when I was walking towards Larne from Carnlough between midnight and three am. The meteors were putting on a gala performance that night.

    At least one exegete construes Psalm 74. 14 as referring to the break-up of a comet into ‘a string of pearls’.

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  3. Angry Planner (profile) says:

    I can remember that well David, I was 16 and was out in the back garden until about 3am counting over 100 Perseids, I had a crick in my neck the next day but it was well worth it!

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  4. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Thanks for that memory, Angry Planner. We belong to that temporally tiny period of human history in which the night sky is of no use or interest to millions of people. Many of us are divorced both from our environment and from the mental world of our ancestors. Thus when we read the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales we tend to ignore the astronomical fact which comes at the beginning.

    I reckon that to have no interest in the night sky is to be less than fully human. We were meant to have star-studded memories. Whether the union lasts for centuries or gives way to a UI, we should have an education system that makes room for the stars.

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