- uploaded: Feb 15, 2013
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Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) was discovered on the 21st September 2012 at the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) in Russia by astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok.
So why all the news headlines and hype about it?
Well, it's described as what is termed a "Sun Grazing" comet, and that means it's going to get incredibly close to the Sun before it gets flung back out of the solar system - assuming it doesn't disintegrate first.
The comet has a parabolic orbit; the importance of this is that it suggests it's come directly from the Oort Cloud - a vast assembly of icy chunks and comets-in-the-making forming a giant sphere and orbiting the Sun nearly a light year away!
As I write this, on the 1st October 2012, the comet is incredibly faint at magnitude 18 (that's very, very faint!), and can only be seen in long exposure images from highly sensitive CCD cameras connected to large telescopes.
However, it will gradually brighten throughout 2013 as it makes its way into the inner solar system and gets closer to the Sun. On the 28th November 2013, the comet will be 1.24 million miles away from the Sun - that sounds like a lot doesn't it? Well, with the enormous energy and radiation given off from the Sun, the comet will be frying. This is what will hopefully ensure the comet gives off a great show - producing enormous tails of gas and dust - possibly filling a quarter of the night sky.
I'll be keeping a close eye on the comet all the way through to its Sun-grazing approach using the Slooh.com online robotic telescopes. Like tonight, I'll also do a few free shows about it with live images from the telescopes.
This is being headlined as a once-in-a-lifetime comet - let's hope it lives up to its hype! We've had a few comets in previous years that haven't lived up to expectations but, if this one does what is predicted, it may fill the night sky and be as bright as the Moon!