New Comet Discovered—May Become “One of Brightest in History”
Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) by Tibor Horvath
If astronomers’ early predictions hold true, the holidays next year may hold a glowing gift for stargazers—a superbright comet, just discovered streaking near Saturn.
Right now, 2012 S1 appears to be about 615 million miles (990 million kilometers) from Earth, between the orbits of Saturn and Jupiter, astronomers say.
As the sun’s gravity pulls the comet closer, it should pass about 6.2 million miles (10 million kilometers) from Mars—possibly a unique photo opportunity for NASA’s new Curiosity rover.
Current orbital predictions indicate the comet will look brightest to us in the weeks just after its closest approach to the sun, on November 28, 2013—if 2012 S1 survives the experience.
As the comet comes within about 1.2 million miles (2 million kilometers) of the sun, the star’s intense heat and gravity could cause the ice and rubble to break apart, scotching the sky show. (Related: “Comet Seen Vaporizing in Sun’s Atmosphere—A First.”)
“While some predictions suggest it may become as bright as the full moon, and even visible during the day, one should be cautious when predicting how exciting a comet may get,” Samra said.
“Some comets have been notorious for creating a buzz but failing to put on a dazzling display,” he said. “Only time will tell.”