A Newly Discovered Comet Is Headed Our Way
Last Friday, a pair of Russian astronomers, Artyom Novichonok and Vitaly Nevski, were poring over images taken by a telescope at the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) in Kislovodsk when they spotted something unusual. In the constellation of Cancer was a point of light, barely visible, that didn’t correspond with any known star or other astronomical body.
Their discovery—a new comet, officially named C/2012 S1 (ISON)—was made public on Monday, and has since made waves in the astronomical community and across the internet.
As of now, Comet ISON, as it’s commonly being called, is roughly 625 million miles away from us and is 100,000 times fainter than the dimmest star that can be seen with the naked eye—it’s only visible using professional-grade telescopes. But as it proceeds through its orbit and reaches its perihelion, its closest point to the sun (a distance of 800,000 miles) on November 28th, 2013, it could be bright enough to be visible in full daylight in the Northern Hemisphere, perhaps even as bright as a full moon.
With current information, though, there’s no way of knowing for sure, and experts disagree on what exactly we’ll see. “Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) probably will become the brightest comet anyone alive has ever seen,” wrote Astronomy Magazine’s Michael E. Bakich.” But Karl Battams, a comet researcher at the Naval Research Laboratory, told Cosmic Log, “The astronomy community in general tries not to overhype these things. Potentially it will be amazing. Potentially it will be a huge dud.”
Regardless, the coming year will likely see conspiracy theorists asserting that the comet is on a collision course with Earth (as was said about Elenin). Astronomers, though, are certain that we’re in no danger of actually colliding with Comet ISON.