Year of the Comet?

This is an exciting year to be looking at the sky!

Comet Pan-STARRS, back in March, was a thrill–if you had clear skies or access to a space telescope.    Here is NASA’s STEREO view of that comet:

Comet Pan-STARRTS (courtesy of NASA)

Comet Pan-STARRS (courtesy of NASA)

 

 

 

 

In October, our intrepid Mars exploration robots and satellites will have a close call with a comet–and there is even a possibility that it will strike Mars:

Comet 2013 A1

Comet 2013 A1 (courtesy of NASA)  See video here.

 

 

 

 

Aaaand…in November, Comet ISON will appear.  This one has been billed as The Comet of the Century, and while other comets have had similar billing and flopped, we’ll have many opportunities to view and learn from its passage.  It may be visible to the naked eye by mid-November, but there’s a chance of an uptick in brightness when it hits perihelion on November 28th (aka Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.).  Many turkey dinners will be sitting cold while astronomy fans dash out with their solar-protection lenses to attempt to spot a brighter-than-Venus comet wheeling close to the sun.  Then will come a few days of frustration until the comet emerges from perihelion in the morning sky, hopefully trailing a dramatic tail.  Sky and Telescope predicts the finest view will come on December 14th, with a huge tail–perhaps spreading across as much as a fourth of the sky–will gleam brightly in the dark sky just after moonset.

In the meantime, and especially during those days it’s seemingly out-of-sight, ISON will be generating considerable science.  NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory will have eyes on the comet, as previous sun-grazing comets have yielded masses of information about the sun as well as the passing visitors.  And the twin “STEREO” (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) stations can be expected to contribute their views for potential 3-D detail.

 

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