Comet of the Century? Expectations soar as ISON approaches the sun
Published Tuesday, September 17, 2013 9:02AM EDT
Will it be the comet of the century, or will it simply fizzle as it zips closer to the sun?
Astronomers are not sure what will become of Comet ISON, which has generated plenty of buzz since it was discovered by Russian astronomers about a year ago.
Because of ISON’s size and brightness at a great distance from the sun, it’s given sky-watchers plenty to be excited about.
“When astronomers predicted how it would brighten when it got closer to the sun at end of November, the numbers were showing it could be as bright as the moon,” says Randy Attwood, managing editor of Space Quarterly Magazine and senior editor of Spaceref.com.
Attwood told CTV’s Canada AM on Tuesday that if the comet does survive its approach to the sun, it could provide a stunning show on Earth.
But he warns a lot could change before then.
“It’s going to be cooking as it passes around the sun,” Attwood said. “We don’t know if it’s going to survive.”
Attwood said as the ice melts, the comet will release dust which gives it its tail.
He said if ISON does survive, it could be visible in the early-morning sky in November and December.
“Just before 7 a.m. in the morning, we’ll be able to look in the east and see a comet with a tail,” Attwood said.
He warns, however, that expectations ISON will light up the morning sky may be too high.
Compared with original estimates, ISON is already dimmer than expected.
Nevertheless, Attwood said the anticipation surrounding ISON is similar to the excitement preceding comet Kohoutek in 1973.
Hyped as the comet of that century at the time, Kohoutek turned out to be what Attwood described as: “A little, itty bitty smug in the sky.”
“People are concerned ISON may do the same thing,” he added.
Space watchers can follow ISON’s journey via Twitter @cometison2013.