Found in September 2012, the Comet named ISON is getting a lot of attention and has even been called a candidate for the "Comet of the Century," but will it sizzle or fizzle for stargazers?
Comet ISON, a sungrazer, by November or December, could become a striking object in the sky, visible to the naked eye, even in broad daylight, as its orbit brings it "very close" to the sun, according to NASA.
At least one astronomer has declared the comet already is fizzling, but the Colombian scientist had previously given it a 75 percent chance to shine as bright as the full moon at its nearest, according to Space.com.
Still, as an amateur astronomer in Arizona recently spotted a not-as-bright-as-hoped Comet ISON, according to earthsky.org, NASA is closely monitoring the ball of dust, water and gases they say contain the building blocks of the solar system.
Comet ISON is believed to be making its first trip into the solar system, after existing for about 4.5 billion years, and could hold answers for researchers studying its formation, according to the University of Central Florida's student newspaper, Central Florida Future.
But the details of Comet ISON's future are still largely unknown, according to David Dundee, astronomer at Cartersville's Tellus Science Museum.
"There has been a lot of conversation on various websites about the possible comet of the century. Comet ISON was spotted over a year ago in large telescopes. It was bright early. So by the time it gets to the inner solar system it could be spectacular. But the truth of the matter is we don’t know," Dundee said. "Comets on their first trip to the inner solar system have no track record, so we don’t know how they will react to the heat of the sun."
What astronomers do know, according to Dundee, include:
- Comet ISON will cross the orbit of Mars on Oct. 1. By then, we will have a good idea of how bright it will get, according to Dundee.
- By Nov. 1, ISON might be bright enough to see in small telescopes and perhaps binoculars. It will be a predawn object low in the east.
- Nov. 27, it will pass within 700,000 miles of the surface of the sun. At that point, temperatures will increase to about 5,800 degrees, hot enough to melt steel. (Remember comets are basically a snow ball of frozen gas).
- If the comet survives its encounter with the sun, we may be treated to a beautiful comet in mid-December. The best views would be before dawn in the eastern sky.
- But ISON might fizzle, be dim or be destroyed when it encounters the sun.