Welcome Comet ISON

Late Winter, 1997, just before moving from Boston to Minnesota, was very snowy out east. And, that year I had stupidly agreed to shovel the snow for our apartment building in exchange for a pittance of some kind. One night I was shoveling the latest 7 inch storm off the walk, and the father of our upstairs neighbor came out to look at the weather, the snow, and the sky. Our neighbors were Russian, and had been in the US for only a year, and their dad may or may not have been a refugee of some sort. He was wearing his big Russian hat and his big Russian coat and he knew almost no English. Noticing him looking around, I stood up and said hello. He grunted something. Then, I pointed up the street, and up in the sky. There, hovering over the Somverville Massachusetts cityscape was Comet Hale-Bopp, bright, curving, strange looking, hovering in the night sky. He turned his gaze and looked at the comet for a moment, then looked back at me, shaking his head in awe.

“America…,” was his only comment.

He then returned to the warmth of his apartment. I continued to shovel snow for the next couple of hours.

Well, we have a new comet, and it is named ISON (full name, C/2012 S1). ISON was spotted by the International Scientific Optical Network in Russia. There are two important things to know about ISON. First, as far as can be estimated so far (and this is subject to correction) the comet will pass very close to the sun. Since comets look really cool when they get close to the sun, it is possible that ISON will be spectacular. It is possible, and again this is subject to correction, that ISON will be one of the biggies…super bright, brighter than the moon, all that. The other important thing is that astronomers think ISON is a newcomer, a chunk of distant stuff that is falling out of the ort cloud for the first time. For this reason, its behavior and even its basic physical properties are unkown and hard to predict, and since this would be the first time it will ever be close enough to a star to seriously interact with it other than a bit of gravitational tugging, you never know what can happen. It might vaporize (mostly) on the way into the inner solar system and not put on much of a show at all.

The expected period of spectacular cometary display…or lack thereof… is Fall 2013. Plenty of time to build your own star tracker so you can take a picture of it.

ISON is unlikely to strike the earth and cause a mass extinction. However, it is very likely that one or more cults will form associated with the comet, and they’ll be doing crazy stuff, like trying to get on board. We can only hope they don’t harm themselves in so doing.

More info:

From the Planetary Society
A post on Cosmic Log (NBC)
A post at EarthSky

Comments

  1. #1 StrizekS
    Nebraska
    September 25, 2012

    Hope this one will be great. It has been quite a while since we have seen even a “good” comet. Stay tuned!

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    September 25, 2012

    Any comet that does not hit the earth and cause a mass extinction is a good comet!

  3. #3 astrostevo
    Adelaide, South Australia
    September 26, 2012

    @StrizekS : Oh I dunno ’bout that.

    We had comet Lovejoy back in January this year which was pretty spectacular and well worth getting up pre-dawn for.

    Comet McNaught 2007 was the best I’ve ever seen too. (Yikes, five years ago already?)

    Always be great to have another one mind you.

  4. #4 Wild_Bill
    New England
    September 26, 2012

    Yes, a new comet, and you are correct, it is likely that some cult will predict mass extinction from this unlikely event while ignoring the climate change that surrounds us all!

  5. #5 Joe Marcus
    September 26, 2012

    This is fascinating. But not knowing the word “ort” — and always happy for an opportunity to bolster my senescent, dwindling vocabulary, I looked it up. According to my ever-handy (computer-) desktop Oxford American Dictionary, ort an archaic/dialect word meaning “scrap,” its origin “being late Middle English, from Middle Low German orte ‘food remains,’ originally a compound of which the second element is related to eat.” Hmmmm. Food-scrap clouds??? Might this perhaps relate to the Wandering Scarlet’s “Bacon in the Sky” http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/bacon-in-the-sky/ , providing an alternate parsimonious hypothesis for the bacon shortage you reported on? Uh, better first google it: OHHH, “oort (cloud)! Cool! TWO new words AND a bit of cometology thrown in for good measure. Ah-oh … Is cometology a real word? Best google that one as well. Google’s result: “Did you mean: cosmetology>” Hell, maybe I did.

  6. #6 StrizekS
    Nebraska
    September 27, 2012

    @ astrostevo point well taken.

    Perhaps more accurately, I should have stated:
    It’s been quite a while since I have seen a good/great naked-eye comet. In fact the ONLY good/great naked-eye comets I have seen are Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake (1995 / 1996).

    @ Greg Laden some people (not me) might disagree. :-D

  7. #7 wijnand
    holland
    December 11, 2012

    thanks for the wonderful information, it helped me alot! i am looking forward to this event. All that 2012 bullshit made me nervous and curious, so i’ve googeld everything. do you think anything ’bout that is true?

  8. #8 spuki
    North Carolina
    December 21, 2012

    I love to know, why is it that no one ever says something other wise, when look not to be diss alarming about this, the truth is that NASA most likely knew about this for long time, and it is only now that we get to know about it, if it is like they say that this comet will be visible for many days, then it just might be heading this way. People just be in peace and pray for the best.

  9. #9 Regalia
    January 2, 2013

    This comet will be a great event. I hope this will be because of the spectacle which it will provide for us in the skies, but it will certainl have an impact on our minds. Read my new blog cometison.blogspot.com about this, and follow the rise of the comet in the public mind!

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