A new comet discovered earlier this week has caught the attention of the astronomy community. Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) was discovered Tuesday by a telescope affiliated with ISON, the International Scientific Optical Observation Network. This is a network of mid-sized telescopes dedicated to surveillance of the near earth region of our solar system.
The reason this comet is intriguing is a combination of a large estimated size and an orbit that appears to provide both a close approach to the Sun and favorable viewing from the Earth.
The comet will approach the sun as close as 0.012 AU on November 28th, 2013, quite close indeed. The comet will also approach Earth as close as 0.4 AU (60 million kilometers or 37 million miles) on December 26th, 2013. As a result this comet could achieve a magnitude well into the negative numbers, brighter than most objects in the sky except the Sun or Moon.
This comet is in addition to comet C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS), expected to be an unaided eye comet during the spring of 2013. If we get lucky 2013 will be a great year for comets.
As I have cautioned in the past, comet predictions are to be taken with a good amount of skepticism. This could be a spectacular comet, or this could be a mediocre comet, we will just have to wait and see. In the meantime pay attention to the light curve as it nears the Sun. As my friend David Levy observed… “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want.”