News / Science & Technology

Incoming ISON Comet Headed for Close Encounter with Sun

Comet ISON is shown in this NASA handout photographed by the Hubble telescope, Apr. 10, 2013.
Comet ISON is shown in this NASA handout photographed by the Hubble telescope, Apr. 10, 2013.
Reuters
A comet is heading for a close encounter with the sun later this month, and providing it is not vaporized or torn apart it should be visible to the naked eye sometime in December.
 
Comet ISON is expected to pass just about 621,000 miles from the sun's surface on Nov. 28.
 
Scientists are not sure how ISON will hold up. As it blasts around the sun, traveling at 234 miles per second, the comet will be heated to about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to vaporize not just the ice in the comet's body, but rock and metal as well.
 
If the heat does not kill ISON, the sun's gravity may rip it apart. However, recent calculations show that ISON will most likely survive, scientists say.
 
The comet was discovered in September 2012 by two amateur astronomers using Russia's International Scientific Optical Network, or ISON, for which the comet is named.
 
It was extraordinarily bright at the time, considering its great distance beyond Jupiter's orbit, raising the prospect of a truly cosmic spectacle as it approached the sun.
 
That is because heat from the sun causes ice in a comet's body to vaporize, creating bright, distinctive tails and fuzzy looking, glowing bodies. Depending on how much ice a comet contains, the closer it comes to the sun, the brighter it shines.
 
Over the weekend, amateur astronomers began posting the first pictures of the comet on the Internet that were taken with just binoculars or small telescopes.
 
“I finally saw Comet ISON for the first time using small binoculars!” pilot Brian Whittaker wrote on the SpaceWeather.com website. “It was faint, but is predicted to brighten and move each day! Exciting!”
 
Comets are believed to be frozen remains left over from the formation of the solar system some 4.5 billion years ago.
 
The group of comets that ISON is from is located in the Oort Cloud, a reservoir of icy bodies beyond Neptune's orbit. Occasionally, an object is gravitationally bumped out of the cloud and into a flight path that brings it into the inner solar system. Computer models show ISON is a first-time visitor.
 
The comet is moving through the constellation Virgo low in the eastern sky before dawn, astronomer Tony Phillips wrote on SpaceWeather.com.
 
“It is still too dim for naked-eye viewing, but an increasingly easy target for backyard optics,” Phillips added.
 
If predictions prove correct, the comet should be visible to the naked eye in Earth's early morning skies in early December and throughout the night, beginning in January.

You May Like

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More