Science News

Get ready for the Comets!

Where will you be in the early morning of the 1st December? If you are in the right place at the right time then there is a chance, just a chance that you may see one of the wonders of the night skies, a great comet with a trail stretching out from it.

Comet ISON was first discovered by Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok, at an observatory in Russia. Immediate speculation gave the comet, the name “Great Comet” perhaps brighter than the moon. The comet reaches its closest distance to the sun on the 28th November.  These conditions make for excellent photographic opportunities, even without a telescope. The comet is visible in early morning skies before November 28th as it travels through the constellations of Leo and Virgo.  Comet ISON will be at it’s brightest towards late November and early December but as the Comet starts to become visible in darker skies it may be visible as late as January, although the brightness will gradually begin to fade.

The brightness of the comet is still a matter of speculation as the observations have currently been made with the comet further away than Mars. However as the Solar energy increases this causes the comet’s ices to warm up quicker. These ices include, amongst many other compounds frozen carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane and of course water. In the vacuum of space the ices turn directly to gas in a process known as sublimation. This gas is then quickly ionised this creates the tail pointing away from the Sun. As the Comet continues its orbit it leaves behind a trail of dust, if the Earth happens to intercept the trail we see a shower of shooting stars. One example of this is the recent Perseids.  Other comets on the horizon are the ‘Encke’, ‘Brewington’ and ‘Lovejoy’ comet.

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