Comet ISON: Could the Comet of the Century Hit Earth in 2013? [PHOTO & VIDEO]

By iScienceTimes Staff Reporter on March 20, 2013 1:42 AM EDT

Comet ISON is coming. And it's going to be huge. The comet will, at the very least, be the brightest comet visible from Earth in decades. It may end up being the brightest comet ever when it passes through the inner solar system this fall. Does that make it a threat to the Earth? Read on to find out.

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Comet Hale-Bopp, a clear contender for the last 'Comet of the Century,' was visible to the naked eye for many months. (Photo: Creative Commons)
Comet Hale-Bopp, a clear contender for the last 'Comet of the Century,' was visible to the naked eye for many months. (Photo: Creative Commons)


Comet ISON was discovered quite recently: in September 2012, by Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novickonok, two amateur astronomers from Russia. Comets, in fact, are one of the last areas where amateur astronomers can still make discoveries; Comet Hale-Bopp was also discovered by amateurs. But most modern astronomy requires insanely powerful telescopes - or Mars rovers. Neither are cheap.

Comet ISON is a new comet, and a "sungrazer." It's new in that it has never entered the inner solar system before, meaning it has never not been frozen. As a sungrazer, it will also approach unusually close to the Sun, and thus partially melt and release many of the minerals within it. This will provide scientists with a rare opportunity to study a virgin comet's composition.

Depending on its approach, Comet ISON could become the "comet of the century." It's hard to tell for certain, since the comet is still massively far away - 625 million miles away, to be exact. But current trends suggest a similar trajectory to the Great Comet of 1680, which was visible even in daylight. NASA is launching the official NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign to study the comet as effectively as possible.

Comet ISON will, without question, be much, much brighter than Comet Pan-STARRS, which passed over the Northern Hemisphere unspectacularly last week. It will pass closest to the sun on November 28, 2013. Around that time, the comet may even shine as brightly as the Moon. Or it could completely fizzle out, like Comet Kahoutek in the '70s. It too was billed as a 'Comet of the Century,' but due to the unpredictability of comet movement didn't turn into much of a display.

Luckily, scientists confirm that the chances of Comet ISON hitting the Earth are a sweet, round zero percent. Even at its closest approach, ISON will be farther away from the Earth than Venus is, and it poses absolutely no threat to the planet. But it could still provide a truly spectacular lightshow this fall.

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