Researchers at the University of Maryland at College Park (UMCP) have been using the Swift telescope to take a closer look at ISON, a comet that could be the brightest one for the past 50 years – though it won’t hit its peak luminosity until it grazes the sun, at a mere 730,000 miles on 28th November.
At that point it will become far brighter due to a process called sublimation, where some of the comet’s icy structure is melted into vapour and released, along with dust, which reflects the sun’s light. However we may get our best look at ISON further out from the sun, as it will pass by the earth on 26th December, at a distance of 40 million miles. It’ll also skim Mars earlier in the year (1st October) at a distance of 6.7 million miles, where orbiting instruments may be able to pick up more information on it.
“Comet ISON has the potential to be among the brightest comets of the last 50 years, which gives us a rare opportunity to observe its changes in great detail and over an extended period,” said Lead Investigator Dennis Bodewits, an astronomer at UMCP.[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40wICUY5VmU’]
Officially designated as C/2012 S 1, ISON was discovered on 21st September 2012, by a pair of Russian astronomers: Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichinok.
KitGuru Says: Unfortunately due to the extreme angle ISON is set to pass the sun at, it’ll be difficult to detect because of the sun’s glare. It’s thought that it may ultimately be more visible as it travels further from its brightest point.