This year astronomers all over the world will have something different to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. The well-known comet ISON will come the closest it will ever get to the sun. ISON has never been to the inner-edge of our solar system before. It has been traveling for approximately 5.5 million years to reach us from the far edges of our galaxy, and on Thursday Nov. 28th, Thanksgiving Day, it will finally reach its closest point to the sun.
For those of you who don’t know a comet is typically made of dust, rock and ice. When a comet moves closer to the sun, the ice particles are vaporized and take the dust with it causing the effect of a “tail” behind the now only rock mass. The comet ISON was discovered over a year ago in Sept 2012 by a pair of Russian astronomers. Since then, ISON has been shedding some mass on its journey toward the sun. Currently, it's estimated that the comet is around 1.2 miles wide. Back in July of this year it was estimated that ISON was about triple that size.
It is projected that on Thanksgiving Day when ISON makes its trip around the sun that three possible outcomes could occur. First, is that the comet’s mass will be strong enough and hold up and will produce a fairly bright tail that could be visible to the naked eye to early morning sky viewers. Second, the sun could break up ISON into several smaller chunks which still would be awesome to witness. And third, the comet could be so weak that the sun could just completely disintegrate it into nothing.
Should ISON survive its pass around the sun, be on the lookout for a spectacular show in the first or second week of December. If you wish to try and see the comet during this time all you would need is a pair of binoculars, and maybe not even those. If you have a telescope that would be even better and would give you a much clearer picture. Best locations to view ISON would be any place where it is dark and away from artificial light.
Why is it important? When it comes to the solar system there are a lot of unknowns. As “Star Trek” stats, it is the final frontier. ISON gives us a glimpse of what our solar system was like 4.5 billion years ago. One step closer to unlocking some secrets of our great big solar system. If you are interested in taking up astronomy check out OpticsPlanet for some great beginner telescopes and other gear.
Images Courtesy of Wiki Commons