A recently discovered comet will become one of the brightest lights in the sky late next year, outshining all of the stars in the night sky and even our own moon. Astronomers are predicting that it will be one of the most spectacular comet sightings in history, so for those of us who enjoy gazing up at the stars, we’re in for a real treat indeed!
The comet is already significantly bright, visible to telescopes near the constellation Cancer. In late 2013 and early 2014, however, it will be closer to the Earth and therefore much more prominent. What gives the comet its shine? As the comet moves closer to the sun, gas and dust are blasted off the center core of ice and rocks. A tail made up of this gas and dust is formed behind it, giving it the image we are familiar with when thinking of comets. This tail is very reflective, largely because much of the material blasted off the comet into the tale is icy, and it is this which will make the comet so bright.
This comet, 2012s1, was discovered late last week by Russian astronomers and confirmed by an international astronomical union on Monday. Though little is known about it right now, it appears to to be fairly large, possible around two miles wide. Astronomer’s still aren’t sure where the comet came from, though they have suggested that it may have escaped the Oort Cloud, a massive cloud of asteroids and icy bodies which surrounds our outer solar system. There is excitement amongst astronomers because, if this is the case, the comet will present an excellent opportunity to study these bodies that are usually far outside our reach. The comet will pass very close to Mars, and there is a possible opportunity for the latest Mars rover, Curiosity, to observe it.
Right now the comet is 615 million miles out from the Earth, between the orbits of Saturn and Jupiter. At its closest point, the comet will come to within 1.2 million miles of the sun, where the intense heat and gravity could cause it to break apart. Before this happens, when it is closer to the Earth, we’re in for a real exciting show. Astronomers are already calling this one of the most promising comet sightings of history, and they say that it seems to be following the same path as the ‘Great Comet of 1680’, which is now considered the most extraordinary event of this kind experienced.
Late 2013 and early 2014 we’re in for a real treat. Get excited for this one!