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Captain's Log

October 2013

Comet ISON - the comet of the century

Are you ready for the comet of the century?

Are you ready for the comet of the century?

If you haven’t already heard of Comet ISON, then you soon will. Proclaimed as “The Comet of the Century”, it is predicted to become the brightest object in the night sky over the next few months - observable by amateurs with even the most basic astronomy equipment. Thought to originate from the Ort Cloud (a cloud of ice and dust a light year away from the sun), Comet ISON was first discovered in September 2012 by Russian Astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok. At that time, it was more than 580 million miles away.

ISON is currently estimated to be around three miles in diameter, and travelling at some 82,000mph. It will continue to accelerate until 28 November when it will whip around the Sun at an incredible 845,000mph, heading back roughly in the direction it came. Assuming it survives its encounter with the Sun, it is expected to pass over the northern hemisphere of Earth at a distance of around 40 million miles on 26 December.

Now visible through a telescope, those with a keen eye might be able to spot the comet through nothing more than a good pair of binoculars during November.

By mid November, Comet ISON should have brightened enough to be seen with the naked eye, then, as it drops lower in the sky approaching perihelion (the point at which it is closest to the Sun), its tail should become even more prominent before disappearing for a few days behind the Sun’s glare. After perihelion on the 28 November, we should be in for a real treat as Comet ISON emerges tail first to be visible in both the evening and morning skies.

Comet ISON will continue to move northwards throughout December, and by Christmas be high in the sky to be visible all night long, before finally leaving our solar system.

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