The SI Weather
18Feb/13Mon

11:50 AM | The Year of the Comet??

Discussion

There are not one, but two comets coming this year that very well could end up making 2013 remembered as the “Year of the Comet”. The first comet will become visible in the next several weeks while the second comet comes late this year and it promises to be one of the best of all-time according to some experts.

The first comet is officially known as Comet C/2011 L4 and it was discovered by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System known as Pan-STARRS. As a result, the comet may soon take on the name “Comet Pan-STARRS”. This will be the comet’s first visit as it has never been pulled in by the sun’s gravity so some surprises are possible. “Pan-STAARS” will become visible to the naked eye in the southern hemisphere in early March. By that time, the comet will pass about 100 million miles from Earth as it briefly dips inside the orbit of Mercury. It should become visible to observers in the northern hemisphere around mid-March. In fact, some experts have pinpointed March 12th and 13th as two of the best dates for viewing the new comet in the northern hemisphere as it emerges in the western sunset sky. “Pan-STAARS” will continue to be a bright object in the evening sky for the rest of March and during the first half of April.

The second comet coming in 2013 was discovered last September by Russian astronomers and it could blossom into one of the best comets ever according to some astronomers. This comet is known as “ISON” since it was discovered through a telescope in Russia as part of the “International Scientific Optical Network (ISON)”. “ISON” should become visible in August and September to obervers at dark locations using small telescopes or binoculars. It should then make its first appearance to the naked eye during the first week of November in both the northern and southern hemispheres. It will make its closest approach to the sun on November 28th, some 680,000 miles away, much closer even than the planet Mercury. If the comet survives this encounter and doesn’t break up, it is predicted to become brighter than the full moon, visible even in the daytime sky, and the bright object should be visible right through December and into early January 2014. Currently, the comet is located near Jupiter and is only visible with large telescopes.

So if all goes well, 2013 could turn out to be known as “The Year of the Comet”; however, as a word of caution, many comets have failed to live up to expectations (e.g. Comet Kohoutek, 1973) - stay tuned.

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