8 January 2013, 16:20

Russian astronomers discover new huge comet

Russian astronomers discover new huge comet

Last year, Russian astronomers Vitaly Nevsky and Artyom Novichonok discovered a new gigantic comet that is currently approaching Earth. The ISON comet, which is expected to become brighter than the full moon, will be visible to the naked eye by late 2013. The astronomers say that given the comet’s unique orbit, its origin may be the Oort Cloud, a cluster of frozen rocks and ices surrounding the solar system, located almost a light-year from the Sun.

The comet is currently passing outside Jupiter, gaining speed and becoming brighter by the day. In September 2012, the Russian astronomers spotted what appeared to be a comet in images taken by a telescope that is part of the worldwide International Scientific Optical Network, or ISON, from which the object draws its name. Thanks to ISON, astronomers can get images taken by remote telescopes in other countries, including in New Mexico, where a Russian automatic observatory is located.

The ISON comet never plunged into the inner solar system, and its surface darkened because of the impact of galactic particles. At the same time, the comet avoided being damaged by the so-called solar wind, which is not the case for the Moon, for example. Sergei Smirnov, press secretary of the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says that studying surface of the ISON comet may shed more light on evolution of the Universe.

"In the future, it would be good to have special space vehicles on standby so that they can approach such celestial objects, something that may finally come true given the ongoing development of air navigation," Smirnov says.

Thus far, Comet ISON has only been visible through powerful telescopes. In November 2013, heat from the sun will vaporize ices in the comet’s body, creating what could be a spectacular tail that will be visible in Earth’s night sky without telescopes or even binoculars from about October 2013 through January 2014. Another scenario is that Comet ISON could break apart as it nears the sun, failing to produce a tail of ice particles by the end of November. In December, the comet will be growing dimmer, but, assuming it is intact, it will be visible from both hemispheres of Earth. January 2014 may see a meteor shower produced by streams of debris from the ISON comet.

Boris Pavlishchev, Alexei Lyakhov
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