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Surprising Science

Could This Be The Next Big Comet?

Comet ISON was first spotted well beyond Jupiter’s orbit, which makes it fairly large. If it makes it past the sun it could light up the night sky by this time next year.

What’s the Latest Development?

A comet named for the International Scientific Optical Network is on its way towards the sun after having first been spotted in September well past Jupiter’s orbit. It’s expected to pass within less than a million miles of the sun, and if it does this without breaking up, it could provide quite a light show for those in the Northern Hemisphere a year from now. In fact, the show could begin as soon as August, when it’s close enough to form a halo that should be visible from Earth.

What’s the Big Idea?

It’s unusual for comets to be observed from as far a distance as this one, which means that it’s fairly large — possibly a couple of miles across. Experts say that it might be similar to another famous comet, popularly known as The Great Comet of 1680, which was bright enough to be seen during the day and was the first planetary body of its kind to be observed with a telescope. It’s still fairly early to be absolutely sure of Comet ISON’s progress; as amateur astronomer and seasoned “comet hunter” David Levy says, “Comets are like cats…[t]hey have tails, and they do precisely what they want.”

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