Comet ISON reaches perihelion tonight

Will the comet survive its close shave with the Sun?

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Credit: NASA/MSFC/Aaron Kingery

C/S2012 S1 ISON will reach perihelion on 28 November at 18:35 UT.


Judgement day has finally arrived for C/S2012 S1 ISON, as the icy visitor prepares to make its closest approach to the Sun tonight (28 November) at 18:35 UT.

ISON will skirt just 1.2 million kilometres from the Sun's surface, an encounter it may not survive. At this distance, the heat from the Sun is over 2000°C and could melt the comet, while tidal forces from our star’s intense gravity might pull it apart.

Stargazers around the world have been observing the comet since it was first discovered in September 2012 by two astronomers using the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON). They are already looking for signs of a breakup, but it is still unclear how the comet will fare. Either way, we won't know for certain until a few days after perihelion when ISON has emerged from the other side of the Sun.

If the comet does survive, it promises to be a spectacular sight and it’s hoped ISON will be visible to the naked eye around dawn and dusk in early December. "There's going to be a small army of amateur and professional astronomers on the Earth observing this," says Don Yeomans, a senior research scientists at JPL in charge of watching near-Earth objects, such as asteroids, comets and other space rocks. "We're going to find out a great deal about what this comet is made of and hence we're going to find out a great deal about what the Solar System was like four and half billion years ago when the comet first formed."


 

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