|Posted on December 28, 2012 at 8:15 AM|
A comet fifteen times brighter than a full Moon could be visible from Britain in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, astronomers have predicted.
By Gregory Walton
The comet, named Ison, is expected to be so "spectacularly bright" that it will be visible to the naked eye in daylight next year.
It is predicted to end a year of "celestial treats" for 2013, with other comets also coming within visible range of the Earth.
Comet Ison was discovered accidentally in September this year by astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok, who had planned to use a high-powered telescope to probe the far reaches of the Gemini and Cancer constellations.
Instead, they stumbled upon what could be one of the biggest astronomical events of the decade; a comet so bright that it will likely be visible to the naked eye in daylight.
In the coming year, the ‘2014 L4’ comet will also be seen from Earth in the spring.
Experts say there is a "very, very good chance" that Ison, known as a ‘sun-grazer’ because it will orbit so close to the sun, will be visible to Britain’s many amateur astronomers.
“I would be very surprised if both comets don’t become visible in the UK,” said Professor Mark Bailey, Director of the Armagh Observatory.
Amateur astronomers will have the best chance of seeing Ison in November and December, leading scientists to colloquially call it the 'Christmas Day Comet’.
“Because it goes very close to the Sun it is thought that it will be spectacularly bright," said Professor Bailey. "As it moves away from the Sun it is thought that it will develop a very spectacular tail.”
Experts say that the comet has taken millions of years to reach our solar system from the Oort cloud which is over a light year away from earth. It is due to come to life in October next year, say experts.
As it passes close to Mars, the comet’s surface will morph as ice reacts to shifting temperatures, causing large cracks to appear and huge plumes of gas to be expelled.
In this case it would become visible to the naked eye as early as November, its newly formed tail stretching far into the sky above the horizon.
Scientists liken the composition of comets to ‘dirty ice-balls’.
“Imagine rolling an ice-ball in your driveway – it’s in that way that the nucleus of a comet is made up, with all the pebbles and dust mixed in,” said Professor Bailey.
“We’re in for real celestial treats next year which will surely inspire people’s interest in astronomy.”