It may not be as spectacular has the asteroid that flew over Russia back in February, but researchers and astronomers have been eyeing a particular comet in the skies that will pass by Earth later this year, and it’s said that it has the potential of being one of the brightest comets we’ll have seen in 50 years.
Astronomers and researchers from the University of Maryland and Lowell Observatory have used NASA’s Swift satellite to observe comet C/2012 S1 (or more colloquially known as comet ISON). The comet is entering the inner solar system as we speak, and it’s expected to round the sun in late November. It will then shoot out of the solar system, making a pass near Earth while doing so.
What makes this comet particularly unique, however, is that it’ll graze past Mars, and will then come blazingly close to the sun. Comet ISON is essentially a clump of frozen gases mixed with dust, but when getting close to the sun, these kinds of comets will emit the gas and dust, which turns the icy material from a solid to gas, creating a beautiful tail that trails behind the comet.
Calculating the amount of gas that comet ISON is giving off, scientists and researchers have estimated that ISON’s nucleus is about three miles in diameter, which is actually a typical size for a comet. After rounding the sun and making its way out of the solar system, ISON will pass by Earth on December 26, coming as close as 39.9 million miles from our planet.