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Comet Encounters

January 8, 2013

A newly discovered comet will be visible from earth this fall.



Two comet rendevous. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A comet discovered just a few months ago could put on a spectacular show later this year. It’s called C/2012 S1, and nicknamed ISON, after the Russian observatory that discovered it. Jim McAdams is Lead Engineer for the MESSENGER spacecraft now in orbit around the planet Mercury:


And that comet is expected to be extremely bright with a very long tail. In fact, it’s expected to be brighter than Venus at its brightest and approaching the brightness of the full moon.


That’s the view from Earth. But McAdams says that on November 19th, the comet will pass twice as close to MESSENGER, giving the spacecraft an incredible opportunity to study the comet. And, remarkably, another comet, named Encke, though quite faint from Earth, will pass even closer to the spacecraft the day before. MESSENGER’s  instruments are being redirected to take advantage of the good fortune. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

The position of the comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) at the time of best visibility in the northern hemisphere on December 11, 2013. (NASA JPL)