Research the scientific events of Comet ISON, comet of the century

View of comet ISON atop Mount Lemmon from the University of Arizona’s SkyCenter. (Courtesy of Adam Block)

View of comet ISON atop Mount Lemmon from the University of Arizona’s SkyCenter. (Courtesy of Adam Block)

Dubbed the “comet of the century,” Comet ISON is a scientist’s dream. The comet has provided much anticipation, speculation and surprise for professional and amateur astronomers around the world. Good research paper topics could be to take an upcoming scientific event, such as the comet’s progress through our solar system, and use scientific principles to speculate possible outcomes or results. Research a science journal or reputable science article online to offer probability and consequences or repercussions for your scientific event.

Discovery of Comet ISON

Comet ISON was discovered by Russian amateur astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok on September 21, 2012 when the comet was 585 million miles from Earth. It was named C/2012 S1 (ISON), for International Scientific Optical Network. Comet ISON, which was dislodged from Oort Cloud, is racing toward the Sun at 87,900 miles per hour. If it survives a trip around the Sun, it will make its closest approach to Earth on December 26, 2013 when it will be 40 million miles away. It is not a threat to Earth.

Comet ISON is a long-period comet. “Long-period comets don’t orbit on a regular loop, like Halley’s Comet, but instead make a single curved trip to our solar system, swinging in from the Oort Cloud, through the solar system, and off into space,” reported Liz Fuller-Wright in “Comet IS” in Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 2013 found on

Visible without a telescope

Two weeks before reaching the sun, the comet became visible to the naked eye. The brighter an object in the night sky is, the lower its magnitude number. Humans can see objects of a brightness magnitude of 6.5 or lower. As of November 11, Comet ISON was a magnitude 8.5, but three days later on November 14, the comet was a magnitude of 5.4 and looked like a condensed globular cluster.

Carl Hergenrother, acting co-coordinator of the comet section of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, remarked: “My own observations from this morning in 10×50 and 30×125 binoculars show a nice ‘lollipop’ comet with a very condensed blue-green head and a long narrow tail. The tail was over 1 degree in length even in the 10x50s. The comet may continue to brighten as the outburst is still in its early stages,” Hergenrother said in “Comet ISON visible to naked eye after outburst of activity, observers say,” posted by Joe Rao on, November 15, 2013.

Approach to the Sun

The big question was what would happen as the comet approached the Sun two weeks later, on Thanksgiving Day, November 28. It was expected to pass within 730,000 miles of the Sun. Scientists speculated that it would burn up completely from the sun’s radiation, heat, solar wind and gravitational forces and disappear altogether. Others thought, if the comet was large enough, it could survive.

On November 28, the comet surprised scientists by not totally fizzling out. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, recorded a bright spot with a fan-shaped tail emerge from behind the sun. Scientists are still working out how much of the comet survived, but it is expected that the comet is a dissipating cloud of cosmic dust.

Lessons learned from Comet ISON

Although Comet ISON may have been lost, it was a boon to scientists who were eager to follow the progress of a pristine comet that was making its virgin journey through our solar system. Professional and amateur astronomers alike gathered hundreds of photos. Scientists gathered mountains of data that they will analyze for years to come.

“We have a whole new set of unknowns, and this ridiculous, crazy, dynamic and unpredictable object continues to amaze, astound and confuse us to no end,” said Karl Battams, a comet scientist with the Naval Research Laboratory, in “Comet ISON shows signs of life after close encounter with sun,” posted by Lawrence LeBlond on, November 29, 2013. “This has been one of the most extraordinary comets we have ever encountered, and just goes to reiterate how beautiful, dynamic and exciting our universe is,” said Battams.

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