The frequently asked question now on the 2013 Comet ISON flyby near the Sun and Earth is: Will the "Comet of the Century" dazzle viewers or disappoint? A study that scientists at the Lowell Observatory and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) conducted suggests that Comet ISON's close approach to the Sun will unlikely end its spectacular display.
Comet ISON with FSQ-106ED Oct 9 by Hisayoshi Kato. Taken 2000 m above sea level on eastern shoulder of Mt Fuji.
Photo Credit: Twitter/@ISONUpdates
The researchers who took part in the Lowell Observatory and SwRI study conducted new numerical simulations on the Comet ISON and made their interpretations on the in context with the historical record of the comet disruptions and sun-grazing behavior. The preliminary measurements on the Comet ISON size reveal that it has the capability to survive the Sun's heat.
"Unless a comet is large enough, the sun's heat can destroy it through evaporation of its ices. Comets smaller than 200 meters in diameter almost always disintegrate when passing at this distance," the EarthSky.org report reads. Another test that Comet ISON should be able to pass is the capability to endure the tidal forces of the Sun that will definitely pull the comet apart while making its close approach.
Where is Comet ISON? The image shows coordinates at 5:30 a.m. Photo Credit: Twitter/@oriontelescopes
Dr Kevin Walsh, one of the research scientists at SwRI's Planetary Science Directorate in Boulder, Colorado shared that a major part of their work involves a test if the encounter with the Sun gives enough spin increase to pull materials off the comet's surface. "When the comet passes near the Sun, it feels the tidal forces pulling on it, and it also gets a slight spin increase due to this rapid flyby. This spin increase is in the prograde direction, so if the comet is already spinning prograde, then it's just that much closer to spinning fast enough to lose mass," Dr Walsh explained.
Dr Matthew Knight, another research scientist at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona stated: "Whether or not disruption occurs, the largest remnant must be big enough to survive subsequent mass loss due to evaporation for ISON to remain a viable comet well after perihelion."
According to the Sydney Observatory report, the 2013 Comet ISON will be visible low in the east before sunrise in the week or two before its closest approach to the Sun or perihelion. The report further reads: "It should be getting brighter, but also closer to the horizon each morning. If the comet grows a visible tail, it should be pointing upwards, away from the rising Sun."
The observatory claims as well that the best Comet ISON views will begin in mid-November to late November in the morning and that it will likely be visible even in daylight. The 2013 Comet ISON will be grazing the edge of the Sun's atmosphere, just 1.2 million kilometres above its surface, on November 28 while its closest approach to planet Earth will take place on December 26.
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