The Beautiful Night Sky


The Moon might not be the Brightest object in the sky next year

2013 promises to be a very special year. Why?

Because a rare super comet was spotted heading towards the inner solar system this September by the scientists.

The comet, christened 2012 S1 is heading towards the Sun from outside the solar system. Currently, it is a glowing mass streaking between Saturn and Jupiter, 900 million miles away from Earth. As it draws closer to the inner solar system, pulled in by the Sun’s immense gravitational field, it will become more luminous.

The comet that is estimated to be three kilometers wide is surrounded by a cover of dust and ice which will be burned away by the intense solar radiation making it extremely reflective.

The comet was first spotted by Russian astronomers Artyom Novichonok and Vitali Nevski of ISON (International Scientific Optic Network).

Scientists have predicted that the comet which is a body originating outside the solar system might become the brightest object to grace the night sky. It might even be visible during the day. The comet will be visible in the night skies of the northern hemisphere between late 2013 and early 2014.

Astronomers at the Remanzacco Observatory in Italy have said that the comet, nicknamed, ISON might skim the sun’s surface on 28 or 29 November at a distance less than 1.4 million kilometers.

They hope that the comet will act as a rival of Ikeya-Seki,last seen in 1965, as the brightest object in the night sky in the past millennium.

The Ikeya-Seki is a part of the Kreutz Sungrazers, a family of comets, whose orbits take them extremely close to the apsis of the sun. It won’t break the record of the Great Comet of 1811 or Hale-Bopp which holds the record for being the brightest object visible in the night sky for an extended period of 18 months.

Astronomers hope that it will allow them a glimpse of the 4.6 billion year old material that lies outside the solar system.

Most comets originate from within the solar system and because of their frequent sojourns close to the sun, have lost most of their original gasses. This is ISON’s first sojourn into the system and thus it will still retain its original composition, which means it might contain volatile gasses not seen in the other comets.

The comet might pass at a distance of 10 million kilometers from Mars, allowing NASA’s Curiosity rover a spectacular view of the celestial body.

This year also promises celestial fireworks of a different variety because of the imminent collision between the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, nicknamed Sagittarius B, and a gas cloud with a mass about three times that of Earth.

The explosion will not be visible to the naked eye, even though this cosmic event will be taking place at a mere 25,000 light years from Earth, quite literally on our doorstep, but scientists have said that they will be able to capture the radiations, which will emanate from the shockwave that will arise from the impact using X-ray telescopes.

The crash would allow scientists to observe the descent of the materials into the blackhole’s event horizon and eventually spiral into the singularity. It would also allow scientists to see what the blackhole looked like 300 years ago when it was much brighter than what it is at present. So keep your eyes peeled next year and watch out for the show of a lifetime, and I don’t mean twilight.

Varanya Vijaykumar

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