April 13, 2024

Look to the horizon: Comet Ison passes close to Earth

This archived article was written by: Emma Rowley

Star light, star bright, it is not a star you might see tonight. Instead, it might be the comet dubbed Ison. Rich Erwin, a physics professor at USU Eastern, shared information with The Eagle staff concerning the passing of Ison this Thanksgiving.
The comet Ison passed close to the sun on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 2013. If the comet is not burned up from passing so close to the sun, you will be able to see it without a microscope for the first half of December.
Before it passes the sun, “if you have a level Eastern horizon, you should have no trouble spotting the comet with binoculars.” says Erwin. He has even captured a photo with his telescope.
The comet Ison was first discovered by Russian amature astronomers in September of 2012. Erwin says this is not unusual, and that most comets are actually discovered by amatures astronomers. So, keep your eyes on the sky and you might discover the next comet.
Erwin says that “comets have four parts: the nucleus; which we think in Ison’s case is about three miles in diameter and made up mostly of dirty ice, the coma; which is material (largely water vapor and similar volatiles) sublimated from the surface by solar radiation and extends outward from the nucleus for many thousands of miles, the ion tail; which is mostly molecules of water and other volatiles being pushed away from the nucleus and the coma by the solar wind, and lastly; the dust tail, which is dust and small rocks (dirt).”
Ison’s dust tail, Erwin said, is “At the present time showing mostly an ion tail and very little dust tail, which means that it is likely a pretty clean iceberg.” An iceberg that, hopefully, can withstand the sun’s intense heat long enough to pass by.
As December drags on and Christmas comes closer, keep an eye on the sky for Ison, you just might be lucky enough to see it. If you are interested in more pictures you can go to Rich Erwin’s website erwinonline.net and click on astronomy.