Comet will light up the sky if it survives close encounter with the sun

Aaron Pressman
Yahoo News
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Comet will light up the sky if it survives close encounter with the sun
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Comet ISON might offer one of the most amazing sky shows ever seen — if it isn’t destroyed by a close encounter with the sun over Thanksgiving.

Some astronomers have already dubbed the ball of dirt and ice the “Comet of the Century,” but ISON could break apart as it passes through the sun’s atmosphere on Nov. 28.

Scientists hope that remote spacecraft that monitor the sun will be able to get a close look at ISON as the comet is baked by the sun’s radiation and buffeted by solar ejections.

"We're going to be roasting a ball of ice while people are roasting their turkeys,” Karl Battams, an astrophysicist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, in Washington, D.C., told NPR.

If the comet survives its encounter with the sun, Earth watchers will have an incredible view in the early weeks of December as ISON emerges from behind the sun and approaches closer and closer, scientists say.

NASA has even created the hashtag #WillItBreakUp so Twitter users interested in the comet can find one another and share their observations.

ISON emerged from the Oort cloud, a vast area beyond Pluto made up of cosmic debris left over from the formation of the solar system, and has been headed toward Earth for the past million years.

First spotted by two Russian astronomers a year ago, the comet is named after the International Scientific Optical Network, or ISON. The Russians relied on data from the network of scientists working at 20 observatories in 10 countries to pinpoint the comet.