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Inquiring Minds - The Comet of the Century?

Night of the CometEvery week, librarian Judy Woodward compiles the most interesting reference questions and sends them to the Roseville Review. Here's this week's astronomical inquiry!

Q. I’ve heard there is supposed to be a really big comet coming later this year. Do you have any information about that?

A. The Comet of the Century may be coming in November---maybe. That’s the news from the nation’s astronomers, who say that Russian scientists first spotted the comet in September 2012. They decided to name the newly spotted comet ISON after their employer, International Scientific Optical Network. Comet ISON will reach its perihelion on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, when it passes closest to the sun. If all goes according to predictions, it will glow as brightly as the moon and will rival the Thanksgiving turkey as the focal point of the day for millions of Americans. It may even briefly be visible in broad daylight.

Of course, that’s a big IF, as those who are old enough to remember the ignominious appearance of Comet Kahoutek in 1973. Initially ballyhooed as the “Comet of the [previous] Century,” Kahoutek was spectacular only in terms of its failure to dazzle the night skies. Its name became a punch line for late-night TV jokes and a byword for unfulfilled promise.

Scientists say that comets are notoriously unpredictable. ISON could break apart and dissipate as it enters the solar atmosphere. Or it might prove to be the Comet of the Century. Keep watching the night sky as November approaches. (NASA Science News )

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