Comet of the Century?
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Near the orbit of Jupiter, a faint speck of light is moving through the black of space. At first glance it doesn't look like much, no brighter than a thousand distant stars speckling the velvet sky behind it; indeed, it takes a big telescope make out that it is a comet.
But, come November, the comet, blazing toward Earth, could blossom into a striking naked eye object visible even in broad daylight. comet blazing toward Earth could outshine the full moon when it passes by at the end of next year - if it survives its close encounter with the sun.
The recently discovered object, known as comet ISON, is due to fly within 1.9 million km from the center of the Sun on November 28, 2013 said astronomer Donald Yeomans, head of NASA's Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
As the comet approaches, heat from the sun will vaporize ices in its body, creating what could be a spectacular tail that is visible in Earth's night sky without telescopes or even binoculars from about October 2013 through January 2014.
If the comet survives, that is. Comet ISON could break apart as it nears the sun, or it could fail to produce a tail of ice particles visible from Earth.
Celestial visitors like Comet ISON hail from the Oort Cloud, a cluster of frozen rocks and ices that circle the sun about 50,000 times farther away than Earth's orbit. Every so often, one will be gravitationally bumped out from the cloud and begin a long solo orbit around the sun.
On Sept. 21, two amateur astronomers from Russia spotted what appeared to be a comet in images taken by a 16-inch telescope that is part of the worldwide International Scientific Optical Network, or ISON, from which the object draws its name.
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