Feeds

LOOK UP! Comet ISON could EXPLODE in our skies – astronomers

Promised piece of night-sky shininess may not last, we're warned

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Comet ISON could break up into itty-bitty pieces long before it gets closer to the Sun, selfishly denying us all the opportunity to see it shine brightly in the night sky.

The comet is currently visible in the predawn sky, but it may not be there for long if astroboffins from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research and the Astronomical Institute at Ludwig Maximilian University are right.

In a post on the International Astronomical Union's Comets and Asteroids Facebook page, the scientists reported spotting "wings" coming from the comet, which may suggest that the nucleus has broken up.

"The coma wings suggest the presence of two or more sub-nuclei with individual expanding atmospheres in the overall cometary coma and may indicate nucleus splitting in the comet," they said.

Amateur astronomer Waldemar Skorupa recorded this image from Kahler Asten, in Germany, on November 16, 2013. Credit: Waldemar Skorupa (Kahler Asten, Germany), via spaceweather.com

Amateur astronomer Waldemar Skorupa's shot of ISON on 16 November.

Credit: Waldemar Skorupa (Kahler Asten, Germany), via spaceweather.com

Astrophysicist Karl Battams, blogging on NASA's Comet ISON Observing Campaign, agreed that the wings could be a sign of fragmentation, but said there were other possibilities as well.

Battams reckons that the wings' symmetrical appearance counts against the fragmentation theory, since comet nucleus breakup is usually an asymmetrical event. He also pointed out that the wings could be dust emission due to jets in ISON's nucleus that had already been spotted or just solar wind ion tail structures caused by ISON running into some high solar winds, in a coronal mass ejection for example.

"If the comet has fragmented, we should see some dramatic changes in the next few days," he said. "Typically we expect a large increase in brightness followed then by a dramatic decrease in the comet's brightness in these situations.

"If instead jets are the cause, we expect the 'wings' to persist and grow. If the behaviour is driven by the solar wind then we should see continual changes as the solar wind changes."

Comet ISON will reach perihelion, its closest brush with the Sun, in less than two weeks and boffins are unsure whether it will survive its fiery pass just 720,000 miles (1.16 million km) from the surface. The comet will heat up to 2,760°C, but it's still possible for it to survive if it gets that far.

If it does survive, it will be at its brightest in the sky in early December, when some experts reckon it could be quite spectacular. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.