Feeds

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

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

SANS - Survey on application security programs

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. ®

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Melting permafrost switches to nasty, high-gear methane release
Result? 'Way more carbon being released into the atmosphere as methane'
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.