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Newly-Discovered Comet ISON to Pass Earth in 2013, Astronomers Say

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Dec 31, 2012 02:23 AM EST
Comet
NASA undated handout image shows an artist's conception of a storm of comets around a star near our own, called Eta Corvi. (Photo : Reuters)

Astronomers have discovered a new comet that will pass near the sun at the end of next year.

Russian astronomer Artyom Novichonok and his colleague Vitali Nevski spotted the asteroidal object with images taken using a telescope belonging to the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) on Sept. 21, but could not confirm it as the scale of images were quite small (2''/px).

"The object was slow and had a unique movement. But we could not be certain that it was a comet because the scale of our images are quite small and the object was very compact," astronomer Artyom Novichonok wrote, in a comets email list hosted by Yahoo.

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Using a bigger telescope at the Maidanak Observatory in Uzbekistan, astronomers confirmed that the object is indeed a comet. The object is called Comet ISON, named for the group that first made the discovery.

It is likely to fly within 1.2 million miles (1.9 million km) from the center of the sun Nov. 28, 2013, said astronomer Donald Yeomans, head of NASA's Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., according to Reuters.

The comet ISON started its trip from Oort Cloud, a massive spherical cloud of rocks and ice that is believed to be the home of comets orbiting the sun at a great distance.

When the comet passes close to the sun, its icy body will be vaporized showing only a tail that can be seen from Earth, in case the comet survives, said the Reuters report.

Skywatchers will be in for a treat, as the ISON has predicted that the comet can be seen without telescopes and binoculars from November until January 2014.

A report in Discovery News notes that the comet is expected to be the brightest of all comets since 1965. It might appear brighter than a full moon that could be visible even in daylight.

The path of the comet is projected to be the same as that of the comet of 1680, which has left astronomers to consider whether both comets are from the same parent body.

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