Super-comet or super-dud? We'll see
A new comet superstar named C/2012 S1 (ISON) is heading for the spotlight starting in November 2013 — but will it perform as some hope it will, or will it be a dud of cosmic proportions?
"This is one to watch, definitely," said Karl Battams, a scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory who monitors comets for the NASA-supported Sungrazer Comet Project. "But the astronomy community in general tries not to overhype these things. Potentially it will be amazing. Potentially it will be a huge dud."
Comet ISON quickly rose to the top of the charts after its discovery, which was based on imagery collected on Friday by the International Scientific Optical Network's 16-inch (0.4-meter) Santel reflecting telescope in Russia. The comet, which was described in an IAU circular on Monday, takes its common name from the network's acronym. Since the discovery, astronomers have gone back through their files to find "pre-discovery" images and calculate the comet's orbit.
That orbit is due to bring Comet ISON incredibly close to the sun — within just 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers) in late November of next year. As a result, current projections suggest it could get very bright. How bright? Various estimates have set the brightest magnitude at -10 to -16. That suggests the comet could become brighter than the full moon — which led Astronomy Magazine's Michael E. Bakich to say it "probably will become the brightest comet anyone alive has ever seen."