Not too long ago in September, two scientists from Russia and Belarus discovered a new comet approaching the sun and due to pass by the earth late in the current calendar year of 2013. Since the astronomers were both members of the International Scientific Optical Network based in Russia, the comet has been named ISON. The comet is due to pass within 750,000 miles of the sun in November; and if it survives this journey it brighten the skies of the Northern Hemisphere around the time of Christmas.
Why Comets Elude Early Detection
Comets are very different from asteroids, for they are composed of ice, rock and organic compounds that can be several miles in diameter. This nebulous nature makes a comet much harder to detect and helps explain why Comet Ison was only detected about a year before it will be visible from planet Earth. On the other hand because of their dense concentration of matter, asteroids can be detected many years in advance.
Collision With Earth
Both asteroids and comets have collided with the earth many times over during the 4 billion history of our planet. Comets hitting the earth’s surface are believed to be the source of our carbon based molecules, so instrumental in the structure of all living substances and organisms. On the other hand asteroids are called meteorites when they enter the atmosphere and meteors when they hit the earth’s surface. A direct hit by either an asteroid or a comet has the potential for being an explosive event, much stronger than our most powerful atomic bomb.
Comet PANSTARRS will be visible in the southern Hemisphere later on this month and should remain a bright object in the night sky until March, when it will become visible north of the equator. At that time the comet will start to fade. Of particular interest is the origin of the name of this first of two comets that will pass by earth in 2013.
What Is Pan-STARRS
Discovered in June 2011, Pan-STARRS is named for the Panoramic Survey Telescope And Rapid Response System project, a comprehensive survey program based at Mount Haleakala, Hawaii. If you believe that all the recent Hollywood hullabaloo about large asteroids striking the earth’s surface and causing catastrophic damage is pure science fiction, you are slightly mistaken. Though extremely rare, such events have occurred in the past and are remotely possible, today. As a result with funding by the U.S. Air Force, a major observatory has been created in Hawaii, whereabouts: “A major goal of Pan-STARRS is to discover and characterize Earth-approaching objects, both asteroids & comets, that might pose a danger to our planet.”
Are We Doomed?
So far soothsayers are astronomical psychics have correlated the arrival of ISON with the lost planet Niburu, the dwarf star behind Jupiter, the incorrect calculation of the end of the Mayan Calendar and a possible collision with earth. No matter how you look at it 2013 will provide plenty of raw material for such fringe areas of intellectual pursuit…..And if ISON does strike and destroy the earth, it will have to be renamed, Ivan the Terrible.
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