Will Comet ISON Destroy the Earth In 2013

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Comet McNaught (visible only in the Southern Hemisphere) Passed by Earth in 2007 without any major incident, from Wikipedia, photo by fir0002

Recent Discovery

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.

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Comet Hale-Bopp in Croatia in march 1997, from Wikipedia, photo by Philipp Salzgeber

Comet PANSTARRS

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.”

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Isaac Newton’s Comet of 1680 as recorded by the artist Verschier.

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.

Help Yeyeright Save The World From Comet Ison

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A Story With Legs

Fishnet Stockings, photo by RJ Ferret, courtesy of Wikipedia
Fishnet Stockings, photo by RJ Ferret, courtesy of Wikipedia

Today an interesting story appeared on Huffington Post concerning the possible appearance of a supernova in the sky near the end of 2012. It is even possible that this celestial event might  coincide with the so-called “End of Days”, which is an integral part of the Mayan Calendar. This is the same “End of Days” that inspired the movie “2012” along with countless books and articles concerning the true significance of the approaching date..

According to the article, Betelgeuse (pronounced beetle juice), one of the brightest stars in the sky, is in a state of collapse and could go “supernova” at any time. Supernovas are caused when a star explodes. This is a natural part of the death cycle of stars and results in the formation of a neutron star or a black hole. The last supernova to be observed on the surface of the earth occurred in 1604.

One interesting side note to this story is its source. Much of the information in the article is attributed to Dr. Brad Carter, Senior Lecturer of Physics at the University of Southern Queensland. In a recent article that appeared in News Limited, an Australia news service, Dr. Carter details the effects that a supernova in a nearby star, such as betelgeuse might have on the earth. Currently, this red super-giant is the ninth brightest star in the sky. Along with its twin sister, Rigel It can be found in  the constellation of Orion. Betelgeuse can be seen in the right shoulder of Orion, while Rigel is part of the hunter’s left foot.

The Spotty Surface of Betelgeuse  Credit: Xavier Haubois (Observatoire de Paris) et al.
The Spotty Surface of Betelgeuse Credit: Xavier Haubois (Observatoire de Paris) et al.

Dr. Brad Carter is a Senior Lecturer of Physics at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia and he has acquired a minor presence in the media, almost always in conjunction with betelgeuse and the possibility that it might become the next supernova. Reference to the Australian astronomer has appeared in print dating at least as far back as  2004. So as far as the disintegration of betelgeuse goes, the fact that this event will occur is a generally known fact. The only question that remains is when it will happen and how bright will the explosion be as seen from the surface of earth.

And by the way for those, who are wondering where the term Betelgeuse came from, the word is believed to be of Arabic orign. According to the University of Illinois Department of Astronomy, the word is a “corruption of the Arabic ‘yad al jauza,’ which means the ‘hand of al-jauza,’ al-jauza the ancient Arabs’ ‘Central One,’ a mysterious woman”.