The next few months is likely to be a very exciting one for comet watchers. Several very interesting comets are likely to be making an appearance over the weeks to come.
First up on the agenda we hope to be able to spot Comet Ison which has rushed in from the outer solar system into a slingshot around the sun. It won’t be visible for a few weeks yet, estimates suggest that it’s closest approach will be on the 28th November. However even at this point it willl be only around 800,000 miles from the Sun. That’s pretty close and many are wondering if it will have the mass to survive such a fiery encounter. It is pretty much a ball of ice and dust and most astonomers are expecting it to just fall apart.
If it doesn’t it might make for quite sight in the nightime sky, keep on the look out. The problem is we’re never quite sure if it’s going to be a spectacular show or simply be blasted into non-existence. My tactic is to keep a watch on the web, check in with the Sky at Night whenever possible – (this link helps you to access the UK Television system from outside the UK – http://www.uktv-online.com/).
If we reach December without a sighting I’m afraid it’s probably disappeared but don’t worry we then have another event to look forward to. The space mission everyone will be watching in 2014 is – Rosetta, the European space probe launched a decade ago. It’s been busy over the last ten years moving out to the Jupiter orbit and it’s after another comet – 67-P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The plan involves Rosetta actually tracking this comet as it makes it’s way back to the Sun. But not boring long distance probe, Rosetta is going to attempt to deploy a probe on the surface of the comet and join the ride. The lander is called Philae and it is not known how long it will survive on the comet. It will be held down and much will depend on finding a decent landing spot on 67-P.
There’s a lot to go wrong in this attempt obviously, in fact it might not even start. Rosetta is currently a long way out with it’s systems shut down to conserve energy. The probe SHOULD turn itself back on on the 20th January 2014 – we’ll all be keeping our fingers crossed. You can find lots of images and information about news and space stories on the new NASA app, if you use an iPad in the US – well worth checking out.