Ison Thanksgiving

November 28, 2013 by  

Ison Thanksgiving, While Americans cook their Thanksgiving turkeys on Thursday, a tiny comet called ISON will pass 684,000 miles above the surface of the sun and endure its own roasting. If the fragile little comet survives the trip, ISON just might generate a spectacular show in the northern hemisphere’s night sky until Christmas. It will be “a nice holiday comet”, said Jim Green, director of the planetary science division at NASA.

What are the odds the comet survives? Right now, 30 percent, said Carey Lisse, astronomer and head of NASA’s Comet ISON observing campaign. The “dirty snowball” is made of dust and ice, and it’s delicate. ISON is only about 2/3 to 3/4 of a mile in diameter, while an average comet is about 1.5 miles in diameter, Lisse said. As they pass the sun, comets lose an average of 3 feet of material–an enormous loss for a tiny celestial body like ISON.

ISON is making its first trip around the sun. It comes from the Oort Cloud which is 6 trillion miles away, well beyond the planets. As a new comet, it doesn’t have a thick, “baked” crust like other periodic comets, meaning it’s even more likely to crumble into dust and fall into the sun, said Karl Battams, astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory. But even if no large pieces of the comet survive, it may still have a spectacular death.

“If it becomes a burnt-off cinder and survives, and it doesn’t have much ‘oomph’ left, then it will be faint from the ground,” Lisse said. “But I don’t think we’ll be disappointed.”

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