Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 3, 2013

The Stellar Junkie: Comet ISON Disintegrates

Local astronomer Jeff Hoffmeister has volunteered to send us a few pieces when there is something truly unique and remarkable to observe in the night sky. So bundle up and gaze into the stars with the Stellar Junkie.
Jeff Hoffmeister

Jeff Hoffmeister is The Stellar Junkie

The comet that so many astronomers, both professional as well as amateur, figured as being the comet of the century is slowly but surely fizzling away. You can watch it pass by the sun in this NASA footage. It looked as though it would be visible to the naked eye for at least the first half of December, but alas, it is fading into a dust cloud. It will continue its existence as a cloud of leftover ice and rock, a cosmic pile of rubble.

It is still possible, at this point, to view the comet through high powered binoculars or a telescope in the morning sky about an hour before sunrise to the east/southeast within the constellation Ophiuchus, just east of Libra.
Astronomers have found that comets seem to have an attitude of their own. Their path and velocity is easy to project, but predicting their actions once inside the solar system is extremely difficult. Some comets end up putting on quite a show but others are hardly noticeable unless you use a telescope and view them from a dark area, free from city lights.
If the comet is primarily a loose rubble pile of ice and rock it’s likely to be pulled apart by the strong gravitational effects of the sun, especially if it passes close by. I have located and tracked many comets, but not once have I found one to be the same as another. These solar wanderers will continue to visit our neck of the woods as they blaze their way from the far reaches of our solar system to treat us with their splendor.
We can now look forward to 2014, a year that promises two total lunar eclipses, a partial solar eclipse and some rare opportunities to view the planets in our solar system. There’s much more to see, all you have to do is look up and enjoy the free show!
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