Students at the University of Birmingham have found the giant Ison comet, travelling at more than 1.5 million miles per hour. Consisting of ice and dust, it has been termed the ‘comet of the century’, and is hurtling towards the sun from the outer solar system. Some experts have predicted that Ison could come as […]
Students at the University of Birmingham have found the giant Ison comet, travelling at more than 1.5 million miles per hour.
Consisting of ice and dust, it has been termed the ‘comet of the century’, and is hurtling towards the sun from the outer solar system.
Some experts have predicted that Ison could come as close as 40 miles from earth later this year. The comet could become 15 times brighter than the full moon, and may even be seen by the naked eye in daylight.
The comet can currently only be seen using certain powerful telescopes. However, it is expected that it will be visible across the northern hemisphere in December.
The sighting at the University was made using telescopes in the last observation at the Wast Hills Observatory before a major refurbishment.
Second year undergraduates Callum Bellhouse, Paul Carter, and Thomas Syder glimpsed Comet Ison on the last night before the telescopes were decommissioned.
Callum Bellhouse told Redbrick that, ‘the whole experience was fantastic, it was great to do some “proper” late-night astronomy with the University’s telescope just before its major refit this summer. It seemed a fitting send-off for the old telescope.’
He described the moment that they discovered the comet. ‘There was quite a bit of tension as we sat at the observatory; the comet was still very dim at the time and was only discovered last year, so we were covering fairly unexplored ground.
‘We carefully scoured through the first couple of images until eventually spotting a faint, fuzzy object which wasn’t apparent on any star map. It was tenuous, but of course as we took several more images over time the object continued to appear, moving slowly across the frame for the next hour. As soon as we found that the motion we were seeing matched the known orbit, we knew the object really was comet ISON; it was a thrilling moment for everyone.’
The Director of the Observatory, Dr Graham Smith, said the sighting was ‘important for science because it is what we call a “sun-grazing comet”.
‘It therefore gives us a special opportunity to study the composition of a left over fragment of the early solar system.
‘Observing Comet Ison on the night that we temporarily close our observatory felt very apt. Just like our new telescope, Ison will arrive in the inner solar system in late 2013.’
Ison is expected to pass within 800,000 miles of the Sun by November. Experts claim that the sun would warm the comet as Ison moved closer to the earth, changing its appearance with gas and dust forming a dazzlingly bright tail.