News, Science

The “Comet Of The Century” Set To Put On A Show

This new view of Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) was taken with the TRAPPIST national telescope. Image: TRAPPIST/E. Jehin/ESO
This new view of Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) was taken with the TRAPPIST national telescope. Image: TRAPPIST/E. Jehin/ESO

Comet ISON is about to put on a show.

Scientists around the world are watching as ISON streaks, ever-faster, towards the sun.

NASA has been studying ISON since December, when it was more than 800 million kilometres away.

Experts are calling Comet ISON as “the comet of the century.”

What is a comet? Here’s how astrophysicist Julie Abraham describes a comet: “It’s basically a big ball of dirty ice in orbit around the sun that gradually melts or burns up, spewing out debris and water in a plume blown out behind it.”

NASA has been closely monitoring ISON as it speeds through the solar system.

The comet will probably be torn apart by the sun’s gravity or burned up by its heat.

If ISON doesn’t shatter or burn, it will “quite possibly put on one fabulous celestial show,” the Associated Press news service reports. It will “slingshot” around the Sun and just keep going.

Whatever happens, will likely happen this Thursday.

If it lasts past Thursday, the comet should be visible to people in North America throughout December. It can be seen now with binoculars or a telescope.

ISON was discovered more than a year ago by Russian scientists using the “International Scientific Optical Network” (or ISON for short). ISON is also known by scientists as C/2012 S1.

Scientists say the comet may have been part of the icy Oort cloud, which is about one light year away from the Sun.

The Sun’s gravity pulled it out of the Oort cloud.

The closer it gets to the Sun, the faster ISON travels. It will reach speeds of up to 1.3 million kilometres an hour.

The closest ISON will get to the Earth is about 64 million kilometres, on Dec. 26.

Related links

There is more great information about ISON in Marcia Dunn’s Associated Press article, on the National Post website.

Take a look at NASA’s spectacular video of ISON approaching the sun.

By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
If you were to look at the sky on a clear evening, what would you see? Can you identify any of the stars or planets?

Why do you think ISON is being called “the comet of the century.” What do you think the ISON “show” would look like?

Reading Prompt: Reading Unfamiliar Words
This scientific article may include many unfamiliar words or terms, such as: comet, Oort cloud, light year, celestial, astrophysicist.

Read the article carefully at least two times and try to predict what these words and terms mean, using clues from the article. Then look up these definitions in a dictionary or online and compare them with your definitions.

Junior and Intermediate
Predict the meaning of and rapidly solve unfamiliar words using different types of cues (OME, Reading: 3.2).

Grammar Feature: Verb
A verb – an action word – brings nouns to life. For example, many verbs are used in this article to describe the comet’s movement in the solar system. Identify all of the verbs in the article and explain which verb is the most exciting and why.