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Hubble Telescope Helps Astronomers Observe ‘Comet Of The Century’

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(Courtesy: NASA)

(Courtesy: NASA)

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s being billed as the “comet of the century.” This fall, a spectacular comet will be passing so close to the earth that it could shine brighter than the moon.

Tim Williams has more.

In the skies this year, we’ve already seen exploding meteors and a close fly-by from an asteroid, but if new celestial observations are correct, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

“As the comet heats up, a lot of the ices on the comet are going to start boiling off and that’s what forms the big beautiful tail of gas and dust that should be quite visible to us in the month of December,” said Max Mutschler, a research and instrument scientist.

The comet is named “Ison” and it’s potentially the comet of the century. That’s because around the time the comet makes its closest approach to the sun on Nov. 28, it may briefly become brighter than the full moon.

Mutschler is observing Ison through the Space Hubble Telescope.

“People can’t really see the comet right now but by next fall–October, November, December–is when it will be swinging around the sun,” Mutschler said. “As it approaches the sun, it should be visible and then after it passes the sun and swings around, it should be hopefully very visible.”

The comet is being observed by Hubble as it hurtles in from the outer solar system at about 47,000 miles per hour. It’s estimated to be about three to four miles across. It will pass closer to the sun than the earth and, like most comets, it will not pose a threat to human life.

“Comets are always a bit of a gamble and we’re very excited about this one, but they are very unpredictable. Expectations are high for this one, but we really won’t know until December,” he said.

So keep your eyes to the sky and stay tuned.

For more on the “comet on the century,” click here.

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