Wednesday December 2nd, 2015 1:55AM

Comet ISON on track for an earthly visit

By Ken Stanford Reporter
DAHLONEGA - Whether it will be a spectacular holiday show or a bust depends on a lot of unknowns, but Earth is getting a heavenly visitor over the next few weeks - one that man nor beast has ever seen.

Comet ISON, which was discovered by two Russian astronomers about a year ago, is on its first journey through our solar system and some scientists - including those at NASA - and others are predicting it to be "a particularly bright and beautiful" comet.

But, Dr. Joe Jones, an associate professor of physics at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, isn't so sure. Dr. Jones says there are all kinds of perils facing ISON on its trip through the solar system - the kinds of things that could cause it to break apart.

"The main peril is that tidal forces from the Sun will break the comet apart at its closest approach (perihelion), although many observers are saying the estimated density (of the nucleus) is enough to hold it together," according to Jones. "The intense solar heat from the close pass could also damage the comet nucleus during perihelion."

The comet, which will round the sun on Nov. 28, at a distance of just 730,000 miles from the sun, is what's known as a sungrazing comet, due to its close approach.

ISON - which is believed to have begun its journey at least a million years ago from the Oort cloud, a swath of icy objects that orbit far beyond Neptune - is already visible in north Georgia using strong binoculars and small telescopes but not to the naked eye.

"So if it survives perihelion it should be fairly easily visible through those optical aids during that best viewing period (first week of December) when it will be an early morning object in the east before sunrise, Jones said. "My feeling is you'll hardly be able to see it without a good pair of binoculars."

Dr. Jones says ISON will be nearest Earth around Christmas "but that's not necessarily when it will be brightest." That's when ISON will be just a third of the distance between Earth and the sun, at approximately 28 million miles away, according to NASA.

NASA say if ISON survives its trip around the sun, "there's a good chance that it will be incredibly bright and easily visible with the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere." In early December, it will be visible in the morning, low on the horizon to the east-southeast. In late December and early January, it will be visible all night long.

The best case scenario, Dr. Jones says, has it being "much brighter than Venus and you might be able to see it in the daytime." But, he was quick to add "that best case scenario is highly unlikely at this point...as a well-known comet hunter (David H. Levy) once said 'Comets are like cats: they have tails, and they do precisely what they want!'"
© Copyright 2015 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Ethics laws set to take effect Jan. 1 in Georgia
After dominating much of the legislative session, a set of major ethics reforms is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
7:04PM ( 1 year ago )
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Report: Georgia expected to name Smart next football coach
The University of Georgia is expected to name Kirby Smart, the current Defensive Coordinator for the University of Alabama, as its new head football coach.
By AccessWDUN Staff
11:59PM ( 1 hour ago )
Cornelia proceeds with $500,000 vehicle purchases
The City of Cornelia soon will have 15 new vehicles providing service to its residents.
11:31PM ( 2 hours ago )
Divided Gainesville Council rejects Stormwater Management and funding plan
By a vote of 3-to-2, the Council rejected the much-discussed Stormwater Management Plan and Enterprise Fund. The Enterprise Fund is the component that would provide funding for the Management Plan.
10:13PM ( 3 hours ago )
Brooks wins run-off to claim Ward 3 seat on Gainesville City Council
Barbara Brooks is Gainesville's newest city council member after winning Tuesday's runoff election to claim the Ward 3 seat on the council.
9:33PM ( 4 hours ago )
Banks, Hall Co. authorities seek armed and dangerous suspect
Hall County and Banks County authorities are actively searching for a suspect they said is armed and dangerous.
9:09PM ( 4 hours ago )