Astronomers hope ‘comet of the century’ will survive its close encounter with the sun this evening
(SOURCE) For months, astronomers have been following a comet that’s zooming towards a blisteringly close encounter with the sun.
But only today at 18.35 GMT will they know if ISON will survive its closest approach to our star, when it fights the sun’s fierce heat and gravitational pull, which could destroy it.
If ISON, which has been branded the ‘comet of the century’ does survive, scientists expect it to put on its best and brightest show yet during December, when it will appear low in the sky at dawn in the UK.
Some scientists fear the delicate comet has already started to disintegrate, even before it grazes the ‘surface’ of the sun, 1.2 million kilometres away.
Dr Dan Brown, an expert in astronomy at Nottingham Trent University, told MailOnline that when the comet enters the sun’s hottest outer layers it will be exposed to a temperature of several million degrees.
It is now thought to measure less than a mile (1.6 kilometres) wide and could fry and shatter, as a victim of the sun’s incredible power.
Professor Tim O’Brien, associate director of Joderell Bank Observatory, told the BBC: ‘It’s like throwing a snowball into fire. It’s going to be tough for it to survive.
‘But luckily, it’s a big object and it moves fast, so it won’t spend too much time close to the Sun. There is a lot of uncertainty.’
Professor Mark Bailey, from Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, said: ‘It’s going to be exposed to the worst that the Sun can throw at it.