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Comet ISON coming soon

Reported by: Kara James
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Updated: 11/26/2013 7:00 pm
STARKVILLE AND FRENCH CAMP, Miss. (WTVA) - Comet ISON has captured the attention of scientists and space enthusiasts around the world.

These images of the comet were taken by telescopes earlier this year.

If you are hoping to see the comet for yourself, you're in luck!

Dr. Donna Pierce from Mississippi State University studies comets.

Pierce says comet ISON is exciting to people like her because it gives them an opportunity to study the early universe.

Dr. Pierce said, "So a comet is a mixture of ice and dust. You can think of it as like a very dirty snowball. It can generate a fuzzy atmosphere that we call a coma that can be thousands or tens of thousands of miles wide and generate a tail that is millions of miles long."

Since ISON is a first-time visitor to our solar system, brightness projections have been difficult. Even with the uncertainties you, just like scientists, should be able to see it when it soon appears on the other side of the sun.

Dr. Pierce said, "My best guess is that it's probably going to be about as bright as Venus is in the night sky."

We traveled to the Rainwater Observatory in French Camp to learn more about the comet. There, director Edwin Faughn is gearing up to view ISON.

Faughn said, "Comet ISON is's going to turn out to be a spectacular comet."

Over the years, experts here have viewed outer space through massive telescopes and other instruments, capturing a unique view of the universe.

Faughn said, "So if you're inside the light pollution inside of a metropolitan area or a city you're not gonna be able to see it more than likely. It could brighten enough to see with the naked eye from inside the city but if there's any tail on it or anything like that you probably won't."

So whether you study space like the folks here at Rainwater do, or you just enjoy occasionally gazing at the night sky, this is one comet you don't want to miss.

Dr. Pierce said, "After it reaches its closest approach, if it survives, it will be a very highly elongated ellipse with an orbital period of several hundred thousand years. So this is a one time only viewing opportunity."

The best viewing times for the comet are the first week of December. You'll want to look right before dawn. Use a pair of binoculars aimed at the eastern sky, not too far above the horizon.
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