Scientists are still hoping to learn much from Comet ISON, but as it fizzles, sky watchers who were hoping to see it can get a glimpse of Comet Lovejoy instead.
Lovejoy, officialy known as C/2013 R1, came its closest to Earth on Nov. 19, about 37 million miles away, according to EarthSky.org. It is near the constellation Bootes and the bright star Arcturus just over the northeast horizon in the early mornings in December, and you can see it with binoculars. It will get closer to the horizon and harder to spot as the month goes on.
Despite the fact that ISON is no longer expected to be bright enough to see with the naked eye, scientists are tracking it as it moves away from the sun. Those at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore plan to observe it with the Hubble Space Telescope once it moves far enough from the sun's glare. Because it came from an area of space known as the Oort Cloud and is thought to had never been close to a star before its brush with the sun, they hope it could reveal characteristics of the early universe.
"If Hubble does observe ISON, astronomers will be able to do things like estimate the size of the particles, and judge the speed at which the comet is disintegrating -- which will help us learn about ISON's composition and structure," STSCI's Tracy Vogel wrote on the organization's ISON Blog.
"Now, like a team of forensic examiners at the scene of the crime, it's time for astronomers look back on the data they've collected and figure out how and why ISON went to pieces, and what that means about Oort Cloud objects, sungrazers, and comets in general," Vogel added.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun