'Comet of the Century' ISON coming into view this week

It could be the brightest comet in decades, or even centuries, and it's coming to visit for the holidays. It might also fizzle out.

Comet ISON NASA Hubble
This enhanced image of Comet ISON is based on Hubble telescope observations from May. NASA / Hubble

There are high hopes for Comet ISON , which will pass the sun this month and could put on a spectacular show in the sky in the process. The comet, making its virgin journey around our star from the Oort Cloud right now, could be one of the brightest comets to be observed from Earth in many decades, if not longer, or perhaps ever.

Or, ISON could melt down, break apart, and fizzle away into darkness at any moment as it comes ever closer to grazing the surface of our friendly neighborhood massive fireball.

Whether ISON delights or disappoints, it's certain to be the most observed comet in human history. Aside from images already captured by the space agencies' big-boy telescopes like the one from Hubble above, NASA is also encouraging and assisting anyone with lenses -- be they in telescopes, binoculars, or eyeballs -- who wants to capture the icy rock's journey around the sun.

In short, Comet ISON is setting a new bar for interstellar paparazzi -- it's kind of like stalking your favorite Deep Space Nine character at Comic-Con. And as of right about now, you can start getting in on the mass comet-stalking meme.

ISON should make a U-turn around the sun on Thanksgiving Day, and if it survives that close solar encounter, it's believed that it could put on a light show visible with the naked eye. In the coolest-case scenario, it could be bright enough to rival the Great Comet of 1680, which reportedly could be seen in the daytime with a tail that stretched across the sky.

But ISON can also be seen with relative ease by amateur astronomers right now. If there are clear skies in your area in the early Friday morning hours (after 1 a.m. on the West Coast), it should be observable with good binoculars or a small telescope in the constellation Virgo.

If you can't see ISON this week, try again next week as it's likely to be brighter as it comes closer to the sun.

Let us know in the comments if you plan to hunt for ISON and if you manage to capture the comet, tweet us your best shots @crave and @ericcmack.

 

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