Images of Comet ISON obtained using the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph at Gemini North on February 4, March 4, April 3, and May 4, 2013 (left to right, respectively; Comet ISON at center in all images). Color composite produced by Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA
Should We Worry About Comet ISON ?
By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower
Friends of the Zeiss, a non-profit organization which provides news and information to the public regarding Astronomy, Space, and related sciences, as well as promoting the history and preservation of Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, also provides a service whereby the public can send electronic mail inquiries regarding questions they have on Astronomy, Space, and related sciences, as well as seeking possible answers to an unknown object seen in the sky:
A recent public inquiry regarded the safety of Comet ISON, which is approaching the Sun and expected to arrive around Thanksgiving Day. The following is the response given to this question, by Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director of Friends of the Zeiss.
----- Forwarded Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 8:40 AM
Subject: Comet ISON
Should we worry about Comet ISON?
Do comets bring about solar storms when they come in near orbit with the sun?
In 1910, thousands of people were scared because the newspapers reported that the comet tail of Halley's Comet, which was partially composed of cyanide gas, would brush along the Earth's atmosphere. The fear was that, somehow, the comet's tail would poison our atmosphere. Consequently, hucksters made money selling "comet pills" that were supposedly an antidote to the poisons from the comet's tail.
It was all bogus. Even the scientists of the day knew that there was no danger from the tail of Halley's Comet. And, the scientists did try to publicize that fact in the newspapers. But scare-mongering news reports always receive more attention from the public than a scientific news article.
The same is true regarding Comet ISON. Today, viral YouTube and other social media and Internet posts are drowning-out the scientific news articles debunking the fear-mongering reports about Comet ISON.
Astronomers have been watching Comet ISON for many months. The only question is whether Comet ISON will become a bright, naked-eye comet when it comes close to the Sun, or whether it will fizzle-out as spectacle in the sky. They are still not sure, so time will tell.
Comets do not create solar storms. Indeed, if Comet ISON was completely swallowed-up by the Sun (which is still one possiblity), the Sun would hardly notice it. Comets are balls of ice, dust, and perhaps some small rocky pieces which are much smaller than the Earth.
Solar storms can occur at any time, but are usually more frequent during the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle. The Sun is nearing the peak of the current sunspot cycle, so it would not be unusual for a solar storm to break-out at this time. However, if a solar storm does break-out at the time Comet ISON encounters the Sun, around Thanksgiving Day, that would simply be a coincidence.
The following are recent articles, from the Friends of the Zeiss' SpaceWatchtower Blog, regarding Comet ISON and the current sunspot cycle:
Related Blog Posts ---
Comet ISON -
Comet ISON: Remnants May Remain But Comet is Gone (2013 Dec. 3):
Comet ISON vs. the Solar Storm (2013 Nov. 26):
Amateur Astronomers See Comet ISON (2013 Sept. 26):Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/09/amateur-astronomers-see-comet-ison.html
Comet ISON to Fly by Mars (2013 Aug. 24):
Comet ISON: Unique Meteor Shower Mid-January (2013 April 20):
Astronomers Begin Study of Comet ISON (2013 April 1):
Comet of the Century? (2013 Jan. 19):
Sunspot Cycle -
Sun's Magnetic Field About to Flip (2013 Aug. 6):
New Sunspot Could Launch Strong Solar Flares (2013 July 6):Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/07/new-sunspot-could-launch-strong-solar.html
NASA: Strong Solar Flare Earth Impacts Manageable (2013 May 17):Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/05/nasa-strong-solar-flare-earth-impacts.html
Solar Cycle Update: Twin Peaks? (2013 March 2):Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/03/solar-cycle-update-twin-peaks.html
Sunspot AR1654 Getting Bigger w/ Solar Flare (2013 Jan. 12):Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/01/sunspot-ar1654-getting-bigger-w-solar.html
2013 Sunspot Peak to Hit Century Low (2013 Jan. 4):Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/01/2013-sunspot-peak-to-hit-century-low.html
Editor’s Note: This Astronomy-related question was answered by Glenn A. Walsh,
who served as Astronomical Observatory Coordinator and a Planetarium Lecturer
at Pittsburgh’s original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science
in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mr. Walsh also served as a Life Trustee,
on the Board of Trustees, of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall
in Carnegie, Pennsylvania in the late 1990s, including one year as the
Today, Mr. Walsh is Project Director of a not-for-profit organization,
Friends of the Zeiss, which works for the preservation and continued
functionality of the historic equipment and artifacts of a pioneer
in the history of the development of planetaria and museums of the
physical sciences, Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium
and Institute of Popular Science, including the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector,
which, until its dismantling in 2002, was the
Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
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