Rare supercomet to outshine Moon in 2013

Comet

A rare supercomet is rushing towards the Sun from the outer solar system and at its peak it may outshine the Moon in November 2013, astronomers claim.

First spotted in September this year, the comet is known as C/2012 S1 (ISON), New Scientist reported.

Its closest approach to the Sun will be in November, when Timothy Spahr of the Minor Planet Center at Harvard University expects it to put on as good a show as Hale-Bopp did in 1997.

Hale-Bopp is believed to be the most widely observed comet of the 20th century and one of the brightest seen for many decades.

Since this will be ISON's first trip to the inner solar system, it could contain volatile gases that other comets, making their umpteenth lap around the Sun, have lost.

Astronomers hope it will provide a pristine glimpse of the material in the outer solar system 4.6 billion years ago, when ISON formed.

The year will also herald celestial fireworks of a different flavour, owing to a gas cloud with three times Earth's mass heading towards the usually placid supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy, the report said.

The collision won't be visible to the naked eye, but X-ray telescopes will pick up radiation from the shock wave created as the cloud slams into the halo of hot gas around the hole.

As the black hole, called Sagittarius A, sits a mere 25,000 light years away - on our cosmic doorstep - the crash should provide an unprecedented view of material ploughing into a black hole.

It could even yield important clues about what happened 300 years ago, when the black hole was much brighter than now.

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