“I’ll be talking about ISON itself, a little bit of comet structure and brew up a comet in front of everybody with my own astronomer brief-cooking segment,” Dundee said. “... I’m going to talk about what we know about the comet, about comets in general, where we can expect to observe it and make my best predictions on brightness.
“... The comet is staying kind of faint in the pre-dawn sky, so we’re trying to decide whether it is worth doing any observing before it rounds the sun on Thanksgiving day and whether the better viewings might be in December.”
He said, however, there is a chance the comet could entirely self-destruct while making its way around the sun.
“Right now, through our telescope [ISON] would look like a light, fuzzy blob, so it’s not brightening quite as fast as we thought it would. That doesn’t mean it might not be blazingly bright as it gets closer to the sun, but right now it’s staying rather faint,” Dundee said.
According to www.nasa.gov, “[ISON] began its trip from the Oort cloud region of our solar system and is now travelling toward the sun. The comet will reach its closest approach to the sun on Thanksgiving Day — Nov. 28, 2013 — skimming just 730,000 miles above the sun’s surface. If it comes around the sun without breaking up, the comet will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere with the naked eye, and from what we see now, ISON is predicted to be a particularly bright and beautiful comet.
“Cataloged as C/2012 S1, Comet ISON was first spotted 585 million miles away in September 2012. This is its very first trip around the sun, which means it is still made of pristine matter from the earliest days of the solar system’s formation, its top layers never having been lost by a trip near the sun. Scientists will point as many ground-based observatories as they can and at least 15 space-based assets towards the comet along the way, in order to learn more about this time capsule from when the solar system first formed.”
Dundee said another aspect of ISON that makes it unique is it isn’t rotating very fast, with one face of the comet having yet to face the sun at all.
“That means when it rounds the sun, that face [of the comet] will face the sun for the first time and it may boil off a lot of new gases that make the comet extremely bright, but we don’t know yet,” Dundee said.
Encompassing 120,000 square feet at 100 Tellus Drive in Cartersville, Tellus includes four main galleries — The Fossil Gallery, The Weinman Mineral Gallery, Science in Motion and The Collins Family My Big Backyard hands-on science gallery — a 120-seat digital planetarium and an observatory.
For more information about the museum and its upcoming events and programs, call 770-606-5700 or visit www.tellusmuseum.org. The cost of the lecture is included in regular admission.