Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

2/8/2013 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Traditionally, comets protend doom, but science weighs in.

Another comet passing near the sun is brightening close to naked-eye visibility. If the comet brightens further, it will become the first of no less than three such comets to appear visible to the naked eye in 2013 alone, making this year the "Year of the Comet."

Comets, celestial treats or harbingers of doom?

Comets, celestial treats or harbingers of doom?

Highlights

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/8/2013 (1 year ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: comet, Lemmon, ISON, Pan-STAARS, naked-eye, visible, Year of the Comet, doom, doomsday, predictions, birghtness, visible


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The new comet, Lemmon (C/2012 F6) was discovered in March of last year, but was not initially expected to reach naked-eye visibility. However, observers report that it has become easily visible in binoculars to sky watchers in the southern hemisphere and that it will probably brighten to naked-eye visibility this month.

Comet Lemmon is unusual both for its surprising brightness as well as its color. For unlike most comets which blaze white in the nighttime sky, comet Lemmon is green.

Green comets are unusual, but not entirely rare. The green color is cast off by frozen crystals of cyanogen and diatomic carbon gas, which happen to glow green when illuminated by sunlight. Notably, cyanogen is also poisonous to humans.

Comet Lemmon will be visible to northern hemisphere observers by April or May of 2013. By that time, it will be receding back into the depths of the solar system on its 11,000-year orbit. Northern hemisphere observers will need a telescope to observe it at that time.

Still, observers in the north should not fret, for they have front-row seats for the next two comets that are expected to put on a dazzling show. Comet Pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4) will be visible to northern hemisphere observers next month, while Comet ISON, may become one of the brightest comets in history. Astronomers say it has the potential to be visible even in the daytime sky with a brightness that rivals that of the full moon.

With three naked-eye comets on tap for this year, scientists are referring to 2013 as the Year of the Comet.

Is this unusual?

Bright naked-eye comets which grab news headlines tend to appear on the average of once every ten years or so. Some decades have a couple more, most less. Comets that are visible to the naked eye appear almost yearly, however, they are usually too dim to be seen from all but the darkest skies and they capture little public interest.

More commonly, there are comets which can be seen with binoculars and there are always at least one or two comets which amateur astronomers can view with the aid of backyard telescopes.

At any given time, there are usually about a dozen or so comets streaking through the inner solar system. They are easily tracked by astronomers with more sophisticated equipment. However, these comets pass too far away from Earth and are too small to be visible from Earth. Therefore, while comets constantly swirl about the sun, we only see the closest and the brightest ones, which are rare.

However, years with more than one naked-eye comet are very rare, and three is unprecedented in recent history. Now added that one may be visible in daylight, and we are enjoying an astronomical treat that probably won't be repeated in this lifetime.

What does all this portend? Is this a sign of something greater at work?

Typically, in the time before astronomy came of age as a science, comets were seen as signs in the heavens, often presaging doom. A comet that was visible in the daytime sky during 44 B.C., was regarded as a sign of Julius Caesar's divinity. The comet shone brightly for a week just after his assassination.

Other comets have less stellar associations. One comet, famously embroidered onto the Bayeux Tapestry, was said to portend the Norman conquest of England and the fall of King Harold who would be defeated at the battle of Hastings. That comet was later identified as Halley's Comet, which passes near the Earth every 75.3 years.

Another comet was said to predict the coming of the bubonic plague to Europe in the mid-14th century, and another in 1630, which was visible during the daytime, was blamed for bringing famine and pestilence to the people of Europe.

The return of comet Halley in 1910 caused widespread panic when it was reported that Earth would pass through its tail of dust and gas. Some doomsayers even predicted the comet would poison the planet.

Later, in the 1990s the appearance of comets Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake, were said to herald the dawning of the War on Terror, which continues to this day.

Despite the traditional association of comets with doom, in reality there is no statistical link between the appearance of naked-eye comets and general human misfortune. Given that war, famine, plague, and pestilence, are generally part of the human experience somewhere, comets seem to be otherworldly scapegoats more than harbingers of misfortune.

Furthermore, there is no physical link between comets and planet Earth, outside of the annual meteor showers that regularly grace our skies. Most people do not realize that comet dust and gas is quite diffuse. So diffuse in fact, that spacecraft which have been deliberately passed through the tails of comets have all emerged unscathed.

The most a spacecraft has been impacted by a comet tail has was the International Comet Explorer (ICE) which passed through the tail of comet Giacobini-Zinner in 1985. The craft experienced about one impact per second from dust and those particles were about the same size as the particles which make up smoke. In other words, the particles were so tiny and so diffuse that they posed no harm.

If an unshielded spacecraft can fly through the tail of a comet unscathed, then the planet should fare quite well.

None of the three comets visible this year will pass close enough to Earth to brush us with their tails anyway.

So the good news is, we're in for a real treat, if the predictions hold true. And better yet, you may now watch the  astronomical event of a lifetime without any fear of doom as a result.

As science has shown, humanity suffers evil regularly even without comets to blame, so quit worrying and enjoy the show!

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for August 2014
Refugees:
That refugees, forced by violence to abandon their homes, may find a generous welcome and the protection of their rights.
Oceania: That Christians in Oceania may joyfully announce the faith to all the people of that region.



Comments


More Technology

A confident Ballmer leaves Microsoft 'completely' to run the Clippers Watch

Image of Steve Ballmer has left all positions of authority at Microsoft, leaving behind the tech giant to run the Los Angeles Clippers, for which Ballmer paid a record $2 billion.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Eight months after he ended his role as Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer resigned from Microsoft's board, a move that ends more than three decades of direct involvement in the world's largest software maker. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The 58-year-old, who ... continue reading


Why did NASA turn the cameras off? Live feed from Space Station shows UFO, NASA cuts the feed Watch

Image of Is this evidence of a UFO? Or perhaps just venting gasses or debris from the ISS?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Fans of the International Space Station got an eyeful recently when an alleged UFO appeared on NASA's live feed from the station. Curiously, the feed was interrupted as soon as the object appeared fueling rumors that NASA is engaged in a cover-up. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


Have you been hacked? New report says millions of personal information has been stolen Watch

Image of Russian hackers recently gathered customer individuals from more than 420,000 websites.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Russian hackers gathered information from over 420,000 websites, both smaller sites and "household name" sites, in an attempt to gather passwords to send out spam. LOS ANGLES, CA (Catholic Online) - Hold Security, a Milwaukee-based firm, discovered the theft but ... continue reading


ROSETTA: After 10 long years - 'We're in orbit!' Watch

Image of Exciting new images, taken from just 80 miles away shows boulders, craters and steep cliffs.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

All things come to those who wait. "After 10 years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the sun five times, we are delighted to announce finally 'we are here,'" Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA's Director General, said in a ... continue reading


Xiaomi overtakes Samsung as leading Smartphone maker Watch

Image of Xiaomi has evolved from a niche player in China to a major force in its home market.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

How do you pronounce Xiaomi? Think of "show me," and then pronounce the first syllable as if it was in "shower." While Xiaomi in English translates as "little rice," there's nothing little about this Chinese Smartphone manufacturer - Xiaomi has knocked South ... continue reading


Next Mars rover will try to create oxygen on planet's surface Watch

Image of Being able to produce oxygen could help with that ambition, since transporting fuel is heavy and expensive. Other NASA spacecraft can already produce oxygen from CO2.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The next Martian rover that NASA sends to the red planet will attempt to make oxygen on the surface when it lands there in 2021. In addition, the rover will carry seven scientific projects, aimed at paving the way for future manned missions, seeking evidence of ... continue reading


Astronomers discover a 'magnifying glass' in space that acts like a time machine Watch

Image of Images which reveal the galaxies in question. They may look like pixels, however by examining light in fine detail with sensitive instruments astronomers can reveal a lot of basic knowledge about the objects.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Astronomers have discovered a virtual magnifying glass in space that allows them to look farther back in time than they normally can, to an age when the universe was young and contained less mysterious dark matter. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Astronomers ... continue reading


Amazing sight beheld on Saturn's moon: More than 100 geysers spewing forth Watch

Image of NASA's Cassini spacecraft first spotted the geysers as plumes in 2005.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The universe has offered up many amazing sights over the past years, but the most recent one seems to take it all. At least 101 geysers have been discovered erupting on Saturn's frozen moon Enceladus. This find suggests that it may be possible for liquid water ... continue reading


Here are 12 amazing images of outer space. Number 6 is our favorite! Watch

Image of Nebulae are created when great stars explode, scattering their guts across space where they form new stars and solar systems.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

There are wondrous sights in the heavens above! Space is packed with treasures beyond imagination. While we can see many things with just our eyes alone, instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope have given us some incredible close-ups packed with amazing detail. ... continue reading


Astronomers crack mystery of 'transformer' star Watch

Image of The mysterious star switches between two states of energy output, baffling scientists -- until now.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Astronomers have discovered a star that seems to vary and vanish in a surprising fashion. They mystery may now have been solved. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Scientists observing a pulsar have been surprised to notice the star disappear and reappear in their ... continue reading


All Technology News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ezekiel 43:1-7
1 He took me to the gate, the one facing ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
9 His saving help is near for those who fear him, his ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 23:1-12
1 Then addressing the crowds and his disciples Jesus ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for August 23rd, 2014 Image

St. Philip Benizi
August 23: Servite cardinal and preacher. Born in Florence, Italy, to a ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter