A newly discovered comet will likely shine brighter than the moon when it passes Earth in 2013, according to a team of Russian astronomers.
Astronomers say amateur astronomers will have the chance to observe the comet in early November through the first few weeks of January 2014. The object is officially known as Comet ISON, named for the International Scientific Optical Network which discovered the comet.
The passing will likely serve as a major moment for astronomers. The size of the comet is stunning, clocking in at an estimated two miles in length — putting it on par with some of the largest asteroids and comets ever discovered. The comet is expected to fly within 1.2 million miles (1.9 million km) from the center of the sun on November 28, according to NASA’s Donald Yeomans, head of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The best views will be from the Northern Hemisphere, but astronomers say stargazers around the world will have a chance to view the celestial object.
The discovery was a bit of a surprise for scientists around the world. The team of amateur Russian astronomers said early observations of the comet were largely inconclusive.
“The object was slow and had a unique movement. But we could not be certain that it was a comet, because the scale of our images are quite small and the object was very compact,” Artyom Novichonok, who lead the observation project, wrote on a comets mailing list on Yahoo.
“It’s really rare, exciting,” Novichonok added.
It remains unclear exactly how NASA will observe the comet. The U.S. space agency has made observing comets and asteroids a priority, citing the need to study the early evolution of the solar system. According to astronomers, the comet could still contain a rich supply of volatile gases that other comets have lost over the aeons, providing them with a rare chance to obtain spectrographic data and a better view of our solar system when it formed nearly 4.6 billion years ago.
While astronomers on Earth will be treated to a stunning view of the comet, they will not be the only ones. NASA’s Curiosity rover is also expected to capture a few images, providing astronomers on Earth with a view from Mars. NASA’s Mars Curiosity is expected to snap images of the object when it passes Mars in early October, according to the U.S. space agency.