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Comet ISON may spark unprecedented meteor shower

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 17th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Comet ISON is likely to spark a rather strange meteor shower, unprecedented in recorded history. Astronomers now predict that the Earth will be bombarded with tiny particles of comet dust in mid-January following ISON's dive past the sun.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Comet ISON is set to be the comet of the century as it possibly brightens enough to outshine even the full moon. Much of that brightness will come from the hundreds of thousands of pounds of dust shed by the comet as the sun heats it up.

Already, ISON is shedding around 120,000 pounds of dust per minute. Comets that pass as close to the sun as ISON will shed even more dust.

Astronomers now believe the dust from ISON will eventually fall to Earth. Comet ISON wills peep past both sides of Earth as it makes its way around the sun. The dust it leaves behind will be pushed outward by the solar wind. Around January 12, astronomers predict the Earth will encounter this dust and pass through the cloud over the course of several days.

Earth will basically be caught in a double-whammy meteor shower with dust coming from two directions.

The dust will be very fine, with the largest particles expected to be only a few microns across. This means the dist will not spark a traditional meteor shower that can be easily seen from Earth. That much is a disappointment, however the dust is expected to fuel another phenomenon - noctilucent clouds.

Noctilucent clouds are clouds that form about 50 miles above the earth's surface, pretty much at the edge of space. At such a height, the ice crystals that form around the dust will reflect sunlight to the Earth long after the sun has set for observers on the ground.

So in the dark of night, skywatchers may enjoy electric blue clouds high above, a rare treat from Comet ISON.

Astronomers say such an event in unprecedented and while they have a good idea of what to expect, they can't be sure exactly what will happen. They do predict the grains of dust will eventually fall to the surface of the Earth, slowly filtering down out of the atmosphere over several years.

Astronomers have added that satellites and astronauts in space will not be in any danger from the microscopic particles.

Look for Comet ISON in mid-November. It should be exceptionally bright in late November through early December.

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