Scientific Colloquium
October 18, 2013

"What's the Big Deal about Comet ISON?"

Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) has gained considerable notoriety due to predictions of its becoming very bright in late November 2013 when it passes less than 2 solar radii from the Sun’s photosphere. Comet ISON is the only known “sungrazing” comet that is also reaching the inner solar system from the Oort Cloud for the first time. Thus, it presents an unique opportunity to study a comet from the icy recesses of the outer solar system to the extreme heat near the Sun and, if it survives, back out again. An extensive observing campaign to study Comet ISON is underway that includes multi-wavelength observations from traditional ground- and space-based telescopes, solar observatories, and a number of NASA assets throughout the inner solar system. In this talk I will discuss the current state of knowledge about Comet ISON and use the behaviors of past sungrazing comets to predict what will likely happen as Comet ISON reaches perihelion.

About the speaker:

Matthew Knight is an assistant research scientist at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ. He studies the nucleus and coma properties of comets in order to better understand how the solar system formed and evolved. He has more than 150 nights of experience observing comets at optical and infrared wavelengths and has studied more than 1000 comets observed by the SOHO and STEREO spacecraft. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 2008 where he studied sungrazing comets. He is a member of NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign committee where he is involved in encouraging and facilitating worldwide observations of Comet ISON.

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