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Massive comet will shine brighter than the moon, say astronomers

A massive two-mile-wide comet will be visible from Earth in late 2013, possibly appearing brighter than the moon during November and December, according to astronomers.

The comet, discovered by amateur Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok, is among the brightest comets ever identified. According to NASA, the comet is currently falling toward the Sun from between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. In early October 2013 it will pass near Mars — where NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover will snap a photo.

The recently discovered object, known as comet ISON, will pass within 1.2 million miles (1.9 million km) from the center of the sun on November 28, 2013, according to astronomer Donald Yeomans, head of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“Comet ISON appears on course to achieve sungrazer status as it passes within a solar diameter of Sun’s surface in late 2013 November. Whatever survives will then pass nearest the Earth in late 2013 December,” NASA astronomers explained in a posting. “Astronomers around the world will be tracking this large dirty snowball closely to better understand its nature and how it might evolve during the next 15 months.”

The comet, which is estimated to be nearly two miles wide, will likely be one of the largest comets to ever pass Earth. While there is a chance that ISON will disintegrate when it approaches the sun, some astronomers say heat from the sun will vaporize ices in its body, creating what could be a spectacular tail.

Confirmation of the object’s discovery comes just months after Russian astronomers first spotted the object. After a number of subsequent observations, a team of international astronomers confirmed that the object was indeed a comet located beyond Jupiter’s orbit in the constellation Cancer.

“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,” astronomer Artyom Novichonok, one of the astronomers who discovered the comet, wrote in a comets email list hosted by Yahoo. “It’s really rare, exciting.”

If the comet survives its brush with the sun, it is expected to put on an amazing show for amateur astronomers. The comet could be the brightest to appear in Earth’s skies since 1965 and could even be visible in daylight. Current predictions note the object’s magnitude could jumped above 16 — making it far brighter than the full Moon. According to various astronomers, the best sightings will be in the Northern Hemisphere, although the comet will be visible across the globe.

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