Mark it on your calendar: On December 26th of next year the newly-discovered comet C/2012 S1 (it really needs a catchier name–any suggestions?) will reach its closest point to Earth, becoming the brightest comet to pass by us in the last century–brighter than Hale-Bopp, brighter than Halley’s Comet, and maybe even brighter than the full moon.
The comet, discovered by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok, is currently just beyond the orbit of Jupiter (awww, guys! It’s passing love notes!), and unless it breaks up at some point—which becomes more and more likely as it gets closer to the sun—it could be visible to the naked eye from early November 2013 to mid-January 2014, possibly even during daylight hours.
Before the apocalypse talk sets in (anyway, the apocalypse is happening in December of this year, right?), the closest C/2012 S1 will come to earth is about 36 million miles out, so we’re not looking at another extinction-of-the-dinosaurs scenario. And again, the whole thing might be a total dud, as was the case with the comet Elenin last year.
As pointed out by astronomer Bill Gray in a blog for the Planetary Society:
…estimating comet brightnesses a year ahead of time is about like asking who’s going to win the World Series next year… So, as to whether it’s something about which to get excited: I’d give it about a 30% chance of being exciting, with a 60% chance that I’m wrong. In other words, it’ll certainly bear keeping an eye on, but I don’t think anyone can say for sure right now.
So that’s kind of a letdown. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that 30%.