Museums are getting ready for a celestial spectacle later this month, when a potentially dazzling comet could shine brightly in the skies over Taiwan.
Both the National Museum of Natural Science (NMNS) in Greater Taichung and the Taipei Astronomical Museum (TAM) said they are preparing exhibitions and events to greet comet ISON, which is expected to produce a good show in the northern hemisphere.
The unusually brilliant comet could be brighter than Venus as it plunges through the solar atmosphere on Nov. 29, the museums said.
If it survives the sun’s intense heat and gravity, comet ISON could sizzle and flash so brightly that it would be visible from Earth even during the day, according to NASA.
It could also break up and emerge in smaller chunks or even fizzle out, NASA said.
The comet was discovered by two Russian amateur astronomers last year and has generated significant discussion in the astronomy community, museum officials said. It was named after a telescope for the International Scientific Optical Network.
“ISON is definitely the most exciting celestial event this year,” Taipei Astronomical Museum official Lee Chin said. “You don’t get this kind of superstar often.”
The museums have arranged several comet-related activities for this month, hoping to use ISON to promote astronomy.
The National Museum of Natural Science will host an exhibition on major comets of the past, which runs through June next year, while the Taipei museum is offering ISON lessons to children on Sunday, Nov. 17, Nov. 23 and Nov. 24, and putting up an interactive display on the comet’s orbit.
Lee said the best time to catch the comet, should it survive its encounter with the sun, will be before dawn on Nov. 29.
The Taipei museum may offer guidance early that morning on how to observe the comet, depending on ISON’s course and the level of interest in it, Lee said.
Additional reporting by staff reporter