It's been said that in order to be noticed, you have to do something daring and bold. A comet named ISON appears to be a thrill-and-glory seeker, for well in advance of demonstrating its potential as a possible "comet of the century," it has already garnered more attention than comets or asteroids that pass harrowingly close to the Earth.
This comet, discovered in 2012 and named after the International Sky Observers Network (ISON) through which it was spotted, has taken a couple of dares to win a spot in history--or at least some media buzz.
First dare: get in front of a camera. On October 1st, ISON will pass within seven million miles of Mars (which is a lot closer than it will ever get to Earth, in case you were wondering if it's a good time to restock your bunker). This gives NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and its huge HiRISE camera a front row viewing seat, and NASA is planning to take advantage of this by redirecting MRO's attention to focus on ISON.
This sneak preview of ISON should tell us a lot more about the comet's size, mass and composition, giving us ammunition to make some predictions on how spectacular (or not) it may become later in the fall. But beyond how bright and breezy ISON may grow, another factor depends critically on the comet's physical stature.
That's the second dare: ISON, as it turns out, is a "sun-grazer," one of that breed of comets that risk it all by buzzing the sun. Some of these actually fall into the sun and are completely vaporized, like moths to a candle flame.