Russian astronomers using the International Scientific Optical Network's (ISON) telescope have discovered a comet that's scheduled to make its closest appearance to Earth in December of 2013. Called C/2012 S1, it's expected to be the brighest visitor to our solar system in the past century — a comet that'll be considerably brighter than Hale-Bopp (1997) and Halley's Comet (1986). The disintevaporating hunk of ice and rock could be visible for up to three months.
The comet was discovered on September 21 by Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok. The object will hit its perihelion (its closest approach to the Sun) on November 28, 2013 at a distance of 0.012 AU, or 1,800,000 miles. On October 1, 2013, the comet will swing by Mars, and then the Earth on December 26, 2013.
Experts predict it could become a rather spectacular sight in the night sky — but that's assuming it doesn't disintegrate before then. As witnessed by Elenin last year, a comet can break-up at any given time, particularly as it gets closer to the Sun.
Writing in Red Orbit, Lawrence Le Blond notes that C/2012 S1 is currently hanging out just beyond the orbit of Jupiter. "The comet is currently very faint, but as it approaches the Sun, it will steadily brighten," he writes, "It will be easily picked up by experienced amateur astronomers with CCD equipment in the coming months, and will be within binocular view by late summer 2013, and eventually by the naked eye in early November. Depending on brightness, the comet should remain visible to the naked eye from early November 2013 to mid-January 2014."
C/2012 S1 will not be the only comet to pay us a visit next year. Comet Pan-STARRS is expected to swing by in March 2013, though it's not expected to be as bright as the newly discovered object.