Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Misinformation Age : Comet ISON edition

    A little knowledge goes a long way toward muddying the facts.  In September 2012 the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON), an astronomical research group discovered a comet that is destined for a close encounter with the Sun next week.  The intense heating of the icy visitor during perihelion (closest point in its orbit to the Sun) had the potential to create an historic apparition that would dazzle even the casual observer.  Responsible astronomers questioned at the time of the comet's discovery explained that comets are notoriously unpredictable and that many previously anointed  'Comets of the Century'  failed to live up to expectations.  It was also stated that a clearer picture of this comet's fate couldn't be determined until August of this year at the earliest.

  Now that August has come and gone,  it's apparent that the 'Comet of the Century' train has left the station but that hasn't stopped the media outlets from using that term to describe this comet.  In the past few days the comet has undergone significant brightening but not enough to overcome the dismal stagnation that it went through since late summer.   Here are a couple of headlines that appeared this week..... 'Comet Of The Century' Is Coming, And Here's Where You Can See It'  (Huffington Post).............."Looking for the 'comet of the century'? Watch ISON online"  (NBC News)........."Interactive ‘Comet of the Century’ Tracker: Where’s ISON Now?" (TIME Magazine).  

  Anyway,  with a little effort this morning I was able to get a lousy photograph of the smudge of ice that Comet ISON currently is.

Don't see it, do you?
Here is a screengrab from astronomy program Starry Night that provides clues.

Comet of the Misinformation Age

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