Ever since the comet ISON was discovered last year, astronomers have been anticipating its approach. Some have predicted that ISON will be the “comet of the century,” while others are anticipating that the comet will break apart before it has a chance to shine. Whatever happens to ISON, the comet presents a great opportunity for teachers to explain the science behind comets to their students.
ISON is just starting to brighten. It’s still too dim for anyone to see it without a powerful telescope, but as it approaches the sun, ISON has the potential to become so bright that it may be visible in broad daylight. NASA has created a really cool paper model of ISON’s expected trajectory with dates and locations (you can download the PDF here).
NASA also has a computer model with the expected trajectory. The model will even allow you to see where ISON will be on a particular date.
Make A Comet In Class
In addition to tracking the comet, you can make one in class. The National Optical Astronomy Observatory has an activity where you can make a comet in class. The website even has a recipe. The recipe is for Haley’s Comet, but it can be adapted to ISON. Please be sure to read the safety portion of the instructions and take into consideration the age level of your students since the experiment calls for ammonia and dry ice.
If you need an activity geared towards younger minds you can use NASA’s Edible Comet Activity. The PDF has instructions as well as other teacher resources for the classroom.
Long Term Project
Even though ISON hasn’t made its grand entrance, it is preparing to do just that. This comet will give teachers a long term reason to discuss comets and astronomy. Wether ISON will go out with a bang or with a fizz is yet to be determined. Get your students to make a hypothesis as to how ISON will finish.
There is even speculation that the dust cloud ISON will leave behind will produce a unique meteor shower. Exactly what ISON will do as it passes through the solar system is unknown, but that’s part of the fun. No doubt this comet will have other surprises up its sleeve.
We’ll keep an eye on ISON as it approaches and provide you any educational resources we come across. If there is anything in particular you are looking for, please let us know and we’ll see how we can help.*Both of the images used in this post are from NASA. You can click on either to get the original.