Fate of 'Comet of the Century' not known until Thursday

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by SHELTON GREEN / KVUE News and Photojournalist DATHAN HULL

Bio | Email | Follow: @SheltonG_KVUE

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Posted on November 27, 2013 at 11:33 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 28 at 10:49 AM

The world’s scientists are watching with bated breath as a comet the size of Mount Everest hurls itself toward the sun at thousands of miles per hour. 

Comet Ison is expected to reach the sun around 12:30 a.m. local time Thursday. 

“It has significantly brightened so the news is good so far,” said Torvald Hessel with the Austin Planetarium. 

The big mystery plaguing scientists is what will happen to the icy space ball as it hurls dangerously close to the sun on Thursday. 

“It's heating up incredibly, and that's the part that we're worried about because we don't know if it's going to survive,” said Hessel. 

Comet Ison is believed to be made up of mostly ice and carbon. 

“Just in the formation of Earth, we know comets have played an absolutely vital role. We think that all the water on Earth actually has its origins in comets. So no comets, no water, no us,” added Hessel. 

Scientists believe there are several scenarios regarding what will happen Thursday as Ison makes it closest approach to the Sun. The icy comet could survive and make it around the sun. The sun’s intense gravity and immense heat could cause Ison to fragment into tiny pieces, or the comet could be consumed all together. 

“This comet has never visited us. It's like on your Thanksgiving dinner I tell you, 'You're going to get a new guest and you're going to cook for that person.' I don't tell you the age, I don't tell you if that person is male, female, big eater, small eater, you have no clue. It could be a baby. It could be a big man. We don't know,” added Hessel. 

Experts say they’ll have a better idea Thursday about Ison’s fate. In the meantime scientists are warning against trying to view the comet Thursday without professional gear. 

If Ison survives it will most likely be visible with the naked eye on Dec. 2 and 3. 

“I think we're in for a good show.  It might become as bright as Hale Bopp, and we might get surprised. It might become significantly better and it might become nothing,” added Hessel.

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