We are getting a sense of astronomical déjà vu here at Unknown Country: Comet ISON is looming in our skies and already there are rumors of an accompanying spaceship, or even that the heavenly body itself is not a comet at all but a triangular-shaped UFO. Such stories are not presently supported by any published scientific findings.

Comets have historically been thought to be of great astrological importance and as such are often claimed to be portents of doom; certainly many disasters and wars such as the Battle of Hastings, plagues and earthquakes have coincided with the appearance of comets in the skies, though occasionally the dramatic earthly events have been positive, such as the birth of a king or success in battle. Perhaps because of these powerful associations, people have also attributed significance to their presence in terms of extra-terrestrial connections: in particular, a tragedy occurred in 1995 when it was claimed that an object following Comet Hale-Bopp was a starship.

Whitley Strieber was actually live on the Art Bell program when a remote viewer made the star-ship claim. Although both he and Art tried to counteract and dispel the rumours on-air, they were unable to prevent the hysteria and thirty-nine people subsequently killed themselves in the belief that they could reach the starship by discarding their bodies.

The truth was that a large plasma appeared near Hale-Bopp for a time. It is actually not uncommon for comets to be shadowed by other objects as they are transient, volatile entities; previous comets, notably Comet Hartley 2 in 2010, have been surrounded by a clouds of mini snowballs which had broken off the larger body and were travelling with it through space.

Contrary to the internet rumors already starting about ISON, there is presently no convincing evidence that any sort of large object is accompanying it. Even if such an object is observed, it’s likely to be the same as the others that are seen near comets–simply a natural phenomenon. However, if such things as starships exist, they would need water, and following an outgassing comet as it approaches a star would be one way to collect it.

This latest comet, which could be one of the brightest ever seen, was discovered on September 21st 2012 by Russians Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok using a 15.7-inch (0.4 meters) reflecting telescope. The astronomers are based at the International Scientific Optical Network located near Kislovodsk in Russia, and it is from the site’s initials that the comet takes its name. ISON will be a sun-grazing comet, and will be at its brightest when closest to the sun on November 28th. Its light is predicted to rival Venus in intensity as it approaches the sun, and it will be most visible in the Northern hemisphere. In common with comet Lovejoy in 2011, the tail should be visible to the naked eye each morning and evening during the month of December.

Amateur astronomers are being encouraged by the NASA ISON Observing Campaign to submit their observations in order to track the comet’s progress over the next two months; visit IsonCampaign.org.

The life of a comet is not always easy to predict as they are like huge ‘snowballs’ composed of space dust, rocks and ice made of water, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and methane. Consequently they have been known to burn up on their journey through the solar system, but astronomers are optimistic that ISON will survive its journey all the way to the sun.

It is thought this latest ‘huge snowball’ comes from an area far beyond our Solar System which has been associated with a new planetoid known as Sedna, discovered in 2003, and astrologically the comet’s effects will be coloured by her influence. For those further interested in how ISON will affect their horoscope, we can give a brief resume of its heavenly path through the zodiac: it will spend the summer months in the sign of Cancer, move to Leo in September and October, take a brief stop in Virgo during the first week of November, enter Libra on 9th November where it will remain until 19th November, and from then in Scorpio until 27th of that month. From Thanksgiving it moves into Sagittarius for its journey around the sun, after which we can expect it to turn retrograde and move back through the zodiac.

The 2nd of October is set to be the most significant astrological date as the comet will be in conjunction with Mars; this may then be a memorable day for Leos, with Sagittarians getting a blast from ISON on 2nd December as its retrograde cycle begins.

Larger comets may be linked to dramatic events on our planet, but in truth they are far more plentiful in the heavens than one might imagine: to date there are almost 5000 known comets, and this number is constantly rising. This number only represents a small proportion of the total as many of them are not visible, with only an average of one per year visible to the naked eye; the true total of comets travelling around the solar system could number up to a trillion!

So the message is to just enjoy the show when ISON appears, and hope that any dramatic earthly events which occur during its brief relationship with Earth are positive instead of negative. Hey – it is thought that comets may have originally provided the water on Earth which made life possible! That’s pretty positive…

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