Comet ISON will barrel past Mars next week on its way toward a close encounter with the sun that has had scientists and skywatchers buzzing for a year. Comet ISON will fly by Mars today (October 1), then gear up for a close solar approach that will bring the icy wanderer within 724,000 miles of the sun's surface on November 28. If ISON manages to stay in one piece, it could put on a memorable sky show around that time. Astronomers say Comet ISON has the potential to join 1996's Comet Hyakutake and 1997's Hale-Bopp as one of the brightest "Great Comets" in history.
... Why is it called ISON? Russians Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok are credited with first photographing ISON using a 15.7-inch reflecting telescope of the International Scientific Optical Network, or ISON, when it was still far, far away. Their initial snapshot is dated September 21, 2011.
... By the end of this month (October), ISON should be visible to anyone with a pair of binoculars and might even be viewable with the naked eye. Over the course of November, the comet will truly come into its own, and should brighten up dramatically as it races toward the sun.