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Arts & Culture

Comet Encounter

Comet Hale-Bopp 2007
Courtesy of PBS
Comet Hale-Bopp 2007

Airs Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Hubble captures ISON.
Courtesy of NASA
Hubble captures ISON.
Mt. McKinley sunrise with comet, Northern Lights, interior Alaska's Denali National Park early Spring.
Courtesy of © Alaska Stock
Mt. McKinley sunrise with comet, Northern Lights, interior Alaska's Denali National Park early Spring.

In "Comet Encounter," scientists around the world follow a once-in-a-lifetime event, the path of the sun-grazing comet ISON.

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The comet, somewhere between one and 10 kilometers in diameter, is currently just beyond the orbit of Jupiter. As it races past Earth toward the sun, it will likely develop a tail to light up the night skies.

Then ISON will slingshot around the back of the sun, to emerge perhaps brighter than ever.

But there’s jeopardy, too; ISON could evaporate completely, or the sun’s gravity could tear it apart, producing a so-called “string of pearls” – several small comets arching across the night sky.

Don’t miss the breathtaking images captured in this special. "Comet Encounter" was produced by Darlow Smithson Productions.

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"In this program

NASA: What is a Sungrazing Comet?