Comet ISON is getting brighter! It’s now visible with binoculars, if you have a dark-enough sky. Comet ISON viewing guide – plus photos and more info – here.
NOVEMBER 11, 2013. Comet ISON is getting brighter! It’s now inside the orbit of Venus, plummeting fast toward its late November encounter with the sun. Last week, we began hearing that this comet is now visible to observers with binoculars, if you have a dark-enough sky. Want to see it this week? Look here for information on how to spot Comet ISON near the bright star Spica in the predawn sky.
In fact, there have been four comets visible to amateur astronomers with telescopes or binoculars in early November 2013. But Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) has been the most talked-about of these comets; it’s the most talked-about comet of 2013. When discovered in late 2012, Comet ISON was said to have the potential to become a striking object visible to the eye alone around the time of its perihelion – or closest point to the sun – on November 28, 2013. People started saying Comet ISON and comet of the century in the same sentence. Now we know it won’t be a comet of the century, but it could still be a comet that’s visible to the eye alone, and that would be something!
Look below for a Comet ISON viewing schedule and other information.
What’s the story on Comet ISON’s August 2013 recovery and brightness? On the morning of August 12, 2013, amateur astronomer Bruce Gary was using an 11-inch telescope at Hereford Arizona Observatory, pointing only 6 degrees above the eastern dawn horizon, when he became the first to see Comet ISON again after its sojourn behind the sun during June, July and part of August. He did not see the comet with his eye, but created a composite image by stacking separate images, thereby recording a fuzzy point with an anti-sunward tail at Comet ISON’s exact predicted position among stars.
The video above is from skyandtelescope.com’s senior editdor Alan MacRobert. He explained that the comet is fainter that it “should” be:
Comet ISON is about two magnitudes (six times) fainter than it should be compared to the calculations that first led astronomers to predict it would become a grand naked-eye sight before dawn in early December. The comet could still turn out to be fairly good, or it might never reach naked-eye visibility at all.
Skyandtelescope.com editor-in-chief Robert Naeye added:
Comets are notoriously fickle, unpredictable objects, so I’m not giving up hope just yet. But these latest observations should temper expectations. We’ll simply have to wait and see how the comet develops in the months ahead as it ventures closer and closer to the searing heat of the sun.
Since Bruce Gary’s great capture of the comet on August 12, other astronomers have also captured Comet ISON on film, also showing that it is not living up to expectations. How many more images can we expect to see of Comet ISON between now and the end of the year? Lots!
Comet ISON month-by-month in late 2013.
August 2013. As seen from Earth, Comet ISON was behind the sun in June and July, 2013. Its recovery occurred on August 12, 2013 when amateur astronomer Bruce Gary of Arizona spotted it. In August, it was bright enough to be seen by observers using telescopes and other special equipment at dark locations. Look here for August 2013 finder charts for Comet ISON.
September and October 2013. Comet ISON got brighter in September and October, but not bright enough to be easily visible. However, in September and October, amateur astronomers began to photograph it. Check out some of their photos here. The comet was sweeping in front of the constellation Leo then. It passed first near Leo’s brightest star Regulus, then near the planet Mars. Comet ISON will came very near Mars on October 1. Finder charts for Comet ISON for September and October.
November 2013. Comet ISON became visible through binoculars in early November, and it should get brighter still throughout November as it nears its late November perihelion (closest point to our sun). Comet expert John Bortle wrote on June 13 that he expects the comet to reach visibility to the unaided eye about three weeks before the November 28 perihelion date. That doesn’t look likely to happen now, but comets are notoriously unpredictable.
Comet ISON will come within 800,000 miles (1.2 million km) of our sun’s surface on November 28. That’s over 100 times closer to the sun than Earth. This close pass to the sun might cause Comet ISON to break to pieces, and, if that happens, the comet is likely to fizzle. Or ISON might emerge from perihelion bright enough to see with the eye, with a comet tail. Comets are notoriously unpredictable, so there’s just no telling, at this point, how bright it will get.
In November, ISON will pass very close to the bright star Spica, in the constellation Virgo. This bright star can help you find the comet. November finder charts for Comet ISON here.
December 2013. This is likely to be the best month to see Comet ISON, assuming it has survived its close pass near the sun intact. The comet will be visible both in the evening sky after sunset and in the morning sky before sunrise. As ISON’s distance from the sun increases, it’ll grow dimmer. Comet expert John Bortle wrote on June 13:
The crescendo of the apparition will likely occur between December 10th and 14th, when the comet will be best seen just before dawn after the moon sets. Although little or perhaps nothing of the head will remain, the huge tail will loom in the northeastern sky. Almost evenly illuminated over its length, this rapidly fading appendage could [span] almost a quarter of the heavens as seen under good, dark observing conditions.
People all over Earth will be able to see it, but it’ll be best seen from the Northern Hemisphere as 2013 draws to a close. December finder charts for Comet ISON here.
January 2014. Will ISON still be visible to the eye? Hopefully. Only time will tell. On January 8, 2014, the comet will lie only 2° from Polaris — the North Star. And here’s something else that’s fun. On January 14-15, 2014, after the comet itself has passed but when Earth is sweeping near the comet’s orbit, it might produce a meteor shower, or at least some beautiful night-shining or noctilucent clouds. January finder charts for Comet ISON here.
How bright will Comet ISON be later this year? How long will its tail be? No one can answer these questions yet. In his June 13 article published at skyandtelescope.com, comet expert John Bortle explained the reason we can’t know yet how bright Comet ISON will be:
A close solar pass can disrupt and evaporate a comet’s nucleus completely. The intrinsically faintest sungrazer to survive its brush with the sun reasonably intact was Comet Ikeya-Seki in 1965. The long-tailed sungrazers seen in 1880 and 1887 experienced total disruption of their nuclei and dissipated completely within weeks after perihelion. The latest observations of Comet ISON suggest that it’s intrinsically about as bright as those 19th-century objects, so the survival of its head much beyond November 28 is in question.
However, ISON is decidedly brighter than the recent Comet Lovejoy, which totally disrupted and, despite this or perhaps because of it, put on a spectacular long-tailed show for Southern Hemisphere observers at the end of 2011.
Who discovered Comet ISON? Eastern European and Russian astronomers announced the new comet on September 24, 2012. Discovery magnitude was 18.8 – in other words, extremely faint. Vitali Nevski of Vitebsk, Belarus and Artyom Novichonok of Kondopoga, Russia spotted the comet on CCD images obtained on September 21 with a 0.4-m f/3 Santel reflector of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) near Kislovodsk, Russia. Afterwards, astronomers at Remanzacco Observatory in Italy confirmed the comet’s presence with the image above.
Will Comet ISON live up to expectations? It does not appear that Comet ISON will become a legendary comet of the century. Comet ISON might still break into fragments when closest to the sun, as the much-hyped Comet Elenin did around August 2011.
Or, Comet ISON might survive its encounter with the sun as Comet Lovejoy did in late 2011. If so, when it emerges from perihelion (closest point to sun) in late November, it might become visible to the eye. And there is one thing we can count on. That is, if Comet ISON does become a bright comet, visible to the eyes of watching earthlings, it will be beautiful. All bright comets are.
No doubt about it, comets have a mystique. Once considered omens of doom, we now know them as icy visitors from the outer solar system that sweep near our sun, then disappear again into the depths of space, perhaps never to return. People get excited about comets. They are temporary visitors to our region of the solar system. This comet might not be as bright as hoped, but … it will be watched.
Bottom line: Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) is headed for a close encounter with our sun in late 2013. It’ll be closest to the sun on November 28 (Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.). Although some thought this comet might become spectacular later this year, the chances of that are now not so good. This post contains a month-by-month viewing guide, some history of the comet, and a word about what to expect from Comet ISON.
Original article at EarthSky