Comet ISON Will Provide a Spectacular View in the Fall of 2013

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Comet ISON Month-by-Month in Late 2013:

Comet-C2012-S1-ISON-cropped-300x215The comet should become visible in August and September 2013 to observers at dark locations using small telescopes or possibly even binoculars. Comet ISON should become visible to the unaided eye, but only barely in the early part of the month. The comet will be sweeping in front of the constellation Leo then. It'll pass first near Leo's brightest star Regulus, then near the planet Mars. Maybe these brighter objects will help you find it that month. Meanwhile, the comet itself will be getting brighter during October. Comet ISON will continue to brighten throughout the month of November as it nears its late November perihelion (closest point to our sun). Plus ISON will pass very close to the bright star Spica and the planet Saturn, both in the constellation Virgo. Its perihelion (closest point to our sun) on November 28 will be an exciting time. The comet will come within 800,000 miles (1.2 million km) of our sun's surface. If all goes well, and the comet doesn't break up (as comets sometimes do), the terrific heating Comet ISON will undergo when it's closest to our parent star might turn the comet into a brilliant object. Some are predicting that ISON will become as bright as a full moon! That would make Comet ISON a daylight object, briefly. Remember, though, at perihelion, Comet ISON will appear close to the sun on the sky's dome (only 4.4° north of the sun on November 28). Although the comet will be bright, you'll need to look carefully to see it in the sun's glare. Some expert help around this time might be called for, and we'll announce comet-viewing parties as we hear about them.

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December 2013 may 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. But, for a time, it should be as bright as our sky's brightest planet, Venus, and it should have a long comet tail. 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.

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On January 8, 2014, the comet will lie only 2° from Polaris — the North Star. How bright will it be? How long will its tail be? No one can answer these questions yet, but many are excited about this comet. At its discovery in September 2012, Comet C2012 S1 (ISON) was beyond the orbit of the 5th planet from our sun, Jupiter. It will sweep into the inner solar system in 2013. This is a false color image of the comet, showing the coma surrounding the comet's central nucleus, via Remanzacco Observatory This comet's orbit will bring it near the sun in November 2013. Some are predicted it'll be briefly as bright as a full moon then, but, unfortunately, as its brightest it'll also be near the sun's glare. Image via NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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.

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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 will be no exception. Comet Lovejoy was a sight to behold from Earth's Southern Hemisphere in late 2011. Here the comet is reflected in the water of Mandurah Esturary near Perth on December 21, 2011. Image Credit: Colin Legg. Of course, comets don't always live up to expectations. Comet ISON might break up into fragments, as the much-hyped Comet Elenin did around August 2011. On the other hand, Comet ISON might survive its encounter with the sun as Comet Lovejoy did in late 2011. If so, it might go on to illuminate our skies with its beauty. 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. If it does survive its close encounter with the sun in 2013, and if it does become bright enough to be seen with the eye, astronomers say Comet ISON's best appearance won't be limited to just one hemisphere as Comet Lovejoy's was. It'll be visible to all of us in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres for at least a couple of months, from about November 2013 through January 2014.

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