*UPDATE* Comet ISON Viewing Guide

Rob Morris

UPDATE November 15, 2013:

Comet ISON is now naked eye visible!  Due to a tremendous outburst over the last few days, the comet as increased substantially in brightness.  If you are in a dark sky location, look to the southeast just before dawn.  The comet is in the constellation of Virgo, near the bright star Spica.  It will look like a slightly greenish fuzzy blob.  If this trend continues, the comet could be very easily visible in the next few days, so keep watching the skies in the morning.  More updates will follow.

credit Charles Coburn (in Rescue, CA)

credit Charles Coburn (in Rescue, CA)

November 10, 2013: Comet C/2012 S1…otherwise known as Comet ISON…has been billed as the “Comet of the Century”.  Unfortunately, it may not live up to that title. Or it may. We really don’t know right now. It is very difficult to predict exactly what Comet ISON will do in the next two months. Everything hinges on whether it survives its close brush with the Sun on November 28th. If it breaks apart and vaporizes, then we don’t get to see anything.  However, if it survives, then it should be spewing dust and gas and it may light up skies.

The show could begin in just a few days. Right now, the comet is just below the threshold for being naked eye visible. You can definitely see it in binoculars though.  Go out in the morning just before sunrise and look to the southeast between the constellations of Leo and Virgo. But, next week, the comet might be briefly visible to the naked eye as it dives toward the Sun. It will be moving through the constellation of Virgo (between 10° and 20° above the horizon), past the bright star Spica. It will then disappear into the Sun’s glare with its closest approach occurring on November 28th.

Comet ISON Viewing Guide

Comet ISON Viewing Guide

Assuming it survives, it will re-emerge from the Sun’s glare in early December. This will be its brightest time, possibly rivaling Venus in magnitude. Once again, just before sunrise will be the best time to look for it.  Throughout December, it will be visible in the eastern sky, getting higher and farther north as each day passes. It will also start to get dimmer as it gets later in the month. Closest approach to Earth is on December 26th, though it will still be 30 million miles away.

 

 

Comet ISON Guide

Comet ISON Guide

 

 

As we close out December and move into January, it will be visible all night long in the northern sky. It will actually pass quite close to the star Polaris (the North Star) on January 7th. It will be getting really hard to see without binoculars by this point though. As we approach mid January, the comet will cease to be visible without binoculars and telescopes. You may be able to see it for several more weeks after that in your telescope, but the tail will be small and it won’t look like much more than a slightly fuzzy blob.

And with that, I will tell you that this could all change tomorrow. The comet could break apart and fade away. The comet could brighten significantly and become a beautiful sight in the sky before Thanksgiving. Or it could swing around the Sun, have all its ices vaporized away, and have nothing left for its outward journey…leaving us without any real show. We will try to keep you updated.  But in the meantime, here is a link that may help.

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4 thoughts on “*UPDATE* Comet ISON Viewing Guide

  1. I live in Knoxville TN. When can I view the comet,what time can I view the comet, and how can I view the comet? I really would like to see its long tail.

  2. Thank you for this information. I just saw the PBS show and wanted more information. Your site came up quickly. Would you address the path and that it will not hit us. The PBS show started with the thought it might and worried my family.

  3. The comet is too close to the Sun right now to see it so you’ll need to wait until after its perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on November 28th. Around the 29th or 30th start looking in the east shortly before morning’s twilight and look for the tail rising ahead of the comet. You could also try looking in the western skies as evening twilight deepens. Either way, the head of the comet (its “coma”) is so close to the Sun on those dates that the best you can hope to see is the tail either rising ahead of the Sun in the east or setting soon after the Sun in the west.

    Within a few days after that, a post-sunset western view becomes virtually impossible, and your best bet is a pre-dawn eastern view. By December 7 the comet will have travelled far enough away from the Sun that the coma could be visible even though the tail would be shrinking. How bright this will be is anyone’s guess right now. Your best bet is to keep a pair of binoculars handy and observe from a site with a flat horizon and away from city lights.

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