DAWN OF COMET ISON (C/2012 S1)

After a long journey from the Oort Cloud, the anticipated “Comet of the Century” will become a naked eye object the last two weeks of November and early December. The object is already visible in modest backyard telescopes and binoculars. Comets are notoriously unpredictable, but hopefully the comet will live up to expectations, possibly spectacular.

The Oort Cloud is a zone in the outer reaches of our Solar System which harbors frozen celestial bodies which are sometimes dislodged into orbits which approach the Sun in large elongated orbits, or the order of years to millenniums for orbit completion. This is believed to be Comets ISON’s first visit to the Sun, and should retain most of it’s volatile constituents.  After reaching perihelion passage and a tight turn around the Sun on November 28th 2013, the comet coma will only be 800,000 miles above the Sun’s surface.  Should the comet survive this, there is a good possibility of a spectacular morning performance as the comet releases it’s volatile gases and creates the long tails typical of comets.

comet ison
Comet ISON

The comet is currently located (early November) in the early dawn sky, in the constellation Leo.  Use a star chart to locate Leo, such as the one provided on the starscapescientific.com  website (moon phases page) or one you can find on the internet.  As the comet continues to brighten, begin viewing around 4 a.m.EST, looking east to find Leo rising just above the horizon.  Leo appears as  a bright triangle of stars next to a sickle shaped asterism  marked by the bright star Regulus.  Comet ISON can be spotted between Regulus and a bright red star, which is actually not a star but the planet Mars.  Towards the end of November the comet is drifting along to the east, underneath Leo’s bright triangle of stars and near the border of Leo and Virgo.

image-of-Ison-1-Nov
(Image credit: Colin Johnston/Stellarium)

Currently the comet will appear as a fuzzy star through binoculars.  A small telescope will show a glimpse of the tail.  By late November the comet should start to become visible with the naked eye and a star chart will not be necessary.  By now the comet will be positioned near the constellation Hercules and just at sunrise.  Optical aid is not recommended at this time due to the very close proximity with the Sun.  Comet ISON will continue to be visible well into December, although much dimmer by the 2nd week .

Comets are celestial bodies which must obey the laws of orbital mechanics.  They will appear stationary moving slowly among the stars.  The apparent motion you see in the morning sky is more attributed to the Earth’s rotation.  Comets do not streak across the sky as do meteors entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Hubble_snaps_icy_Comet_ISON
NASA (Hubble Space Telescope)

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