Astronomers are excited about a sungrazing comet discovered late in 2012. Around the time of its perihelion – or closest approach to the sun – on November 28, 2013, it could become a striking object visible to the eye alone even in broad daylight. This comet is called C/2012 S1 (ISON) by astronomers. All of us around the globe should be able to see it. Look below for a month-by-month Comet ISON viewing schedule. And check out the image below, acquired by the Hubble Space Telescope on April 10.
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. If it doesn’t break up, Comet ISON should become very bright. It might bright enough to see in daylight, near the sun, briefly. If it survives, it should go on to have a dazzling showing in December 2013.
Comet ISON month-by-month in late 2013.
August and September 2013. The comet should become visible in August and September 2013 to observers at dark locations using small telescopes or possibly even binoculars.
October 2013. 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.
November 2013. Comet ISON will continue to brighten throughout the month 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.
December 2013. This 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.
January 2014. Will ISON still be visible to the eye? Hopefully. And 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.
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.
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.
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. If so … worth the wait!
Bottom line: Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) is headed for a close encounter with our sun in 2013 and might become a spectacular sight from all of Earth around November and December of this year. This post contains a month-by-month viewing guide, some history of the comet, and a word about what to expect from Comet ISON.