The news that Comet ISON has had an outburst in recent days – brightening substantially – has the astronomy world excited! The comet might fade again, and it’s now moving toward bright morning twilight, headed for its closest point to sun – perihelion – on November 28. So see it soon! In a stroke of good luck, the comet will be in the same binocular field with the bright star Spica on the mornings of November 17 and 18.
What else can you see tonight? Tonight’s moon is near the three little stars that most people see as the constellation Aries the Ram. So you can locate the whereabouts of this constellation tonight. Look for the bright waxing gibbous moon. It’s shining within Aries’ borders. Be forewarned. Aries isn’t conspicuous, especially in the glare of tonight’s almost-full moon. You really need a dark, moonless night to see the mighty Ram in all his starlit majesty.
In ancient times, the March equinox sun shone in front of the rather small constellation Aries the Ram. That’s why, in newspaper astrology columns and elsewhere, you often see Aries at the top of the Zodiac – the band of stars that provides a backdrop for the sun in the course of every year, and the moon in the course of every month.
Aries often comes first in lists of zodiacal constellations because it marked the sun’s location at the time of the spring equinox between 1866 B.C. and 68 B.C. Its relationship to the coming of spring gave this point vast significance to early astrologers. That relationship was so significant, in fact, that the point retains the name First Point in Aries – even though the actual location of the sun at the time of the Northern Hemisphere’s spring or vernal equinox has shifted into the constellation Pisces, due to the precession of the equinoxes.
The first point of Aries – or the position of the March equinox point relative to the backdrop stars – slowly but surely drifts westward through the constellations of the Zodiac, going full circle in about 26,000 years.
It’s good to recall here that these constellation boundaries are arbitrary. The current boundaries for the constellations were decided upon as recently as the 1930s by members of the International Astronomical Union.
Bottom line: Comet ISON has had an outburst and might be visible to the eye, or at least noticeable in binocualars, in a dark sky. It’ll be in the same binocular field as the star Spica on the mornings of November 17 and 18. Chart in this post. Meanwhile, locate the constellation Aries near the moon on the night of November 15, 2013. This post contains an explanation of the First Point in Aries and also speaks of the Age of Aquarius.