Comet ISON is coming!
Get ready to see an incredible night light.
A comet, an icy ball of solar system debris, is simply a “dirty snowball” hurtling through space. As it heats up from the sun, gasses extend behind it; the comet’s body, called a “nucleus” appears to develop a tail, called a “coma.” This is due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind upon the nucleus of the comet.
Comet ISON was first discovered by Russian amateur astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok in September 2012. The comet is officially designated C/2012 S1 (ISON), with ISON standing for International Scientific Optical Network. It had a bit of a disappointing start but ISON is now visible to the naked eye and it appears to be getting brighter the closer it gets to the sun. The peak is predicted for November 28th. Will it be something else to be thankful for? ISON certainly has the potential to be “the comet of the century.” According to the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, ISON is now shining at a magnitude +6.1.
photo: Peninsula Astronomical Society
NBC News Science REPORTS, “The comet is rapidly approaching its Nov. 28 perihelion and as a result it is becoming more and more difficult to observe low near the east-southeast horizon in the dawn sky. Still, observers with access to a clear horizon may be able to follow ISON for about another week.”
Next Monday morning (Nov. 18), ISON will be passing close to the bright 1st magnitude star Spica in Virgo. Using the handle of the Big Dipper, sweep an arc to the brilliant orange star Arcturus. Then continue that arc on to Spica. Using binoculars, ISON should still be readily be visible as a fuzzy star with a short tail. Good luck night sky watchers!