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Comet Ison

posted 18 Nov 2013, 10:41 by Heaton Park Astronomy Group HPAG   [ updated 22 Nov 2013, 08:33 ]
By Pete Collins
 
Comet Ison brightened significantly 13/14 Nov, thought to be due to fragmentation of the nucleus. It now appears to be brightening all the time and is now showing a very long tail - check out the photo below taken 17 Nov by Michael Jager, an Austrian astronomer.

Latest reports are that it is at magnitude 4.5 which makes it observable with the naked eye from a dark site, or pretty easy with binoculars. The catch is that you need to get up early to see it. Tomorrow morning it rises at about 5am. The best time to see it is probably about 6am before the sun starts coming up. You need a clear eastern horizon and look just south of due east. At this time Mercury will be in the east just above the horizon and Ison will be a bit further to the right, 8 degrees above the horizon and just below and to the left of the bright star Spica. If it isn't obvious, try sweeping just above the eastern horizon with binoculars.

It is heading towards the sun and is at perihelion on 28 Nov. If you don't spot it in the next few days it will probably be too hard to see against the dawn sky, but you never know. If it survives its encounter with the sun it could be very bright before dawn from about 5 December. From about 15 December it should also be visible after sunset low in the west. It will then get higher in the sky in the evening but will be dimming all the time.

Comets are notoriously difficult to predict, but at the moment it is estimated that Ison could reach magnitude 0, about as bright as the star Vega. Not quite the Comet of the Century, but you never know! If there are any further developments we will let you know on Thursday.
 
Comet Ison photographed by Michael Jager of Jauerling, Austria
Comet ISON photographed on Nov. 17th by amateur astronomer Michael Jager of Jauerling Austria.
For more photographs of Ison by Michael Jager, please see http://cometpieces-at.webnode.at/