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Comet ISON Quickly Becoming Visible

November 16, 2013

By WeatherBug Sr. Meteorologist, John Bateman


Comet ISON is getting brighter and closer to the Sun, and if all goes well, it could be one of the brightest comets observed from Earth in decades, if not longer. Or it might not... The comet is still keeping us on our toes as to what it`s going to do next.

As for now, reports have come in this week that ISON is finally visible to the naked eye. In fact, there have been skywatchers that have remarked that it has become dramatically brighter just during the last few days. If you want to catch it this month before it disappears behind the Sun, then this weekend and early next will be the time to do it.

So where should you look? The best chance to see the comet will be to look in the eastern sky in the early morning before the sky starts to brighten. It will be getting lower and lower in the sky as the week progresses, and therefore harder to see. Under good viewing conditions, it should closely resemble the Hubble image included at the top of this story.

If you can`t check it out this month, you may be in for a show in December, if it survives its voyage around the Sun. Because ISON is what`s called a "sungrazing comet", it will pass extremely close to the Sun during its journey, and will possibly be very bright as a result. The caveate is that as ISON passes around the Sun at its nearest point -- about 800,000 miles away around Thanksgiving time --it could break up into small fragments due to the Sun`s incredible gravitational pull and/or strong solar winds. It has happened before to other comets, and could mean a much dimmer comet or perhaps no visible comet at all. If it survives, however, ISON could put on a grand show.

So let`s assume everything goes well and ISON not only survives the Sun`s encounter but also glows brilliantly, when can we see it? Well it will be very close to the Sun this month so even if it doesn`t disintegrate, the Sun`s glare could wash it out. But if it holds up, it could be as bright as the full moon and visible during the daylight by late-month. This would rival the Great Comet of 1680. (Fingers crossed!)

More than likely however, the best show will be in December during the early evenings and before sunrise. At this point ISON will still be quite bright, perhaps as bright as the planet Venus, and will probably have a long tail. Even moving into mid-January it`s hoped that ISON will still be visible to the naked eye as it speeds back into the cold and darkness of deep space.

Now before you head outside on a chilly fall morning, one last piece of comet information - comets are not like meteors when it comes to viewing them. They don`t shoot past your eyes at a quick speed, but rather appear to hover in one place in the sky, basically motionless. Also, telescopes and binoculars will certainly give you a better view of comets, where they hinder viewing of meteors. Finally, meteor showers tend to have peak times and dates, where ISON may be visible in the sky for many weeks.

As we wrap up 2013 and head into 2014, here`s to ISON giving us Earthlings a show to remember!


Story image: Comet ISON in November 2013. Courtesy of NASA/Hubble.

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