Let's Talk About: Comet ISON

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If Comet ISON survives its plunge to within 730,000 miles of the sun's surface on Thanksgiving Day, it may live up to early expectations and put on a brilliant display in December. The comet has brightened significantly over the last week and has been seen in dark locations with the naked-eye.

When Comet ISON was discovered last year, many experts believed that it would rival the moon in brightness and become the "comet of the century." Comet ISON, however, did not brighten at the rate that was expected to make it a worldwide sensation. There was a lot of disappointment in the astronomy community until last week when substantial outbursts of activity caused the comet to brighten dramatically. Experts now believe the comet is in full outburst mode and will put on a stunning display in December, if it survives its dip into the solar corona on Thanksgiving Day.

Recent activity has not only brightened Comet ISON, it has also lengthened the comets tail to about 10 million miles, or a full 7 degrees across the sky.

Comet ISON should be at its best and brightest for viewing early in December as it travels away from the sun toward the Earth. Look for the comet just above the east-southeastern horizon just as dawn is breaking, about 30 minutes before sunrise. Since Comet ISON is close to the sun in early December, you will also need a clear view of the horizon without obstructions to see it. First, try to locate the comet with your binoculars or wide field telescope. Then, try to spot the comet with your naked-eye.

You will also be able to view Comet ISON in the evening twilight in December as it climbs past Hercules into the northern sky. Keep in mind, the comet will become noticeably dimmer, even through binoculars, as it climbs higher in the sky.

 


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