After over a year of waiting, Comet ISON is now finally gracing out skies – with a recent outburst of activity making it bright enough for anyone with dark, clear skies an opportunity to spot it.
This ramp up has been dramatic. In less than 72 hours, the comet has increased nearly 16 times in brightness.
“ISON has dramatically brightened over the past few days,” Astronomer Carl Hergenrother told Space.com via email. “The latest observations put the comet around magnitude 5.7 to 6.1 which is a 2+ magnitude increase from this weekend. My own observations from this morning in 10×50 and 30×125 binoculars show a nice ‘lollipop’ comet with a very condensed blue-green head and a long narrow tail. The tail was over 1 degree in length even in the 10x50s. The comet may continue to brighten as the outburst is still in its early stages.”
ISON, which has been traveling towards the inner solar system for at least a million years, is called a Sungrazing Comet because of its precarious approach to the sun’s surface. On Thanksgiving Day, ISON will swing around the sun at a blistering 730,000 miles above the surface. If it survives, it will then turn back towards Earth and put on what’s hoped to be a spectacular show.
“If ISON survives in tact, it would likely lose enough dust near the Sun to produce a nice tail,” Lowell Observatory astronomer Matthew Knight, a member of NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign told EarthSky.org. “In a realistic best-case scenario, the tail would stretch for tens of degrees and light up the early morning sky like Comet McNaught (C/2006 P1) did in 2007.”
To find out how to spot Comet ISON, hit up Space.com’s great tips here.
Photo credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona