Comet ISON approaches the Sun

Posted by David Eicher
on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Comet ISON became visible to the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) LASCO C3 instrument shortly after 2 a.m. Universal Time today. The comet will remain in this camera's view for the next few days as it makes its closest approach to the Sun. // Credit: Soho (ESA/NASA)
The time is approaching fast. Within 24 hours, we’ll see how Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) will weather its closest encounter with the Sun, which by the way happens during halftime of the Green Bay Packers-Detroit Lions football game tomorrow. I wish I could be happier about that, but with a woeful defense and missing Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are horrible. But that’s another story . . .

The comet story, the one that matters for tomorrow, will be quite interesting, especially with all the recent speculation from the media and even astronomers over ISON’s fate. Because the comet has been somewhat dimmer than originally predicted and because its dust production shot upward a couple days ago, many believed ISON was disintegrating. But then yesterday, as described by Astronomy contributor and comet scientist Matthew Knight and others, the comet seems to be holding together and brightening again on its journey toward the Sun.

The comet is now extremely close to the Sun and therefore a daytime object, and it will be interesting to see if people pick it up tomorrow in a daytime sky. The latest numbers on magnitudes for ISON from the Minor Planet Center (MPC) show it at about 2nd magnitude today, with a tail stretching more than 1° long. The comet could be as bright as magnitude –6.7 at its peak tomorrow and will fade, according to the MPC, to about magnitude 3 by December 3. By then, it will have re-emerged into the morning sky and will be easily visible before sunrise.

Be sure to check the maps, charts, and advice on, in our special issue The Great Comet of 2013, or in our regular magazine issues for guidance on exactly where and how to look for it.

Tomorrow, you can also view a Google Hangout put on by NASA in which panelists C. Alex Young, W. Dean Pesnell, Karl Battams, and Phil Plait will discuss the comet’s behavior. For more, see here.

It’ll be amazing to see how this small comet reacts to its period of greatest heating and also the interaction between the comet and an existing coronal mass ejection that will take place as the comet swings around the Sun.

You can also view the comet via the STEREO spacecraft, in spectacular imagery in real time from the SOHO spacecraft, and SDO.

All this will give you much to talk about beyond turkey, Thanksgiving, and the lousy Packer defense!

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