Can you see comet ISON this December?

As this dynamically new, sun-skirting comet rapidly approaches its perihelion rendezvous on 2013 Nov 28, its fate is still in the balance. Could it be on the brink of disintegration before perihelion occurs? Or will it survive perihelion passage and appear as a bright naked-eye comet thereafter?

Perhaps it will disintegrate during perihelion with the resultant dust debris forming a huge bright comet tail with no detectable head, akin to C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy) in late 2011. Or it may disappear from view in the same manner as C/2010 X1 (Elenin). All of these scenarios are possible, and the current status of the comet as I write this (November 4) allows for all these possibilities.

The NASA CIOC ISON observing programme remains optimistic about the comet’s future (see this link which is updated daily with the latest information:

During the next few weeks we can witness a unique series of cometary events from our observing platform on Planet Earth as ISON swings round the Sun. The early morning hours in late November and early December are the best time for observing the comet as it remains close to the Sun in the dawn sky. It then moves into the northern sky during December and January and is well placed for UK observers. The accompanying map shows the comet’s position (post-perihelion) in the sky for early December.

So the scene may be set for a brilliant Christmas comet or we could all be feeling a little deflated that another potentially bright comet has not lived up to its over-hyped billing as a ‘Comet Brighter Than the Full Moon’. Watch that space!

Denis Buczynski

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