Home > Stargazing > Comet ISON Finally A Naked-Eye Object

Comet ISON Finally A Naked-Eye Object

Yesterday Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) brightened suddenly, meaning that it’s now visible to the naked eye – just.

Comet ISON,  imaged by Nick Howes, Ernesto Guido and Martino Nicolini

Comet ISON, imaged by Nick Howes, Ernesto Guido and Martino Nicolini

According to astronomer John Bortle Comet ISON brightened from magnitude +8.5 on Monday and +7.3 on Wednesday,  to +5.4 on Thursday, meaning that it is now visible to stargazers without the aid of binoculars or telescopes – although those devices will help!

You’ll have to be determined to see it, as it rises in the east just before dawn, so an early start is required. At the moment it’s not spectacular, although some astronomers are still holding out hope that it might become the Comet of the Century as was predicted earlier this year. We’ll need to wait and see whether it continues to dramatically brighten. If it does then it may be visible high in the night sky in December.

How Best to See Comet ISON

Here are three simple steps you can take to maximise you chances of seeing this comet.

1. Find somewhere dark with a clear eastern horizon

Although it is now a naked-eye object, any light pollution in the sky will make it next to impossible to see, so head to your local dark sky site. If you don’t know how to find one then have a look at this light pollution map of the UK to give you an idea. In general you want to make sure that any nearby town or city is behind you, so head to the east of any populated are. You’ll need a flat horizon too – east coast is ideal – as hills and trees will block your view. At the moment the comet is still low in the sky when twilight brightens the sky making it impossible to see.

2. Keep an eye on the weather forecast

There’s no point heading out if it’s cloudy towards the east, but just because it’s raining when you go to bed doesn’t mean that it will still be raining at 6am. Check local weather forecasts for predicted cloud cover before dawn.

3. Find Mercury and Spica

The planet Mercury rises around 6am, and at that point the star Spica, in the constellation of Virgo, will be only a few degrees above the horizon. Comet ISON lies above and to the right of, approx. 10° higher than Mercury in the sky. Here’s a simple finder chart for approx. 6am.

cometisonchart

Comet ISON marked with a red cross, approx. ESE in the pre-dawn sky mid November. Image via Stellarium

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