All year long, astronomers have been writing about Comet ISON: will it sizzle or will it fizzle? Both! Here’s my What’s Up video, with December status (written in mid November, but luckily, the comet didn’t completely fizzle)
ISON in December 2013
Comet ISON first spotted by amateur astronomer Bruce Gary and has been imaged by many eagle-eyed observers with good astrophotography equipment since mid August. A selection of images and data are shown here. I’ll update this frequently as more is understood about Comet ISON. Meanwhile, here is a wesbite with current Comet ISON magnitude and location which is constantly updated!
Comet ISON survived its close pass of the sun on November 28. Scientists are unsure what is actually left of the comet. A fragmented nucleus? Nothing but orbiting dust? Stay tuned!
Here’s an excellent Star Chart showing Comet ISON’s path in November, courtesy of Skyhound’s Skytools3 software. (These are the charts I use for my own deep sky observing.) The chart has not been updated for December as of November 30th.
Latest visible comet news here.
ISON will be visible both before dawn and after sunset this month, though it is fading as of November 30th! It will appear higher in the sky at dawn than at sunset, providing a better chance to see it. During the second half of December, Comet ISON should fade rapidly as it moves north. It will be closest to Earth in its orbit on December 26.
You may have noticed a very bright ‘star’ in the western sky. That’s Venus! Venus shines at its very brightest, magnitude -4.9 this month. It sets about three hours after sunset at the beginning of the month and one and a half hours after sunset at the end of the month. This is a great month to view the dramatic changes in the apparent diameter and phases of Venus as it races towards its conjunction with the sun. The first observations of the phases of Venus were made by Galileo in 1610!
Mars continues to grow brighter and rises near midnight, and Jupiter rises earlier in the evening, heralding the best viewing season for Jupiter watchers.
The beautiful Geminid meteor shower will only slightly be marred by moonlight on the night of December 13 and 14. The radiant lies near Gemini with brilliant Jupiter above and the constellation Orion below. From a dark sky, but even from the city, the mighty hunter Orion is easily visible in the southeast sky. Take a look at Orion’s shoulder star, red Betelgeuse and its knee star, blue Rigel and the Orion Nebula.southwestern horizon.
The Milky Way and all the visible planets and comets should encourage stargazers to escape the city lights this month. Join me in the California Desert November 30, at MOjave National Preserve. We have no chance to See ISON for another week, but there are other nice comets, planets, stars, and dark sky objects too enjoy from dusk to dawn.
If Comet ISON survives its perihelion pass we should have a spectacular view of the comet’s dust tail in December.
The times to look will be just after dusk, low to the horizon at sunset, and higher at dawn for northern latitudes the first half of the month. On December 1, look for a pretty diagonal lineup of the comet, Mercury and the crescent moon just before sunrise in the southeast. Then for the second half of the month, the comet becomes circumpolar. It will appear near the constellation Draco on December 26th, when it is half an a.u. (0.42 a.u.to be exact) from Earth. Will the comets’ tail span a quarter of the sky? I’ll update this as more info is available.
Jupiter reaches opposition January 4th, 2014, and rises earlier in the evening. Venus bright as it ever gets – a whopping magnitude -4.9. It will be a fabulous view – a particularly good astrophoto and sketching target as it grows in diameter, but shrinks in phase. Mars increases in brightness and rises earlier (after midnight). Mars will be a great target for 2014.
That’s all for this year, I’m Jane Houston Jones