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Comet ISON brightens; now a binocular object!

Posted: 12 November 2013

Comet ISON imaged on November 7 by Damian Peach.

Comet 2012 S1 (ISON) appears to be finally getting its act together and looking like a comet should as it heads for a hot date with the Sun on 28 November. ISON is now shining at magnitude +8, making it visible as a soft glow in 10x50 binoculars. The comet's tail has lengthened to at least half a degree, the width of the full Moon and the coma is around five to seven arcminutes across. Astronomers report that the rate of ISON's gas production has increased rapidly over the last several days which, according to one scientist, could indicate melting of deeper layers of ice. ISON was reported to be intact still last month, so this enhanced activity does not appear to be the result of any disruption or breaking up of the comet, astronomers added.

ISON is a morning object right now in Virgo and this coming morning, 12th to 13th, it will be within four degree of Porrima (gamma Virginis, mag. +2.7). ISON rises around 3.30am GMT (London), almost four hours ahead of the Sun, and by the end of the astronomical night at 5.15am (Sun 18 degrees below the horizon) it has climbed 15 degrees clear of the east-north-east horizon. By the time the morning twilight curtails further observation around 6am, ISON is 20 degrees up. Let's hope for clear skies in the next week or so as soon after mid-month it becomes too low over the horizon to observe as it zooms east through Virgo, passing very close to Spica on the morning of 18 November. If ISON survives perihelion passage on 28 November it will reappear in early December into bright morning skies in Scorpius.

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