Comet ISON is headed for a close encounter
Discovered in 2012, Comet ISON is headed for a close encounter with the sun on Nov. 28, when it will approach within 730,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) of the solar surface. Astronomers and stargazers have been tracking the comet since its discovery in the hopes that it may flare up into a spectacular night sky sight. The comet’s official designation is C/2012 S1 (ISON).
Comet Lovejoy is the second comet gracing the morning sky this week. Officially known as C/2013 R1, the comet was discovered on Sept. 7 by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy.
Both comets are moving rapidly, so their position will be changing day by day. On Monday (Nov. 18) morning, when Mercury is best placed, Comet ISON will be just 3 “moon-widths” east (towards the eastern horizon) of the bright star Spica.
Comet Lovejoy will be much higher in the sky at that time, passing just about half way between the Big Dipper and the constellation Leo . Both should be easily visible in 7×50 binoculars, and possibly even to the naked eye.
This week in the hour before sunrise early morning stargazers will get a double treat: the planet Mercury and two special comets.
Mercury will be in one of its best locations in 2013 for spotting. The planet closest to the sun never strays very far into the night sky. It can only be glimpsed on rare occasions when it is at its farthest from the sun, and then only when its angle with the horizon is right.
This week there is an extra treat to entice you to get up early. Not just one, but two comets are visible in binoculars.
The first is the potentially amazing Comet ISON, expected to possibly make a bright showing at the end of November and early in December. ISON is not currently visible to the naked eye, but some observers report that it is brightening well. This week, skywatching experts reported that Comet ISON is now visible through binoculars, as well as telescopes.