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There has been much written in 2013 about Comet ISON with early thoughts pointing towards a potential "Comet of the Century"; a dazzling sight, as bright as the Moon and visible in daylight. Now it's more than likely that ISON will fall well short of this mark but may not totally disappoint.

Comets are unpredictable and hopes for ISON have gradually eroded over the last few months as it failed to brighten as quickly as hoped. However, as this ball of "ice and dirt" hurls towards the Sun it should brighten enough to be visible with at least a pair of binoculars. There is a good chance it may be naked eye object in the early morning sky, from about November 15th until at least November 21st. With the possibility that it suddenly could ignite or equally disintegrate as it approaches perihelion (Nov. 28th), we're in for an exciting few days.

Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) imaged in November 2013 (NASA)

The best location to observe ISON is from the Northern Hemisphere. It will be observable in the early morning sky towards the east throughout the brightening period. For example, from 52N (e.g. London, England), ISON will be 11 degrees above the east-southeastern horizon 75 minutes before sunrise on November 19th. Hugging the eastern horizon at this time is Mercury (mag. -0.7) and just to the northwest of ISON is blue-white Spica (mag +1.0). At predicted magnitude +6.1, ISON is much fainter than Mercury or Spica but should be visible with binoculars. With a small amount luck, it may be brighter than this and visible to the naked eye.

For observers in the Southern Hemisphere, ISON is also visible, appearing low down above the eastern horizon as it brightens.

Comet ISON, Mercury and Spica from latitude 52N, 75 minutes before Sunrise on November 19, 2013

The finder chart below shows the path of ISON in Virgo from November 10th to November 21st. During this time it brightens from magnitude +8.0 to +5.6.

Comet ISON Finder Chart from November 10 to November 21, 2013

Comet ISON Finder Chart from November 10 to November 21, 2013 - pdf format

Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) Data (at epoch February 28, 2013)

NameC/2012 S1 (ISON)
ClassificationHyperbolic Comet
DiscovererVitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok using the ISON group of telescopes
Discovery dateSeptember 21, 2012
Aphelion (AU)unknown
Perihelion (AU)0.01249
Orbital period (years)unknown
Inclination (degrees) 61.981
Longitude of ascending node (degrees)295.716
Perihelion November 28th, 2013
NotesSungrazing comet

Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) Data Table

DateRight AscensionDeclinationEstimated MagnitudeDistance from Earth (AU)Constellation
07 Nov 201311h 47m 05s01d 46m 54s8.51.072Virgo
08 Nov 201311h 53m 53s00d 52m 22s8.31.047Virgo
09 Nov 201312h 01m 02s-00d 04m 59s8.11.024Virgo
10 Nov 201312h 08m 33s-01d 05m 14s8.01.002Virgo
11 Nov 201312h 16m 28s-02d 08m 26s7.80.980Virgo
12 Nov 201312h 24m 48s-03d 14m 38s7.60.960Virgo
13 Nov 201312h 33m 35s-04d 23m 48s7.40.941Virgo
14 Nov 201312h 42m 50s-05d 35m 52s7.20.924Virgo
15 Nov 201312h 52m 34s-06d 50m 42s7.00.908Virgo
16 Nov 201313h 02m 50s-08d 08m 02s6.80.894Virgo
17 Nov 201313h 13m 38s-09d 27m 35s6.60.881Virgo
18 Nov 201313h 25m 00s-10d 48m 53s6.40.871Virgo
19 Nov 201313h 36m 57s-12d 11m 24s6.10.864Virgo
20 Nov 201313h 49m 29s-13d 34m 26s5.80.858Virgo
21 Nov 201314h 02m 36s-14d 57m 12s5.60.856Virgo
22 Nov 201314h 16m 21s-16d 18m 46s5.20.857Virgo
23 Nov 201314h 30m 43s-17d 38m 06s4.90.861Libra
24 Nov 201314h 45m 44s-18d 54m 03s4.40.869Libra
25 Nov 201315h 01m 29s-20d 05m 16s3.90.882Libra
26 Nov 201315h 18m 06s-21d 10m 03s3.20.900Libra
27 Nov 201315h 36m 00s-22d 05m 35s2.10.924Libra
28 Nov 201315h 56m 31s-22d 43m 30s0.10.960Scorpius
29 Nov 201316h 23m 17s-19d 52m 17s-3.10.976Scorpius
30 Nov 201316h 21m 22s-16d 20m 14s1.20.912Scorpius
01 Dec 201316h 19m 11s-13d 58m 52s2.60.868Scorpius
02 Dec 201316h 17m 23s-11d 55m 49s3.40.831Scorpius
03 Dec 201316h 15m 54s-10d 00m 41s3.90.798Scorpius
04 Dec 201316h 14m 39s-08d 09m 09s4.40.768Ophiuchus
05 Dec 201316h 13m 36s-06d 18m 51s4.70.740Ophiuchus
06 Dec 201316h 12m 44s-04d 28m 14s5.00.714Ophiuchus
07 Dec 201316h 12m 02s-02d 36m 10s5.20.690Serpens Caput
08 Dec 201316h 11m 27s00d 41m 45s5.40.667Serpens Caput
09 Dec 201316h 11m 00s01d 15m 45s5.60.644Serpens Caput
10 Dec 201316h 10m 41s03d 17m 02s5.70.623Serpens Caput
11 Dec 201316h 10m 27s05d 22m 41s5.90.603Serpens Caput
12 Dec 201316h 10m 20s07d 33m 18s6.00.584Serpens Caput
13 Dec 201316h 10m 19s09d 49m 24s6.10.566Serpens Caput
14 Dec 201316h 10m 24s12d 11m 29s6.20.549Serpens Caput
15 Dec 201316h 10m 34s14d 39m 59s6.30.532Serpens Caput
16 Dec 201316h 10m 51s17d 15m 19s6.30.517Hercules
17 Dec 201316h 11m 13s19d 57m 46s6.40.503Hercules
18 Dec 201316h 11m 41s22d 47m 33s6.50.489Hercules
19 Dec 201316h 12m 16s25d 44m 46s6.50.477Corona Borealis
20 Dec 201316h 12m 58s28d 49m 21s6.60.466Corona Borealis
21 Dec 201316h 13m 47s32d 01m 04s6.70.457Corona Borealis
22 Dec 201316h 14m 44s35d 19m 30s6.70.448Corona Borealis
23 Dec 201316h 15m 51s38d 43m 59s6.80.442Corona Borealis
24 Dec 201316h 17m 07s42d 13m 39s6.90.436Hercules
25 Dec 201316h 18m 36s45d 47m 25s6.90.432Hercules
26 Dec 201316h 20m 19s49d 24m 02s7.00.430Hercules
27 Dec 201316h 22m 19s53d 02m 04s7.10.429Draco
28 Dec 201316h 24m 41s56d 40m 01s7.20.430Draco
29 Dec 201316h 27m 31s60d 16m 21s7.30.433Draco
30 Dec 201316h 30m 57s63d 49m 32s7.40.437Draco
31 Dec 201316h 35m 13s67d 18m 09s7.50.442Draco

See also

Crunch time approaches for Comet ISON (C/2012 S1)
Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) brightens as it nears Mars fly-by