Update On Comet ISON

Back in April, I daydreamed of photographing a spectacular comet around this time. All the guestimates about Comet ISON at that time suggested that by mid-November it would be a naked-eye-visibility comet by this time, on its way to becoming the Comet of the Century.

Fortunately, I knew better than to let the hype affect me. Comets are unpredictable, to say the least. If ISON turned out to be a great photo subject, well, that’s great, but if it didn’t, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

Looks like I’ll be getting plenty of sleep!

We now know that Comet ISON will not be the Comet of the Century, and it might not even be the Comet of the Year. As of today, it isn’t even the brightest comet in the sky. That distinction belongs to Comet Lovejoy.

Comet ISON might brighten to naked-eye visibility before it reaches its closest encounter with the sun (perihelion) on November 28, but that isn’t a sure bet. And even if you view from a dark site, light pollution from the Moon will interfere for the next week or so. At least when the moon is near full phase, it will be in the western sky, opposite the comet.

Comet ISON rises tomorrow morning (Wednesday the 13th) around 4am EST in the East-Southeast. You may be able to spot it in binoculars from a dark site, but don’t expect to see it with your unaided eye. Each morning between now and the 26th, (it won’t be visible on the 27th) the comet will become brighter, but it will also rise later, which puts it more into the morning twilight. If it were really bright, that would be a good thing for us photographers, as we could shoot the comet as a great component of a dawn twilight scene. However, as faint as it is, it will be difficult, if not impossible to make a good photo of it. On the 26th, ISON rises only about 40 minutes before the sun.

At this point, it’s looking like the best chances for seeing and photographing the comet in November will be from about the 20th to the 24th, but I’m just making a guess here. I recommend that you get every morning and accept the gift that nature gives you. Look for the comet low in the east-southeast sky.

There is still a possibility that ISON will make a good photo op in December. If it survives perihelion, it will rise earlier each morning, and by December 5, it will rise before twilight begins to wash out the view. Although it will be higher and in a darker sky each morning, it will be fainter since it is moving farther from the Sun, so there is going to be some point where it ceases to be a good photo target. The problem, of course, is that we have no idea at what point that will be.

What about that other comet? Lovejoy? Actually, there are now four comets shining currently in the morning sky. Lovejoy is the brightest, and may even be visible to the naked eye from a very dark sight and if you have better eyes than mine. The other comets, including ISON, require optical aid, either binoculars or telescopes.

Tony Flanders gives a quick primer on all four in this Sky & Telescope article. And here’s a great site for comet chasers.

Good luck!

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