Months ago, when temperatures still dropped into the teens at night, I got my last look at Comet ISON. The comet glowed dimly then at the limit of my largest scope. This morning I’m happy to report that ISON has returned wearing a brighter face.
“Bright” of course is a relative term. Through a 15-inch telescope the comet was a faint,
12th magnitude 12.7 magnitude hazy spot that looked like a puff of smoke among the stars, but compared to last March and April, it was MUCH easier to see. And while the tail stands out clearly in the photo, I could only tell the comet was “stretched” a little with its bright head off to one side.
Face to face with ISON, I’ll be honest and say this bit of fluff’s got a long way to go before I ask my neighbors to pile out for a look. But seeing the comet finally kick it up notch gives me hope that we’ll have a nice show come early November.
Getting up before dawn also brings other treats besides a faint comet that may one day achieve greatness. There’s Orion the Hunter and the sprawling Orion Nebula, home to hundreds of infant stars still swaddled in their nebular blankets. Jupiter glares right at you from Gemini in the east and it’s all topped off by the return of that eerie hump of comet dust glowing in the still dark sky – the zodiacal light.
Now that fall is near, the zodiacal light is tipped up into view again just before dawn. Look for a large, diffuse glow that you might first mistake for dawn. It spans the sky from Cancer, near the horizon, all the way past brilliant Jupiter nearly to Taurus the Bull.
And yes, with dawn came the crescent moon, a gentle reminder it was time for bed.
For more on Comet ISON including detailed maps on how to find it, check out my post on Universe Today.