Comet ISON and I meet again on a cold September morning

Comet ISON shows a small head or coma and short tail in this photo taken on Aug. 31, 2013. Credit: Krisztián Sárneczky / Konkoly Observatory

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.

Sketch of Comet ISON from this morning seen through my telescope around 4:35 a.m. CDT just before the start of morning twilight. South at top, east to the right. Field of view is about 1/4 degree. Credit: Bob King

“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.

Orion the Hunter rises out of the forest this morning. He’s well on his way up by the start of dawn in early September just as air temperatures begin their decline. This morning it was 36 degrees (2 C).  Credit: Bob King

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.

The fat cone of light, brighter at the bottom and fading towards the tip, is the zodiacal light. It’s composed mostly of comet dust and gathers into a thick disk in the plane of the solar system. This morning it pointed straight to Jupiter, the bright object near top. Credit: Bob King

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.

A very thin crescent moon rose during twilight this morning September 3. Tomorrow morning will probably be the last time you’ll see it before it moves into the evening sky. Watch for the moon starting about 45 minutes before sunrise very low in the eastern sky. Credit: Bob King

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.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

18 thoughts on “Comet ISON and I meet again on a cold September morning

  1. Hi Bob,

    Congratulation !!…. For recovering ISON after the deep slumber !! Funny that us ( Astro Photographers ) seems to know how to sketch even with a blurred photograph..Ha,Ha. I did that with a pic of the Meteor Fireball last month ( On the request of my friend & students ), who insisted that I show them what it look like. Anyway, Thanks for posting and may I ask what Magnitude you think it was ? Right now I am stuck with a couple of Large Binoculars and a small 3” refractor without the Drive. I sold off most of my scopes way back in the late 90′s ( After the rendezvous with comet Hyakutake ). Since it’s a bright comet ( finger cross ), I am hoping that my 2x crop Olympus with a 70-300 will do the job for me….Sign !!

    Have a Nice day ahead…Cheers !!!

    James Moh.

  2. As I was driving to work at 0530hrs this morning, I saw the thin crescent moon in the bright eastern sky and I wondered if perhaps you had been up again to try and catch ISON. Well done!

    In your picture of the Zodiacal Light, one of the two brighter objects in the middle of the light just above the trees should be Mars, right? And ISON should appear to be quite close to Mars, shouldn’t it? Is Mars one of the objects in either the picture or your sketch of ISON? Or is it not *that* close to Mars yet?

    As always, I am enjoying your blog whenever I can read it.
    Take care.
    Live ready!
    Bob

    • Hi Bob,
      Very nice to hear from you. You’re right – Mars is one of the objects just above the trees. If you look closely you’ll also see a tiny ball of stars just to the lower left of Mars – that’s the Beehive Cluster. The objects in the sketch are stars very close to the comet. At 257x, Mars is far out of the field of view of the telescope.

  3. Great news about viewing Ison! And your estimate of +12 mag would suggest that the comet has brightened about 1.5 – 2 magnitudes since its recovery about 3 weeks ago? So it appears that Ison is brightening more or less according to predictions?

  4. It is brightening no doubt, but how much I am not sure. Perhaps people are seeing it better now that it is higher in the sky and it seems to have brightened 2 magnitudes in 3 weeks. If it follows what most comets do, it should have brightened from about .9-1.2 magnitudes in that time.

    • Edward,
      I don’t think it’s brightened by 2 magnitudes in such a short time. I think it’s a factor of altitude (as you suggest), different instruments and observers. I estimated approx. mag. 12 but several others within the same short time interval are confident it’s mag. 13.0. Another well-known comet observer estimated it at 11.2.

  5. Regarding the alleged – “Comet Ison”. It is not a comet. This is a large scale ship operated by Galactic Federation forces named Xanterexx, which is its abbreviated name. This ship is one of a few ships primarily & specifically used for visitation to worlds… where first contact is about to be established.

    Expect it to arrive in the ‘sol’ (solar) system, in Earth’s ‘space’ & in a very high orbit over this planet, sometime in the near future. Consider this sighting to be another major harbinger of the many changes coming

  6. Well, I am happy to say that according to recent observations, I can be confident to say that Comet ISON has now a brighter magnitude than Planet Pluto or dwarf planet Pluto if you prefer. It is going to be a little while before those of us with large binoculars can see it. If it behaves as a normal comet, it should be brighter than Neptune in about 7 or 8 weeks. We only have 12 weeks before it gets as toasty hot as it is going to get.

  7. At least Ison does appear to be on a healthy brightening curve and not lagging behind,as some feared it might be when it was first recovered 3 weeks ago. Ison seems to be brightening now according to expectations. Does that seem like a realistic assessment to you,Bob or am I being overly optimistic?

    • Hi Edward,
      I think that’s a realistic assessment but’s a magnitude fainter than earlier estimates of its predictied brightness. Speaking of assessments, I observed ISON again this morning and this time was able to more accurately estimate its brightness at 12.7 mag. That’s only a little fainter than the updated JPL Horizons prediction. That prediction, extended through the end of November, puts the comet at naked eye visibility (6.0) on Nov. 13 and no brighter than mag. 3 before it’s too close to the sun to see just before perihelion. Perihelion brightness is -4. When it’s nicely placed for viewing AFTER perihelion in the first half of December, their prediction is mag. 2, fading to 3. If these things hold true, this will be a fine sight but not a “great” comet.

  8. I think that is quite accurate if it performs as expected. But, I am expecting a much brighter than -4 at the moment of perihelion. I believe that the comet will rapidly rise and fall in magnitude in the 24 hours before and after at perihelion. We will know in 84 short days.

  9. Bob,no doubt it will exhibit a very sharp peak in brilliance just before and then just after perihelion,then start to fall off.We’ll have to see if perihelion peak is “only” -4 mag;if it peaks at several mags brighter than this,then perhaps Ison could still emerge into Dec skies at 0 mag or slightly better.I remember that,a few weeks before its perihelion,Panstarrs went into a bit of a slump,leading to some pessimistic predictions.However,soon after,it recovered and ultimately lived up to the earlier,more optimistic predictions.Time,as always,will tell,I guess.

    • Edward,
      And that’s again what makes comets so interesting. Not that they necessarily meet our expectations but that they do what they like, teaching us in the process.

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