Newborn Moon Returns At Dusk / Comet ISON Eyeballed By 8 Spacecraft

Venus and a very slender moon this evening Nov. 4 about 15 minutes after sunset facing southwest. Maps created with Stellarium

After doing a splendid job covering the sun yesterday, the moon’s back at dusk tonight, shining far to the right of Venus 15-20 minutes after sunset. Will you be able to see the super-thin crescent? Two nights from now on the 6th it will pair up with the brilliant planet after sundown. Be sure to watch for it.

We’re now in for a relatively quiet stretch after the recent total-annular eclipse and three weeks before Comet ISON makes its hairpin turn around the sun. Earlier this year, the forecast for ISON was easy visibility in small telescopes by September with the first naked eye sightings coming in October. Here it is November and the comet’s clearly behind schedule with some even forecasting its imminent disintegration. Still, the comet continues to brighten, if slowly. Observers with 50mm or larger binoculars under dark skies can now spot it as small, hazy blob around magnitude 8.5-9.0.

Pictures of Comet ISON taken by eight different NASA and ESA spacecraft so far as part of the worldwide ISON Observing Campaign. Credit: NASA except SOHO (NASA/ESA)

While we celebrated Halloween a few days ago, ISON passed inside Earth’s orbit (though not near Earth) crossing the watershed “1 A.U.” mark.  An a.u. or astronomical unit is equal to Earth’s average distance from the sun or 93 million miles. Hard to believe than in just 3 weeks, the comet will travel the remaining distance, missing the sun’s surface by just 730,000 miles.

If you’d like to keep track of the ISON’s constantly changing speed and distance as it approaches and then leaves the sun’s vicinity, check out Emory University LIVE calculator. Today the comet’s humming along at speeding sunward at over 97,000 miles (156,000 km/hr) per hour.

This view was recorded by the Heliospheric Imager-1 (“HI-1”) instrument on NASA’s STEREO-B satellite on October 28, 2013. STEREO is now the 8th spacecraft to have observed Comet ISON. Credit: NASA

On October 24, NASA’s STEREO-B sun observing satellite became the 8th spacecraft to have observed comet ISON. Its twin, STEREO-A, first photographed the comet in September. Now both have their eyes on ISON. Seen from STEREO-B, the comet appears near the bright star cluster M35 in Gemini and also the planet Jupiter. No way this comet can do anything now without an amateur, professional or one of many spacecraft recording it. Check out the campaign’s observing calendar.

To help you find the comet in the coming mornings, please use the chart below.

Comet ISON moves quickly across Virgo the next few mornings. You’ll find it below Mars and across from Denebola, the star at the end of Leo the Lion’s tail. Use at least 50mm binoculars or a telescope to view. Positions shown about 1 1/2 hours before sunrise. Not that on Nov. 7 the comet will be easy to find next to the star Beta Virginis. Click to enlarge.

4 Responses

  1. Edward M. Boll

    With my 20 power binoculars I have not even had a real good look at Lovejoy yet. I plan on doing some serious looking on Saturday, weather permitting. That is when the 2 planets and comets will be lined up in a row. It almost makes me laugh to think a month ago, we thought that Lovejoy would be the far dimmer of the 3, when it will probably be the brightest. Then, we had no idea about Linear. This one will not be lined up in a row like the others.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Logan,
      I’ve written on this topic before and have a small map and photo that might be helpful for you. You’ll find them here:
      When I point my scope at Andromeda I start at Beta Andromedae, slide a short distance up to Mu Andromeda and then another short slide to Nu Andromeda and then keep going a bit more right to the galaxy.

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