Want to see Comets ISON and Lovejoy? Tomorrow morning Nov. 7 is ideal

Comet Lovejoy passes the Beehive Star Cluster in Cancer tomorrow morning Nov. 7. Use Jupiter, the brightest object high in the southern sky, to swing over to the cluster, which looks like a fuzzy spot to the naked eye. The comet and cluster will sit together in the same field of view. Created with Stellarium

Every so often we get help from the stars. Not the fortune-telling kind but real guidance as reference points to help us find cool things in the sky. If you haven’t arisen before dawn to spy Comet ISON and Comet Lovejoy yet, tomorrow morning’s a great time. Both comets are now visible in regular binoculars and near familiar celestial guideposts.

Comet C/2013 R1 Lovejoy has a big, bright coma or head and skinny tail pointing west. This photo was taken on Nov. 3. Through my 15-inch telescope the coma glowed faintly green from fluorescing gases. Credit: Gerald Rhemann

Comet Lovejoy, now easily visible in 50mm and smaller binoculars under a reasonably dark sky, glows at 6th magnitude right next to the pretty Beehive star cluster in the constellation Cancer the Crab. The Beehive, also known as M44, is plainly visible to the naked eye as a small, fuzzy spot. Binoculars resolve into a “beehive” of individual stars. Look just to its lower left to find a softly-glowing patch with a brighter center. That’s Lovejoy.

Longer term chart showing Comet Lovejoy’s position each morning Nov. 1-16 shortly before dawn around 5 a.m. Central Standard Time. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

A couple observers have even spotted the comet without any optical aid since it hovers right at the naked eye limit. I saw it Tuesday morning with ease in my 10x50s. Of the two comets, it will appear distinctly brighter.

Comet ISON’s travels take it right next to the star Beta Virginis or Zavijava tomorrow morning. Point your binoculars or scope at the star look a small distance to its lower right or southwest to see the comet. Click to enlarge . Stellarium

The big surprise Tuesday was finding Comet ISON in the same binoculars. It wasn’t much – just a small, fuzzy spot of magnitude 8.5 – but that was bright enough to punch through a thin layer of haze and show in my glass. Tomorrow morning ISON will sit right next to the easy naked eye star Beta Virginis – also called Zavijava – well below Leo’s tail star Denebola. Put Beta in your binoculars and if your sky is dark and clear, you should see it.

Comet ISON on Oct. 31. Binoculars won’t show the tail, but an 8-inch scope will with ease. Credit: Michael Jaeger

By all means, if you have a small telescope, take it out too and make easy work of finding both comets. One more tip. While Lovejoy gets high enough to start observing around 2 a.m. local time, ISON will be low in the southeast at the start of dawn. Be sure you pick a location away from city lights with an open view in that direction. The ideal time to see both comets at their best is 1 1/2 to 2 hours before sunrise. Click HERE to find when the sun rises for your town so you know when to head out for a look.

A bit of news about Comet ISON. Gas production rates in the comet have risen recently, no doubt due to its getting closer to the sun. This could mean a more rapid brightening of the comet in the coming mornings. I hope you’ll be watching.

13 thoughts on “Want to see Comets ISON and Lovejoy? Tomorrow morning Nov. 7 is ideal

  1. No idea, US 10 Catalina is way out there over 8 AU away. It’s perihelion is .8 AU in 2 years. I do not know what the magnitude is, but if it is 20, it could brighten to about a 6.

  2. Hey Bob,

    ISON was easy this AM after many hours of futile searching in recent months. Just one, short sweep from beta and there it was–still not looking like much. Lovejoy is showing a lot of promise, still more than a month from a Christmas Day perihelion. (Do I have that right? Weird: ISON on Thanksgiving, Lovejoy on Xmas.) I’ll concentrate on Encke and keep an eye out for LINEAR which might be getting high enough before dawn to actually see. Thanks for your help and encouragement.

    Norman Sanker

    • Norman,
      Delighted you saw the comets! Lovejoy looked great very early this morning next to the Beehive. I’ll have a photo of it later this morning. Lovejoy will very soon become a naked eye comet.

  3. Hi Bob
    I read an article on the bbc news website and it says that the threat of another asteroid strike like the one that hit Russia is much higher than was previously thought, researchers have found that space rocks of a similar size to the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk are hurtling into the earth’s atmosphere with surprising frequency and we need to have an early warning system put into place, just wondering what your thoughts were, as I had thought that the frequency was normal and the reason for that was because there is more things out there now that’s looking for them, and do you think that something will get put in place to find them, but it also says that it wouldn’t make a lot of sense because the atmosphere largely stops them, so it seems to be a good idea in one sense but not in another as it would also be expensive, and do you think this could be something that could happen in quite a few years as it says on the article around 30, and that the results are showing them to be more frequent but is that because we have all this equipment that looks for them now etc, thanks and sorry it’s a bit long.

    • Lynn,
      Having new equipment going online all the time makes more detections and changes in predictions of the number of asteroids out there a natural consequence. You know me – anything could happen at any time but the odds of it coming down near you or me are astronomical.

  4. This morning I too had my first sight and photo at ISON. Since getting up in the middle of the night was though (and the night before we had an exceptional clear night for Moon-Venus) I arrived in country at twilight, but it was a reasonably low polluted sky and an exceptional clear night, and moonless as you know. I confirm the comet including tail was visible in the C8, and in photo (again through C8, put also in piggyback at 50mm focal) reveals also the distinctive green color (and, in C8, a quite bright false nucleus). Next time I have to arrive earlier and look Lovejoy and the other two.

    As you may know, also to note in these days the spectacular complex sunspot region 1890, biggest since months, these days visible with just eclipse glasses and is going toward facing Earth. On day 5th it released an X3-flare.

    • Giorgio,
      Thanks for sharing your observation of Comet ISON. Send me a picture sometime, too. I also appreciate the heads up on the big sunspot group. Pretty amazing!

  5. So bob i heard about space danger for nov 13-14 when we are supposed to have a grid drill?? Should we be worried about the grid or anything powerful from space on those days???

  6. Sharing your info on Lovejoy and ISON with 6th graders in Oklahoma. Looking forward to seeing how many try to find them in this morning’s sky. Would you ever consider a live question/answer session via Skype?

    • Hi Kelli,
      Yes, I hope some can find them. Lovejoy is much brighter and easier to see in binoculars while ISON is still on the weak side. The Skype idea sounds like fun, but first I’ll have to learn how to Skype. Can you believe it – I’ve never used it.

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