Comet ISON update Nov. 20 – New maps, photos and fresh hope

Delicate striations in Comet ISON’s tail recorded by Joseph Brimacombe of Australia on Nov. 19, 2013. Click to enlarge

We’re in the final stretch! Time for updated maps of Comets ISON and Encke in the remaining days before perihelion or closest approach to the sun. And just for the heck of it, let’s throw in Comet Lovejoy, too. The latest brightness estimate for ISON comes to us from its co-discoverer Vitaly Nevski who estimated its magnitude at 3.7 on Nov. 19, a nice jump from Sunday-Monday. Amateur astronomer Neil Norman reports that southern hemisphere observers in his group report that ISON is a very easy binocular object now.

The first map shows the sky facing southeast an hour before sunrise for the central USA (latitude 39-40 degrees from Virginia through Illinois, Kansas, Nevada and central Cal.). If you live south of this belt, the comets will be slightly higher in the sky; if north, slightly lower. Notice that Mercury travels toward the sun just like Encke and ISON. That’s why you see dates along its path too. Click HERE to find your sunrise time.

What a traffic jam! Comets ISON and Encke viewed from the central U.S. (latitudes 38-41 degrees north) one hour before sunrise CST the next few mornings. Stars shown to magnitude 5.5. Click to enlarge. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software. Stellarium

Here are ISON altitudes on the following dates 1 hour before sunrise for the central U.S.:

* Nov. 20: 12 degrees
* Nov. 21: 9 degrees
* Nov. 22: 6 degrees
* Nov. 23: 4 degrees

The view from Johannesburg, South Africa (latitude 26 degrees south) of Comet ISON one hour before sunrise in the eastern sky. Comet Encke is now too low to see from this latitude and Mercury is below or just at the horizon. Click to enlarge. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

Unless Comet ISON brightens sharply in the next few days, these next few mornings are likely the last time most of us will see it before perihelion. If the comet gets bright enough to attempt in the daytime sky at or near perihelion on Nov. 28, I’ll post another map with directions on how to safely see it without blinding your eyes.

Comet Lovejoy on Nov. 15 still shows a large, pale green coma with fine tail structure visible. Lovejoy will be closest to Earth on the 19th and could reach magnitude 4.5. Click to enlarge. Credit: Damian Peach

Barring that, the best time to enjoy this icy visitor from the Oort Cloud will be during the first three weeks of December. Unfortunately, observers in the southern hemisphere will not have a good look at ISON after perihelion. It quickly leaves the sun behind headed north and sinks below the horizon from far southern locations. For northerners, the comet rapidly moves up and away from the sun into a dark morning sky.

Comet Lovejoy travels between the Big Dipper and the smaller constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs) over the next 10 days. Key stars are labeled: UMa = Ursa Major; CVn = Canes Venatici and Boo = Bootes. Stars to magnitude 5.5. Click to enlarge. Created with Christ Marriott’s SkyMap software

I’ve also included a map for spotting Comet Lovejoy – still bright at around magnitude 5 – as it cruises alongside the Big Dipper in the morning sky. Nothing like having the easiest constellation (an asterism actually – the Big Dipper is part of the Great Bear Ursa Major) in the northern hemisphere to help you find a comet. Good fortune indeed!

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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.

35 thoughts on “Comet ISON update Nov. 20 – New maps, photos and fresh hope

  1. Thanks for posting these maps,Bob.They were very helpful this morning.After what seemed like weeks of fighting light pollution,the moon,and,especially,the weather,I got my first really unequivocal view of Ison this morning.Despite growing twilight and lingering moonlight,the comet was a very easy target in binos.I believe that,on 3rd sighting,I could even discern a distinct tail pointing up and to the right.In fact,Ison appeared quite similar to my 1st binos sighting of Panstarrs,in mid March(which was at mag 2-2.5 at the time).Is it possible that this most recent burst has carried Ison to mag 2-3? Hope so!

  2. Hi Bob. Thank You for keeping us informed about ISON. No luck here in Southern BC. Sky is clear for the first time in 2 weeks (and on the chilly side at 19 deg. F) and the mountains are in the way as I’m scanning the pre-dawn sky. Just watched the ISS pass overhead though.
    When can we expect the comet to enter the SOHO & STEREO’s probes field of view ?

  3. And mag 2-3 is probably a bit of an overestimate but Ison’s appearance seemed fairly close to what I remember of my first look at Panstarrs in March.As long as it doesn’t fragment,Ison may be about to put on a really memorable show.Fingers crossed.

  4. A lot of cloud cover. Spica was bright, in 20 power binoculars. But I could not see Mercury or ISON. My next observation was to be Saturday, but if everything works out, I can work Friday afternoon, and hope for a clear morning Friday, even though it will be much colder than normal. I feel that I have to get a good look at this before Thanksgiving.

    • Hi Ed,
      Very touch and go here with weather also. I think at this point you need to be able to see Mercury if you hope to see ISON. I’m surprised it wasn’t visible. Did you have haze?

  5. Tried finding ISON this morning. Even with (not very powerful) binoculars, I couldn’t see it.

    Unfortunately, since I live NW of Detroit, I’m looking right “into” the city’s light pollution when I look SE. Also, the bright moon further diminished my ability to see it.

    Hopefully, ISON will survive the close encounter with the Sun…

    • that’s no good as far as the city light. it would be nice if u could find a nice darkish spot somewhere with a low view, like a large pond or something that doesn’t have too much light coming directly from the other side. that’s what i have been doing in my small city, altho i am looking in the direction of more rural areas.

  6. Think from seeing some of these reports that weather conditions must have played some role in observing difficulties.A friend just informed me that a radio report indicated that someone in the local area(southern New Brunswick,Canada) saw Ison with the unaided eye last night.Unfortunately,it wasn’t me,lol-I needed binos.But it does appear that our friend is brightening.

  7. Probably, I could not see Mercury because of clouds. It was hard to tell at twilight. Jupiter was plainly visible but the Moon struggled to shine through cloud cover. It started to clear as twilight became more pronounced. I spotted Mars, Regulus and part of the Big Dipper. I scanned for Lovejoy but that was less than 75 minutes before sunrise, so the Moonlight and twilight made that one too difficult to see at that time. If ISON was 3.7 this morning as you have stated before that it could be, I am hoping for a 1.6 by Saturday morning. That should make it much easier to see even in brighter twilight.

  8. John Bortle called it at mag. 4.8 this morning but said that it ”reminded him of a pre perihelion sight that he saw in 1965 of Ikeya- Seki.” And we know that that was one of the brightest comets in History, well as far as the 20th century, for sure.

  9. Bortle saying Ison’s pre-perihelion appearance reminded him of Ikeya-Seki is very interesting.A repeat of that wouldn’t be too shabby,would it?

    • Edward,
      That was the first comet I ever attempted to see just as I was getting interested in astronomy. I never did catch it at its best because of cloudy weather but did see it later in one of my first scopes. We’ll take the good news!

  10. i don’t know if this was factually correct, but to me ISON certainly appeared brighter this AM compared to yesterday AM. compact, but bright. i’d hate to try to make an estimate but i was gonna guess 4ish. and the thought came to my mind as well that it had some resemblance to PANSTARRS when i 1st saw it, tho PANSTARRS was naked-eye visible at the time (barely, if u knew where to look) and thus brighter. meanwhile Lovejoy appeared dimmer than ISON, more diffuse i would say, and seemingly larger. both fuzzy spots in my 10×50′s, somewhat elongated, so i’m not sure i was seeing any tail. weather looks like it is deteriorating here till Saturday night, so glad i had 2 good nights to observe. fingers crossed all.

  11. I am a amateur observer and have trouble reading star maps. I live just south west of Chicago and the weather is going to be bad the next few nights (rain through sat). I don’t know if I read the article properly, but will I not be able to view the comet past the 23rd or on Thanksgiving? Granted it does not break apart (fingers crossed). Thanks in advance for response.

    • Hi Dave,
      It’s going to be very hard to see past the 23rd – just too close to the sun and too low in twilight – unless the comet becomes considerably brighter. That’s always possible, so stay tuned. I will be updating regularly.

        • Dave,
          The comet’s relation to the sun and a bit because of your location. It will be difficult for nearly everyone because ISON’s so near the sun and still not bright enough to punch through the glow of bright twilight and horizon haze. Folks living in the south – s. Florida, Caribbean, Hawaii – will see it a little better because the comet’s path is tipped up higher. They’ll catch it through about the 24th.

  12. Hi Bob,

    As usual, love your Maps and layman’s presentation of all things Astronomical…Ha,Ha. Kudos to you again and again for a job well done. Really appreciate your taking the time and effort in doing this. As for us here in Malaysia , it has been a Bad 3 weeks as far as viewing is concerned. Its either rain or Cloud cover ( Remnants of Typhoon Haiyan ) over here. Absolutely no viewing for me and my students here, and its Frustrating for us. All I manage was a pic of Comet lovejoy… No Ison for us before Perihelion….Sign!!

    Take Care and Cheers !!

    James Moh.

    My Photography Blog : http://jamesmoh.blogspot.com

  13. I am having some trouble viewing due to cloud cover. I am in S Fla, and I am wondering what would be the best time for me to view ISON?

  14. Hey Bob,
    Not even an amatuer astronomer here but I don’t want to miss this opportunity. I’ve missed many celestrial events in my lifetime and I want that to change. I’m in Irvine, Ca; 2hrs south of L.A., and I was wondering when and where can I see it, if I’m not too late. Sweet, thanks.

    • Hi Darren,
      You’ve got about two days left – before perihelion – to see the comet. After that, you’ll see it for many mornings all through December provided it survives perihelion on Nov. 28. Check out this block for maps on how to see for the next couple days: http://bit.ly/1i0R4WI Good luck!

    • right now u would almost certainly need binoculars to see it and it might be VERY tricky to find in the very short time between when it rises and when the sky gets too bright for it to be observed, especially if u’r not experienced at finding things in the sky and what it might actually look like (a lot of photos make it look more distinct than u would likely see). Good luck tho! In December might be ur best easiest shot if, like Bob says, it survives, and hopefully is fairly bright.

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