Comet ISON Update Dec. 10 – Meteor Shower In The Offing?

One of the last spacecraft photos of Comet ISON. It was taken with NASA’s STEREO-A probe on Dec. 6, 2013. This image was compiled using 11 photos stacked atop each other to improve the comet’s visibility. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA / Toni Scarmato

Comet ISON has left the eyes of spacecraft for the moment and now challenges amateur and professional astronomers from the ground. To date, there has been only one positive observation by an amateur astronomer in Spain and a couple “maybes”. Many have tried to see and photograph the comet’s faint remains, but none have been successful.

The sky facing east 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours before sunrise for mid-northern latitude skywatchers. The comet’s position is shown daily and marked every 3 days. Stars plotted to mag. 6. Guide stars are labeled: Oph = Ophiuchus, Her = Hercules, Ser = Serpens and CrB = Corona Borealis. Click for a large version. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

Tomorrow morning, ISON climbs to 15 degrees altitude in the morning sky before the onset of twilight. That’s high enough for someone with a fast telephoto lens or fast, wide-field telescope to make a long time exposure without haze and dawn interfering. Photos taken with typical narrower fields of view through telescopes haven’t shown the faintest trace of a nucleus or condensation at the location of ISON’s core. Wide fields might still succeed.

Frame grab from shows Comet ISON (now a debris cloud) later this month when making its closest approach to Earth of 40 million miles. It’s orbit is inclined 62 degrees to the horizontal, taking it high above Earth’s plane.

I’ve been asked whether Earth will get dusted by ISON’s dusty cloud of debris as it passes our planet on the outbound leg of its journey. The answer is almost certainly “no”. There are several reasons why. First, the debris passes far above the Earth’s orbit even at its closest approach on Dec. 26, when what’s left of the comet will be nearly directly above our planet and 40 million miles away. That’s farther than Venus and even farther than Mars during its closest approaches. I’ve read catastrophic talk ISON raining hell fire on Earth. Not gonna happen. Not even meteor fire – at least from the breakup.

Second, while the debris cloud will certainly expand and enlarge, the comet leftovers will continue to travel along the same general path as ISON. They won’t suddenly veer off and make a beeline for Earth. They carry much of the original momentum and direction as the comet that created them.

Comet ISON photographed from the International Space Station on Nov. 23. You can see the twilight glow along the Earth’s limb at bottom and part of the spacecraft in the foreground. Credit: NASA

We also have to consider that as the cloud continues to expand it will rapidly thin. While it’s true a comet’s coma (not the “hard” inner nucleus) can expand to the size of the sun and tails can reach 300 million miles (500 million km) or longer, the amount of material involved spread over those distances is vanishingly small. We’ve passed through at least one comet’s tail (Halley in 1910) with no meteor shower or other ill effects to show for it.

Comets can be powder puffs though, that’s for sure. Even as long ago as January, when ISON was at Jupiter’s distance from the sun, NASA’s Swift spacecraft found it spewing dust at 112,000 lbs. a minute. While our planet’s highly unlikely to get an outbound meteor shower, we may encounter some of ISON’s inbound flotsam and jetsam come mid- January.

Illustration showing Earth encountering Comet ISON dust in mid-January 2014. Credit and copyright: Paul Wiegert

Meteor researcher Paul Wiegert of the University of Western Ontario has been using a computer to model the trajectory of dust ejected by Comet ISON and predicts that starting about January 12 and continuing for several evenings, we stand a chance of a meteor shower from material released well before perihelion.

The dust particles will strike Earth’s atmosphere at around 125,000 mph (56 km/sec), but because they’ll be so tiny, it’s unlikely we’ll actually see anything.

Illustration showing Earth passing through dual debris streams left in the path of Comet ISON in January. Credit: Paul Wiegert / NASA

“Instead of burning up in a flash of light, they will drift gently down to the Earth below,” said Wiegert. In a fascinating twist, Earth will encounter not one but two dust streams from Comet ISON. Dust released by the comet and headed in toward the sun will pepper one side of Earth, while a second stream, blown back from the comet’s former head by sunlight, will pelt the other side.

ISON dust settling into the upper atmosphere may even serve as sites for water vapor to condense and form high-altitude, blue-colored noctilucent clouds.

As we approach the potential shower date, I’ll provide additional information. A possible radiant for the shower is in the Bootes-Draco part of the sky, which in January rises in the northeast not long after midnight. Sure, we may see nothing, but wouldn’t it be cool if ISON made its final appearance as daggers of light right here so close to home?

48 Responses

  1. Brett

    I’m not a scientists but with the dust traveling at such a high rate of speed is it then possible that static energy will be created and the molecules will stick together? As was stated the molecules will become condensed. Could it then create dirty hail?

    1. astrobob

      Interesting idea. If static forces do play a part – and I honestly don’t know if they do in the case of a broken comet – the tiny bits of dust would be very loosely bound. Hail would be much too strong a term to describe it. Dust balls maybe would be a better fit.

    2. astrobob

      A.B. again. Since comet dust tails are neutral, it’s likely that the broken-apart ISON is likewise. With no gas being produced, the comet is like a giant expanding tail or ball of dust, making it very unlikely that the dust is charged.

  2. Brett

    I believe it may be possible that the highly charged particles of dust will disrupt our magneticsphere causing a massive volcanic eruption. Then the volcanic ash will be absorbed into the dust particles from ison until everything becomes to dense and falls down.

    1. astrobob

      No offense, but this is utterly impossible. Dust particles from everything from regular meteor showers to intense meteor storms pass through Earth’s magnetosphere every year. No ill effects. Also, comets overall are neutral, not electrically charged. The dust tail is neutral; only the gas tail is electrically charged. No dust in the gas tail.

      1. Ilikespace

        Guys im just worried if its gonna hit us or not? could earths gravity get a hold of the debris? or will we survive? nothing is certain at the moment.

        1. astrobob

          If you read the blog you’ll discover there’s nothing to worry about. Earth’s gravity will not “get a hold of” the debris cloud. It travels in its own orbit far from our planet.

      2. Dennis

        not electrically charged??
        Have you seen the youtube video “The Electric Comet”?
        I would be interested in your view on this video.

        1. astrobob

          The “electric comet” idea is bogus pseudo-science that sounds convincing but is wrong. If you read the details of the idea, you’ll see that the authors are pulling ideas straight out of a hat with no proof whatsoever. To them, the ideas sound appealing and seem to make sense. That doesn’t make them science.
          Comet jets as electrical discharges? This is false based upon in situ measurements by spacecraft and observations by ground telescopes. X-ray emission from comets from electrical discharges? Again, no proof and not necessary. Comets can show X-ray emission for other, well-known physical reasons. Comets having a negative charge in the outer solar system? Where’s the data? There is none. The solar wind as an electric current moving across the solar system? This is incorrect. The wind is essentially neutral since it contains both protons and electrons. Dennis, there are so many things wrong about the “theory” I unfortunately don’t have the time to rehash it. I apologize for this, but we only have so much time in this life. Take that time to explore real science and ask hard questions about the other, one of many pseudo-science concepts being promoted for money, fame or both.

          1. Jeff

            Astro Bob,
            I’m no scientist, but it really sounds like you aren’t either.
            No disrespect but all your jibber jabber just points out that your affiliated with NASA.
            You are so out of touch, wake up…

          2. astrobob

            You’re correct. I’m not a scientist (never said I was) but a long-time amateur astronomer, contributor of astronomical observations to various organizations like the AAVSO and online planet and comet observing groups and a science educator for many years. My love for astronomy means I enjoy sharing discoveries, news and observations with readers. I have no affiliation with NASA whatsoever but respect the expertise of the scientists and engineers who work there.

          3. Jeff

            I voted for that piece of crap that has signed over 900, again 900 executive orders. Do your homework, FEMA will be this country’s demais.
            Illuminate are what founded are country, hello, almost every president, has been a freemason-Illuminate, NAZIS. Nasa is at the heart of all this. I have a personal friend who work’s for NASA, we the masses are being lied to. Bob please wake up to reality in our country.
            With the utmost respect and honor.

          4. Sean

            here here Bob. unfortunately arguing using logic is lost on many. however, i think most of us readers can see who is ACTUALLY out of touch lol.

  3. Edward M. Boll

    With the difficulty of anyone seeing the comet, the magnitude must be far dimmer than 8 as I have seen posted for it.

  4. Lisa

    I live in the midwest. Will there be any chance of seeing the comet now without visual aid? Also, what would be the actual time (xx:xx) to best see anything?

    1. astrobob

      Many experienced observers have tried to see and photograph Comet ISON but haven’t had any luck yet. Since it’s only getting fainter with time, the chances of seeing it are now next to impossible. At least not without special equipment. If you have a large, wide-field telescope or giant binoculars (25x100mm or larger) and very dark skies, there’s a slight chance of catching it.

      1. Sparky

        I’m glad I saw this post after reading Astrobob’s answers and fanciful ideas about what’s what in our cosmos. As you can see now that it is Dec.28th that Bob, has suffered the same ill fate as 99% of the people of this planet have that were unfortunate enough to be educated by a system to intentionally make you stupid so you can never, ever figure out what is really going on, or what is real or fake. Yes it’s not Bob’s fault that he allowed himself to become educated by the Matrix. Comets are not dirty snowballs, they do have electrical effects when aligned with the sun and other planets. You saw with your own eyes the CME’s produced by ISON at perihelion. And finally, yes my dear, you may not see ISON in Dec. but you got to see either what it really left behind for us, or what it pushed our way on it’s way to it’s demise with the sun.. The Midwest, just got it’s wake up call.

        1. astrobob

          It must be nice to be in the 1%. For the record for other readers:

          * There is no proof that comets have any electrical effects when aligned with planets. Comets are neutral except for the gases in their ion tails which are ionized by the sun. Please, it’s time to let the “electric comet theory” die a natural death.
          * Likewise there is no proof that Comet ISON had any effect or “caused” any CMEs around the time of perihelion. CMEs happen constantly, comets or not.
          * You’re right about the Matrix. I’m a big fan, though I have to admit I like the first Matrix better than “Reloaded” and “Revolutions”.

        2. Sean

          “produced by ISON”???? hate to break it to u, correlation doesn’t prove causation. not to mention i don’t remember any CME’s at perihelion.

  5. OE

    Thank you, as always interesting and well illustrated!
    If I search ISON debris I would use something like radio telescope or X-ray sensitive telescope, something could “see” beyond visible light.

  6. Edward M. Boll

    I am stubborn at giving up hope. I believed that maybe a portion of ISON’S nucleus might be there to brighten up to binocular visibility. I gave up hope for it yesterday.

  7. rael

    if you read it says computer generated thoughts.. what ever will happen kay sera.. but what I think is we are connected like a set of trains and still between Jupiter and Saturn.. earth is not as real as everybody thinks.. I can only say I do numbers and the numbers say.. this is a fake planet with life like reality.. we are all human machines and the planet of venus or mercury is in a far away land.. born by venus and live like mercury..without the electronic spirit man becomes a zombie.. funny how gold 1776 and the size of the moon have the same numbers funny how the roulette wheele corners off the numbers that say 1776 and the size of the moon how gold= 3476 and how the numbers face is 123 456 789 and between 1 and 5 is 3 and between 3 and five is 4 and between 5 and 7= 6 and between 5 and 9=7 34 67 numbers in the moons diameter.. gold 3467 10 10…

  8. Nick

    Having seen a “meteor storm” in the morning of August13th, 1992 under a full moon in Kentucky, I really hope this does materialize into a simular event.
    I don’t have a PHD, but I can tell you that meteor showers are an inexact science. Most meteor showers have been produced by comet debree and I don’t know why this would be any different. I highly doubt the Peter Brown-UWO team really know the size of the debree left behind and how it’s going to pan out.

    There was also another “meteor storm” or super strong shower in the mid-90’s (July i believe…as I was younger) that no one saw coming. I just heard about it on the news the next day as people were in panick mode and till this day I don’t know where/what it originated from or the name of the shower if it had one. I lived in London Ontario (Canada) at the time and I still regret missing something amazing.

    I will be watching all night for this one and I can’t wait to see what happens.

    BTW: Astro Bob, I believe you have the best astronomy website on the net and it’s obviously driven by nothing other than passion.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Nick,
      Thank you for the high praise! Meteor storm is a very different term from meteor shower. Meteor storms have MUCH higher meteor counts than showers – often in the many hundreds to thousands per hour. The only meteor storms I’m aware of in recent time were the Leonids in 1966 and again in 1999-2002.

  9. thomas miller

    Very concerned that these particles could be larger and the extreme speed making the event very bad, also if it’s dust could that be toxic? Trace elements? Radiation?

    1. astrobob

      Comet dust rains down by the tons every day on Earth from comets old and new. There’s no radiation involved and no need to worry.

  10. Guest

    i agree with guest who said God is in control. the truth is no one even knew about this comet until recently, and no one knew what would happen when it passed behind the sun. now suddenly anyone ‘knows’ what’s going to happen in january?

    1. astrobob

      We can only know about comets when they become bright enough to become discoverable in our telescopes. We know there are billions of them out there, but the majority are too faint to be seen. Within days of Comet ISON’s discovery last September we knew that it would pass extremely close to the sun with a real possibility that it would break apart in the heat. This is exactly what happened. We also know that comets deposit dust in their paths and if Earth’s orbit intersects that path, a meteor shower is possible. That’s why one may happen in January from debris left behind by ISON before its closest approach to the sun. We also know that the cloud of dust Comet ISON became after it passed closest to the sun will be much too far away to and too far above Earth’s orbit to cause a meteor shower.

      1. Guest

        “We also know that comets deposit dust in their paths and if Earth’s orbit intersects that path, a meteor shower is possible. That’s why one may happen in January from debris left behind by ISON before its closest approach to the sun.”
        I’m a financial anlyst, recently, since about 2008, began researching Biblical prophecy as well. There are a number of amazing coincidences happening right now, taking into account the technical patterns in the financial markets charts, locutions from Catholic visionaries who have been predicting ‘three days of darkness, global warning experience’ for many decades. Is there any chance this debris could trigger the three days of darkness? Many thanks for sharing your work.

        1. astrobob

          No worries. There is zero chance the debris could trigger 3 days of darkness. We may not even see any meteors with the naked eye since they’re hypothesized to be extremely small.

  11. Jen

    Hi, I was wondering why it appears no one is talking about when comet ISON clearly struck by something and broke into pieces when it came back around the sun. NASA’s own telescope recorded it! Thanks, Jen

    1. astrobob

      Hi Jen,
      The comet didn’t strike anything even though it broke to bits. Comets are mostly made of ice and are generally loosely compacted. Many fall apart when the sun’s heat vaporizes that ice. What we saw happen to ISON, we’ve seen with many comets in the past and will again in the future. ISON passed extremely close to the sun and underwent not only stress from extreme heat but also from gravitational stress from being so near it.

  12. Brett

    Yes lol I’m very out of touch. I just try to think outside the box. That’s what real science is. I mean no insult or disrespect to astrobob because only time can tell. Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

  13. George J. Papagiannes

    Dear AstroBob:

    I an trying to find a good set of astronomy binoculars, I was using a set of 15×70 Celestron Skymasters, they were poorly collimated and have been sent back for repair! I purchased a set of 20×80 Zhumell Astronomy binoculars and they are out of collimation and have chromatic aberrations in the blue and yellow band despite being multicoated? Can you help me find a good set of reasonably priced astronomy binoculars, do you have any suggestions?

    1. Sean

      i know u’ve had bad experiences with Celstron apparently, but i was very satisfied with a previous purchase of Nature 10×50’s which i finally battered enough that one piece broke off and they functionally became monoculars (a monocular?), and as a replacement i recently purchased a set of their Cypress 10×50’s which i’ve been very pleased with so far. this is an economical brand from which u wouldn’t expect absolutely #1 quality but never had collimation problems and i personally prefer the lower magnification as i am always holding them and being steady at 10x magnification is hard enough for me. the ones i mentioned are fully-multicoated porro-style with BAK-4 glass, all good things, and are all fog- and waterproofed and all that stuff.

  14. Moff Daddy

    Astrobob, thank you very much for taking the time to respond to these questions. Your clearly have a knack for making complicated processes easier for people to grasp – I’ve always wished I could word “space related things” the way you’re able to because it gets people interested in astronomy. I was really enjoying reading along until coming to that horrendous assault on common sense carried out by the user called, “Jeff.” Coming across people like that makes me so mad because I want to believe that no one out there is truly that stupid. I get that same feeling every time I read some turd spouting off non-scientific garbage about the moon landings being fake. Their reasoning and logic are held together about as tightly as ISON’s nucleus – so Jeff, please let us know when you finally do spot it because we’ve all been waiting for a very long time now. And in the meantime please don’t trash someone like astrobob, who was taking the time to provide valuable explanations to people who actually are interested in learning. Astrobob, thanks again for the information, and I hope you don’t have to deal with anymore crazies. Merry Christmas, or happy whatever it is you celebrate!

    1. astrobob

      M. Daddy,
      I appreciate your kind words of support – thank you. There are angry people out there, so I try to be calm. It’s a pity though that pseudo-science seems to be gaining currency with the Internet. I try to throw a little light through logic and basic science, and it works with some but not everyone. Things were far worse 2-3 years ago when many people insisted then-Comet Elenin would spell the end of the world as we know it. That comet ultimately evaporated like our friend ISON and nothing came of all the hyperventilating.
      Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas too!

  15. I think that respectfully everyone should be aware and excercise the same care
    as you would if a satelite is going to crash.
    No one knows what will happen/not even NASA.
    If you say you know facts you would not be honest.

    Yes most of these luny sites are actually intentional disinformation sites.
    Have not figured out why or for what purpose.

    I would almost say that they as in unknown are bombarding us with silly propaganda, National Enquirer style. It makes the common person think
    everyone is way out there.
    I ask people if they watched ISON and they say no we watch Duck Dynasty…..

    I think that we need a bit more human dignity on this planet,to include honesty,
    and morals.

    The truth is yes Ison past us on Thanksgiving and will pass us again on Christ-Mas. And the real truth is that we all do hope that Ison will just
    quietly pass on by tail/debris/and dust without rocking our world.

    Furthermore; this should be our wake up call for dangerous space rocks as NASA has made a map for us that includes 1400 of them.
    Maybe we should take care to be prepared as we are not invincible.
    And to boot I did not get an invite to the bunkers did you???

    This is a very scarey event and maybe it should be. It is no different
    than standing on the edge of Niagra Falls, it is far larger than I!

    1. astrobob

      C Lee,
      The passing of any ISON debris will be far and away above Earth’s orbit and will not be scary. There is no need to promote fear here.

  16. Moonshine1

    I have just like left an extremely longwinded message to Bob & all you lovely people & my android ran out of battery & I lost the lot .Blady typical. Well I’m too exhausted now to blather on, so what will be will be, I haven’t got the means to do anything about anything ,& I’m pissed off. It’s not God destroying our planet or comet bloomin Iain, it’s the freaks who are running this planet & they think

  17. Moonshine1

    Aaaargh , where’s my flipping comment ? Forever the clown. Whatever I don’t care. Exhausted. Had enough disaster movie’s to last a lifetime .This is the weirdest life I’ve ever known It all wouldn’t bother me so, if it wasn’t for my children. Want to protect them you know. Thankyou Bob for your proper understanding of this meteor subject . Goodnight, I hope!

  18. alex

    1) nasa cut off film of ison on 28 nov 2013 for 5 hours and again on 25 dec 2013 of the sun with a large object hitting the sun on the feft edge–film cut off for 5 hours again—whats up—–amateur astronomers djumbfound nasa by finding ison when NASA said it couldnt.

    1. astrobob

      No object hit the sun during ISON’s perihelion, nor was the sun hit before or after by any large object. Except for one or two tentative observations, neither amateur nor professional astronomers have seen Comet ISON since it fizzled after perihelion. The only photos we have of it post-perihelion were taken by spacecraft.

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