Posted by: sweeneyblog | November 11, 2013

The Stellar Junkie: Breathtaking Comet Shines Bright

Today, we are introducing a brand-new writer for The Political Junkie. Local astronomer Jeff Hoffmeister has volunteered to send us a few pieces when there is something truly unique and remarkable to observe in the night sky. So bundle up and gaze into the stars with the Stellar Junkie.
Jeff Hoffmeister

Jeff Hoffmeister is The Stellar Junkie

This holiday season, we have an opportunity to get a good look at a comet with the naked eye. Comets are big balls of ice, dust, rock and gas traveling through space. Recently, one was identified as traveling very close to our solar system.

The comet is called C/2012 S1 ISON  and was discovered on September 21, 2012. Earlier this year astronomers felt it could end up being one of the best comets of the past several decades, becoming as bright as a full Moon and seen even during the daytime. Of course some take this to mean that the comet will be the size and brightness of the Moon…it does not. The comet would be quite small. The Minor Planet Center has recently, after further observations, found that Comet ISON will not be as bright as once thought.

Comet ISON will be at its Perihelion (closest point to the Sun) on November 28th getting as close as 700,000 miles from the Sun. It will then swing around and pass within about 40 million miles of the Earth (its Perigee) on December 26th. The question is whether or not the comet will survive its close call with the Sun. When comets get this close they commonly break up with some even burning up into the Sun (called, creatively, suicide comets). If the comet does survive its close approach then we may get a good chance to view it.

The Path of the Comet

The Path of the Comet

In November, the comet is traversing south of Leo then into Virgo and Libra. On November 28th, it passes  the Sun and takes a hard northerly turn into Serpens Caput and moves northward between Hercules and Corona Borealis.

The best time to observe the comet at its best is early to mid December in the east about an hour before sunrise. The comets tail will be sticking up at a slight angle with the head of the comet faced toward the horizon. Since it is moving further away from the Sun in December it will be beginning to dim. With hope it will start out as a naked eye comet in early December then binoculars around mid month. It will later be a telescope-only aided observation.

With luck on our side, for those of us on this observing island we call Earth, we will all get to see one of the wonders of the universe. Enjoy.

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Responses

  1. Question.
    Is this going to be on the test?
    I was told there would be no math on this Blog!

    • 🙂 Just a little something different to mix it up a bit. We will be back to the regularly scheduled diet of politics and snark tomorrow.

      • Indeed. Looks like the business model of The Huffington Post is virulent!

        Mazel tov.

  2. After the disappointment of Halley and the unexpected thrill of Hale-Bopp, I’m anxious to get a better view of ISOM. Thank you, Mr Hoffmeister for the excellent preview!

  3. […] are always striving for improve our content. Whether that is recruiting new guest columnists (see here and here), or spending the time to dig deep into issues (our two year long coverage of the new jail […]

  4. […] comet that so many astronomers, both professional as well as amateur, figured as being the comet of the century is slowly but surely fizzling away. You can watch it pass by the sun in this NASA footage. It […]

  5. […] and sometimes an object will be observed that should not be there. Many known asteroids and comets have been found by amateur Astronomers. Since there are about the same number of professional Astronomers around the world looking for NEA […]


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