Comet of the century over Whitby skies

Comet ISON - you can see it over Whitby

Comet ISON - you can see it over Whitby

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Initially dubbed as being the “comet of the century” after its discovery in September of 2012, Comet ISON (C 2012/S1) then failed to brighten as predicted (no surprise there then) and was almost written off as another ‘dud’ comet during the summer months.

It now appears however that ISON may be worth observing after all, and may become a fine spectacle in the early morning sky toward the end of November and into December.

Comet ISON is making its first and perhaps only visit to the warmth of the inner Solar System and is classed as a sun-grazing comet, speeding up as it gets nearer the Sun (its movement is not noticeable as you watch it, but is apparent from night to night).

At the start of November Comet ISON was travelling at 95,000mph, but by the time it makes its closest approach around the Sun (called perihelion) on 28 November at a distance of only 1.2 million km (about 750 000 miles) from the surface of the Sun the comet will be moving at an astonishing 845,000mph.

If the comet survives this close encounter, which according to NASA now seems more likely, it may emerge as an easily spotted early morning object.

Comets are however notoriously unpredictable beasts and the truth is, no one really knows how ISON will perform when it meets up with the sun.

The good news is that as of mid November ISON appears to be brightening quite nicely and has become a faint naked eye object as it moves through Leo and Virgo.

Already the comet is sporting a tail over 7 degrees in length or 16 million kilometres.

Matters may then develop rapidly with ISON becoming a spectacular sight in the early dawn sky around perihelion date, however you will need to be viewing 6.30am to spot the tail and it may still be a little tricky if ISON does not develop. By the start of December ISON will be visible both after sunset; near Venus, and before sunrise, before it becomes exclusively visible in the evening sky by December 6.

Keep a watch on the media – visit www.whitby-astronomers.com

I will be giving an update at the start of December.

Planetary Skylights

Venus dominates the evening twilight sky over in the S-SSW quite close to the horizon and will be a dazzling spectacle over the Christmas period.

A crescent moon lies above on December 5.

Venus is only visible for just over an hour after sunset, however conspicuous Jupiter is well-placed for observation almost from dusk until dawn.

Look for it in the east during the evening – an unmistakable beacon below the ‘twin stars’ of Gemini.

Jupiter is a fine target for anyone with a telescope.

Red Mars remains an early morning object, though is now starting to brighten and is relatively conspicuous over in the east by 3am. Throughout the latter part of November Mercury has perhaps its best showing this year, though it will be in the dawn sky.

Look for it low in the ESE 45 minutes before sunrise.

Saturn also returns to the morning sky and is visible below Mercury. The two planets appear very close in the sky around the 26th and may be joined by Comet ISON.