Comet 2012 S1 (ISON) is just 16 days away from its close encounter with the Sun and is now inside the orbit of Venus, at under 103,000,000 km (64,000,000 miles) away from the Sun. This new timelapse by award-winning photographer Justin Ng from Singapore shows the journey of both ISON and Comet 2013 R1 (Lovejoy), taken on November 11, 2013. The video covers 50 minutes of imaging time for ISON and 90 minutes of imaging time for Lovejoy.
As you watch the video of each, don’t worry – the comets and their tails are not fizzling out! This actually reflects the reduced visibility of the comets as the sky was gradually becoming brighter with daybreak. Additionally, Justin cautions that in the timelapse, both comets appear to be moving especially fast because of smaller field of view and long exposure.
On November 4, there were indications of a possible ion tail emerging from Comet ISON, and this comet’s growing dust tail now stretches to more than a full moon’s diameter. “Comet ISON is now plunging towards the Sun with 2 long tails at a magnitude of around +7 and it is visible in small scopes and strong binoculars,” writes Justin.
Comet ISON flies in front of constellation Virgo this week (from our vantage point on Earth) and it is expected to grow some 2.5 times brighter before it passes by the bright star Spica in Virgo on November 17 and 18.
“Comet Lovejoy just passed into the constellation Leo with a magnitude of around +6 and it’s an easy binocular object,” said Justin. “R1 Lovejoy will remain well placed at 50 to 60 degrees above the northeastern horizon before sunrise through this week for observers from near the Equator.”
Tired of comets yet? Right now, northern hemisphere observers have four (!) comets within range of binoculars in the dawn sky. Comet C/2012 S1 ISON, is, of course, expected to dazzle towards month’s end. Comet 2P/Encke is an “old standby,” with the shortest orbital period of any comet known at 3.3 years, and is making a favorable appearance this Fall. And comet C/2012 X1 LINEAR added to the morning display recently, reaching about +8th magnitude in an unexpected outburst…
But the brightest and best placed comet for morning viewing is currently Comet C/2013 R1 Lovejoy. Shining at +6th magnitude, R1 Lovejoy just passed into the constellation Leo after a photogenic pass near the Beehive Cluster (M44) in Cancer last week. We caught sight of R1 Lovejoy a few mornings ago, and it’s an easy binocular object, looking like a fuzzy unresolved globular cluster with barely the hint of a tail.
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because the comet was discovered by Australian observer Terry Lovejoy, the prolific discoverer of four comets, including the brilliant sungrazing Comet C/2011 W3 Lovejoy that survived its 140,000 kilometre perihelion passage above the surface of the Sun on December 16th and went on to dazzle southern hemisphere observers in late 2011 and early 2012.
Terry discovered R1 Lovejoy on September 7th, 2013 while it was still at magnitude +14.4. The comet is expected to top out at +4th magnitude in late November as it passes 61.4 million kilometres from Earth on November 19th and heads for perihelion at 0.877 AUs from the Sun on December 25nd, 2013. Comet R1 Lovejoy is on a 64 degree orbit highly inclined to the ecliptic, and has a period roughly 7,000 years long. The last time R1 Lovejoy graced Earthly skies, our early ancestors still thought copper smelting was a pretty hip idea!
And unlike comets Encke and ISON that are plunging near the Sun, Comet R1 Lovejoy never gets closer than 19 degrees elongation from our nearest star in late December. It also reaches a maximum northern declination of 43 degrees on November 28th, the same day that ISON reaches perihelion. For mid-latitude northern hemisphere observers, R1 Lovejoy will remain well placed at 35 to 45 degrees above the northeastern horizon about an hour before sunrise through late November.
Here are some key dates to aid you in your quest to spy Comet R1 Lovejoy in late November:
November 11th: Passes near +4.5 Kappa Leonis.
November 14th: Passes from Leo into the constellation Leo Minor & passes near the +5.3 star 20 Leonis Minoris.
November 16th: Passes near the +5th magnitude stars 28, 30, and 34 Leonis Minoris.
November 18th: Passes into the constellation Ursa Major.
November 19th: Passes near the +4.8 magnitude star 55 Ursae Majoris & +5.3 magnitude star 57 Ursae Majoris.
November 19th: Closest to Earth, at 0.4 AUs distant.
November 21st: Passes into the constellation Canes Venatici.
November 22nd: Passes near the +6th magnitude star 4 Canum Venaticorum & the +4.2 magnitude star Chara (Beta Canum Venaticorum).
November 24th: Passes near the Sunflower Galaxy (M63).
November 27th: Passes into the constellation Boötes.
December 1st: Passes near +3.5 magnitude star Nekkar (Beta Boötis).
December 4th: crosses into Corona Borealis.
Note that passes on the list above denote passages closer than one degree of Comet R1 Lovejoy near bright objects.
Perihelion for the comet is December 25th at 0.877 AU, and its closest approach to Earth is November 19th. On this date, it will also be moving at its maximum apparent speed as seen from Earth, covering about 3 degrees of the sky every 24 hours, or the angular span of the Full Moon every 4 hours.
United Kingdom observer Pete Lawrence imaged Comet R1 Lovejoy this past weekend from his backyard garden using a 4-inch apochromatic refractor and a Canon 40D DSLR:
He also made his first confirmed binocular sighting of Comet ISON using a pair of 15×70 binocs, noting to Universe Today that “ISON’s head appears to be small and stellar compared to Lovejoy’s extended coma, which is obvious in binoculars, and also brighter!”
It’s worth noting that all four of these morning comets are on separate orbital paths, and only seem to be in the same general region of the sky as seen from our Earthly vantage point… and none of them are passing near the Earth!
This week is also a good time to hunt for comets in the pre-dawn sky for another reason: the Moon reaches Full this coming weekend on Sunday, November 17th. After this week, it will start to creep into the morning sky and interfere with deep sky observations for the next two weeks.
It’s also interesting to note that amateur observers discovered two more faint comets this past weekend. Though comets C/2013 V3 Nevski and C/2013 V2 Borisov aren’t slated to be anything spectacular, that brings the number of amateur discoveries to 13 for 2013. Are amateur comet hunters mounting a comeback?
In this age of automated surveys, the question is often raised as to whether amateurs can still discover comets. Keep in mind, Terry Lovejoy found Comet R1 Lovejoy with a medium-sized 8-inch Schmidt Cassegrain reflecting telescope… the age of amateur comet hunters seemes far from over in 2013!
I’m starting to get the chills about Comet ISON. I can’t help it. With practically every telescope turned the comet’s way fewer than three short weeks before perihelion, every week brings new images and developments. The latest pictures show a brand new tail feature emerging from the comet’s bulbous coma. For months, amateur and professional astronomers alike have watched ISON’s slowly growing dust tail that now stretches nearly half a degree or a full moon’s diameter. In the past two days, photos taken by amateur astronomers reveal what appears to be a nascent ion or gas tail. Damian Peach’s Nov. 6 image clearly shows two spindly streamers.
Ion tails are composed of gases like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide blown into a narrow straight tail by the solar wind and electrified to fluorescence by the sun’s ultraviolet light. Being made of ions (charged particles), they interact with the sun’s wind of charged particles. Changes in the intensity and direction of the magnetic field associated with sun’s exhalations kink and twist ion tails into strange shapes. Strong particle blasts can even snap off an ion tail. Not that a comet could care. Like a lizard, it grows a new one back a day or three later.
A fresh forked tail isn’t ISON’s only new adornment. Its inner coma, location of the bright “false nucleus”, is becoming more compact, and the overall magnitude of the comet has been slowly but steadily rising. Two mornings ago I pointed a pair of 10×50 binoculars ISON’s way and was surprised to see it glowing at magnitude 8.5. Things happen quickly now that the comet is picking up speed While it appeared as little more than a small smudge, any comet crossing into binocular territory is cause for excitement. Other observers are reporting magnitudes as bright as 8.0. Estimates may vary among observers, but the trend is up. Seiichi Yoshida’s excellent Weekly Information about Bright Comets site predicts another half magnitude brightening over the next few days. You can use the map here to spot it in your own glass before the moon returns to the morning sky.
But wait, there’s more. Emmanuel Jehin, a member of the TRAPPIST ( TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals inSmall Telescopes) team, a group of astronomers dedicated to the detection of exoplanets and the study of comets and other small solar system bodies, reports a rapid rise in ISON’s gas production rate in the past several days. They’ve increased by a factor of two since Nov. 3. Could the spike be connected to the development of an ion tail? Jehin and team have also recorded two active jets coming from the comet’s nucleus using specialized filters. Dust production rates however have remained flat.
Casey Lisse of the Comet ISON Observing campaign (CIOC) reports that the Chandra X-ray Observatory just became the 9th spacecraft to image the comet . More details and photos should be available soon. The campaign predicts the comet will peak in brightness between -3 to -5 magnitude when it zips closest to the sun on Nov. 28. Want to ride alongside the comet during its passage through the inner solar system? Click on this awesome, interactive simulator.
Because ISON is a fresh-faced visitor from the distant Oort Cloudthat will soon face the full fury of the sun, speculation of its fate has ranged across the spectrum. Everything from breakup and dissolution before perihelion to surviving intact trailing a spectacular dust tail. The comet is currently approaching the 0.8 A.U. mark (74.4 million miles / 120 million km) when previous comets C/1999 S4 LINEAR in 2000 and C/2010 X1 Elenin in 2011 crumbled to pieces and vaporized away. Will ISON have the internal strength to pass the test and venture further into the solar boil? Should it survive, it faces a formidable foe – the sun. Both the intense solar heat and gravitational stress on the comet’s nucleus could easily tear it apart. If this happens a few days before perihelion we’ll be left with little to see, but if ISON busts up a day or two after perihelion, watch out baby. When the comet reappears in the morning sky, it may be missing its head but make it up for the loss with a spectacular tail of fresh dust and ice many degrees in length. This is exactly what happened to Comet C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy) in December 2011. After its close graze with the home star, the nucleus disintegrated, producing a striking tail seen by skywatchers in the southern hemisphere.
The final scenario sees Comet ISON pushing past all barriers intact and ready to put on a splendid show. Whatever happens, I suspect we’re in for surprises ahead. For a more detailed analysis of these possibilities I invite you check out Matthew Knight’s blog on the CIOC website.
While many are anticipating seeing Comet ISON, there’s more in the sky these days than just one comet. There are actually four comets now in the skies in the mornings — in addition to ISON, there’s comets 2013 R1 Lovejoy, 2P/Encke and 2012 X1 LINEAR! Unfortunately, none of these are visible to the naked eye — yet anyway.
Here are some great recent images and video of these comet taken by amateur astrophotographers. Above is Comet Lovejoy, just taken by Justin Ng from Singapore . “Comet Lovejoy will share the same part of the sky as Comet ISON this month and it presents a cool astrophotography opportunity for skywatchers and astronomers,” Justin told Universe Today via email. “This image is a result of stacking 9 images together and each image was captured using a 3 inch telescope at 5 minutes exposure time for about an hour before dawn.”
A gorgeous shot of Comet Encke by Damian Peach. “The fine narrow ion tail is very nicely defined which has recently developed,” Damian said via email.
Below is Damian’s image of Comet Lovejoy. “Looks as though a disconnection event may have occurred within Lovejoy’s gas tail,” Damian said. “Note the broad fan shaped condensation around half way along the tail.”
Here are two great timelapses of Comet ISON! The first is from Justin Ng from Singapore, taken on October 27:
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Get your astronomical trick-or-treat bags ready. An excursion under the Halloween morning sky will allow you fill it in a hurry — with comets! We’ve known for months that ISON and 2P/Enckewould flick their tails in the October dawn, but no one could predict they’d be joined by Terry Lovejoy’s recent comet discovery, C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy), and the obscure C/2012 X1 (LINEAR). The last surprised all of us when it suddenly brightened by more than 200 times in a matter of days. Almost overnight, a comet found on precious few observing lists became bright enough to see in binoculars. Now comet watchers the world over are losing sleep to get a glimpse of it.
Since it’s unusual to have four relatively bright comets in the same chunk of sky at the same time, you don’t want to miss this opportunity. Now that the moon has dwindled to the slightest crescent, this is THE time to hunt for these ghostly apparitions before dawn.
Brightest of the bunch at magnitude 8 and your best bet to see in a standard pair of 50mm binoculars is Comet Lovejoy. Using the maps, look for a round, fuzzy spot with a brighter center not far from the bright star Procyon in Canis Minor. In the coming days, Lovejoy will brighten by an additional 2 to 3 magnitudes as it trucks across Cancer headed toward the Big Dipper. This is one to watch. Lovejoy will likely reach naked eye brightness by mid-November. Small telescope users can see the comet with ease but its developing gas tail is still to faint to spot visually.
Comet Encke treks around the sun every 3.3 years. Sometimes it’s well placed for viewing and sometimes not. Because of its short period, dedicated comet watchers meet up with it a half dozen or more times during their lives. This apparition is a favorable one with the comet well-positioned in the east at dawn near peak brightness. Current estimates place it magnitude 7.5-8 with only the wispiest of tails. Like Lovejoy, 50mm binoculars under a dark sky should nab it.
A week before Encke reaches its peak magnitude of 6 or 7 at perihelion on Nov. 21, it chases the into the glare of morning twilight. If you want to see this comet, you’ve got about 2 weeks of viewing time left. Make sure to set up in a place with an open view to the east-southeast or you’ll find it hidden by the treeline.
Comet C/2012 X1 would have deprived us of a unique sight had it followed the rules. Instead, an eruption of fresh, dust-laden ices from its surface blasted into space to form a gigantic glowing sphere of material that vaulted the comet’s magnitude from a wimpy 13.5 to a vol-luminous 7.5. That’s a difference of 6 magnitudes or a brightness factor of 250 times!
Outbursts of this consequence are rare; the best example of a similar blow-out happened in 2007 when Comet 17P/Holmes cut loose and brightened by half a million times from magnitude 17 to 2.8 in just under two days.
As with any explosion, the cloud of debris around C/2012 X1 continues to expand. Presently measuring a healthy ~8 arc minutes in diameter (1/4 the size of the full moon), the comet will almost certainly continue to grow and fade with time. Catch it now with binoculars and small telescopes before its veil-like coma thins to invisibility. Like Encke, X1 LINEAR requires an open eastern horizon and best viewed at the start of dawn. Make it the last comet on your observing list after Lovejoy, Encke and ISON.
Ah, ISON. Halloween morning wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this year’s the most anticipated comet.. If it can hold itself together after a searing graze of the sun on November 28, the comet will undoubtedly become a most pleasing sight during the first three weeks of December. Right now it’s a little behind schedule on brightness, but don’t let that worry you – its best days are still ahead.
Of our four morning treats, Comet ISON is currently the faintest at around magnitude 9.5. Observers with binoculars in the 70-100mm range will see it under dark skies but most of us will need a 6-inch or larger scope at least until mid-November. That’s when ISON’s expected to brighten to magnitude 6, the naked eye limit. Just before it slips into the solar glare, ISON could reach 3rd magnitude around Nov. 21, normally an easy catch with the naked eye, but low altitude will hamper the view.
So open your bag wide tomorrow before dawn and keep it open the next few mornings. Trick or treat!
Astrophotographers were out in full force this weekend to try and capture the bonanza of comets now visible in the early morning skies! You’ll need a good-sized telescope to see these comets for yourself, however, but with the Moon now waning means darker skies and better observing conditions. Above is an absolutely gorgeous image of Comet ISON taken by Damian Peach. See below for more images of not only Comet ISON, but also Comet Encke, Comet Lovejoy and Comet LINEAR — now in outburst.
In fact, one of our “regular” contributors, John Chumack, captured all four comets in one morning, on Saturday October 26!
Here’s what John said about his Comet ISON image: “The tail extends off the frame it is at least 20 arc minutes long now and the coma is still around 3-4 arc minutes in diameter. The comet is looking good at about 12th magnitude and continues to slowly brighten, just 30 more days to perihelion — closest point to the Sun. Hopefully it puts on a good show for all of December too!”
And Comet Linear 2012 X1 was at 14th magnitude, but now in outburst, John said, “it is over 100-fold brighter at 8th magnitude and expanding! It was low on the horizon at dawn, and tough to get. It just cleared the trees at 7:07am in bright dawn light! I managed a couple of quick shots before my CCD was flooded completely with light!”
Of Comet Lovejoy, John said, “I found it has developed a faint long tail…it is at least 12 arc minutes in length and the comet’s coma is now around 6 arc minutes in diameter. I already notified Terry Lovejoy in Australia and he was excited to hear his comet has developed a new tail!”
Here’s a timelapse video from John of Comet Lovejoy moving through the constellation of Canus Minor:
Here’s a view from a smaller telescope from Tom Wildoner, to give a better idea of what “most of us” would see with our humbler telescopes!
Even NASA astronomers were out trying to take images of these comets. Here’s an image taken from NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center:
NASA explains the image:
In the early morning of Oct. 25 (6:45 a.m. EDT), NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., used a 14″ telescope to capture this image of Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON), which is brightening as it approaches the sun. The comet shines with a faint green color just to the left of center. The diagonal streak right of center was caused by the Italian SkyMed-2 satellite passing though the field of view. At magnitude 8.5, the comet is still too faint for the unaided eye or small binoculars, but it’s an easy target in a small telescope.
At this time of this image, ISON was located in the constellation of Leo the Lion, some 132 million miles from Earth and heading in toward the sun at 87,900 miles per hour.
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Move over Comet ISON. You’ve got company. Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy, discoverer of three previous comets, including the famous, long-tailed sungrazer C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy), just added a 4th to his tally.
This new comet will add to a lineup of comets that should grace early November skies in the northern hemisphere: Comets ISON, Encke and now the new Lovejoy.
The discovery of C/2013 R1 Lovejoy was announced on Sept. 9 after two nights of photographic observations by Lovejoy with an 8-inch (20 cm) Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector. When nabbed, the comet was a faint midge of about 14.5 magnitude crossing the border between Orion and Monoceros. Subsequent observations by other amateur astronomers peg it a bit brighter at 14.0 with a small, condensed coma.
Right now you’ll need a hefty telescope to catch a glimpse of Lovejoy’s latest, but come November the comet will glow at around 8th magnitude, making it a perfect target for smaller telescopes. At closest approach on the Nov. 23, Lovejoy will pass 38.1 million miles (61.3 million km) from Earth while sailing across the Big Dipper at a quick pace.
Mid to late November is also the time when Comet ISON, the current focus of much professional and amateur observation, will be at its brightest in the morning sky at around magnitude 2-3. Get ready for some busy nights at the telescope!
C/2013 R1 will whip by the sun on Christmas Day at a distance of 81 million miles (130.3 million km) and then return back to the deeps from whence it came.
The charts here give you a general idea of its location and path over the next couple months. As the comet crosses into small-scope territory in early November, I’ll provide maps for you to find it.
And as Stuart Atkinson noted on his website, Cumbrian Sky a great lineup should be in the northern hemisphere skies on November 9, 2013. From the left, Comet Encke will be magnitude 6, ISON should be at about magnitude 6 or 7; then Mars, followed by the new Comet Lovejoy, which will be still very faint at around magnitude 9, topped off by a bright Jupiter. The comets will not likely be of naked eye visibility, but this should be a great chance for astrophotographer to capture this lineup!
Welcome to an exciting time for comet lovers, and congratulations Terry on another great discovery!
An amazing panorama revealing Western Europe’s ‘Cities at Night’ with hardware from the stations robotic ‘hand’ and solar arrays in the foreground was captured by the crew in a beautiful new image showing millions of Earth’s inhabitants from the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS).
The sweeping panoramic vista shows several Western European countries starting with the British Isles partially obscured by twin solar arrays at left, the North Sea at left center, Belgium and the Netherlands (Holland) at bottom center, and the Scandinavian land mass at right center by the hand, or end effector, of the Canadian-built ISS robotic arm known as the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) or Canadarm2.
Coincidentally European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers from Holland (photo at left) is currently aboard the ISS, soaring some 400 kilometers (250 miles) overhead.
The panoramic image was taken by the ISS residents on January 22, 2012.
The Expedition 30 crew of six men currently serving aboard the ISS (photo below) hail from the US, Russia and Holland.
“Cities at Night” – Here’s a portion of a relevant ISS Blog post from NASA astronaut Don Pettit on Jan. 27, 2012:
“Cities at night are different from their drab daytime counterparts. They present a most spectacular display that rivals a Broadway marquee. And cities around the world are different. Some show blue-green, while others show yellow-orange. Some have rectangular grids, while others look like a fractal-snapshot from Mandelbrot space.”
“Patterns in the countryside are different in Europe, North America, and South America. In space, you can see political boundaries that show up only at night. As if a beacon for humanity, Las Vegas is truly the brightest spot on Earth. Cities at night may very well be the most beautiful unintentional consequence of human activity,” writes NASA astronaut Don Pettit currently residing aboard the ISS.
Mystery diamond-shape “object” entering the field-of-view of the HI2 telescope on STEREO Behind around December 26, 2011. Credit: NASA
The STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) is a two-year mission conducted by NASA. It employs nearly identical twin telescopes – one positioned ahead of Earth’s orbit and the other behind – designed to study the Sun’s activities spectroscopically. However, it can sometimes pick up some very unusual findings! On December 26, 2011, the STEREO Behind Observatory’s HI2 telescope captured an ambiguous triangle entering the field of view and moving from right to left just above the trapezoidal occulter as seen in the above movie. Just what is this “thing”?!
Before you get ready to call the men in black, know that there is a logical answer… and it comes into play on the opposite side of the STEREO image. Play the movie again and watch. (It’s a bit more obvious in this close-up view.) Just as the weird triangle begins its approach, you’ll notice the dazzling Venus enters the field of view of the HI2-B at the same time to the lower left. As you watch, you’ll see they keep exactly the same time – in opposite – across the detector image. This isn’t just a chance happening… it’s a naturally-occurring internal reflection caused by Venus’ brilliance in the telescope’s optics. It might be exciting for the moment, but it’s nothing that hasn’t happened in the past. Just check out these great STEREO Reflections of Earth, and all sorts of other cool images on the STEREO Image Artifacts pages.
What else can be seen? As you can tell from this photograph, Earth is also starring in the show, but doesn’t come in as striking as Venus. What’s more you can also see the tail of Comet Lovejoy streaking in from the left just above Venus towards the end of the movie.
Colin Legg from Esperance, Australia has been documenting Comet Lovejoy’s holiday gift to the southern hemisphere, and this is his latest — and possibly last — timelapse, as the comet has started to fade. This one covers almost 5 hours of Legg’s Comet Lovejoy views as seen during the early morning hours of December 27, 2011. “I used a tracking device to track in azimuth only to maximize coverage,” Legg said. “If you look closely at the head in the 2nd half you can see it moving against the stars.”