Comet ISON Comes to Life!

Veteran comet observer John Bortle reports that Comet ISON is undergoing a major outburst. It was six times brighter when he observed it this morning (November 14th) than on the previous morning.

Comet ISON on November 10, 2013
John Vermette of Tucson, Arizona, photographed Comet ISON on November 10th, before its recent outburst. Click above to see higher resolution versions of this and other photographs in our Comet ISON gallery.
John Vermette
Bortle noted a short, faint tail while viewing the comet through 15×70 binoculars. At least one observer has reported seeing the comet without optical aid.

Bortle comments: "Just what this event signals for the future of C/ISON, with it now exactly two weeks from perihelion, is difficult to say. Over the next few days it should become apparent whether this event is the result of a single massive release of new volatiles; the nucleus having fractured; or perhaps even a dramatic permanent, sustainable, uptick in the comet's overall brightness."

The predawn sky also boasts another bright comet: Lovejoy C/2013 R1 — not to be confused with the famous sungrazer C/2011 W1, which was also discovered by Terry Lovejoy. Comet Lovejoy is currently roughly equal to ISON in brightness, and it's much better placed for observers in the Northern Hemisphere, above the constellation Leo.

The Moon will be lighting up the morning sky starting November 16th, but both comets should be bright enough to shine through the moonlight. Lovejoy should remain visible all month long for northern observers. ISON, by contrast, is rapidly approaching the Sun, so it's visible only low in the east just before the sky starts to brighten — and getting lower every morning.

Click here to download finder charts for both comets during the second half of November.

Mike Broussard of southern Lousiana shot Comet ISON through the trees on November 14th. See his blog for more examples of his superb comet photography.
Mike Broussard

14 thoughts on “Comet ISON Comes to Life!

  1. Tony Flanders

    That’s a meteor in Mike Broussard’s photo. It’s worth pointing out that another benefit of being out before dawn is that the Taurids are now in full swing, so you’re likely to see several meteors as well as two comets. I saw a very nice mag -1 meteor just to the left of ISON on Wednesday morning.

  2. Tom Duvall

    Viewing through 30×80 bio’s on the 12th vs. 14th was like day and night difference in comet Ison.Very dim on 14th with hint of tail but on 14th I was shocked how much brighter Ison was.Lovejoy was brighter than Ison on 12th, but on 14th Ison was more pronounced and Lovejoy more diffused and dimmer.

  3. Paul Vondra

    Re: Mr. Flanders’ response to query of Mr. Lannutti regarding the streak in the photo: I would say that it is at least as likely to be a sun-glinting satellite as a meteor given its apparent N-S trajectory, time of day (Near twilight– prime time for satellite viewing)and most of all the very symmetrical rise and fall in brightness, rather unlike a meteor, whose brightness is more often at the latter half (i.e. one side)of the streak.

    That aside , it’s a REALLY nice picture of ISON! Makes me sorry I gave up on it when I saw it Sun. Morning (the 11th) as a dinky little 8th-mag. blot. I’ll be watching this weekend, weather and Moon permitting, for it and the very satisfying ’13 R1 Lovejoy

  4. Ken Bechis

    Under clear, windless predawn skies Monday 11/11/13 at 10,000ft summit of Haleakala on Maui, Comet ISON was barely detectable (~8-9 mag?) against incredibly bright Zodiacal Light background, extending over 40deg up. Used Canon IS 15X50 binoculars. 5 very bright Taurid meteors visible. Mercury very distinct below Spica up until 30 min before sunrise.

  5. Mark M.

    This is exactly what James M. McCanney, M.S. Physics had predicted weeks ago. As the comet neared the planet Mercury there would be an electrical exchange and the comet would react. With the possibility that Mercury itself might "go comet". No, not take off flying across the solar system, but would exhibit the same electrical properties that comets exhibit. Such as the electrically charged coma.

  6. KevinKevin

    As a very-new amateur astronomer, I’m still in the early stages of learning to view successfully. I bought a used–but in great condition–Meade 6" reflector. It has the Star Finder gear, but it seldom finds the target I enter despite setting my location per the instructions. I live in Denver so I have to go up to the mountains for decent viewing; when I’m up there, I recalibrate it for that location.

    Any tips on finding ISON or Lovejoy, or using the Star Finder to its best would be appreciated!


  7. Matt B.

    You can also pick out the C57 galaxy at mag 9.3 just to the left of ISON. And if the tree wasn’t in the way, I’m sure you could make out the Sombrero galaxy as well. Awesome pic!

    Matt from NW LA.

  8. Paul Vondra

    I am not knowledgeable enough about this "electric cosmology" of Dr. McCanney to deny it, though the current internet fad for it makes me suspicious, but in response to David and to be fair to Mark M., ISON will be passing about 20 million miles from Mercury in less than two days, which, astronomically speaking, is indeed "somewhere near" Mercury. Science @NASA just devoted a release to this a couple of days ago. The release notes TWO comet approaches to Mercury in as many days, with Encke passing just 1/10 (2 million mi.) the distance of ISON tomorrow. Mark M. may have mixed up his comets and been thinking of this one, or maybe both. Anyway, MESSENGER probe in Mercury orbit will try to photograph both and it is also equipped with particle and fields instruments more than sensitive enough to detect any electrical weirdness when the comets pass. Sorry, Mark M., but I won’t be holding my breath. Still, "one never knows, do one?"

  9. Azael from Panama

    Just to report the observation of ISON from Panama, on November 17th from 4:45am until 5:40am above Spica. Here is not easy because of heavy cloudiness -we are in the tropics-. It looked like a picture by Brossard on Nov 14th: a fuzz ball with a faint tail. Our planetary cameras were not able to get a decent picture, neither an adapted webcam we built. We will try again in the following day with a borrowed DSLR.Ttoday we are under heavy clouds from a monsoon through all over south Panama, we expect better conditions Nov 20th. Good luck to all.

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