Comet ISON, widely referred to as “Comet of the Century”, can now be seen with a good pair of binoculars, after rapidly brightening this past week! Comet ISON is speeding through the inner solar system towards the Sun at about 190, 000 kilometres per hour.
It will make its closest approach to the Sun in late November 2013, when it will graze our star within just one solar diameter, at which point the heat will cause even more ice to sublimate. However, the proximity could also break the whole nucleus down into small fragments, which would completely evaporate by the time the comet moves away from the Sun's intense heat. But, assuming it survives this close encounter, it could become easily visible to the naked eye in dawn skies!
But will Comet ISON truly become the “Comet of the Century”? It will have to overcome its trial by fire and swing past the far side of the Sun before we find out. But, on average, only one comet per year can be seen soaring across the sky with the naked eye, so we suggest you take this opportunity to see go outside and catch a glimpse of one of these elusive, stunning objects for yourself!
Teachers, this is a perfect opportunity to inspire your students and get them excited about the world around them, so why not organise an observing event? The best time to see Comet ISON is just before dawn. It's lying close to Mercury, so look for a bright “star-like” object low on the horizon and you'll find the comet nearby. But if you want a more precise idea of where and when is best to view the comet from where you are located, visit the “Let's Go Out and Find Comet ISON” observing campaign website, run by the Japan Astronomy Council Comet ISON Campaign Committee and our colleagues at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.
The website has a range of charts details where in the sky Comet ISON will appear and when. You can also take part in the observing campaign by sharing where you are in the world, and whether you saw the comet or not. If you're lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the rare object, share your pictures with all the other participant. You can even make a workshop out of the event by inviting children to build their very own Comet ISON orbit models. Find the template and instructions on the campaign's website: http://ison.astro-campaign.jp/en/