Comet ISON brightens significantly in pre-dawn sky; celestial Thanksgiving feast on schedule

Comet ISON brightened last week and is already putting on a spectacular show for comet watchers.

isonComet_outlinesThe first time interloper to the inner sanctums of the solar system remains on schedule for a reaching peak brightness early Thanksgiving morning.

Karl Battams, astrophysicist and computational scientist at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, wrote on the NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign website that the comet may be undergoing some changes. What they are, astronomers aren’t sure yet. But they’re enjoying the show.

Astronomers theorize the brightening could be attributed to some fracturing of the three to four-mile wide comet or because it has gotten close enough to the sun to allow more gases to flow outward. It’s estimated that

A Nov. 17 photo by Austrian astronomer Michael Jaeger revealed a 10 million-mile tail that spanned 7 degrees across the sky. That’s pretty long by anyone’s estimation.

Observers with clear skies will see the comet just before sunrise in the southeastern sky. The moon may wash out some of its brightness, but should become a non-factor as the comet reaches peak brightness next week.

If Comet ISON isn’t enough, there is another bright comet that can be observed in the early morning hours.

Comet Lovejoy, while not as spectacular, is just barely at naked eye visibility and now can be seen between the Big Dipper and the constellation Leo. Binoculars or a small telescope will definitely help. It will continue to move westward and then southwestward in early December through neighboring constellations.

Surely, this Thanksgiving promises quite a visual feast for early risers.

Update December 5:

Comet ISON exists no more except for widely scattered dust particles.

The visitor from the edges of the solar system broke up on closest approach to the sun on Thanksgiving Day and won’t be putting on a the show that many comet watchers had expected.

There was a bit of hope that the comet survived its passage around the sun when a bright ball of light with a couple of short tails was observed by satellites. But that brightening was the last gasp for ISON.

Battams’ wrote a short obit memorializing the comet on the Comet ISON Observing Campaign website.

For now astronomers will be studying the data in an effort to help them better understand the makeup of the solar system.

It’s never too early to think about Christmas wishlists…

audience nov 20 2013

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 20, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Have you attended one of the pope’s weekly general audiences in St. Peter’s Square?

If so and you’d like a memento of that day, you should know that you can order online a DVD of Vatican Television’s full coverage of the event.

Obviously anyone can purchase the DVDs and you can pick any general audience spanning from April 21, 2010 to today’s. Those dates include some historic gatherings like Pope Benedict’s last general audience Feb. 27.

The Italian-based website has partnered with the Vatican for a while now, helping people around the world order and receive print, audio and visual media produced by Vatican outlets as well as some religious articles.

In fact, with the Christmas countdown now at “35 Days to Go,” it may not be too early to look for some special gifts from the Vatican.

The site offers things like:

Some unique offerings include:

  • Cardinals seen in Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

    Cardinals entering the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel March 12 as they begin the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

    A double CD titled “Music of the Conclave,” with the complete live recordings of the liturgical music sung by the Sistine Chapel Choir and the cardinal electors chanting before entering the conclave that eventually elected Pope Francis.

  • A four-CD box set of “the only recording ever” of Pope Benedict praying the entire rosary in Latin.
  • (Though they’re sold out…) the official and misspelled “LESUS” medal of Pope Francis’ pontificate.
  • A stuffed “Bedtime Bunny” that children can take to bed and, when they press its tummy, helps them recite a classic bedtime prayer.