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.

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