By now interest in Comet C/2012 S1 (Comet ISON) is building. This could be the most dramatic comet in years. Where should we look for this oncoming interloper from deep space? This was a monthly guide aimed at observers in the UK and Ireland to help you find it. As of December 2013 the comet appears to have broken up and will not be seen in our skies after all.

On April 30, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope observed Comet ISON. (Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

On 30 April 2013, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope observed Comet ISON. This beautiful composite image was created from the images made by the HST. (Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

 

To find the comet on any given day and date, I really recommend the free software Stellarium (available from our Free Stuff page). You will need to use the update database feature to add ISON to Stellarium, but this is very straightforward to do.

You can learn  10 Things You Need to know About Comet ISON elsewhere in this blog. Please note that this comet will never be brighter than a full Moon (anyone saying this is using very out of date information) and definitely will never appear larger in the sky than a full Moon, and remember that the behaviour of comets is notoriously unpredictable! Veteran comet watcher John Bortle discussed the possible visibility of Comet ISON in an interesting piece at Universe Today, and cautioned against excessive optimism.

These images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope of C/2012 S1 (Comet ISON) were taken on June 13, when ISON was 310 million miles (about 500 million kilometers) from the sun.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/UCFRead more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-07-nasa-spitzer-gas-emission-comet.html#jCp
image of ison from spitzer

These images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope of C/2012 S1 (Comet ISON) were taken on 13 June 2013, when ISON was 310 million miles (about 500 million km) from the Sun.(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/UCF)

 

August

From early June through lateAugust, Comet ISON was almost directly behind the Sun as viewed from Earth, and so it could not be seen. In early August, ISON is approaching the Solar System’s so-called “frost line” some 370 to 450 million km (230 to 280 million miles) from the Sun, when it reaches this region the comet’s nucleus will receive enough solar radiation that water will begin to evaporate making comet will appear brighter. From Earth the comet will appear in the constellation Gemini. It will be low in the bright  pre-sunrise eastern sky, you will still need a telescope to see it. On 2 August about 5am, we will be treated to a celestial line-up of Comet  ISON, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and the Moon. From the middle of August ISON will be in Cancer and by the end of August it may be visible for observers with larger telescopes. At the end of the month the comet will appear just above M44, the Beehive Cluster. On 12 August the comet was recovered (that is, seen for the first after it emerged from behind the Sun) by Bruce Gary, an amateur astronomer in Arizona.

 

Comet ISON imaged by Damien Peach on 24 September 2013.

 

September

By now the comet ought to be an easy object for amateur telescopes. In early September the comet will appear close to Mars in the sky before dawn. On 1 September at about 5am,Comet  ISON, Mars and the crescent Moon made a line in the sky. By mid September you will find the speeding up comet between Cancer and Leo and by the end of September it will be in Leo. By late September Comet ISON had developed a greenish tinge to its coma indicating more material was escaping from the nucleus.

 

October

On 1 October Comet  ISON was at its closest to Mars at about 11 million km where various probes scanned the sky for it. The comet was still not bright enough to spot with binoculars from Earth.  Early in the month, ISON was close to the bright star Regulus and both Mars and the Moon was close by too. By 15 October Regulus, Mars and ISON were tightly grouped and easy to find with suitable equipment, the comet was about Magnitude 12 or so, which was far too dim to be seen without a telescope. At the end of October, the comet was below  Leo, heading down the sky towards Virgo.

November

So far the comet has been disappointing, being just visible as a feeble smudge through 16 inch telescopes in early November but this will hopefully be the start of ISON’s glory days. At the beginning of November when the comet was between Virgo and Leo, it showed new activity, developing an ion tail and reaching Mag 8 (visible in the morning sky through larger binoculars) reaching Virgo by the middle of the month. On 11 November the comet crossed the orbit of Venus, and  suddenly increased in brightness! In just over a day the comet’s apparent magnitude improved by two magnitudes. By 16 November, it was a faint but visible object in the pre-dawn south-eastern sky to the unaided eye.  It was an even more fascinating sight for observers with telescopes. By the third week of November it was be seen in the eastern sky before dawn.  By the fourth week of November the comet is so close to the Sun that it will be almost sunrise before its head clears the horizon, so viewing it at all at this time was impossible.

If you cannot see Comet ISON why not try to find the other near-naked eye comet currently in the sky, C/2013 R1 Lovejoy? Try looking at any time of the night at the Plough (the famous asterism in Ursa Major), this comet will be be close to the Plough’s handle . Comet Lovejoy is impossible to see with the unaided eye, so you will need to use binoculars. You are looking for a faint fuzzy star.

 

 C/2013 R1 Lovejoy's position as of 5 am 30 November, looking east. (Image credit: Colin Johnston/Stellarium)

C/2013 R1 Lovejoy’s position as of 5 am 30 November, looking east. (Image credit: Colin Johnston/Stellarium)

 

Comet ISON is at its closest to the Sun (perihelion) on 28 November (Thanksgiving Day in the USA), when it  is just a million km or so above our star. It had been thought that if the comet’s brightness increased according to the most optimistic predictions on this day it might be possible to see the comet in the daytime.  The comet’s failure to get brighter at the rate originally predicted means it was actually impossible to view it like this.

What happens during this phase of the comet’s orbit determines how visible it will appear to us. The intense radiation of the Sun caused material to explosively evaporate off the comet. This could have meant the comet would rapidly brighten and develop a more impressive tail, delighting observers, and for a short time this seemed to be happening. Then on 26 November, it was looking increasing like a worst case scenario, to spacecraft the comet seemed to be disintegrating as it moved closer to the Sun, apparently turning into a plume of debris that could rapidly disperse.  However after perihelion a small, much-diminished nucleus was seen to round the Sun. It was the end of the show for amateur observers yet as ISON is to all intents and purposes dead.

 

Looking SE at 7.40 am on 2 December 2013 from UK )Image credit: Colin Johnston/Stellarium)

ISON and planets in dawn sky. Looking SE at 7.40 am on 2 December 2013 from UK. The two bright but unlabelled stars are Arcturus (top) and Spica. (Image credit: Colin Johnston/Stellarium)

 

December

It is now impossible to see this dead comet, but during December 2013 the remains of Comet ISON will be in both the morning and evening sky as it races through the constellations. In early December after 7am it will between  between Libra and Ophiuchus, a couple of weeks later it will be between Serpens and Hercules, on 22 December it will be in Hercules  near the globular cluster M13. By 25 December it will be close to the Plough, and is circumpolar from UK and Ireland, meaning it will be in the sky all night long. On  26-27 December, ISON will be at its closest  to Earth at 64 million km. At the end of December the comet is in Draco and will be  in the north west by evening, in the morning sky before before sunrise in east. Sadly we will not be able to see it.

 

January 2014

On 6 January 2014 Comet ISON’s debris will be near Polaris.

 

(UPDATE: Article last updated on 1 December 2013.)

(Article by Colin Johnston, Science Communicator)


55 Comments

T · December 19, 2013 at 11:59

Hi, whilst driving to Sch yesterday at 8.25am (18th December) my children and myself definitely saw what looked like a comet in the sky.

    admin · December 20, 2013 at 09:20

    Thank for sharing your observations, sorry to say that it wasn’t a comet as at the moment there aren’t any visible to the unaided eye. Once I thought I’d discovered a comet in the early morning sky, but it was an aircraft’s contrail illuminated by the rays of the rising Sun. It did really look like a comet though! Maybe you saw something similar.

      T · December 20, 2013 at 20:47

      What a shame my kids were so excited. Thanks for replying

Sara Garcia Hipolito · December 4, 2013 at 23:05

Hi Colin, Thanks for keeping us updated. Do you know if the remains of ISON will be bright enough to be seen the with naked eye or binoculars?

    admin · December 5, 2013 at 10:37

    I’m sorry to say this not going to be possible, the comet’s nucleus has crumbled to dust so there’s nothing to see. It’s a disappointing end to the ‘Comet of the Century’.

      Sara Garcia Hipolito · December 7, 2013 at 21:07

      Yeah, I thought so 🙁

Niquenak · November 29, 2013 at 21:13

great site, appreciate your patient replies, thankyou for the time and effort you have made to help people understand and locate this, hopefully, dazzling phenomena, we will see, but thanks to you, more of us will know where to look. Heads up look east just before Sunrise, don’t look directly at Sun not even with a darkened lens or glasses. It should be close to the Sun as it is rising, shouldn’t it?
Then somewhere near The Plough, Big Dipper, or Canis Major, in the night time , is this right also?

scousegitt · November 29, 2013 at 13:46

Did ISON survive? this is the question all us astronomers have on their lips…after looking on the net there seems to be mixed answers to the question…when will we know…it is probably still in the glare of the sun at the moment, however we should have our answer very soon and personally I am hoping it will be the answer we want…I am so impatient as I really want to get a look at this.

Jules · November 28, 2013 at 17:49

I have tried the link you put up for someone else so I could put ISON into the Stellarium App, but to no avail. It won’t recognise it. What am I doing wrong? Don’t wanna miss this comet.

ninad · November 28, 2013 at 02:37

hello,
i have seen it on 24 and 25th morning near about 7 am from india but on today ie 28th november i didnt see anything i just want to know

scousegitt · November 26, 2013 at 19:20

Will it be possible to see comet ISON from Blackpool UK if so when and at what times..Thanks

    admin · November 27, 2013 at 09:48

    Please see my response to the comments above yours. Thanks.

erjohn · November 25, 2013 at 13:59

is it possible to see comet ison here in philippines w/ naked eye only?if its yes,when?thanks

    admin · November 25, 2013 at 16:03

    Hi Erjohn, the comet was visible from the Philippines but at the moment it is so close to the Sun that it is lost in the Sun’s glare and impossible to see. It ought to become easier to see in ten days or so as it moves away from the Sun (and assuming it survives perihelion). I will keep updating this site with the latest on its visibility, but to find it in the sky I really recommend you download Stellarium (free!) and add Comet ISON to it (which is easy).

peggy gentry · November 24, 2013 at 22:26

I live in the Southern tip of Indiana. At what time on Thursday will I be able to see the comet?

    admin · November 25, 2013 at 11:39

    Dear Peggy, at the moment it is so close to the Sun that it is lost in the Sun’s glare and impossible to see. It ought to become easier to see in ten days or so as it moves away from the Sun (and assuming it survives perihelion). I will keep updating this site with the latest on its visibility, but to find it in the sky I really recommend you download Stellarium (free!) and add Comet ISON to it (which is easy).

Max · November 24, 2013 at 22:08

Where do we look in the night sky so we can pin point where to see it, because i wouldnt want to miss this fir the world?!!!!!!!

    admin · November 25, 2013 at 11:40

    Dear Max, as I’ve been saying at the moment it is so close to the Sun that it is lost in the Sun’s glare and impossible to see. It ought to become easier to see in ten days or so as it moves away from the Sun (and assuming it survives perihelion). I will keep updating this site with the latest on its visibility, but to find it in the sky I really recommend you download Stellarium (free!) and add Comet ISON to it (which is easy).

Sam Westhead · November 24, 2013 at 16:14

Hi,
I seem to find myself in the Middle East for every significant celestial event which happens during my lifetime (solar eclipse of 1999 and Hale Bopp in ’97) 🙂 and 🙁 as I saw the comet from an aeroplane as I flew to Abu Dhabi but the eclipse was not total.
Anyway, will ISON be visible to me in Eastern Province Saudi Arabia? Can’t seem to find anything about viewing it from Middle Eastern locations anywhere on the Net.
Many thanks in advance (and excitement!)
Sam

    admin · November 25, 2013 at 11:19

    It will be visible from Saudi Arabia, but note at the moment it is lost in the Sun’s glare. It ought to become easier to see in ten days or so as it moves away from the Sun (and assuming it survives perihelion). To find in the sky I really recommend you download Stellarium (free!) and add Comet ISON to it (which is easy).

Richard Budniak · November 23, 2013 at 22:35

I know that comet ison is very significant for many reasons and we are being told to look out for this tiny object in the night sky. In 1962 or 1963 (a long time ago now) my brother and I observed an object the size of a full moon that came into view for about 10 seconds on our way home one evening when it was not yet dark in a clear autumn sky. My brother is eighteen months older than myself and it still sends a shiver up my spine to this day when I talk about it. Having been brought up in the country we were used to shooting stars and the milky way. This object has baffled me for most of my life but no one can even begin to explain what it was. Any ideas? I observed hale bop a few years ago with its tail. The object we observed was out in space, massive and as I said looked like our moon and was cratered with no tail. It moved up from the horizon into the heavens in an ark and at about the 2 o’clock position it appeared to move away so fast that it became a dot in an instant. We just stood there stunned.

    admin · November 25, 2013 at 11:42

    Dear Richard, your description of your sighting is fascinating but I have no idea what you saw. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

Trevor Isom · November 20, 2013 at 13:57

I am interested to know how Comet Ison got its name?

    admin · November 20, 2013 at 17:13

    From 10 Things You Need to Know About Comet ISON

    The discovery of C/2012 S1 (ISON) was announced on 24 September 2012.It was found by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok on CCD images made with a 0.4-m telescope of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) near Kislovodsk, Russia… Strictly speaking this comet should be referred to as Comet C/2012 S1, but it is already universally called Comet ISON in the media. Oddly it has not been named after Nevski and Novichonok

    peggy gentry · November 24, 2013 at 22:28

    ISON is named after the International Scientific Optical Network, used by a pair of Russian astronomers to detect the comet in September last year. But it officially is known as C/2012 S1, a designation indicating when it was discovered.

Gary. · November 19, 2013 at 11:08

Hello all.
If comets are indeed balls of compacted ice how can anybody reasonably expect them to survive a pass through the suns corona, which is millions of degrees?
Surely this is not possible for a ball of ice. The physics just doesn’t work. In a vacuum the boiling point of water is also reduced so how can any comet made of ice survive this?
This assumption by NASA makes no sense whatsoever.
Furthermore NASA’s temple 1 impactor behaved in several unexpected ways.
The bright flash on impact that left mission control stood there on tv going “wth was that?”
The unexpected electrical interference with the camera on the impactor, which increased as the probe got closer.
The evidence of surface erosion that should not have been there.
Add to this,
The lightening/plasma filaments in Damien Peach’s latest pictures.
Electric comet theory explains all of these features, actually predicting them in some cases.
Does this theory have any merit?

    admin · November 19, 2013 at 13:08

    If comets are indeed balls of compacted ice how can anybody reasonably expect them to survive a pass through the suns corona, which is millions of degrees?

    The corona is hot but every cubic metre of corona contains about a billionth of a gram of matter, that’s way too low a density to transfer any significant heat to a body moving through it.

    Surely this is not possible for a ball of ice. The physics just doesn’t work. In a vacuum the boiling point of water is also reduced so how can any comet made of ice survive this?

    Ice can indeed exist in a vacuum, see Europa, the rings and moons of Saturn.

    Furthermore NASA’s temple 1 impactor behaved in several unexpected ways.
    The bright flash on impact that left mission control stood there on tv going “wth was that?”

    I believe that comet’s nucleus was dustier than expected, leading to a more spectacular impact plume than predicted. Thus proving the value of sending probes to Solar System bodies.

    The unexpected electrical interference with the camera on the impactor, which increased as the probe got closer.

    Can you supply any references for the electrical events? I can only find them mentioned on sites where the content seems less than reliable.

    The lightening/plasma filaments in Damien Peach’s latest pictures.

    I think these, lightning especially, are in the eyes of the beholder!

    Electric comet theory explains all of these features, actually predicting them in some cases.
    Does this theory have any merit?

    As far I understand it, “electric comet theory” is a branch of “electric universe theory” which also claims the Sun is a ball of molten iron, that Venus was ejected from Jupiter in historical times and Earth was once a moon of Saturn. Scientists find these ideas worse than wrong.

Ison · November 18, 2013 at 05:50

This is so exciting to our family. We will be observing any chance we get since our family name is Ison! Fun fun! 🙂

David · November 16, 2013 at 11:25

That seems to have done the trick, thanks

Sally Eagles · November 16, 2013 at 01:00

I was just outside and convinced I can see Ison in the sky. I even downloaded a compass to make sure I wasn’t looking at the north star and more it was definitely in the right position you have said.

miss pink · November 15, 2013 at 22:05

Is there a chance it could hit the earth or sun I hope not I’m having nightmares bout it and can’t sleep

    admin · November 18, 2013 at 16:14

    There is absolutely no possibility that this comet will hit our planet or the Sun.

    eddie · December 14, 2013 at 20:24

    IM HAVING NIGHTMARES THAT IT WONT HIT THE EARTH. – DEPRESSED ED.

      admin · December 16, 2013 at 09:49

      I’m not sure why you’re having nightmares, because no part of ISON is going to hit Earth.

John · November 12, 2013 at 21:10

It’s the 13th of November today, and the last photograph says it’s from the 15th of November. Timetravel?

    admin · November 13, 2013 at 09:45

    No, it’s the magic of Stellarium!

    I used the Stellarium software to produce an image of what the sky will look like at that time and date, sorry if that was not clear.

David · November 12, 2013 at 17:30

I’ve had Stellarium for some time and this week I updated all the star charts, but it still doesn’t recognize ISON or C/2012. Is there an extra plug-in or something I should be installing?

Matthew · November 9, 2013 at 02:27

Hey, the January 2014 one will be on my birthday (January 6 2014).

Darren · November 8, 2013 at 07:10

I think I have seen the comet with the naked eye this morning. I noticed a distinctive smudge with the brightest part towards the horizon, and a tail towards the zenith in the pre-dawn sky in the location you have stated!

    admin · November 8, 2013 at 10:28

    I’m sorry but it’s still too faint and small to be seen with the unaided eye. I’m not sure what you saw but I’m glad you’re looking!

      Darren · November 9, 2013 at 00:54

      It definitely looked like a comet. I can remember Hale-Bopp and Halley, and both of them looked just like what I saw. I may have mistaken a jet contrail for it, however, as I am still not used to the insane traffic jam above my head 24/7 as I now live in south eastern London – I also saw over a dozen Jets doing a complicated choreograph, Air traffic control must be stressful here!

      BTW it was dark enough to see the Orion Nebula clearly, and even the haze of smaller stars in the Pleiedes.

        Tom · November 12, 2013 at 16:43

        I live in South East London too, and although off-topic, the air-traffic here is insane. I recently did a time-lapse of the evening skies from about 7-10pm and the resulting trails of lights completely blank out the sky.

        Unfortunately, my view looks North, so don’t think I’ll be catching ISON at any point!

Rita · November 7, 2013 at 05:03

I know this is for the UK but this has got to be the ONLY informative page I have come across, well done and thank you. I wish I could find such an informative page about Comet Ison and where it will be in the sky for Ontario, Canada. No such luck yet, but your dates and times have helped out a lot since we are in the northern hemisphere as well. I know they will not be exact, but, they will help me out significantly. Again thank you so much for writing this and sharing it with everyone.

Ryan · November 5, 2013 at 08:30

This is awsome and i was thinking that intead of blocking out the sun with a building to see it in november you could just use a welding mask or a filter (only a couple of quid for a filter try ebay) this way you can really see the edges of the sun without any glaire and make it possible to see the comets tail. All we need is clear skys :/

    admin · November 5, 2013 at 11:02

    Sorry, but this won’t work. The Sun is many, many times brighter that the comet. A filter heavy enough block out enough sunlight to make it safe to look at the Sun will not allow you to see the comet too.

    Please note that you need No14 or higher welders glass to safely observe the Sun. A NASA site says “Do not view through any welding glass if you do not know or cannot discern its shade number. Be advised that arc welders typically use glass with a shade much less than the necessary #14. A welding glass that permits you to see the landscape is not safe. ”

    We strongly advise against viewing the Sun without professional equipment.

Heather · November 2, 2013 at 00:41

“Where Is Comet ISON In The Sky? | Astronotes” was a great article and also I personally was indeed
quite pleased to locate the article. Thanks a lot-Von

Science Groups · September 16, 2013 at 21:43

Incoming path can be verified but out going return path NOT SUre ,

Could a Comet Hit Mars in 2014 – NOWAY – It reach to close encounter to MARS in OCTO – Nove 2013 – And QUOITE far from MARS. Distance of comet requires closer than the 2.5 X Diameter of Mars to divert the comet towards the Mars to collapse…. Which is not possible but you may go to Mars to see ths close view of Comet ISON 2012
Mars and Comet C/2012 S1 ISON will be within two degrees of each other in the morning sky in September 2013 and within one degree of each other in October 2013.See more
Could a Comet Hit Mars in 2014?
http://www.space.com
The newfound comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) has only a slim chance if hitting Mars.

2013-Oct-01 17:28 00:01 Mars 0.0724878576835433 AU
2013-Dec-26 22:42 00:01 Earth 0.429220399673719 AU

Science Groups sciencegroupofindia@indiatimes.com

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/kutchscience/

stella · September 15, 2013 at 13:12

“On 1 October Comet ISON is at its closest to Mars at about 63 million km”.

I make it less than 11 million km. Who’s right, you or me?

    admin · September 23, 2013 at 11:01

    You’re right! I’ve no idea how that got in there, but I’ve fixed the mistake! Thank you!

Terry Moseley · August 12, 2013 at 10:15

Hi Colin,

That’s a useful and sensible synopsis. Experienced observers might want to try making a special portable round opaque screen to block out the Sun, so that you don’t have to rely on finding a building in just the right place! But as you say, you need to be very careful when observing the sky anywhere near the Sun, especially with telescopes or binoculars.

I’ll be heading to Tenerife in late November to get a better view: the angle of the comet to the Sun and the horizon will be better the further South you are. And even if it fails to live up to the most optimistic predictions, it willl be a nice winter holiday anyway!

Terry

    admin · August 12, 2013 at 11:26

    Good luck Terry!

    Kieran · November 21, 2013 at 22:45

    I’ll be heading to Tenerife in late december, i imagine ill have missed it though by then! 🙁

Comet ISON is coming! How do we find it? | Dr. Natalie Starkey · October 25, 2013 at 09:31

[…] As a cosmochemist I’m not the best qualified to speak about star gazing but I like to give it a go all the same, so here is a link to the Armagh Planetarium advice on how to find ISON if you don’t trust my advice. […]

10 Things You Need to Know About Comet ISON | Astronotes · October 15, 2013 at 03:16

[…] Comet ISON is coming! This new comet was in January 2013 just a dim speck in the constellation Gemini, between the stars Castor and Pollux. Later this year it may develop into the greatest astronomical spectacle in living memory or into a dim and disappointing smudge (although by August 2013 it was looking a tad lackluster). Here is a quick look at why so much is expected of this visitor from deep space. If you are interested in observing it, see Where is Comet ISON in the Sky? […]

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