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Comet ISON has an outburst, flares to near naked-eye visibility! Here's where to look

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 14th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Comet ISON has brightened perceptibly in just one night. Last night, Nov. 13-14, ISON experienced an outburst, bringing it close to naked-eye visibility.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - For the few sky-watchers that braved the morning chill to scope out Comet ISON in the eastern sky, just before dawn, a surprise awaited. Comet ISON, which has been quite faint, even in binoculars, had an outburst, brightening perceptibly to almost naked-eye levels.

The suddenly bright comet jumped to about magnitude 4 or 5 from magnitude 7, in just one night. Sky-watchers can see object at magnitude 4 or less with the naked eye under most conditions.

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The outburst is because ISON is now just two-thirds of the way between the Earth and the Sun. As the comet heats up, it begins to cast off more dust and gas, causing it to brighten.

There are other possibilities. The comet could have ruptured, leading to a massive crack in its body which released extra material. Or the comet could be breaking up, splitting in two pieces or more. When comets break up, as they occasionally do, they may brighten for a while, before being lost.

There is considerable worry that ISON could break up as it rounds the Sun. Passing just three-quarters of a million miles above the surface of the Sun, ISON will be subjected to extreme tidal forces, which could destroy it before it becomes visible to the naked eye. That would be a great disappointment.

However, comets do what they will, and are not subject to the wishes of astronomers. Presently, astronomers are optimistic and think the comet should survive its close approach to the Sun, but that's all speculation.

ISON will whip around the Sun on Nov. 28. If it survives that passage, it is expected to become a very bright object, probably visible throughout the month of December to naked-eye observers.

To see Comet ISON, look east with binoculars just before dawn. The best time is actually before daylight begins to emerge because you want the sky to be dark. The Moon will soon interfere with the display however, as it approaches full and will soon be near the comet in the sky, washing out details with its light.

This interactive model may also help you to spot Comet ISON. Important! Click "Switch to Earth" mode at the top and set the date and time to Nov. 15, 4:01 A.M. to see where you should be looking tomorrow morning.

Still, if Comet ISON is bright, it may be visible as a faint star in binoculars, and a clear smudge in telescopes, even with the full Moon.

Good luck, comet hunters!

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