VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: These charts are drawn for what is commonly called “mid Northern latitudes”, i.e. the UK, northern Europe and most of the US. If you live outside of that area your opportunities to view ISON will be different. To find out if you can see ISON from where YOU live, please go to this page of my blog…
…where you’ll find a fantastic NASA chart giving general guidance, and a number of charts I’ve made showing the comet’s visibility from other places, specifically India, Japan and The Philipines, which are the places I’m getting the most enquiries from. If you’re still not sure about your ability to see ISON after reading all that, I strongly suggest that you download one of the many available astronomy apps onto your phone, which will tell you exactly what you want to know. I recommend some of those on this page of my blog…
Thanks – and good luck with ISON!
UPDATE: 20th NOVEMBER 2013
There are a LOT of charts on this page, and all of them will be useful to you one way or another, I hope. But I’m aware that some of you visiting here just want a very quick “Where is it? SHOW me!!” guide to where to find the comet, so I’ve come up with some extremely simple charts for you! I hope you’ll scroll down the page and see the others, too, but in the meantime these should help you until month’s end.
NOV 21st: Comet ISON VERY low in the eastern sky before dawn, and hard to see because of the brightening sky and the glare of the nearby Moon, too. You’ll need binoculars to find it.
Nov 23rd: Even lower and even harder to see now, use the planets Mercury and Saturn, shining close together before dawn, as your guides…
Nov 24th: I’m not sure if it will even be possible to spot ISON by this time, but it can’t hurt to try…! We probably will lose sight of ISON now for a few days as it approaches and then swoops around the Sun…
Nov 30th: Having rounded the Sun a couple of days before, ISON will hopefully survive to reappear in the morning sky, this time over to the left of Mercury and Saturn. We won’t know if it will have a long or bright tail until we see it!
WHEN VISIBLE: BEFORE DAWN
THROUGH: BINOCULARS UNTIL MID-MONTH, THEN NAKED EYE
*** UPDATE ***
The text written below was all written well in advance, so I thought I’d do a bang up to date update! As I write this, Comet ISON is going a bit nuts. After weeks of being a frankly disappointing sight in the morning sky – nowhere near bright enough to be seen without a telescope or a really powerful pair of binoculars, and even then it has looked like little more than a faint, fuzzy star, with a short stiletto spike tail – it has now burst into life, and is visible to the naked eye as a green star low in the east before sunrise, with a misty tail stretching up and away from it several times as long as the Moon is wide. It has brightened suddenly and dramatically – why? Well, either it is just finally “turning on”, as we have been expecting it to, or it is breaking up and this sudden brightening is a sign of it falling apart. But we don’t know yet. All we know is that it is now much easier to see and photograph, and if it continues to brighten like this we might be in for a real treat after it rounds the Sun at the end of this month.
But you’re here because you want to find the comet, right? There are lots of charts below, but let me show you quickly and clearly exactly where and when to look for it with a chart specially made for absolute beginners…
Click on that to enlarge it.
So, to find ISON, go out at around 05.30, look for the Big Dipper or The Plough or whatever you call it, follow the curve of its tail down to the lower right, to a bright blue star, Arcturus, then keep going along the same arc until you come to another star, Spica. Comet ISON is currently close to this star. If you can see Spica, you should be able to see ISON, it’s as simple as that. Look for a greenish star with what looks like a short length of airplane vapour trail – but fainter and mistier – stretching away from it. If you don’t spot it immediately don’t give up, keep trying. And if you have a pair of binoculars, sweep the sky around Spica with them, they’ll pick up the comet easily.
You will greatly increase your chances of seeing ISON if you go somewhere dark, away from streetlights and light pollution. You want a low, uncluttered eastern horizon to0 – the comet is so low that any trees or buildings on your horizon could well cover it. So get out of town (if you can), find somewhere dark, with a low, flat eastern horizon, and then give yourself a while to adapt to the darkness – your eyes need time to adjust to it. You won’t need binoculars to see it, but if you have a pair take them with you, they’ll make the comet look bigger and brighter and bring out detail in its tail too. Don’t worry if you haven’t got a telescope, you honestly don’t need one to see ISON. And if you want to take photos of ISON, I have a full guide to how to do that on my other blog – “Waiting for ISON” – which I’m updating daily with ISON news and info. The guide to photographing Comet ISON is here.
I’m also recording my own observations, and my photos – taken with very modest equipment – will give you a good idea of what to look for. Go to this page: http://waitingforison.wordpress.com/updates-november-2013-1/
Nov 16th 2013
November is when Comet ISON should really start to show us its true colours. This is the magic period when, if it’s not going to let us all down and fizzle out, it will brighten enough to become visible to the naked eye from a dark location. If you live somewhere with a lot of light pollution, you might struggle. You’ll also need as flat a south eastern horizon as possible because the comet will be quite low in the sky when the sky is at its darkest.
During November the comet will be screaming in towards the Sun, in advance of its sweep around it on Nov 28th/29th, so each morning in the month it will be a little closer to the Sun and a little harder to see in the brightening sky. But by this time hopefully it will be a lot more active, and we’re all crossing our fingers that by November ISON will have a respectable tail – shooting up from the south eastern horizon at a sharp angle – and might be an impressive object in the sky to the naked eye alone by the end of the month. Even if it isn’t, it might offer a lot of fascinating detail and structure in its tail to people who own binoculars and telescopes. It should be easier to photograph at this time too.
It’s worth noting that during mid November, as it (hopefully!) becomes a naked eye object, Comet ISON will be in a very “busy” part of the sky. Mars will be “behind” it, at the end of its tail, and Mercury will be “ahead” of it, low on the horizon. And another comet – Comet ENCKE, which will be much smaller and fainter than ISON – will be in the same part of the sky too! Lots of photographs will be taken around this time.
By November 26th or so, unless it is dramatically active, we will probably lose the comet’s head from view, it will be so close to the Sun, but it will still be worth looking for the tail poking up from the horizon, looking like a searchbeam. There’s no guarantee that will actually happen, but it might, so do have a look if you possibly can. You’ll kick yourself later if you read that it was visible, and see lovely photographs of it, but you didn’t go and look for it!
On November 28th and 29th, the comet will be so close to the Sun that its tail will probably be drowned out by the Sun’s glare. BUT, there’s a chance we MIGHT be able to see the comet’s head shining *in the daytime*, looking like a fuzzy star, or spark, close to the Sun itself. It might be visible to the naked eye, but more likely it will require binoculars to find it. Even then it will only be visible if the brilliant Sun is obscured by a cloud, a building or maybe even a raised hand. Consequently, seeing it will require INCREDIBLE care, you must absolutely make sure there’s not even a hint of a chance of catching a glimpse of the Sun while you’re looking for the comet, especially if you’re looking for it with binoculars or a telescope! But there’s a tantalising possibility that, with a lot of care and a little luck, we might be able to see Comet ISON in the daytime sky on the 28th and/or 29th. The charts below will give you a guide where and when to look for it at that time.
And again, please remember, the tail lengths shown on these charts should be taken with a bucketful of salt. Only use them as a guide for where the comet will be, and don’t expect its tail to look anything like as dramatic as it does in the pictures! (But cross your fingers that it might…!)
Note: these next images are intended to show you where Comet ISON will be in relation to the Sun during the daytime on Nov 28th and 29th. The sky is black because I’ve “switched off” the Sun using the software to show the comet’s position relative to the Sun. Tigure given is how far apart the comet and Sun are in degrees – if you’re a non-astronomer it might help you to know that the Moon is roughly half a degree across. The images showing a silhouetted hand are intended to be very rough guides as to where the comet should be in relation to the Sun if it is blocked out effectively, with a hand or a building. But they are just rough guides. And remember, NEVER, EVER look for the comet with binoculars or a telescope if the Sun is visible or might become visible.
That would be lovely to see, wouldn’t it? Fingers crossed! (But don’t hold your breath!)