WHEN VISIBLE: BEFORE DAWN
THROUGH: A TELESCOPE.
START OF MONTH – LARGE TELESCOPE.
END OF MONTH – SMALL TELESCOPE
Although there’s a faint, fleeting chance that Comet ISON *might* brighten enough to become visible in binoculars by month’s end, nudging magnitude 10, it’s more likely that it will remain so faint it will need a telescope to see it. It may or may not have a tail at this time, we’ll have to wait and see. Whatever it looks like it will be a morning object, and by “morning” of course I mean “pre-dawn” – these charts are drawn for around 4am local time.
As I said already, right through almost until December Comet ISON will be a pre-dawn object, so if you’re wanting to see it you’ll need to be prepared to either lose a lot of sleep or invest in a really reliable alarm clock *without* a Snooze button!
But despite the inconvenience and loss of sleep it will be well worth looking for Comet ISON during September, because it will be close to a very famous star cluster in the sky – M44, the “Beehive Cluster” in Cancer. And in a fantastic coincidence, the planet Mars will move towards,through and then out of the cluster early in the month too, offering up some very interesting photo opportunities for the more advanced astrophotographer.
All the following charts show the view looking roughly east at around 4am on the dates given. A few close-ups show Comet ISON and Mars in relation to the Beehive Cluster.
By this point ISON **might** have brightened to reach magnitude 10, bringing it into range of common pairs of binoculars. I hope so…!
I think that ISON’s waltz with Mars past and through the Beehive Cluster during mid-September is the first real “Must try!” astrophotography opportunity. I’m sure that photographers and observers with more modest equipment will be trying really hard to “bag ISON” at this time. Here’s an animation (you might ned to click on it to set it running, WordPress can be funny that way!) I made showing how ISON and Mars will drift past and through, respectively, the famous and much-loved star cluster. Get your telescopes and cameras ready!
And what might photographs taken during that time show? I’ve had a go at simulating that too… but bear in mind that the comet, Mars and cluster will not be very high in the sky during this period, so any photographs actually taken probably won’t be as dark or as detailed as this. Fun to look ahead tho!