Monday, November 04, 2013

Eyes on ISON

About this time last year the excitement was building that a comet discovered in September 2012 might grow in brightness to become "the Comet of the Century." It was dubbed Comet ISON because it was discovered with a telescope belonging to the International Scientific Optical Network, in Russia. At the time of discovery, it was out beyond the orbit of Jupiter, diving towards the inner Solar System, scheduled for a close approach to the Sun on November 28 of this year.

A month ago, on its inward dive, it passed very close to the orbit of Mars, and Mars just happened to be at that very place in its orbit. Lucky Martians. This past weekend ISON skimmed very close to the Earth's orbit, but we were a quarter of our orbit away. ISON continues to fall Sunward, gathering speed, to zip around the Sun on November 28. If ISON is going to put on a spectacular show, it will be in the week or two that follows.

Alas, I won't be arriving on my dark, mostly cloudless island, with its unimpeded view of the horizons, until December 16. And a full Moon on the 17th.

After its Sun-grazing perihelion, Comet ISON will begin its climb back into the cold, dark attic of the Solar System, making its closest approach to Earth on December 26 (although 40 million miles away), and no doubt fading fast. It will then be high in the northern sky, in the constellation Draco.

Comet of the Century, or a dud? And why, oh why, will I not be at Starlight House, sitting on the warm, dark terrace, as ISON does its screaming roller-coaster loop around the Sun?