WASHINGTON, November 27, 2013 — As Comet ISON approaches perihelion — its closest approach to the sun, 730,000 miles or 1.2 million kilometers — hopes are growing that it will survive to put on a spectacular show in December and January. If ISON isn’t vaporized or torn apart by the sun and if it isn’t separated from its tail by a blast of solar wind, it should be dazzling.
Following are a few suggestions to increase your chances of seeing the “Comet of the Century”
1. Timing: ISON will be brightest in the hour before the sun comes up. You can calculate sunrise time for your area here.
2. Clear skies: ISON will not be visible if there is too much cloud cover. Clear Sky Chart is a 48-hour astronomer’s forecast that can predict whether the sky will be clear and dark at a certain location.
3. Dark skies: City lights can obstruct viewing of ISON, and it will appear brightest in the sky away from city lights. Dark Sky Finder shows light pollution in and around North American cities.
4. Where to look: Look east toward where the sun will rise. Comet Watch is a free app that points users in the direction of ISON, updated by the minute. “The easiest way to find it is to look for Mars, and then draw a line down to the east — right where you think the sun is going to rise,” said NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign (CIOC) coordinator Carey Lisse to the LA Times.
5. Perihelion: Comet ISON 2013 has a live countdown to perihelion, set to happen on November 28 at 18:37:45 (1:37 pm EST).
According to Universetoday.com, on the morning of November 28, ISON will be about 2.5 degrees from the edge of the sun, which will decrease to .5 degrees by perihelion around midday in the U.S. ISON will be difficult to see at perihelion because it will be very close to the sun and viewers risk eye damage.
6. Risk of eye damage from the sun on perihelion: U.S. observers risk eye damage if they stare into the sun at midday on Thanksgiving to catch a glimpse at ISON. Instead there are several websites that will broadcast the event live.
7. Latest news and data on ISON: CIOC has regularly updated data and news on ISON their website. Comet ISON 2013 also has a live feed of ISON’s speed, distance from the sun, distance from the Earth, and estimated magnitude.
8. No time like the present: As several observers have stated, while ISON may be currently visible during the hour before dawn, its core could break up at any time, so if you want to see it, do it now.
9. Patience: It takes your eyes about 20 minutes to adapt to the darkness, so give yourself plenty of time before dawn to get outside and get comfortable. If you don’t see ISON where you should, give it a few minutes, look at other parts of the sky and try again.
10. Luck: Several news outlets have speculated that ISON may be breaking up and won’t survive its trip around the sun, as observers Tuesday reported ISON is getting less bright. However, other observers, including some at NASA’s STEREO spacecraft state that there is evidence that ISON’s core is still intact.