How to see Comet ISON - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

How to see Comet ISON


ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) -- The mornings of November and December have been circled by sky watchers since Comet ISON was discovered last year.  Some called it the comet of the century, but so far it has been anything but.

Comet forecasting is extremely difficult simply because comets come from the far reaches of our solar system. It was the hope that this comet called ISON would be putting on a show right now, but so far it's been falling short of expectations.

"Comets are like cats, they have a tail and they do what they want," said Macalester College Observatory Manager Brian Adams.

Now is about the time ISON should be blowing us away with breathtaking views. Brian Adams manages the observatory at Macalester College in St. Paul and has been looking through telescopes for many years.

"Comet of the century, that's not going to happen I'm sorry to say," Adams said.

And it's not even close right now. What was hoped to be providing naked eye views can't even be picked up with a good pair of binoculars

"I would expect to see something that's obvious to the eye under reasonably darkened skies and stretching a great angular span so it would be obvious," said Mayo High School Planetarium Director Larry Mascotti.

ISON is coming to us from the Oort Cloud which is a body of comets way beyond Pluto. To put it into perspective the Voyager probe has been traveling through space for 36 years, and according to NASA scientists, is still about two to three hundred years away from reaching it.

"What we know about these types of comets is they tend to brighten fairly rapidly when they are first discovered in the first portion of their trip," Adams said.

"These are icebergs that are tumbling and as a result it's hard to know what side is going to be facing Earth," Mascotti said.

But not all is lost. ISON is a sun grazing comet, meaning it will get very close to the sun. If ISON survives the trip around the sun, it's journey back to outer space should provide some excitement.

Comet Hale-Bopp in the 90s was very bright as you may remember. The nucleus of that comet was much bigger than ISON's. The close encounter with the sun for ISON will be happening the morning of Thanksgiving Day. The best chance to see ISON is in the southeast sky about an hour before sunrise on Thursday.

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