Great Comet on the way for November 2013?
By Patrick Comins on September 26, 2012, 8:15pm
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I’m taking yet another detour today as there is potentially big news in the astronomical world. Two comets are coming to our skies in 2013, both have the potential to be naked eye objects and one has the potential to be a truly great comet!
I have been interested in astronomy even longer than I have been interested in birds or just about anything else for that matter. One of my earliest memories is being brought outside late at night to see Comet Bennet, which shone at its peak brightness of 0 in March 1970. Somehow, I missed Comet West, but looked forward my whole life to 1986 when Halley’s Comet was scheduled to return. I was disappointed by its poor showing on that trip around the sun, but did lug my old 6” Newtonian reflector to the top of Horsebarn Hill to catch a glimpse. My comet fever got further stoked in 1996 and 1997 when Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp gave us a 1-2 punch show. I got a tease before Comet McNaught (pictured above, photo unfortunately not by me!) dove behind the sun before it went on to give the greatest comet show in the photographic era to observers in the Southern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, it was cloudy here for the days when it was visible in broad daylight. Now we have a chance for another cometary double header in 2013!
The discovery of a new, large sungrazing comet was announced this week. Dubbed C/2012 S1 (ISON) it may reach negative magnitudes (the lower the magnitude the brighter) as it plunges very close to the sun in late November, 2013. It may even drop into the low negative magnitudes, perhaps as low as -7 or even -10, nearly as bright as the full moon and brilliant enough to be seen in broad daylight! http://remanzacco.blogspot.it/2012/09/new-comet-c2012-s1-ison.html
Unlike the last two great comets (McNaught and Lovejoy), which were visible at peak brightness only in the Southern Hemisphere, this one should be visible at our latitude from November 2013 through early 2014. First as a morning object and then disappearing behind the sun (unless it lives up to its potential to be a rare daylight comet), only to come back for a command performance in the evening sky. Every comet is unique, so no one really knows how it will behave, and there is still a chance it could fizzle. Sometimes comets, on their first trip around the sun expend their volatile gasses and dust while still far out in the solar system and end up disappointing as they approach the sine, like the Kohoutek flop of 1973/4. Sometimes though, they even exceed expectations. For now at least though it appears that it has the potential to be a great comet, even brighter than Hale Bopp (1997), McNaught (2007), West (1976) or even the great comet of 1680, AKA Newton’s comet. For an animation of where the comet will be seen in the sky between November 18th and 25th 2014 please see: http://www.fototime.com/95413C237AB9209/convx264.mp4
If all goes as predicted, the comet should reach naked eye visibility in early to mid-November 2013, brightening quickly each day as it drops towards the eastern horizon and perhaps exceeding the brightness of Venus as it grazes the sun’s surface and reappears as an evening object in early December. If the comet survives its close encounter with our star it could become a spectacular and bright object in the evening sky as it eventually passes less than half the distance of the earth to the sun by early January, 2014. Sungrazing comets often develop long and/or spectacular tails after their close encounter with Sol.
But that’s not all; another comet is coming to our skies in March, 2013, C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS, named after the telescope that was used to discover it. This comet is predicted to reach into the low negative magnitudes, perhaps as bright as Hale-Bopp at its peak. There is one catch though; it will be very low on the western horizon when this happens. This means that it may be hard to spot in the fading twilight and, as is often the case in our area, clouds at the horizon and even trees could interfere with our observing. We will need clear skies and a good western horizon to view this one. It will eventually rise from the twilight, but by this point it will likely have faded to the point where binoculars and dark skies may be necessary for a good view. Panstarrs could still surprise us though and also be a great comet if it experiences an outburst in early March and should make for some great photo ops as it slips past the Andromeda Galaxy in early April. More information on PANSTARRS can be found here: http://astrobob.areavoices.com/2012/05/28/panstarrs-the-next-bright-comet/
For lots of useful information on both comets, please see: http://www.curtrenz.com/comets
And to keep up to date on both of these comets, you can like my comet page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CometPanstarrs
Finally, to whet your appetite, I had mentioned that McNaught was the greatest comet of the photographic age, some amazing photos of that southern comet can be found here. (Drool): http://www.cometmcnaught.net/mcnaughtphotogallery4.htm
Getting back to migration weather, Bluff Point guru Dave Provencher recently posted that he does not expect any big days at Bluff in the next few days, but that we should stay tuned for a potentially huge flight around October 2nd.
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