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ISON comet arrives in November

By Larry Mahon

Agate Ridge Observatory

Venus is still in the evening sky and will start its western motion late this month. It reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun on Nov. 1, but is at its lowest to our horizon on Nov. 6, when it is less than 18 degrees above it. This is its lowest since 1930.

Venus is approaching Earth and increases in diameter from 25 to 37 arc seconds and changes to a larger crescent shape. It also increases in brightness from -4.5 to an awesome -4.8 magnitude.

Jupiter, in Gemini, rises at about 10 p.m. PDT on Nov. 1, and about 7 p.m. PST on Nov. 30. The planet has started moving westward in relation to the stars. It also heads northward, passing the ecliptic on Nov. 9, for the first time in six years. The planet increases in size from 41 to 45 arc seconds and its magnitude increases from -2.4 to -2.6. Viewing of Jupiter will improve this month as these changes occur.

Mars rises at about 2:30 a.m. PDT on the first the month and around 1 a.m. PST, on Nov. 30. The red planet brightens this month to +1.2. Mars will be 13 1/2 degrees to the lower left of the moon on the morning of Nov. 26.

Comet ISON races from Leo across Virgo and Libra into Scorpius this month. On Nov.1, it should be close to 6th magnitude. It is still a good 52 degrees from the sun. It is quite high in the south-southeast at the first sign of dawn. But it will appear quite a bit lower — and probably brighter – each morning as it approaches its rendezvous with the sun on Nov 28. Looking east-southeast, the Comet ICON passes the planet Mercury an hour before sunrise on the morning of Nov.22.

I quote from Sky and Telescope: “Anything could still happen. ISON’s nucleus is not very big as comets go: less than three miles (5 km) in diameter. At perihelion, there is certainly a good chance that it will come apart. A disintegration that late in the game would be good news for eager sky watchers, because a swarm of rubble would expose more icy surface to the solar boiling. The more gas and dust that are released, the longer and brighter the tail will be in the following days and weeks.”

“On the other hand if the nucleus breaks up long before perihelion, the debris will spread out and perhaps become too diffuse to see at all.” Happy viewing.




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