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What's In the Sky
November / December 2013

By Libby and Robert Strong, SMART Centre Market

If you love sky-watching or know someone who does then you probably have heard about Comet ISON, or the Thanksgiving Comet of 2013. If you have not heard about Comet ISON yet, you soon will. Many astronomers are already calling Comet ISON the comet of the century.

A comet is often called a "dirty snowball" made of dust, grit, frozen water, and gases left over from the time when the Sun, planets, and their moons were forming. Most of the comets are found in a distant cloudlike swarm (called the Oort Cloud) that surrounds the Sun and extends half way to the closest stars. From the distance that Comet ISON orbited the Sun in the Inner Oort Cloud, the Sun would look like a very bright star, 1/30 the brightness of the full Moon as seen in Earth's skies. Comet ISON is a mountain sized gritty iceberg "nucleus" about 5 km (3 miles) across tumbling quietly in the dim cold 3,500 times further from the Sun than the Earth. For 4.6 billion years the nucleus of Comet ISON remained in the deep frigid dark of the Oort Cloud. Then 36,600 years ago some event, a bump perhaps by another Oort Cloud ice mountain, caused Comet ISONs orbital path around the Sun to slow just enough to let it fall in toward the Sun, slowly building up speed along the way.

Then 366 centuries later ... Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) was discovered on September 21st, 2012 by two Russian amateur astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok using the 40 cm (16 inch) reflector telescope of the International Scientific Optical Network. Thus the nickname ISON, which is easier for Americans to say than Comet Nevski-Novichonok.

When astronomers studied the orbital path of Comet ISON as it fell toward the Sun and began to warm and form a coma (cloud like head) around the nucleus and a tail, they found that Comet ISON was not a periodic comet. A periodic comet is a comet that orbits the Sun by passing close to the Sun and then out into the Solar System over and over again. This means that Comet ISON will only pass close to the Sun once and then will be flung out among the closest stars perhaps to be a comet some day in the skies of another world of another sun.

wits nov dec 2013

The above image is from the Hubble Space Telescope taken October 9, 2013.

Comet ISON will be visible to us on Earth in the eastern sky before dawn in mid to late November 2013. As the days go by Comet ISON will fall closer and faster toward the Sun. On Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 2013, Comet ISON will reach perihelion - the point in its orbital path that brings it closest to the Sun. On Thanksgiving Day Comet ISON will reach its top speed of 684,000 km/hour (425,000 miles/hour) and be only 1,165,000 km (724,000 miles) from the surface of the Sun. This is only 3 times further from the Sun's surface than the surface of the Moon is to the Earth. If you could safely ride on the surface of Comet ISON during perihelion, the Sun would be 1/3 of size of the sky across and be nearly 17,000 times brighter than seen from Earth. Comets that get real close to the Sun like Comet ISON are termed "sungrazers". The surface of Comet ISON facing the Sun will reach temperatures of 2,700 degrees C (4,890 degrees F). This is 1.5 times hotter than the interior of the Iron Furnaces that are found in the Ohio Valley. During this perihelion solar flyby the thermal and tidal stresses on Comet ISON may be so extreme that the nucleus may shatter and we may just see a giant pearly sky smudge on the evenings of November 28th and 29th just after sunset.

If Comet ISON survives the powerful tidal twisting and tugging of the Sun's gravity and the intense blast furnace temperatures of perihelion, the sunset sky of Thanksgiving Day will include a beautiful comet tail pointing away from the Sun into the sky.

Activity: Viewing Comet ISON Before November 28th, 2013.

You Need:
a) To set your alarm clock to an hour before dawn.
b) Set out warm clothes the night before – you will be sleepy when you get up early. These warm clothes include multiple layers, hat, gloves, scarf, and boots. Blankets are good to bring.
c) Select a place for watching Comet ISON that has a good view of the eastern horizon.
d) Bring a pair of binoculars: (7x35 are good, 10x50 are better, 12x60 even better).
e) If you want to take pictures of Comet ISON, bring a camera (learn the day before how to take long exposure images) and tripod.
f) Do not forget snacks and a thermos of hot chocolate and cups.

On the morning of November 17, 2013 at 5:30 a.m. the members of ASTROLABE Astronomy Club, SMART-Center, and the Near Earth Object Foundation will be at Grand Vue Park, at the ZipLine Adventure Area, Shelter #1 to watch the pre dawn Leonids Meteor Shower and view Comet ISON. This event is free and open to the public.

 

Unfortunately, the Comet broke up after "getting too close to the sun", so viewing after Thanksgiving this year was not possible.

Two back-to-back programs are scheduled on the evening of November 29th, 2013. From 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. the members of ASTROLABE Astronomy Club, SMART-Center, and the Near Earth Object Foundation will host a Comet ISON Comet Watch at SMART Centre Market, located at 30 22nd Street, Wheeling, WV. Then from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. there will be a presentation Fifth Friday Science Lecture Series: Near Earth Objects - Threats, Mitigation, and Utilization also at SMART Centre Market. Both of these events are free and open to the public.

The following is a key to finding and viewing the brighter planets of the Solar System from mid-November 2013 to January 1st 2014. Make sure you attend a StarWatch to see these celestial wonders through a telescope (if you do not already own one).

November 15, 2013
Sun: safely look at the Sun for Sunspots as we are still in the "Solar Maximum"
Mercury: rising low in SE just before dawn – bright but maybe hard to see
Venus: setting low in SW after sunset – Can't miss it
Mars: half-way up the sky in SE predawn – medium bright
Jupiter: 2/3 up sky in SW predawn – very bright
Saturn: rising in ESE dawn sky – too close to the Sun to see

December 1, 2013
Sun: safely look at the Sun for Sunspots as we are still in the "Solar Maximum"
Mercury: rising very low in SE before dawn – bright but hard to see
Venus: setting low in SW after sunset – Can't miss it
Mars: more than half-way up the sky in SSE predawn – medium bright
Jupiter: 1/2 up sky in WSW predawn – very bright
Saturn: rising in low in ESE predawn sky – medium bright

December 15, 2013
Sun: safely look at the Sun for Sunspots as we are still in the "Solar Maximum"
Mercury: rising very low in SE before dawn – to close to the Sun to see
Venus: setting lower in SW after sunset – Can't miss it
Mars: more than half-way up the sky in SSW predawn – medium bright
Jupiter: 1/4 up sky in WSW predawn – very bright
Saturn: rising 1/4 up in SE predawn sky – medium bright

January 1, 2014
Sun: safely look at the Sun for Sunspots as we are still in the "Solar Maximum"
Mercury: rising and setting with Sun – to close to the Sun to see
Venus: setting very low in SW just after sunset – hard to see
Mars: 1/2 up the sky in SSW predawn – getting brighter
Jupiter: rising in ENE sky after dusk, sets at dawn WNW – very bright
Saturn: rising 1/3 up in SSE predawn sky – medium bright

If you are interested in seeing these and other celestial objects through a telescope, we invite you and your family and friends to join the staff of the SMART-Centre, Near Earth Object Foundation, and SMART Centre Market at one of our many StarWatches. Check out our calendar of events for future StarWatch opportunities at our website www.smartcentremarket.com

Additionally, the SMART Centre Market is the regional dealer for Orion Telescopes. When you need a telescope or telescope accessories let us help you find what fits your needs within your budget.

 

Moon Phase

Moon phase
Phase:
Waxing
Illuminated:
26%
Age:
5 days
Distance:
385,243 Km
Time:
07:29:21 EST
Date:
01-22-2018
mod_psdn_moonphase by psdn.net