Two weeks from perihelion (its closest approach to the sun), Comet ISON is finally brightening at a rapid pace. Observations taken over the last week had shown the structure of the comet developing. Initially, bifurcation of the comets tail was observed. Shortly thereafter, the tails split into two and three — followed by a disconnection event. All of these were indications of Comet ISON interacting with increased solar winds. Late on Wednesday, amateur astronomers began reporting dramatically increased brightness, and new observations confirm that Comet ISON is likely in “outburst”. Outburst occurs when the comets volatiles (dust, gas, ice on the surface and within the comet) begin to react to the suns heat and solar wind.
It remains to be seen if the outburst will be short lived, or if it will continue until perihelion. The comets fate still is very much up in the air, partly because not much is known about the comets makeup. Originating from the Oort Cloud, Comet ISON is the first of its kind to be observed with modern day instruments. Scientists have been hoping to get a bright, in tact comet to study. But ISON could still break up as it interacts with the suns heat and wind. It could brighten sharply over the next few days and then simply burn out, it could survive until it reaches the sun, or it could survive well past perihelion. The ladder of the three possibilities would offer a terrific show here on earth, as the comet would all but certainly shine extremely bright with a spectacular tail as it moves away from the sun. The next few weeks will certainly be interesting — and we will be watching very carefully! Check out a series of images from the past few days below.
Looking to see Comet ISON right now? You’re in luck, as long as you’re willing to drive 60 to 90 minutes from the city light. You can catch ISON in the pre-dawn east-southeast skies (right before sunrise). ISON will be just above the star Spica, and Mercury will be tucked in just above the horizon. Currently it is easiest to see ISON with a good pair of binoculars or a telescope, but it has been reported as a naked-eye object as recently as Wednesday — and may brighten even more by Friday and this weekend.