Comet ISON shines in this five-minute exposure taken at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center on Nov. 8. At the time, the comet was 97 million miles from Earth, heading toward a close encounter with the sun on Nov. 28. Located in the constellation of Virgo, it is now visible in a good pair of binoculars.
Credit: NASA/MSFC/Aaron Kingery
The potentially dazzling Comet ISON has brightened enough on its highly anticipated approach toward the sun that it's now visible through a decent pair of binoculars.
Skywatchers around the world have recently used binoculars to spot Comet ISON, which is streaking toward a close encounter with the sun on Nov. 28 that will bring the icy wanderer within just 730,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) of the solar surface.
"I have made my first confirmed binocular sighting of C/2012 S1 ISON as well," Pete Lawrence, of the town of Selsey in the United Kingdown, told the website Spaceweather.com on Saturday (Nov. 9). "ISON's head appears small and stellar through a pair of 15x70s optics." [See amazing photos of Comet ISON by stargazers]
Comet ISON is cruising through the constellation Virgo at the moment and is visible in binoculars low in the predawn eastern sky, Spaceweather.com reports. The comet is currently as bright as an 8th magnitude star — too dim to be seen with the naked eye but easy to spot with binoculars or a small telescope.
ISON was discovered by two Russian amateur astronomers in September 2012, giving scientists more than a year to prepare for its close solar flyby. Researchers have been tracking the comet with a variety of instruments on the ground and in space, hoping to learn about ISON's composition by watching which gases boil off its surface at various distances from the sun.
Skywatchers have had a keen interest in ISON as well, for the comet could put on a great show in December if it survives its close pass by the sun later this month.
While some researchers have voiced optimism that ISON will hold together, there are certainly no guarantees; it's tough to predict the behavior of any comet, particular a "dynamically new" one such as ISON that's making its first trip to the inner solar system from the distant and frigid Oort Cloud.
Editor's note: If you snap an amazing photo of Comet ISON or any other celestial sight that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org.