ISON Image of the Week

Starry Night (Sep 09, 2013)


On September 5th, 2013, German "amateur" astronomer Bernd Gährken recorded this beautiful star-filled image containing Mars, M44 (the Beehive Cluster) and, of course, comet C/2012 S1 (ISON). [Image credit: Bernd Gährken, Germany]

Compared to how we think it will look a couple of months from now, comet ISON is still a faint target for astronomers and certainly a challenge for astrophotography enthusiasts. However, that did not stop "amateur" astronomer Bernd Gährken from recording this wonderful star-filled image from his home town of Gütersloh, Germany. Admittedly, we need to look rather closely to be able to spot comet ISON in here, but that certainly does not detract from the beauty of seeing Messier 44 (the Beehive Cluster), our favorite Red Planet, and comet ISON, all in the same image!

Over the next few weeks comet ISON will head closer to Mars, making a close approach to the Red Planet on October 1st of this year at a distance of just 0.07AU (6.5 million miles or 10.4 million kilometers). For about 48-hours surrounding this close approach, active science missions from both NASA and ESA will be attempting extensive observations of the comet. While the Martian spacecraft fleet is not at all designed for studying comets, their array of scientific imaging instrumentation presents the potential for valuable observations of the comet that may help us learn more about its size, composition and levels of activity.

In the meantime, terrestrial observers are continuing to image comet ISON with increasing ease as it moves into slightly darker skies, while slowly brightening up at more-or-less the rate we expect from a new Oort Cloud comet. As we have stated on numerous occasions - and as far back as February of this year - there's really no way to predict how bright ISON will be at perihelion, if it will survive its passage, or if it will even get there. However, we still see no compelling reason to back off of our original thinking that it will peak somewhere around -3 to -5 in the hours surrounding perihelion (though will fall rapidly in brightness in the days following).

So while comet ISON is not going to be the "Comet of the Century" that the media (not us!) had hyped it to be, it does continue to be an ever-improving target for amateur and professional astronomers, and is still right on course to be one of the most broadly observed comets in history.

Every week this year we will put up a new image related to Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON). If you have a cool image you'd like us to consider, please send it to sungrazer@nrl.navy.mil, along with a description and any credits you would want applied. We'll contact you if we choose to use your image on the CIOC Website.

See our ISON Image of the Week Archives for earlier picks!