We still don’t know how bright Comet ISON will be, but if it is bright you will want to be ready for this once or twice in a lifetime event. Chances are good we will only have a couple of good days to observe it. Weather is the primary concern. Clouds are very effective hiding comets and infuriating observers.
Mark your calendars. The best dates for observing the comet will the first two weeks in December. The comet will be its brightest at the beginning of the month, and at its best between December 1 and December 5. Plan on getting up before sunrise, and keep your schedule flexible. Weather is likely to be a factor.
Choose a good location. The comet will be low in the east-southeast horizon just before sunrise. You want a location where the east-southeast horizon is free of obstructions. Speaking from experience, trees and buildings have a nasty habit of putting themselves between you and what you want to look at. This means you may have to drive to a location. Darker skies are preferable to city light-polluted skies.
Plan your time. Local sunrise for Aurora, CO occurs at 7:00am MST on the December 1. At 7:13am MST on December 15. You want to be ready to observe at least 30 minutes before local sunrise. If you are east of Aurora your local sunrise will be earlier, if west local sunrise will be later. If you do not live in Aurora, you can go on the internet to look up your local sunrise times. Minutes will count especially at the beginning of the month when the comet is closest to the Sun. The Sun has a nasty habit of rising right on schedule and is very effective at preventing you from seeing stars, planets, and comets.
Get your equipment ready.
- Optical aids: First let me say that if you do not own a telescope DO NOT GO OUT AND BUY A TELESCOPE JUST TO SEE COMET ISON. Comet ISON could fizzle. Visible comets are very big. Your eyes will do just find. If you have a telescope great, but you are likely not use it to see the comet unless you like looking at a fuzzy blob . Binoculars can useful, but they are really not needed unless the comet is dim. Again don’t go buy binoculars just for ISON, although they also make great low power telescopes for astronomy.
- Cameras: If you own a camera and if this comet is bright you are going to want to take a picture. Most any digital camera can work but you may have to learn a lot more about your camera than you wanted to know especially if you have not taken pictures low light conditions. If you are interested on how to do this go here. If you can photograph stars you will get the comet! This is time to get some practice in.
The latest measurements (Oct. 16) indicate the comet could be easily visible, but it is still too early to know for sure. We should have a pretty good idea what to expect by mid-November, but as of right now the light curves are encouraging.
Wishing you clear skies