Comet ISON Visits Later This Year main content.

Comet ISON Visits Later This Year

by Steve Beyer on


Comet Hale-Bopp
Photo of Comet Hale-Bopp, March 1997.
Credit: Philipp Salzgeber

Pleasures of viewing bright comets have been sprinkled through the years of my life. Memories began with comet Arend-Roland seen in the western evening sky over waters of the Narrows and Staten Island during the spring of 1957. I next remember two brilliant comets—Bennett in 1970 and the great bicentennial comet West in 1976, with its red, white, and blue tail. Famous but much fainter comet Halley arrived in 1986, and then came beautiful Hale-Bopp in the spring of 1997.

Any list of famous comets should also note Kohoutek. That comet’s approach was eagerly anticipated for many months and for over a year it was heralded as the “Comet of the Century.” But it wasn’t—few ever saw it. After plotting its position on a star chart and using binoculars I did manage to glimpse Kohoutek in 1973, but it took several minutes of scanning and star-hopping. Millions who had keenly looked forward to seeing it blaze in celestial glory were very disappointed. Comets may rather suddenly brighten, fade, produce multiple tails, or even break apart, regardless of the best available predictions.

Now the stage is set for what might be another spectacular comet. With the name ISON and official designation C/2012 S1, it's expected to be nearest the sun on November 28, 2013. Some suggest it may be as bright as marvelous comets of the past half century—or perhaps exceed them!


In any event we’ll be following developments in Sky Reporter. I’m getting especially pumped about its possibilities because comet ISON will be rounding past the sun on the date of my next decadal birthday.