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How to catch a glimpse of Comet ISON this week, next month

This week could offer a chance to see Comet ISON in the pre-dawn sky, though the best chances come next month, assuming the comet survives a close pass by the sun.

The comet is on its way toward the sun, so with each passing day, it gets closer to dawn and harder to see, even though the comet itself is brightening, said Dean Hines, a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

Unless you are in an area with a very dark sky, binoculars or a telescope are needed. There have been some reports of the comet becoming visible to the naked eye in areas far from light pollution.

Look to the east-southeast sky about 30 minutes before sunrise, which occurs just before 7 a.m. this time of year. As of Monday morning, the comet rose as high as 10 degrees above the horizon before morning twilight caused it to fade. 

By Nov. 24, four days before the comet's closest pass by the sun, the comet will line up with Mercury and Saturn about 45 minutes before sunrise.

While it could be hard to spot with the naked eye or binoculars, another way to capture it is using a digital camera, Hines said. A relatively narrow field of view, such as using a 50-millimeter lens, and a long exposure, of at least a minute, could capture the comet, he said.

A digital SLR camera on a sturdy tripod is best; a smartphone camera won't do the trick, he said.

Assuming the sun's heat doesn't break the comet into pieces, it will be easier to spot throughout December.

Scientists are eagerly gathering observations as ISON nears the sun to determine how it is faring, but so far, appears OK, Hines said.

"There's no indication it has fragmented. It does have some interesting structure," Hines said. "That's all good news."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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