What will it look like..?

Oh, that’s easy to answer – WE DON’T KNOW!!!


We can’t know. The comet’s appearance at the end of 2013 will depend on many things. It is ABSOLUTELY ONE MILLION PERCENT IMPOSSIBLE to predict exactly what Comet ISON will look like when it puts on its show at the end of the year. But it’s fun – and harmless! – to speculate and to let our imaginations and optimism off the leash, isn’t it? And we can’t help but wonder – how long will the tail be? How bright will the comet be? Will it look like Comet Ikeya-Seki, with a long, narrow tail, or will it look more like Comet McNaught, with a wide, peacock tail? It’s going to be a long time before we find out!

Now, please, listen carefully because this next bit is VERY important.

There are lots of charts on this blog, showing comets with long, long tails, and the first time you see them you’ll probably think “Wow!! Look at that! It’s going to be AMAZING!!!”



These images are to be used and considered as FINDER CHARTS ONLY. The planetarium programs and Android apps they were created with cannot EVER accurately simulate the true appearance of a comet in advance, because no-one can, not really. All these images do is provide you with a guide where to look, and when, ok? They all show strikingly long tails, but DON’T TAKE THE TAIL LENGTH TOO SERIOUSLY! The tail angle on each image is correct, but a) that only represents the ion or “gas” tail of the comet in question, consisting of material blown directly away from the comet nucleus by the solar wind, and b) the comets’ dust tails aren’t shown because their length and appearance simply can’t be calculated either in advance or by this software. PANSTARRS and ISON are both likely to have extensive and curved dust tails which aren’t shown on my charts. And please note that the tail lengths shown on the images is not to be trusted too much either; it’s just drawn in by the software to represent “a comet tail”, with some attempt to simulate its possible length. Honestly, just use these images as a rough guide to where to look for PANSTARRS next Spring and ISON next Winter, ok?

NOTE: Anyone taking images from this blog and putting them on their own website, or in a newsy post about the comet, and claiming I said the comet would look like this, will be… well… well, I’ll be very cross, and they’ll look like an idiot, because I haven’t said anywhere on this blog that the comet will look like my pictures…!

There is a lot of absolute rubbish doing the rounds about these comets, and about ISON in particular, with many websites, newspapers and magazines STILL parroting an early (and since disproved) prediction that it might be “brighter than the Full Moon!” Well, yes, it might, STATISTICALLY be very bright as it rounds the Sun, but that will be when it is crazily close to the Sun in the sky and invisible. If the Sun went out at that time (it won’t, don’t worry!) THEN ISON **MIGHT** appear as a very bright light, but we will NEVER see it that bright in the sky. But it should – if it behaves itself – be more than bright enough to be a striking naked eye sight, and might, MIGHT even become a magnificent sight, but we can’t tell yet.

And if anyone tries to tell you that we can, or tries to tell you that ISON will blaze like the Moon in the sky, then they’re at best ignorant of the facts and at worst telling you a big pants-on-fire fib. You’ll find a whole page on this blog dedicated to “The Full Moon Thing”.

We’ll know more about how bright Comet ISON will be soon, when more observations are in. As I write this, it’s still so faint and so far away that it can only be seen through a pretty large telescope, but as the days and weeks pass it will get steadily brighter until it’s visible to the naked eye at the end of November. Everyone needs to calm down until then.

But in the meantime, of course I couldn’t resist having a go at creating images of what I think ISON **might** look like. The first of these images have been rendered to make them “follow the rules”, as it were, i.e. the angles of the tails shown should be pretty accurate, and their position in the sky too, but they are, PLEASE remember, really just me messing about, I’m no expert!

Nov 29 before sunrise with Moon, Saturn and Mercury

Above: Nov 27th: looking east before sunrise up at Kendal Castle, Comet ISON’s tail visible above horizon,  sharing the pre-dawn sky with Moon and Spica (end of tail) and Saturn and Mercury beside the tail.


Dec 7th sunset Kendal

Above: December 7th after sunset, looking NW… yes, I know that’s a very optimistic rendering, but hey, we can always hope..!

Dec 27 evening Kendal

Above: December 27th, after sunset, looking NW… When I made that picture it was ridiculously optimistic, BUT, now it’s not too crazy actually. Many experts are predicting ISON will have a long, bright tail through December. Will it look *anything* like that? We’ll have to wait and see…

Now, any – or more likely all – of those could be absolutely totally 10000%  wrong, I’m just having a bit of fun, ok? (and it’s my blog so I’m allowed to!) But of course, if any of those views turn out to be accurate then feel free to leave a gushing comment telling me how brilliant my predictions were, hahaha!!!

In the meantime, here are some purely fanciful views, based on nothing more than what I wish the comet would look like in the sky in November and December, again created just for fun, so NO-ONE use them in any blog post or newspaper article and say these are my “predictions” ok?

If ISON looks ANYTHING like that I’ll be more than happy. And, again, recently comet experts have been predicting that ISON will grow a long, bright tail after it rounds the Sun. So maybe we’ll see something like that after sunset on cold, crisp december evenings, or maybe we won’t. Time will tell. The truth is likely to be less impressive than any of my creations here, but we’ll have to wait and see..!

14 Responses to “What will it look like..?”

  1. If the comet was the same as the Great Comet of 1690 would it have been as big as those in any of your idealised images? It was meant to be a very impressive sight and the best comet ever viewed and recorded.

  2. i wish it comes to chicago,il

    • You should be able to see it from Chicago, but the light pollution might outshine the comet. For the best view (and this applies to everything else in the night sky as well), get away from the city.

  3. I like the the composites and truly hope Comet ISON is as beautiful as everyone hopes. If so, it will get everyone around the world interested in comets.

    It would have interesting if the Great Comets of 1680 or 1106 were recorded using apparent magnitude to see how they stack up against comets like Ikeya-Seki, McNaught or ISON.

    For more on Comet ISON (info, images, videos, etc.) visit http://www.fallofathousandsuns.com/comet-ison.html

    • Kev,

      Happy to hear from you, but you don’t have to plug your blog *every* time mate! 😉

  4. obviously like your web-site but you have to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts.
    A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very troublesome to tell the reality nevertheless I’ll certainly come again again.

    • Is this a genuine comment from a reader or spam? Because your punctuation and grammar both need work… 😉

  5. I think it’s a critisicm that has back-fired. He/she ought to check their own before knocking others’ prose and grammar. Personally, I find it refreshing to read a blog where there’s very little, if anything, in the way of error, and I applaud you for that phoenixpics:).

  6. Could it be the great Comet of 1014, 1347 and 1680? That arrives every 333 years to cause havoc. Toxic gases in the comet’s tail responsible for the black death? Which was erroneously blamed on on rats (later flees on rates) despite occurring on islands with no rats. The flees on rats was a revisionist approach when rats tested negative for the Bubonic plague and they had to make up an explanation rather than assimilate the new knowledge.

    • No, it couldn’t. We’re pretty sure this is this comet’s first visit to the inner solar system because we’ve worked out its orbit very accurately. And we also know that comets don’t ’cause havoc,’ That’s just superstitious nonsense. Comets are just balls of dirty ice, they cannot cause earthquakes, natural disasters or trigger plagues. On every day of every year of every century since the Earth formed it has been surrounded and passed by comets, they’re everywhere, all the time, perfectly natural objects, so you might as well blame the Moon, or clouds, or sleeping kittens for our wars, disasters and problems.

  7. how did you do the photos? Like take the picture with nothing and put something on it, is there a program you can do it on?

  8. […] Above: Nov 27th: looking east before sunrise up at Kendal Castle, Comet ISON’s tail visible above horizon,  sharing the pre-dawn sky with Moon and Spica (end of tail) and Saturn and Mercury beside the tail. Photo Credit https://waitingforison.wordpress.com/what-will-it-look-like/ […]

  9. I think it’s a critisicm that has back-fired. He/she ought to check their own before knocking others’ prose and grammar. Personally, I find it refreshing to read a blog where there’s very little, if anything, in the way of error, and I applaud you for that phoenixpics:).
    Hayvanlar Alemi

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