UPDATE: Tuesday February 4th 2014: A Last Look At Lovejoy…

Well, our ridiculously bad weather has continued, with day after day, night after night of cloud and wind and rain. I don’t mind it raining now and again – after all, it’s why the Lake District HAS lakes – but this relentless face-slapping by storm after storm is just depressing. Compared to other parts of the UK Cumbria has got off lightly, of course. Down in the south of the country, floods have caused utter, utter misery, and your heart has to go out to the people who have lost homes and businesses. But across the whole of the country we’re all sick of trudging about feeling damp and soggy and cold; squelching up into town for shopping and back again; never catching more than a fleeting glimpse of the Sun. And stars? Forget them.

But the other morning – January 30th – the rain stopped and the clouds parted just long enough to let me hare up to my forest clearing and look for Comet Lovejoy one last time. And not only did I see it, I managed to get a photograph too.

…and I really do think this will be my last look at Lovejoy. It’s really small and faint and low and hard to see now, an emaciated, shrunken shadow of its former beautiful self, and even though the Sun is fighting through the clouds outside my window as I write this – I can see shadows on my floor! What a rarity! – the weather forecast is for another procession of storms to roll over us from this evening, so I think Lovejoy will drop out of my viewing window before the sky is clear again. I’ll be sad to see her go. She helped ease the pain after Comet ISON vanished, leaving us all mourning what might have been, and she was a very pretty comet inj her own right. I took this photo on December 1st, you may remember…

Lovejoy The Beautiful

…and I’ve recently been doing a bit more work on the images I took this night, now I can use my image processing software better, and here’s a new take on one of those Dec 1st images…

lj stacked wow_cr

Just look at that… that’s beautiful, isn’t it? Look at that tail…

…but what does Lovejoy look like now?

She looks like this…

LJ3 arrow s

Yep, that’s it, that tiny… smudge… Here’s a crop of that area…

LJ3 crop

The comet stands out a little more clearly now, but it’s barely there. And once she was so lovely…!

Time to let Comet Lovejoy go, I think. And say thank you, and goodnight.




UPDATE: Sunday January 5th 2013: Lovely Lovejoy still worth looking for…

The weather here in the UK has been, frankly, diabolical lately. Weather front after weather front has steamrollered in from the Atlantic, a relentless procession of them, one after the other, each one bringing torrential rain, icy cold and howling gales. Godawful. So it’s been hard to see and photograph Comet Lovejoy. I’ve managed to sneak a few shots through brief gaps in the clouds, but I haven’t had a really good “session” with the comet and my camera for ages. Until this morning.

When my alarm woke me at just before 6am I looked out and could see stars. Only a few, scattered here and there, and those were shining in gaps in the curdled, churning orange cloud, but somehow I felt lucky, so I headed out and trekked up to Little Kielder to try and get some pics. It was a pretty horrible experience to be honest. After all the rain the previously pretty dry woodland clearing is now absolutely sodden, with great pools and ponds of dirty brown water surrounded by sucking, filthy mud. It’s like a WW1 battlefield now. So as I trudged around the clearing, looking for a spot dry and stable enough to set up my tripod and camera, in the pitch black (yes, I had a torch, but hard to use one of those when you’re using both hands to carry camera gear!) it was pretty awful. But eventually I was set up, and started taking pics. And magically the cloud cleared, leaving behind a beautiful, beautiful clear and starry sky…

After finding and taking pics of Lovejoy from the clearing I moved on, out of the clearing, to work my way slowly and carefully up a muddy, rather treacherous path that leads up from the wood to the castle. That too was thick and slick with mud, slippery leaves and more horrors which squelched under my boots, but I found the comet again and started taking pics, and it looked quite promising on my camera’s teeny tiny screen but I’ve been fooled by that before, like many astrophotographers…

Eventually the sky – still clear – was too bright to see the comet, so I headed home, navigating my way around or through the mud and mulch, and then, after a warming cup of tea, got stuck into the processing.

It had been a very challenging morning. Wet, cold, muddy. Had it been worth it?

Oh yes!

LJ Jan 5 best s

LJ5 x9 best s

crop best s

Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – after mocking them with cloud and rain, and worse, the Universe eventually takes pity on those of us who put in the hours, who sacrifice the sleep and, yes, trudge through the mud and muck. This morning was one of those times, for me at least.

As the great man famously said, “I love it when a plan comes together…” πŸ™‚


UPDATE: Sunday December 29th 2013: Lovejoy still visible – if you make the effort…

Comet Lovejoy is now a lot fainter and harder to see than it was a month ago, but if you haven’t seen it yet, or want another look at it before it fades away completely, it is still visible, if you know where to look. Ok, finding, seeing and photographing it will take a bit of effort on your part – you’ll need to either be out there an hour after sunset, or a couple of hours before sunrise, somewhere with an uncluttered horizon and no light pollution – but it is still there for you if you really want to see it…

Last night (Saturday 28th) Stella and I drove out of Kendal, leaving the mist and light pollution behind, and headed up to Helsington Church to try and photograph Lovejoy. When we got there the sky was mostly clear, very promising, but it was blowing an absolute gale, a horrible, icy, marrow-chilling wind howling up the hill from the valley below, but with Vega and Altair shining brightly in the NW I knew I had to give it a go, so I started taking pictures, literally holding my camera tripod down as I took the exposures. Of course, doing that meant some vibration ruined some exposures, but more turned out ok than I expected, and I managed to get some quite nice shots of the comet, which is fading a lot now, but still hanging in there…

LJ best crop


If you click on that one to enlarge it you’ll see Lovejoy over on the right, circled faintly…

Soon after arriving at the church I was fighting cloud, which began to boil up from the NW, and half an hour after arriving the comet was obscured by cloud, which was a pain but made for this very dramatic photo…


…which was VERY annoying, because higher and further east the sky was so clear that I was able to take this photograph of the Milky Way in Cygnus…


Just think if Lovejoy had been there… grrr…. oh well, never mind…!

Eventually the clouds began to part – and by “part” I mean “get ripped to shreds by the godawful wind” – but it got just too windy to try any more photography, so we called it a night and headed back home. But I was very pleased with the photos I managed to take in such challenging conditions…

This morning, just an hour or so ago actually, I was out again. The wind of last night had gone, completely, leaving behind a lively clear and quiet morning, and as I headed up to Little Kielder, camera and tripod in hand, I could see a beautiful crescent Moon shining close to Saturn – to its upper right, about 1 o’clock – low in the SE. Making a mental note to make sure I got photos of that pairing after photographing Lovejoy, I found my favourite spot in the woodland clearing, set up, and started taking pics of Lovejoy. It didn’t take me long to centre it in the camera’s field of view, and I took dozens of pics of different exposures and with different settings to be sure I got something useful. Having done a bit of work on them, here are the best ones…

LJ Best Dec 29

Must admit I’m really pleased with that one. it always helps to have something in the foreground to show scale don’t you think?


Obviously that’s a crop of a larger image, so it’s a bit noisy, but the comet shows up quite nicely I think…


Oh, and that pairing of the Moon and Saturn? Here it is…

moon sat s

Yeah, all things considered I’m very pleased with how well last night’s and this morning’s comet-chasing went. I wonder how many more chances I’ll have to photograph Lovejoy?

So, you see, if you still haven’t found Lovejoy – or want to see it again before it vanishes from the sky – you still can. It just takes a little effort on your part. Go get it! πŸ™‚


UPDATE: Thursday December 26th 2013: A Christmas Comet… Finally…

I’ve been an amateur astronomer for a long time, around 40 years actually. I remember looking up at the stars as a very young child and noticing the different brightnesses and colours. As I got older I noticed more and more, and then, with my first binoculars and telescopes, observed more and more. In all that time I’ve seen many wonderful, beautiful things – meteor showers, fireballs, bright space station passes, vivid displays of the northern lights and noctilucent clouds and much much more. But one thing has always eluded me. In all my years as a stargazer I’ve longed to see, but have never seen, a comet on Christmas Day.

Until this year.

Yesterday morning, Christmas Day 2013, I got up at 04.30 and saw large patches of clear, starry sky inbetween the orange street-lit clouds, so I grabbed my camera and its tripod and dashed outside, into the crisp morning, and went hunting for ISON. It took me a while to track it down. Now too faint to be seen with the naked eye, Lovejoy was picked up on photos I fired off quickly from the park right across the street from me, but only just, so knowing I needed a darker sky to see it properly Icrossed the river and hiked up the hill to “Little Kielder”, and fired off some more photos…

…and there it was, just clearing the treetops at the end of the clearing, low in a gap between two of them…


There it was – my Christmas Comet. YES!!!!

Christmas Comet Lovejoy 2

Lovejoy Christmas Comet 2


Hope you all got what you wanted for Christmas too! πŸ™‚

UPDATE: Friday December 20th 2013: ********** Weather…!!

Oh man… this weather is, to use a quaint Olde English phrase, DOING MY HEAD IN!!!! Day after day, night after night, morning after morning of cloud, rain and wind… I’m sure they get more opportunities to see the stars in ****** Mordor than we do here in the UK!! Come 0n!!! This is RIDICULOUS…!!!

I did manage to sneak a few pics of Comet Lovejoy the other morning, Dec 17th, and they didn’t turn out too badly c0nsidering it was already getting light by the time the clouds parted just enough to let me see the comet, and there was an almost-Full Moon blazing in the sky as well…




LJ4_cr l2

Since then? Nothing. Nothing. And the forecast for the next few days at least is just as appalling.

Astronomy, eh?


UPDATE: Monday December 16th 2013: A Christmas Comet after all..?

I know we all had high hopes for a genuine, bright “Christmas Comet” but that’s not going to happen; Comet ISON broke into bits as it rounded the Sun and deep, deep searches of the sky by amateurs with very advanced telescopes and methods have failed to turn up any trace of what’s left of it. But, there is going to be a comet in the sky this Christmas – Comet Lovejoy. And while it’s not going to be as bright or as “big” in the sky as we all hoped ISON would get, it will still be an attractive sight through binoculars and a small telescope, and may even be visible to the naked eye if you’re looking for it from somewhere really dark.

So, where do you find it?

Well, Comet Lovejoy is visible in both the morning and the evening sky. It’s probably easier to find in the evening sky because you can start looking for it right after sunset, and can use Venus – currently a brilliant object low in the south west after sunset – to find it. Here’s what you do…


16th - 25th labels

1. Find VENUS. That won’t be hard, it’s shining like a lantern above the SW horizon after sunset. Having found Venus, go sharply up and to its right until you come to a bright blue star. This is “Altair”.

2. Having found Altair, continue up and to the right until you come to another bright blue white star. This is “Vega”.

3. Having found Vega, drop down to roughly 5 o’clock to find a squashed square of four fainter stars… 4. This is the “Keystone” of the constellation of Hercules. Comet Lovejoy is just beneath this star pattern from now until Christmas, a little lower and further to the left each evening.


17th - 25th am labels

1. Look to the NE horizon and find a bright blue star shining above it. This is “Vega”. Go to Vega’s upper right, to about 1 o’clock, until you come to another bright star, more yellowish this time. This is “Arcturus”.

2. Having found Arcturus, head back to Vega again! But when you get halfway, stop, and drop down a little…

3. This is the area of sky Comet Lovejoy is in now, and will be in from now until Christmas.

So there you go, that’s how, and where, you can find Comet Lovejoy. Binoculars will definitely help you find it and see it at its best, and if you have a camera try taking its photograph too. Just aim your camera at the right area of sky and click away. And if you need advice on HOW to photograph comets, there’s a full guide to that on this blog; just look for the appropriate tab on the menu at the top of the page.

Good luck!


UPDATE: Thursday December 12th 2013: Weather Woes…

Apologies for the lack of updates recently, but the weather here in the UK has been – to use a technical term – bloody awful. Day after day, night after night, morning after morning of cloud. Oh, the weather presenters and forecasters delight in telling everyone how “mild” it is, but to amateur astronomers, and comet watchers, “mild” is just a polite way of saying “****** crap! Forget any hope you had of seeing anything, sucker!!”

So yesterday evening, when the clouds parted and an orange sunset shone through the gaps, Stella and I raced out of Kendal up to the gravelly car park at Helsington Church – my astronomical society’s dark sky bolt-hole – and I tried to bag Lovejoy again. While waiting for the dusk sky to darken I took some pictures of Venus, blazing like a piece of burning phosphorus in a gap in the layers of cloud piled up above the south western horizon.. and I think they turned out pretty well…



But I was there to photograph a comet, not a planet, and by the time Venus was sinking into the clouds the north western sky was dark enough to see Vega, and Deneb, allowing me to draw an imaginary line between them to point me towards the keystone of Hercules and, just beyond that, Comet Lovejoy. The sky there looked dark and clear, but my first test exposure showed that wasn’t the case – mare’s tails of grey-white moonlit cloud, invisible to the naked eye, were curled up across Lovejoy, covering it… It took a good half hour before I was able to get a picture of Lovejoy peeping out through a brief gap in the clouds…


Note: that’s a single frame, not a stack of several frames, taken with a camera-on-tripod only, 50mm lens, set at f2, 5 seconds on 1600 ISO.

As time passed, Lovejoy came and went, and I just kept shooting…

LJ2 lines labels

The clouds started to pile up, and vapour trails began to criss-cross the sky, about half an hour after I set up my camera… I think it made for a pretty picture tho.. πŸ™‚



..and that was it! The clouds covered Lovejoy, and my photo session was ended. Back home later I tried stacking some of the images but the software just laughed at me – so loud and hard you probably heard it from where you live. So I’m just going to be happy with those. And you know what?

I am.


UPDATE: Sunday December 8th 2013: How To Find Comet Lovejoy…

The UK – or at least my part of it – seems to have offended the weather gods, because it looks like we’re going to be clouded out for the forseeable future, certainly for the next few days. Not much chance of me seeing Comet Lovejoy before next weekend, I fear. But others will have clear skies, so I thought I’d make a new finder chart to help them find the comet.

Lovejoy is now visible in both the evening and morning sky, but I’m going to concentrate in this post on the morning sky because that’s when the comet is easiest to see – it’s higher in the sky than it is after dark, which also means it is brighter and easier to see in a darker sky than it is in the mornings.

So, how do you find Lovejoy?

It’s really very easy, honestly. You start off by finding The Big Dipper. In the early hours of the morning – for northern hemisphere observers, obviously – it can be found in the NE, balancing on the end of its curved handle. Actually, it looks a lot like a big question mark in the sky. So, having found that, just drop down the handle, towards the horizon, and you’ll come to a semi circle of stars, like a back to front letter “C”. This is Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Lovejoy is close to it, and in fact is passing by it over the next week. The comet is currently to the left of this pattern of stars, so if you can see the Crown in your sky and have a pair of binoculars I promise you, you WILL see Lovejoy! You just have to sweep the sky to the left of the Crown… slowly… slowly… until you spit a greenish star with a misty tail leading off it. You will know it when you see it, it just doesn’t look like a normal star.

Here’s the chart I’ve made. I hope you find it useful! Teeny tiny here, I know so click to enlarge, as usual…



UPDATE: FRIDAY December 6th 2013

Had a bit of a break from writing the blog, partly because I’ve been busy with, you know, real life, but also just to take a break. It’s been challenging at times to keep this going, for a number of reasons, so a few days off seemed well deserved I think! πŸ™‚ But I’ve been busy in that time, doing more comet writing, talking about ISON and Lovejoy on the radio, etc, and also looking for and photographing Lovejoy itself too! So, it’s catch-up time…

So, ISON is dead – although today there are the first credible reports of the comet’s dust cloud remains having been seen – but Lovejoy continues to impress. If you live in mid-northern latitudes it’s now visible just about all night – close enough to the Pole Star that it never rises or sets – but I think it’s best seen in the wee hours of the morning, cos that’s when it’s at its highest and above all the clutter on the horizon. After slogging backwards and forwards between two different observing sites, frustrated by the coming and going of cloud, I finally took these pictures of Comet Lovejoy on Wednesday (Dec 4th) morning…


Really like that one, cos it shows Lovejoy heading down towards the constellation of Corona Borealis, the “Northern Crown”. CB is an often overlooked constellation because it is, really, just a stubby semi-circle of stars, but it’s quite striking and one of my favourites, so to see a bright comet close to it was a treat for me πŸ™‚

Some other pics from that morning…


I think that might be my best shot of Lovejoy so far….


…but I really love the colours on that one too…! πŸ™‚

Then this morning I was out again at 04.30 to try and photograph Lovejoy yet again. Yet again I was lured out by the promise of a lovely clear sky by every single one of my weather apps, and by every weather forecaster I watched on TV, and headed up to “Little Kielder” with my camera and gear confident of getting some great pics…!

And once I got there, this was the view to the south and west…



Look at that… beautiful starry sky, right! SoΒ  should have had a fantastic view of Lovejoy, right?

Wrong. This was the view to in Lovejoy’s directon, looking to the NE…


Yes, that is Lovejoy peeking out through a gap in the clouds… the whole of the sky, from the north to the south, was a mass of curdled orange rubbish, with tiny, tiny gaps (which we astronomers call “sucker holes” by the way) drifting across it at random, revealing tantalising glimpses of stars, and twice, just TWICE, I managed to grab a sneaky pic of Lovejoy through one of those gaps. That’s the first, this is the second…


…and that was it! Hopefully better luck over the coming weekend… In the meantime if you want to see some *proper* pics of Lovejoy, head on over to Spaceweather,com and check out the Realtime Comet Gallery.


UPDATE: Sunday December 1st 2013

As you’re all probably aware by now, Comet ISOn has gone, there will be no great show in the pre dawn sky for northern hemisphere comet watchers after all. I recount what happened to ISON elsewhere on this blog. But as Obi Wan Kenobi famously said…

“There is another…”

Unlike Comet ISON which never really strayed far from the brightening pre-dawn sky, and was – shall we say – challenging to see with the naked eye, Comet LOVEJOY is currently shining in a dark sky, and is easily visible to the naked eye. It’s not a Great Comet, but it’s a great comet to look at through binoculars and to photograph too. I was out looking at it this morning, and it was just beautiful. Here are some of the pictures I took – all on a static camera, no tracking…

lj 4s

LJ beautiful_cr

Lovejoy best

Lovejoy The Beautiful

Wow… look at that…!

So, ISON is gone, but you can still see a comet – and a bright one at that! – in the sky. If you want to know where to look, I’ve made what I hope is a pretty easy to use finder chart. Can YOU see it from where YOU live? Well, if you can see The Plough (or “The Big Dipper”, or “The Great Bear” or whatever it’s known as in your part of the world, it goes by many different names) you can see Lovejoy, it’s as simple as that. and that pattern if stars will guide you to Lovejoy.

Ok, the chart…

LJ Finder chart lines

The comet is visible to the naked eye from a dark site, but if you can’t quite make it out just sweep that area with a pair of binoculars and you’ll find it. It will look like a fuzzy, distinctly green star, with a tail coming away from it.

Good luck!

PS: I have been asked by a reader about the specs of these images. Sure! Because some are stacked composites of several images, I thought you might find it useful if I just posted one of the single frames I took in its “naked” state, straight out of the camera ( only reduced by 50% hereΒ  to take it down from a 5mb file! )…

basic shot s

Details: 1x 10s exposure, 50mm f1.8 lens, 6400ISO with a Canon 1100D DSLR on a tripod, using a 2s time delay before exposure began to reduce vibrations.


As Comet ISON sinks into the sunrise, carrying our hopes and dreams with it, what are we supposed to do now???? Well, as luck would have it – and it IS luck, there;s nothing spooky or X Files about it, despite what some of the nutters are saying – there’s another bright comet in the sky at the moment, which is easy to find, and which will help you practice and refine your comet hunting and photography skills before ISON reappears from its encounter with the Sun at the end of next week.

Comet LOVEJOY is currently moving towards the stars which make up the handle of The Big Dipper / tail of The Great Bear or whatever name you know it as. If the Moon wasn’t in the sky it would be a naked eye comet, I think, but through a pair of binoculars it is a lovely sight – as this picture I took of it on Thursday evening shows, it is a “classic comet” with a bright starlike head and a faint tail coming off it…


So, over the next week or so, as you wait for news on ISON’s survival/demise, why not track down Comet LOVEJOY and practice your comet observing and photography on it, so that when ISON reappears you’ll know exactly what to do with it? It’s a fantastic opportunity, it really is.

So, where is it?

As I said, LOVEJOY is currently moving towards a very familiar and easily-recognisable area of the sky. To find it, just go out, face north, and there they will be! Or, if you don’t know which way IS north (and you might not, if this skywatching malarky is new to you) then go out and just look around the sky until you see this pattern of stars…


There it is – “The Big Dipper”, “The Plough”, “The Spoon”, “The Ladle”, whatever you know it as, that’s the pattern of stars Comet Lovejoy is currently moving towards. That pic above shows the orientation of the Big Dipper (let’s keep calling it that from now on, it’s easier just to pick a name and go with it) at the time the sky gets dark, i.e. parallel to the horizon. It’s important to keep in mind though that as the hours pass the Big Dipper is going to move up and to the right, until it is standing on its tail hours later, so if you’re looking for Lovejoy be sure to go out and look at a time when the Big Dipper is at the best orientation for you, without any hills, trees or buildings on your local horizon hiding the comet from view.

Right, let’s find Lovejoy! Here are the charts, and remember to click on them to enlarge them.

Tonight – Sunday Nov 24th – the comet will be here

Nov 24b

See how the orientation of the stars has changed by midnight…?

plough 24th midnight

Why? Because the Earth’s rotation means the stars all appear to circle around the Pole Star. and between the first and secind images above the Earth has rotated just enough to swing the Big Dipper around until it’s balanced on its handle. That means the comet has swung around too, and you’ll see just how low it is, placing it at the mercy of any hills, tall buildings or trees towards the NE at your viewing location, wherever that is.

And after tonight? Ok, here’s Comet LOVEJOY’s location at two day intervals after that (the comet’s position is circled and the dates are up at the top right there, along with the time the chart was drawn for too. As usual, these screenshots all come from the FANTASTIC phone App “Sky Safari”)…

Nov 26

Nov 28

Nov 30

Screenshot_2013-11-30-01-09-06-1So that’s where it will be, but what are you looking for? What does Lovejoy look like? How big is it?

Here’s a picture I took the other night, from a dark sky site, with a standard 50mm lens. The stars of the Big Dipper are on the left and Comet Lovejoy is circled on the right. This should give you a good idea of what you’re looking for – basically a fuzzy green “star” with a short misty tail coming off it…


Through binoculars, Lovejoy looks rather like this…

LJ 50mm_cr_cr

Don’t expect to see the bright colours or beautiful streamers or trails you can see on the photographs being posted online, they only show up on long exposure photos. All you’ll see is what looks like a large out of focus star, smudged off to one side a bit. But that’s it, that’s Comet LOVEJOY and it’s an absolute godsend for anyone wanting to fine-tune their comet-spotting and -photographing skills before Comet ISON begins its grand show (hopefully!) in the December pre-dawn sky…

So, tonight, after dark, go out, find the Big Dipper and then track down Comet LOVEJOY too. get used to what it looks like in your binoculars or telescope, and take lots of pictures of it, with whatever equipment you have (don’t know how to do that? No problem, just go to my guide to Comet Photography here) and experiment, just mess about with your camera and its settings until you hit upon something which gives you good pics, then make a note of all those settings and use them again for ISON in December. You’ll be glad you did!

195 Responses to “Comet LOVEJOY”

  1. Why, oh why, do i live in the netherlands with the shitty sky… there like 10 stars in the sky at night here.

  2. Also, when i look at night sky pictures you guys see like purple, blue, milkeyway.. Only thing we see is white dots.

    • Believe me niels, it is probably much worse or at least as bad “weather-wise” here in the United Kingdom, England to be precise.

      It’s been as cloudy and damp as I can ever remember it. You’re very lucky to be able to see white dots. I can barely see any moonlight coming through the masses of cloud here. It’s absolutely atrocious weather conditions for observing.

      Still, it is nice to know we Brits are not suffering alone. πŸ™‚

  3. Ok I might try that sometime…

  4. thanks for the informations in this blog, and sorry for my poor english…

    here one picture of Lovejoy, from Italy Alps

    • Your English is fine Diego. πŸ™‚ lovely Lovejoy pic, but ALL your photos are beautiful, thanks for sharing them with us.

    • Gorgeous photographs Diego. It’s great you take the time to photo astro images too. The image of the meteor on the left of the Milky Way is particularly beautiful.

      You’ve got some really creative stuff on your gallery. Inspiring work!

  5. Is this pic on comet Ison to the sun and back? Great pic man, thanks for shareing πŸ™‚

  6. ah! Nope looked for lovejoy too late. Just set behind the mountains.

  7. I have realized something…

    Lovejoy WAS visible a couple of weeks ago, back at the time where Jame Marcelo and I were talking about the comet and that we will never see it.

    Now, it is below the horizon for good. I’ll be sitting on the lightpost-lit sidewalk in the middle of a rural-urban sky transition area under the cloudy skies of December 😦


    A REALLY long cloud (About 3-5km long and 500m wide, estimate) was literally rolling across the sky. It was a very rare and scary sight. It was like a horizontal tornado. It moved at a fast pace, faster than clouds and it was dark grey in color.

    The environment on the cloudless side was as dry as powdered soup. No wind was blowing and it was torture to walk under the sun.

    Nevertheless, this cloud came in then WOOSH!!! It was hurricane-like! The rain started to pour the moment the rolling cloud passed over us. The sound of rain followed that cloud. Then, this powdered soup place turned into a muddy marsh. The rain lasted for only 5 mins, a full stop, and it turned me into a paper boat under the shower; WET…

    Anyone experieced the same thing?

  8. Hi Mark

    We experience a lot of cloud, rain, and wind in the UK but we’re seldom treated to such spectacles as you describe. Sounds like what you witnessed was indeed a “roll cloud”. There quite rare and occur on the front side of a thunderstorm, where the cold and warm air currents literally roll-over and overlap eachother.

    There are massive clouds (100-200 km long) that look similar to roll clouds, and they really are impressive. I think they’re known as “shelf clouds”? A massive mile upon mile high, single bank of black cloud, set against the white or blue clear foreground. These too are on the front edge of storms, but the super cell type of thunderstorms that contain millions of megatons of energy.

    Here in Blighty it’s the usual mundane grey flat featureless sky. 😦

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!


    • Apologies for my poor grammar in the above post. I’m guilty of writing “there” instead of “they’re”, in the third sentence (paragraph one).

      Sorry for any confusion I might have caused.

    • Wow! I never thought that was a supercell!

      Thanks Craig!

  9. Hi Mark

    I don’t think what you saw was part of a ‘super-cell’ per se, but it is similar in that it features on the edge of thunderstorm fronts. Super-cells to my understanding are much larger energy dense masses of cloud activity that often spawn F3 and even F5 tornadoes. At the very least they produce extremely intense violent thunderstorms.

    I’m sure Trish (on this blog) lives in an area where these occur in the Southern flanks of the USA.

    Still, no matter what type of roll cloud you saw, they are pretty rare and very impressive to look at. You’re a very lucky guy!

    • Supercells are very rare (or is it? I dunno) here in the Philippines. That’s why I got surprised when I read that it was a supercell.

      I wish you guys can see one too!!! πŸ˜€

      Here’s another rare phenomena from a local TV show:

      Santelmo (Saint Elmo’s Fire)
      – Floating fireballs, attributed to ball lightning, that are rarely recorded on tape. Experts are still finding answers on what they are.

      The elders say that the spirits shows the location of hidden gold storages (creepy…). They float and sway like ballet dancers. Never seen one and not planning to see one (Paranormal Activity!)

  10. The weather is driving me insane too. My new LPR filter has arrived and sitting nice and snug in its box. It will stay there for some time I think 😦

  11. Those are awesome pictures! It didnt look like you were taking a photo under a cloudy and moonlit sky!

    And Lovejoy looks beautiful… πŸ™‚

  12. Excellent shots Stu. πŸ™‚

    Your tenacity always pays off. Patience, unfortunately, isn’t my thing.

    Such a shame it was getting light and it wasn’t a moonless sky. I’m sure it would be much more impressive, and it’s certainly still got potential.

    Christmas Eve promises to be much colder, and hopefully bring clear skies. I’ll have another bash then. The moon will be in last quarter too?

  13. Got some images this morning before it rained and while the coma still looks impressive the tail has faded somewhat (or moonlight has washed it out). Yes, I think it will be after Christmas before the moon wanes enough.

  14. Merry Christmas Mr Phoenix

  15. Merry Christmas, everyone. Hope you got a gift from the sky, and a clear view of Lovejoy.

    • Not a chance in the world for me!

      • Sorry to hear that. Since the first week of december, I’ve only had two clear days, and one of them I spent fiddling with an AstroMaster telescope that seemed to have a persistent error in it’s RA/Dec on the equatorial mount. I managed to get it fairly precisely aligned on the NCP, and it was always 2-5Β° off in RA and Dec by the time I pointed it at Orion, Cassiopeia, Pleiades, etc. I could never correct the error, so the motor drive couldn’t track accurately. I ended up returning the telescope…burned up the only clear days during December I had. :[

      • Well same here I mean we live sort of near each other.

  16. Spent a while on Christmas night shooting Orion with a new filter which gets rid of a lot of light pollution but leaves a bit of a colour cast. My ancient eq mount is limited to around a minute before the errors show up but good fun overall. Now when the moon clears off Lovejoy will look better.


    PS. Now the rain and gale force winds are back 😦

    • Wow! What a shot. πŸ™‚

      I didn’t realise there was so much nebulae cloud in the constellation. Funnily enough, it was clear here last night (27th December) and I too viewed Orion. I was looking for Lovejoy, but there was too much light pollution.

      Anyway, I turned my 20×80 binoculars to the Crab Nebula area and I was quite blown away. I was expecting to see a tiny misty patch of light, but I was honestly taken aback by how big, bright, and beautiful it was in my bins.

      If any of you have a half decent pair of binoculars or a telescope, I urge you to have a look. I was amazed, totally amazed and in absolute awe of its beauty.

      I’m hoping it’s a clear night this evening, as I’ve promised to show the wife and kids. They went ape with excitement when I showed them Jupiter and the moons. I know this will surpass that in the Wow factor stakes.

      • Think you mean the Orion Nebula, not the Crab. Crab is teeny tiny and faint and in Taurus. But Orion Nebula is gorgeous, yes.

      • Yes. The Orion Nebula. Why on earth I said Crab Nebula, I don’t know. My, oh my, it was amazing and left me speechless for a few seconds. Why I hadn’t seen it before I really don’t know.

        I’m sure I tried looking at the Orion Nebula through an 8″ Newtonian a few years ago, but I can’t remember it being impressive at all. Then in the binoculars it was Capow!!! I was broadsided!

        Oh. I’ll forget looking for the Nova. We’re too far North and cannot see it from the UK. 😦 Nevermind Beetle-Juice will blow soon and that will be a sight.

      • If you mean Orion Nebula instead of Crab Nebula (which is very small and dim), then yes! Orion is my favorite constellation, because it is riddled with nebula, dust, and intriguing sky objects. The Orion constellation sits right on top of what they call the OMCC, or Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. Almost the entire constellation, if you had the ability to image it long enough, would be completely filled with dust and gas. There is M42 (Orion Nebula), M43 (the little blob of light, gas, and dust just above the Orion Nebula, technically part the same thing, but a LOT harder to see), IC434 (contains the Horse Head Nebula), NGC 2024 (Flame Nebula), M78 (a beautiful reflection nebula), Barnard’s Loop (a HUGE arcing nebula that surrounds nearly the entire the left-hand side of Orion), as well as a host of other smaller objects like NGC1971 (near M78), NGC2023 (near horse head), IC435 (near NGC2023), IC2118 (Witch Head Nebula) just to the right of Rigel (the bright blue star at the lower right corner of Orion constellation), and NGC2174 just above Orion’s Club. Long exposures of any of these areas shows an extensive dusty region…extremely long exposures of the entire constellation look like this:

        Orion is one of the most exciting regions of the night sky, IMO. I think there are only a couple other regions that are as interesting, like the Carinae nebula or the Eagle nebula…but those are both distinct, smaller regions. Few regions of the sky are as extensive or rich with beautiful objects as Orion is.

      • Yes Jon, I did mean the Orion Nebula. Stu put me right on that account, and will surely save me from any future embarrassment confusing the two. πŸ™‚

        It’s hard to believe how much stuff there is in Orion. The long exposure image certainly shows what an interesting and highly active part of the sky it is.

        I’ve got a mediocre camera Canon 600D and would love to photograph it through my binoculars. They’re a pair of Celestron Skymaster 20Γ—80 on a modest but sturdy tripod. If you or Stu has any ideas about how I might shoot through one of the binocular lenses I’m all ears!

        Failing that, of course, I could shoot the constellation directly with just the camera, but I’m unsure of what exposure settings and time I ought to use. Will the tungsten setting be a good option for photographing nebula Stu, or is it primarily the best medium for comets?

        It’s been a beautiful sunny day here in the Midlands, but I’ve been informed there’s another storm on the way at some point in the next 24 hours. Hopefully, it will stay clear enough to get some more observations in and maybe even a photo or two. Last night – albeit cold and clear – was pretty misty by the time Orion was in the best part of the sky for me. Nevertheless, I managed to get a good look at The Seven Sisters (Pleiades?).

        Now that was another great sight. I’m really starting to get into this!

      • Now that is an awesome experience Craig!

        I observe the Orion Nebula using binocs too! Yet, due to the anti-glare birdwatching lens, all I can see is a faint and fuzzy object. Much like the same when I observed ISON yet this one is brighter.

        I hope you can see more spectacular sights in the near future πŸ˜‰

      • Ashto, if you have the 600D, you should be able to do just fine (better, actually) with good old Canon lenses. For “wide field” photography, wide enough to capture the entire constellation, you would need around 50mm. If you don’t yet have a Canon 50mm lens, just pick up the EF 50mm f/1.8…its like $99. Stop it down to f/2 or f/2.8, and let ‘er rip. I would say 6-8 seconds at ISO 1600 would do quite nicely. If you have an intervalometer, set it for a few dozen exposures, and stack the results in Adobe PhotoShop using Smart Objects and Median stack mode. The results should be pretty nice!

        If you are unsure of what exposure times to use for any given focal length, just look up the 500 Rule (or 600 Rule, but use 500/focalLength instead to account for the smaller pixels sensors have these days.) This works for any focal length, and will give you the maximum exposure time before trailing occurs at 100%. If you intend to downsample the images for publication on the web, you can usually get away with longer. An effective rule of thumb is to divide your actual focal length by the downsampling factor. If you intend to downsample by 4x, then you can divide the focal length by 4x. So, a 100mm lens would normally allow 5 second exposures without startrailing….but that could be extended to almost 20 seconds if you downsample the images by four (i.e. the 600D should have a 5184px width, 1/4 that would be 1296px width). It is best to round down a bit to ensure that trails don’t show up…so 15 seconds is more realistic & usable.

        I’ve been trying to do the same thing…still having bummer weather at night, almost every night has cloud cover, even if the days are clear. I use the EF 50mm f/1.4 lens, and usually stop down to f/2. I am hoping to get a shot clear enough to bring out the Flame nebula and Horse Head/IC435 as well as Orion nebula. My personal approach is to use my intervalometer to get about 50-80 shots, create median stacks out of every 10, then use an additive blend mode on each of those stacks along with ramped opacity to brighten the image.

        I haven’t been using this technique long, only started recently. It works much better if you have a tracking mount, but if you don’t, it is the best way to bring out detail with very short exposures. Here is an example:

        It shouldn’t need to be said, but just in case: Find the darkest, clearest skies you possibly can. Under skies free of light pollution, you should be able to bring out Flame and Horse Head nebulas in a single frame. They would be dim, but they should still be visible. Under light to moderately light polluted skies, you will barely be able to make out flame nebula, horse head will likely be invisible. Any more light pollution than that, and you will start losing even Orion Nebula. In my area, in downtown Denver, you can’t see Orion Nebula with the naked eye, and it can barely be imaged. Where I live, which is out of Denver by about 30 minutes, I can image the Orion nebula, but I cannot image Flame or Horse Head nebulas. I have to drive a minimum of 80 miles out of town to find skies that are nearly free of light pollution, and only when Orion is in this one particular location in the sky can I get decent light from flame and horse head. I only have a couple of hours at most in this zone. Lower to the horizons, the light pollution bubbles from both Colorado Springs and Denver kill the constellation and any chance of imaging it clearly. I have to drive at least three hours to find truly dark skies that are buried deeply enough into the mountains that there aren’t any LP bubbles to interfere with the horizons.

        So…FIND DARK SKIES, if you can, and you will have a much easier time getting good results.

      • Oh, a few other lens options. If you have the 100mm macro, that is ideal for imaging just Orion’s belt and sword, as well as some of the surrounding nebula. If you have a 16-35mm, 17-40mm, or 18-55mm lens, that is good for imaging the whole sky/milky way. If you have something like the 70-200mm, that is good for zeroing in on smaller portions of the sky…say just the first star (left to right) of Orion’s belt, where Flame and Horse Head nebulas are, or just the sword. Longer focal lengths are good for zeroing in on specific nebula. With my 600mm f/4 L II lens (which is basically like a really good Apochromatic telescope, just more difficult to use AS a telescope), I can get in pretty close on just the Orion nebula, especially if I slap on a teleconverter (which can get me up to 1200mm). At focal lengths over 100mm, if you have the ability to track at all (even with a home made barn door tracking mount), you’ll have much greater luck, as you’ll be able to increase your exposure times without having startrailing or drift.

        You can do a LOT with “just” a 600D and a Canon EF lens. With effective stacking technique, you can layer dozens of individual frames that, in and of themselves, may not look like much and may be horridly noisy, and produce decent results. Nothing that would rival a dedicated equatorial mount upon which sits a large aperture telescope (greater than 150mm) and a dedicated, supercooled monochrome astrophotography camera…but it is a good way to explore the sky and see some decent nebula detail without spending $10,000 to get better results. πŸ˜‰

      • Thanks so much for taking the time to explain the technical details and settings for my 600D. Stu’s camera is very similar to mine; I’m sure he shoots Canon. He gets good images from just one to three frames for comets and Milky Way, so I’m sure with time and some patience I’ll be able to get some good images.

        I’m only a casual photographer and I’ve got two zooms at the moment: 15-55mm and 55-250mm. I’ve got Adobe Photoshop and the Canon Pro editing software set-up which does RW processing pretty well. Just need some clear nights now.

        Interesting to not that downsizing the image covers well for longer exposures. I suppose it makes sense really, as motion won’t show so much in smaller images.

        I won’t be doing much in the next few days due to another storm raging and then all the after-party fog from the New Year fireworks. 😦

        Thanks again mate. Happy New Year.

      • Sounds like you have all the tools you need. Just need that clear night window to happen. πŸ˜‰

        One word about longer exposures. The big downside to that is it WILL blur some nebula detail. Just as the stars trail, so too will the nebula. Even though you won’t necessarily be able to see the stretching and trailing in an image scaled down to web size, it will still reduce the amount of good detail in nebula. This is more important if you use your 250mm focal length, than if you use a 50mm or 100mm focal length. Still, as best you can, aim to keep your exposures as short as possible.

        Some trailing is going to be inevitable, and if it was JUST stars you were photographing (i.e. the milky way at 15mm) then you can take advantage of the longer exposure times to get much brighter results. I would say that any time you want to capture a nebula, push your exposures as far as you can without losing useful detail, but othewise keep your exposures relatively short.

        Also, look into how to make a home made “barn door tracking mount”. They are basic, pretty easy. Most have a manual winder to control tracking, but some include information on how to use something like Arduino to computerize it. A basic tracking mount will let you expose for much longer before trailing or some kind of periodic error causes softening.

  17. Grab your cameras!!!

    We got a Nova! It is Nova Centauri 2013! It is currently at the +4.5 magnitude.

    Thats all πŸ˜€

    • Have you seen it yourself Mark?

      Not sure what part of the sky its in, but I’ll certainly have a ganders at it, hopefully tonight.

      Thanks for the information! πŸ™‚

    • I will never see the nova from here 😦

      Although it is observable here, the southern sky is blocked by a very bright mist of light pollution. Sigh…. Another one.

      Anyways, may everyone have a bountiful and happy new year!

      • Well, if it’s visible you should take photos anyway, then use an image processing program to reduce the light pollution. Also, setting your camera’s white balance to Tungsten would help. Give it a go! πŸ™‚

      • I use the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS.

        When I first tried astrophotography, I was just outside our humble abode. Using the Bortle Scale, I was in a Class 4 area. I set the camera settings at 15s exposure at +2 brightness.

        It was effective when pointed at clear skies. (Up to +6.5 magnitude)

        When I tried shooting at the southern side or when the camera captures a good amount of light, the stars visible in the photo were decreased in magnitude (about +4.5).

        I dunno if nebulas and novas have the same fuzzy and “weaker than said magnitude” look. One thing I am sure of is that it Centaurus rises above the horizon late after midnight. The cold air makes it harder to do stuff at dawn, like wearing tropical clothes in Alaska.

        Anyways, Happy New Year!!!

      • Similar problems with light here in my part of the UK (Staffordshire/Stoke on Trent).

        I can’t see Lovejoy due to the light pollution over Stoke, and driving to the other side of Stoke just leaves me with more light pollution due to Crewe, Nantwich, and Manchester being North of there. 😦

        The problem besides light pollution is the amount of moisture in the air. The night before last was perfect conditions, but last night – although it was also clear – became almost useless after the first two hours of darkness. This was literally, due to the dew in the air. The colder the night grew, the more moisture was dragged in to the atmosphere.

        I fear the same thing is going to happen tonight, since it is once gain clear, but the sun’s been shining all day. This leads to the evaporation of moisture in the ground from the sun heating it during the day. Anyway, fingers crossed!

        My last camera was a Sony Cybershot, quite similar to the Canon Powershot you have. They’re both very good cameras. The only issue I found with the Sony was the lack of RAW processing. It was either JPEG or nothing. RAW gives the photographer a lot more control during a shoot, and also in the editing stage. There’s a world of difference.

        Anyway…Clear skies to you all. And you too have a very happy New Year Marco. πŸ™‚ I think the Phillipino’s New Year begins several hours before ours doesn’t it?

        So you’ll see the first 2014 sunrise and moonrise before us in Blighty. Have a great night of celebration!

  18. Hey! I’m glad you managed to get your Christmas comet Stu. I’ve pretty much given up on Lovejoy now. It’s too low and in the most heavily light polluted area of the sky for me to see.

    I’m still mega-chuffed you were able to see it on Christmas Day.

    I saw the Orion Nebula last nigh through my large binoculars. It was a site to behold, and it’s firmly alongside such achievements as seeing lunar eclipses, the planets of the SS, and even Halle-Bop.

    I was beside myself with awe and surprise by how grand and beautiful it was. How some people cannot be interested in this subject is beyond baffling. It was just so amazing to see.

    Oh. I also some feint slow moving meteors too. I didn’t realise there was a shower on t the moment. Maybe it was a random?

    • If your sky’s clear Jan 3rd and 4th look out for bright shooting stars on those evenings, late, coming from the direction of the end if the handle of the Big Dipper. The annual Quadrantid shower peaks then. Worth a look.

    • And yep, meteors dash across the sky all the time, random directions, but maybe you saw some late Geminid meteors from that shower, which peaks mid Dec.

  19. I have imaged Lovejoy again but definitely fainter and the tail is harder to separate from the skyglow. I will follow it as long as I can. At its best this comet was a beautiful sight and certainly helped to quell the disappointment of ISON. Of course I was imagining a dawn photo shoot with ISON’s tail stretching across a sky with stunning colours, but as always reality has other ideas. Another stunner like Hale-Bopp is sure to come along – will be watching this blog with interest πŸ™‚

  20. I, like Craig, have also given up on seeing Lovejoy.

    The new year fog will block the sky and, the rest is just pure ear-popping pyrotechnics blasting from all directions.

    Anyways, what do astronauts in the ISS see during New Year? A giant blue disco planet? πŸ™‚

    • That’s a good little poser Mark. Can the flashes from (large) fireworks be seen flickering from the ISS? I bet Mr Google would know!

      I know lightening flashes can be seen from space, and I would imagine that the largest firework displays like London, New York, and Sydney would possibly be seen from low level orbits like ISS. What do you think?

    • Google says “no” we can’t see fireworks from space, because the magnitude of manmade fireworks are too feint to discern with the human eye from 200+ miles above.

      Lightening charges are much brighter though, and often extend much higher in the atmosphere, so can be seen from space. Well, now we know.

      • Well that was a good New Year trivia!

        May everyone have a blessed and bountiful 2014!!!

        Philippine Countdown: T minus 6h 30m

  21. I don’t know why all my pictures turn out horible. I can narrow it down to two things. A: my crappy camera B: my crappy skies (Bortle level 8)

    • More likely B. Even the crappiest cameras can give good (but not that good) photos.

      I am in a Class 4 Bortle Area. It seems that the limit for both extreme naked eye and camera magnitude in my area is 6.5. It is true that “Sky’s the limit”

      • I didn’t realise how poor the visibility is in my area until I checked the Bortle level for my area. Using the Dark Sky Simulator my location comes out at Level 7 with visibility of magnitude 4.4 stars being the limit for me. 😦

        That’s totally pants!

        I pretty much live in a small town between a city and a much larger town, and the light from these sources basically drowns out almost anything but the brighter stars. Still, I can see all of the stars of Orion on a clear night, and that’s the most common litmus test for decent visibility for stargazing I was told. And I can see all 7 stars of Pleiades, so it can’t be that bad, can it?

        So, okay, it’s not brilliant where I live, but it could be much worse.

  22. I just read something about ISON showers in the Final Update page.

    That explains why there are more shooting stars than usual. πŸ™‚

    Well… At least we enjoyed a bit of ISON, even after his demise

  23. FINALLY got some crisp, clear skies. Both the 1st and 2nd are clear (which is awesome, because for northern hemisphere residents, the Quadrantid meteor shower is tonight…look north, just under the handle of the big dipper…supposed to be up to 80 ZHR!) I managed to get some pretty good shots, including a wide field shot of various nebula around Orion’s belt and sword:

    Not sure if I will be able to get out of town to dark skies again like I did last night. Been really drained lately, and it is a 40 mile drive (one way)…but I hope to get out and maybe I’ll pick up some Quadrantid shots.

    • Wonderful shots again! Definitely, see the Orion Nebula pretty much as clear as in your image. I can’t see the others so well though. definitely, cannot see the flame or Horsehead Nebulas at all through binoculars.

      I just wish I had anything like the clear skies you have in that neck of the woods.

      Here? Well, it’s not light pollution that’s the immediate problem. It’s all the constant bands of wind and rain coming in from the Atlantic. We’ve barely had a gap in the clouds for the last two months! 😦

      The BBC’s Stargazing Live programme starts next week. Their shows are persistently blighted with poor viewing conditions, so I reckon next week will probably be a washout too.

      We are getting some incredibly bad luck this winter.

      • Aye, it’s been a nasty winter this year. Usually there is a scattering of clear nights, but this one, there have been very few clear nights at all, and they are far and few between. I spent both of the last two nights out under the dark sky, as tonight it is supposed to be cloudy again, and the forecast shows cloudy nights persisting for over a week out.

        I don’t think that is a huge deal at this point. I managed to image a couple open star clusters last night (MCG884 and MGC869 clusters near Cassiopea, and Beehive/M44 near Cancer), did a wide field of Taurus and the Pleiades in the same shot, and tried some close up frames of the Orion Nebula again (with my 600mm f/4 L II Canon lens…we’ll see how they turn out, was really windy, and even by sheltering the camera and lens with my car, I think the heavy contraption was still bouncing all over the place.)

        I’ll post another link once I have all that stuff processed. I’m desperately in need of a tracking equatorial mount, a guiding package, and a proper telescope to do any more exciting than I am (and a dedicated astro CCD camera…thinking Celestron Nightscape CCD to start.)

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