Updates and Images…


So, what’s happening in the weird and wacky world of Comet ISON? Well, there’s good news, and there’s bad news…

The good news is there’s a lot of good news! First of all, and best of all, I think, is that there’s now an official COMET ISON OBSERVING CAMPAIGN (CIOC) website!

CIOC home

Yes!! Finally there is a place, a single, reliable, useful, honest place people can go to for accurate and honest scientific information about Comet ISON (this blog has always been such a place, of course, but I’m the first to admit it’s rather ‘science lite’ and aimed very much at the layperson). So now there’s a website to direct all the gibbering, finger-twirling-at-their-tempel “ISON Is The End of the World”/”ISON is being followed by UFOs!”/”ISON will shower the Earth in space rocks!”/”ISON is the size of a planet!”/”NASA knows the truth about ISON but they’re HIDING it!!!” nutters, fruit loops, headcases and woo-woos to when they spout their crackpot nonsense in their silly blogs and in their ridiculous YouTube videos.

And if it’s not too own-trumpet-blowy, I’m very proud that one of my Comet ISON poems has been featured on the new website… 🙂

my poem

So, go to that site as soon as you’ve finished here, bookmark it, and make it one of your Go To sites for information, advice and photographs of Comet ISON. 🙂

In other news…

Hubble has been taking some more pictures of Comet ISON, and they’repretty gorgeous…

hubble pic

If you go to the page on the Hubble site which features this image there’s a lot of information about it.

BUT… it gets better than that! 🙂 Because that image is just one of more than 40 Hubble took, which have been put together into a lovely animation showing ISON moving against the background starfield…!

The problem with all these lovely Hubble images is that once they’re released, people can’t help messing about with them, trying to “enhance” them and bring out hard to see details. Yes, I know, that baffles me too. For some reason, people with home computers and a couple of evenings to spare seem to think that they can bring out more detail in Hubble images than the actual Hubble team itself – with its huge computers, James Bond villain software and days and weeks of processing time – and then suddenly the Hubble images are “showing” clumps, fragments, filaments, streamers and more, when what they might just be showing are imaging artefacts or background stars distorted by the “enhancing” process, although I suppose, being honest, there’s always a chance that the features might be real.

It’s very frustrating as a simple outside observer, so heaven only knows how frustrating it must be for the Hubble team to have their hard work canibalised and corrupted like that, before they’ve had a chance to announce their own results. Many of these people are well-meaning, they really are genuinely just trying to use the images for good, to spot details in them not immediately obvious at first glance. But others, let’s be honest, are headcases, intent on spotting alien spacecraft hiding in the tail of Comet ISON and then announcing their discovery to the world, at the same time denouncing NASA for keeping everyone in the dark, so they take these images and stretch and boost and tug them digitally until they drop to the floor crying, begging for mercy. It’s unbelievable. If it wasn’t so pathetic it would be funny.

Anyway, all I’m saying is, just be aware that there are many, many “enhanced Hubble images” online at the moment which their creators claim show all kinds of things, from natural features to spaceships built by aliens, but don’t take any of them at face value. Let’s wait for official word from the Hubble team itself to tell us what the pictures show, ok?

What else has been going on since our last update? Well, there’s still no word on what ISON is going to do later in the year, it’s just too close to the Sun to allow telescopes here on good old Earth to look at it. But soon, soon we should start to get some serious scientific data from instruments in space, then, perhaps, just perhaps, the mist will begin to clear… I’ll keep you posted.

I think that’s it for this update. I know it’s hard just waiting like this, but within a month or so we’ll have a clearer idea of what ISON is going to do later in the year, then we can start to make some plans. In the meantime, thanks for visiting, and keep checking back here often – and remember to go visit that CIOC website, there’s hours and hours of reading for you to enjoy there.









“Now We Wait…”

Now we wait.

After leaping onto the stage
In a blaze of pixelated glory, whooping,
Shouting out “Hello Earth!”,
Sending the comet-starved crowd wild,
Superstar ISON has gone all shy now,
Retreating behind the Sun,
Shielded from our impatient eyes
By its bright, golden glare.

Like a moody screen queen teen it refuses
To follow its schedule.
Dragging its heels, sighing, sulking,
Skulking beneath its predicted brightness curve,
Heading for a peak far below what it led us
To believe it would achieve
When it first strode out of the dry ice
And stood in the spotlight,
Burning brighter than it had a right to be,
Beaming “Look at me! Look at me!”

So now we wait,
With fingers crossed, and hopes still high
That the coming winter’s morning skies
Will be painted with a tail the likes
Of which no-one alive has ever seen.
But what will be, will be…

© Stuart Atkinson 2013

JUNE 17th – Is it August yet?

And now we enter the worst part of the whole WAITING FOR ISON experience – waiting to find out what the comet is going to do later this year. From now until, probably, the end of August, we’ll all be waiting to find out if ISON is going to be a beautiful sight in our winter sky, with a long, striking tail, or if it’s going to be a huge disappointment as many fear. We won’t know which until we can see the comet properly again. After it emerges from behind the Sun, and swims out of its glare, we will know with much more certainty how bright it is actually going to be in November and December. We’ll be able to plot more observations on its brightness curve, and, by extrapolating that, have a better idea of its peak brightness around perihelion. This is a very nervous, fingernail-biting, buttock-clenching time for amateur and professional astronomers alike. But it’s all part of it, I guess. Without my own TARDIS there’s nothing I can do except wait.

And wonder what else, if anything, I need to do to be ready when ISON appears in my morning sky.

Actually, I think I’m pretty sorted. I have worked out the best places locally to observe the comet from. I’ve worked out exactly where it will be in my sky, and when, and have booked time off work in November and December well in advance, so I’m going to be able to take advantage of any clear skies then, when the comet is at its best, and won’t be stuck inside, staring out the windows at a starry sky, unable to see ISON because I have to work…

I have my little telescope – the one bought from the second hand shop – and having used it to observe PANSTARRS many times I am now 1000% confident it will give me fantastic views of ISON, whatever it does.

As for my camera, well, I’m really not happy with the one I have, my trusty but ageing Canon EOS DSLR. Whenever I compare the pictures I’ve taken with it to pictures taken by other people with more modern cameras the differences are slap across the face obvious. Don’t get me wring, I love my camera to bits, it’s opened up a whole new world of astro-photography to me, but theirs are sharper, just clearer in general. They don’t have the dust rings or hot pixels mine do. They can use higher ISO ratings. Yeah, I’ve decided: by the time ISON appears in my morning sky I will have bought myself a new camera. ISON may yet be a “Once in a lifetime” comet, and I don’t want to waste any photo opportunities. There’s a lovely Canon in my local PC WORLD I have my eye on, that’ll do nicely.

Meanwhile, my Outreach efforts are continuing. I’ve already given several talks about comets, and have more lined up before the comet actualy appears. I’m happy (and proud!) to be able to say that this blog is now very popular amongst comet watchers, amateur astronomers and the media, and I’m also proud it remains steadfastly nutter and headcase free. I simply will not let this blog be polluted and corrupted by the idiots and f***wits who have (as they do with every astronomical story nowadays, it seems) latched onto Comet ISON and draped their pathetic doomsday and armageddon and religious bullshit stories, fantasies and conspiracy theories over it. I wish they would all just bugger off, I really do. They’re a plague, an absolute waste of space. Put “Comet ISON” into Google or YouTube and most of the links you’ll be offered will take you to some fruit loop nutter’s blog or website or YouTube channel where they’ll rant and rave about how Comet ISON is going to kill us all, or destroy the Earth, or is a sign from God, or – well, you get the idea, and if you don’t just try it for yourself. Some take pictures and blow them up a gazillion times in Photoshop, until they’re just a chaotic mess of pixels, then claim they can “see” alien spacecraft following the comet! Others, absolutely pig ignorant of astronomy, insist that they have “calculated” that ISON will smash onto the Earth, or shower us with debris, or drench us in poisonous gases. Others still quote the Bible or Nostrodamus or something equally stupid, and find ways of connecting them with the comet to create a truly crappy fable that they insist with wild-eyed evangelical fervour is The Truth, and everyone else – NASA, the Government, scientists – is wrong. It really is unbelievably pathetic. My “favourite” YouTube ISON preacher (and no, I’m not going to name them, I don’t want to give them that satisfaction or exposure) has posted one video after another claiming absolute crap about ISON. Actually, they’re very clever about it. They always qualify their outrageous claims by drawling something along the lines of “Now, I don’t know if this is the case or not, but it MIGHT be…” before going on to wonder if ISON will hit us, or smash into Mars, or is being followed by a UFO, or whatever. Still, their other videos feature UFOs, Bigfoot, aliens, conspiracy theory experts and worse, so I shouldn’t be too surprised.

Every day – literally every day – I think “I’m going to have to say something about this bullshit, I can’t just say nothing…” but then I realise that it would probably do more harm than good, plunging me into a Flame War with them and their brainwashed, brain dead loony followers, and that might spoil the whole ISON apparition for me, so I have to just let it go, I think. But I will keep deleting the comments of idiots like them from this blog, and make no excuse or apology for that. This isn’t the place for them.

So… not sure what else or what more I can do, really. PANSTARRS is gone, and I learned a lot from it in terms of observing and photographing a comet in this modern digital age. My first glimpse of ISON is still several months ahead, and I can’t change that. So, for now, I guess I ‘d better just get back to writing and earning money to let me buy that new camera…!


So, what’s happening with Comet ISON? Well, it’s a little hard to say, and depends on who you ask. Some experts and comet observers are still wallowing in doom and gloom, predicting – almost with relish, it has to be said – that it will be a spectacular failure. Others remain optimistic, and last week observations plotted on that brightness graph did seem to suggest the comet has started to brighten up a little after trailing behind predictions. But really, we don’t know what it’s going to do. And it’s now very hard to actually see and photograph Comet ISON and try to gain any clues as to what will happen in the future, because it’s in a very inconvenient place for Earth-bound observers. Here’s a diagram showing ISON’s position in the solar system as seen from above…

ison now2

So, about halfway between Mars and Jupiter. No wonder it’s so hard to see! Actually, the distance isn’t the main problem. If you look at the line of sight between us and ISON, you’ll see what I mean…

ison now2b

See? Looking along that line of sight, the comet lies very close to the Sun. So imagine trying to look for a ridiculously faint smudgy blur of misty light *this* close to the Sun in the sky…

Jun 14 ISON in sky

Haha! no chance! No, we’ll have to leave ISON to its fate for a while now, and hope that when it emerges from the Sun’s glare later in the year it will be performing as well as we all hope.

Speaking of which, comet experts and commentators are now starting to make predictions of what we might see when ISON gets closer and starts to put on its long awaited show. One of the most respected comet experts is John Bortle, and he has just penned an interesting and intriguing article for SKY AND TELESCOPE in which he makes his first real considered and informed predictions for what ISON might do later this year. And it’s both thought-provoking and exciting, in a “Calm down, calm down…” kind of way.

I’ll let you read the whole article for yourself, but essentially Bortle is predicting that Comet ISON won’t actually reach naked eye brightness until early to mid-November, just weeks before its closest approach to the Sun. At this time it will be visible in the morning sky before dawn, and Bortle is predicting that it will have just a small tail at this time. So, maybe, just maybe, it will look something like this…?

Aug 10 poss s

As it rounds the Sun, he says, it might reach magnitude -6, making it bright enough to see in the daytime as a spark of light near the Sun, but ONLY IF you block the Sun and look for it VERY carefully without risking your eyes. Having rounded the Sun, the comet will still only be a modestly bright object for the first week or so… but then the fun might begin…

Bortle is predicting that by mid December, although ISON’s head won’t be very bright, it could unfurl a very long, straight tail, so long in fact it might be very impressive indeed. At this point, like Comet Lovejoy, ISON might well become a “headless comet”, consisting almost entirely of tail, a tail stretching from southern Hercules up to the stars in the handle of the Big Dipper. Maybe it will look something like this after sunset..?

Mid Dec ISON morning

Hey, I’ll take that, won’t you?! 🙂

Now, again, as I always stress, this is all just speculation; even an expert like John Bortle, with all his years of experience, can’t gaze into a crystal ball and KNOW what ISON is going to do. But if he’s right, well, we might have a treat in store.


Finally, I have to be honest and admit that I couldn’t resist smiling to myself when I read John Bortle’s piece. When all the ISON kerfuffle was starting, and when I started this blog in fact, many comet experts and observers had a fine old time criticising astronomy enthusiasts and bloggers etc who used astronomy software like STARRY NIGHT and SKY SAFARI to show non-astronomers the positions of Comet ISON in the sky during its apparition. Even though many bloggers – like myself – went to great pains to point out that we KNEW the tail lengths displayed by the software weren’t to be taken literally, as the software wasn’t able to calculate or simulate tail lengths properly, we were given a bit of a hard time for even using the pictures at all, because they would give non astronomers false hope of what they might see. Well… here’s what STARRY NIGHT ridiculously showed for the morning of December 13th…

dec 13 dawn b

Well, if John Bortle’s predictions are accurate – and he is an absolute comet genius – the comet might look something like this

dec 13 dawn b2

Oh, I hope it ends up looking something like that… 🙂 🙂


We’re now halfway through the eagerly-anticipated astronomy blockbuster “2013 – Year of The Comets”. Comet PANSTARRS has been and gone, and Comet ISON is still months away from doing anything really interesting. So, time to catch our breath, wriggle out of our seats and stretch our legs, and after a quick visit to the loo grab an ice cream in the lobby, and look back at what happened in Part 1, and wonder what Part 2 will bring…

PANSTARRS… oh you little tease, you. When you were discovered you promised us so much, but you didn’t deliver, not really. You were still a very pretty comet, in your own right, and if you’d come from nowhere we would have been a lot more appreciative, but when you first showed yourself and told us how gorgeous you were going to be we took you at your word. That’s our fault, I’ll admit. We read your email and got rather carried away. I think it was because we haven’t had a good northern sky comet since Hale-Bopp. After drooling over all those lovely, lovely images ogf Comet Lovejoy and Comet McNaught taken by our friends Down Under, we were starved and desperate. We wanted you to be impressive and amazing SO badly we went a bit comet crazy, and built you up into something amazing before you knocked on the door. So, no Hale-Bopp 2, no great glowing tail, nothing like that. But you were very pretty, with your fan tail and your close encounter with M31, and you gave us all a lot of much-needed and very useful comet-watching and -photography practice. And I had some very enjoyable mornings and evenings in your company, so I won’t think badly of you in the years and decades ahead. The northern nights are bright now, and you are so faint, lost among the peppercorn and pollen stars of Spring that I don’t believe I’ll see you again, so farewell PANSTARRS, and thank you. I won’t curse your name, as I fear some will.

And now, we wait. We wait for ISON.

As I write this, on a damp, windy and cold May 10th in Kendal, Comet ISON is still an enigma. We know where it is, we know where it will be in the weeks and months ahead, but we don’t know how bright it will get after it has rounded the Sun on Nov 28th. We can’t know that yet. ISON is still so far from the Sun, so deep in the depths of space, that it won’t “turn on” properly for months yet. That’s not to say that it isn’t doing anything. The recent photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope show a lot of activity already – the comet has a respectable tail, and there is structure within its coma, structure suggesting jets of gas and dust are shooting off the nucleus already. This is a very promising sign, but others are raising concerns about ISON’s brightness, or lack of brightness. Looking at brightness estimates made over the past month it’s tempting to believe that it is underperforming, that it is not following the predicted curve of brightness and might even be fading…



…but it’s not as simple as that. This far from the Sun Comet ISON’s behaviour simply can’t be predicted. Many people forget that all this fuss and hype, all this speculation and prediction is focussed on a big chunk of dirty ice that we still can’t see clearly, so we shouldn’t be too surprised if it doesn’t follow our predictions and expectations perfectly. There may be cause for concern, there may not be, we just don’t know. At the end of the day, ISON will do whatever it does, it’s as simple as that, and we’ll have to make the most of whatever it offers us later this year. It may unfurl a magnificent medieval banner of a tail and reduce even hardened and cynical comet observers and experts (and boy, there are a LOT of those!!!) to tears of joy, or it may just put on a modest show that the general public don’t really notice. As I keep saying, we’ll have to wait and see.

But observations of Comet ISON – amateur and professional – are ongoing and bringing results. Go to the “Realtime Comet Gallery” on Spaceweather.com and you’ll see lots of amateurs (admittedly with whopping big telescopes!) are now imaging ISON, and professionals are studying it too, and are getting very interesting results. You’ll recall (if you’re a regular visitor) that we recently email interviewed astronomer Nick Howes. Just yesterday he posted online an image his team has taken with a 2m telescope, and it hints at “something” within the coma, some feature, which may or not (MY interpretation, not Nick’s!) be a jet or a plume or something coming off the nucleus…

BJ5qy3PCMAAL3ns.jpg large

Nick has Tweeted that his team is planning a lot more observations of ISON, with numerous instruments, and they hope to have a better idea soon of what that ‘thing’ actually is. Until then, like us, they’ll just have to wait. If it is a plume or a jet of material shooting out of the nucleus it might be a sign that the comet is waking up a little, which would be good, and might herald the start of real activity. Or it might not. It might be a sign that one of that fleet of alien spacecraft which is, if you believe what the web’s nutters and idiots and fruit loops are saying, apparently following ISON, has crashed into the nucleus. Yeah, that’ll be it… Unbelievable the utter garbage people are spouting about this comet, as if the wonders of the universe need decorating even more…

So, all we can do now – all of us – is wait, and I guess crossing our fingers can’t hurt! I’ve been wondering what ISON might look like later in the year (I have to, I give lots of public talks about astronomy and am getting a LOT of questions about it now) and decided to make some pictures showing what we might see in our sky later this year, but ONLY FOR FUN, and to have something to show in my talks. I’m not claiming the images are ACCURATE or SCIENTIFIC PREDICTIONS, they’re just, I suppose, what I’m hoping we’ll see after ISON rounds the Sun in early December. I expect to get some flak from certain people for creating these images, but they need to lighten up a bit, and maybe make their OWN pictures of they want there to be something more realistic or more accurate “out there” for people to see.

Here’s what I’m hoping I’ll see, looking NW from Kendal Castle, by early December…

K Castle 1

…but I fully acknowledge – and want everyone reading this to understand – that ISON might actually look more like this

K castle 2

We’ll have to wait and see!

What about the view from other parts of Cumbria? Well, my fingers, toes, eyes and ears are crossed that I might see something like this if I head north to Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick…

castlerigg 2

From Crow Park in Keswick, on the shore of beautiful Derwentwater, will we see this, I wonder..?

crow park 1

Moving towards the coast, wouldn’t it be wonderful to stand on the harbour-side at Whitehaven and see this

whitehaven harbour 3

…or even this

whitehaven harbour 2

That’s possible, but I freely admit it’s not likely, and I trust you, the good readers of and visitors to this blog, realise that I am NOT PREDICTING THIS IS WHAT ISON WILL LOOK LIKE. I’m just being an optimist. But hey, I’m allowed to be, it’s my blog, and I’ve littered it with so many disclaimers and warnings and modifiers that only a complete and utter numptie would take these images as actual *predictions*.

Closer to home, I would love to see ISON looking like this as I stroll along the shore at Arnside with Stella, eating our scampi and chips before setting up our cameras…

Arnside 1

Now come on, that’s not too much to ask for is it? That’s not being unrealistic?

Well, it might be, yes, that’s the truth. Comet ISON may yet disappoint us all and fizzle out cruelly. Or it might just not survive its FAST AND FURIOUS wheel-spinning, rubber-burning handbrake turn around the Sun, and emerge as a trail of debris which looks nothing like a comet at all. We can’t know that yet.

What DO we know? Well, we know the following…


As for the “other stuff”- you know, the rubbish being spouted by people on the internet, in their stupid shaky-camera YouTube videos, well, just to be perfectly clear…


I trust that makes my position clear on this… 😉

So… PANSTARRS has gone (or just about), and my own first look at ISON is probably months away. But more and more telescopes, cameras and eyes around the world are turning towards it, so there’s going to be lots to report on. I hope you’ll come back here and follow ISON’s slow cruise towards the Sun with me and other comet observers.


APRIL 28th 2013 – Catching Up…

As you can see from the date here, it’s been more than a month since I’ve updated this “Updates” part of my blog. Why? Well, mostly because I’ve been so busy trying to see, photograph and write about Comet PANSTARRS! It’s just about gone now, a binocular object in the constellation of Cassiopeia, a little fainter each night, but far from being disappointed by it, as many other comet watchers and bloggers have been, I have very fond memories of PANSTARRS. It was a challenge to see – okay, it was an absolute pig to see! – because of its low magnitude and the godawful British weather, but I had some very enjoyable views of it, both alone and with great company, and it was my first “digital comet” – the first comet I was able to take half-decent photos of with a half-decent digital SLR. Observing and photographing PANSTARRS taight me a lot about observing and photographing comets in general, and as it sails off into the great dark I will look back on our brief time together with a lot of happiness and gratitude.


Looming on our astronomical horizon is, of course, Comet ISON. What’s the latest?

Well, it depends on where you go to *read* “the latest”. Some people are convinced ISON is going to be another Kohoutek, because it has been behind its predicted brightness. Others – like myself – are urging caution, and prefer to WAIT AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS!!!! We don’t know yet how ISON will perform before, as and after it rounds the Sun at the end of November because it’s nowhere **** NEAR the Sun yet! Yes, it might fizzle and fade away, but it might be a fantastic object, as impressive as we’re all hoping. But we don;t know yet, and we CAN’T know yet, so I wish the doom squad would stop bringing everyone down and just hit the “Pause” button until things are clearer. In a couple of months we’ll have a much better idea of what’s going to happen at year’s end. THEN we can star worrying, or celebrating.

Meanwhile, the comet has continued to brighten, slowly, yes, but surely, and is now becoming visible in – and photographed through – larger amateur telescopes. It has a small but obvious tail, and is a classic “faint fuzzy” comet in pictures being taken by amateurs around the world. If you want to see some of those images, just go to the always brilliant Spaceweather.com website and click on the link to the “Realtime Comet Gallery”. Lots of ISON images there.

But it’s not just amateurs who are photographing ISON now. Recently the Hubble Space Telescope took an image of the comet, and that was splashed all over the internet. I’ll be amazed if you haven’t seen it already, but just in case you haven’t – or if you have, and want to enjoy drooling over it again – here it is…


Oooh, how pretty is that?! Comet ISON isn’t actually that beautiful blue colour of course; the blue tint was added by the Hubble team “to bring out subtle details in the comet’s structure”. Yeah, right. They did that to make it look pretty, didn’t they? 😉

The full story behind that image can be found here…

Hubble photographs Comet ISON

…and it contains a very interesting snippet of information. At the moment, the comet’s coma – the cloud of gas surrounding its nucleus – is 1.2x as wide as Australia. As AUSTRALIA!! So, if the nucleus really is around 4km wide, that means something a little larger than one of Australia’s most famous landmarks, Uluru (used to be known as Ayers Rock) is now surrounded by a cloud of gas larger than the continent itself

hs-2013-14-c-web_oz uluru

Very cool!

The Hubble team did some more processing on their image, and it really does bring out details…

hs-2013-14-c-web_print 2

Now that’s interesting… that image clearly shows that although ISON is only a small comet (as I said above, current estimates suggest it is only 4km across, we thought it was bigger at one time) it is already very active. The tail is well developed, and there’s a jet of material shooting out of the sunward face of the comet which is putting out a *lot* of material. What does this mean for ISON’s prospects? No idea. And I don’t think the comet experts can tell yet, either. Maybe it’s a good thing, in that it shows ISON is a very active comet, with a lot of  “stuff” to come off and out of it, thus making it brighter in the sky later in the year..? Or maybe it’s a bad thing, and the comet is peaking too soon, meaning it will run out of “stuff” before it rounds the Sun, making it fainter in the sky..? No idea. Just no idea. We have to wait and see. Every comet is different, we can’t predict the future behaviour of ISON based on the past behaviour of other comets, we just can’t do that (though it would be very handy if we could!). All we can do for now is look at images like this and cross our fingers that, come November and December, we see something truly memorable in the sky which we will be excited and inspired by.

The other development with Comet ISON is that, inevitably, the internet is now groaning under the weight of absolute nutters, fruit loops and headcases predicting – well, predicting all sorts of things, all of them utter bull. Some are predicting ISON will bring death and destruction to Earth, showering us with cosmic debris as it rounds the Sun. Others are predicting ISON will trigger earthquakes and tidal waves. Still others are proclaiming that ISON is “a sign from God” and will herald the apocalypse… If it wasn’t so infuriating it would be sad. I honestly wish someone would invent a computer virus which would sweep through the internet *like* a bloody tsunami, smashing up and carrying away the shattered debris of every stupid, deluded, nut job website, blog and YouTube channel which is putting out this crap. One of my “favourites” – and I’m not going to name them, because that’s just giving them publicity – is posting regular YouTube clips on their channel filled with so much utter, utter rubbish that it’s quite staggering. It must actually take a great degree of dedication and commitment to write and record clip after clip after clip of total s**t like that, it really must.

The common theme running through these blogs, websites and YouTube films is a distrust of authority in general, and scientists in particular. That’s nothing new, of course; many people still insist on spouting that “We never went to the Moon! It was all a hoax!” crap, even though their temple-tapping craziness has been exposed countles times for what it is. What I can’t get my head around – and what really annoys me, to be honest – is how these people rant on about how the scientists are wrong, or lying, when their whole lives are made possible BY science and scientists. How can people who use computers, mobile phones, the internet, TV, etc, all things that came FROM science and technology, suddenly say that science and scientists can’t be trusted?

And NASA is hiding the facts about ISON is it? That would be hiding them by posting pictures on the internet for anyone and everyone to look at, and work with, right?

And the Governments of the world “know the truth” about ISON but are hiding it from us? Ah, these would be the Governments of the world which can’t keep ANYTHING secret, right? The Governments of the world that regularly have their financial mistakes, sex scandals and worse revealed by investigative journalists?

Although many people want to speak out about this, they don’t because they worry about the response they’ll get. Well, it’s time someone said something to these cyber clowns. I have a message for all the people – and I know many of them will read this, because WordPress tells me who is reading and linking to my blog – who are putting out all this stuff, all the “The End Is Nigh”/NASA is hiding the truth from us/This is God’s Judgement crap:

Either take the time to educate yourselves about basic astronomy, about what comets actually are, and can do, and how they behave, or shut the **** up, because you’re embarrassing yourselves, people are laughing at you and your stoopidity. But worse, you’re worrying, even scaring, a lot of people who think that because you’re intelligent enough to have a blog, or website, or YouTube channel, you know what you’re talking about. You don’t. Actually, I suspect many of you KNOW you don’t, and you’re just jumping on the ISON End Is Nigh bandwagon because it makes you feel part of some big secret. Stop it. Stop it now. You’re making fools of yourselves. Because when ISON sails past, leaving behind nothing but millions of people with smiles on their faces, memory cards full of beautiful photos, and great memories of having seen something lovely in the night sky, you’ll forget all about ISON and start ranting on about something else “out there” heralding the end of mankind, as you always do. 

And I have another message, this time for anyone who has read any of those blogs or websites, or seen any of those YouTube posts, and been worried by what they read, heard or saw:

Don’t be worried, they’re talking rubbish, sheer rubbish. These are, remember, the same people who predicted the world would end in 2012 – you know, that whole Mayan thing – and we’re still here. Ah, they don’t mention that now, do they? No, don’t worry. Stick to blogs like this one, or the others out there, which will just tell you the truth and make sure you know when and where to look for ISON, rather than fill your heads with BS about pressure waves, tsunamis, comet impacts and “The Red Hand of Death”, and you’ll be fine.

Have I got time for a third and final message? Good.

Oi! Newspaper reporters! TV reporters! Web journalists! Will you please, PLEASE, stop parroting the “Comet might be brighter in the night sky than the Full Moon!!!” rubbish?!?!?!? It won’t be!!! We’ve been telling you for MONTHS that it won’t be, but you keep on repeating it, over and over, just lazily cutting it out of someone else’s old, outdated report and pasting it into your own. STOP it!

Ok, I’ve got that out of my system now. Thanks for listening. I’m going for a lie down in a dark room.. 🙂

I hope you’ll keep checking back here for updates about ISON.

MARCH 7th 2013

A brief interruption…

Typical. Just as Comet PANSTARRS swings up into the northern sky I won’t be able to update the blog for a few days, so I’ll probably miss reporting on the first northern hemisphere sightings of the comet! Never mind, normal service will be resumed on Monday, when I hope to see PANSTARRS for the first time myself! In the meantime, to keep up to date with northern developments, please follow the following people on Twitter, if you can…

Daniel Fischer  @cosmos4u

Nick Howes @NickAstronomer

for regular updates and links to sites which will be following the northern apparition, and keep an eye on the following websites…



for images and observing reports as they come in.

Good luck everyone!!

FEBRUARY 27th 2013

Interview with astronomer and comet expert Nick Howes.

…and now for something completely different! 🙂

If you’re following comets PANSTARRS and ISON on Twitter or Facebook – and if you’re not you really should be, because as well as a huge number of nutter-written websites and blogs ranting and raving about the imminent end of the world etc, there are many extremely educational, informative and useful sites written by people fascinated by and passionate about comets – then you’ll already know who Nick Howes is.


He’s one of the hardest-working “social media astronomers” on the internet, followed by thousands of people on both sites, and his posts and Tweets are an invaluable source of accurate and reliable information about what’s happening “out there” with PANSTARRS and ISON. He regularly posts images he’s taken of comets using some of the world’s major telescopes. And as if that wasn’t enough to earn him a superhero cape, he’s a huge champion of Outreach and Education too!

So OBVIOUSLY when I was wondering “Who can I ask some *serious* questions about PANSTARRS and ISON?” I thought of him…

One Twitter DM later and Nick had generously agreed to take some time out of his increasingly busy schedule to talk to this blog. So, grab yourself a coffee, and settle down for a chat with one of the professional astronomers who’s not only observing these comets as a scientist, but as an enthusiast too…


Nick,  thanks for talking to us, especially when you’re so busy. Firstly,  can you explain briefly what you do in relation to comet – hunting and observing?
My role with the Faulkes Telescope project is to set up and work on professional-amateur collaborations. Working with observatories such as the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, we have used the 2m Faulkes scopes to help them with their LARI project aiming to improve the orbits of trans Neptunian objects. The slow movement of these means it’s a perfect project to engage schools with, as they can also help with astrometry (learning the art and science behind how objects move and how to measure this for non critical targets (i.e. ones we don’t have to file data on quickly , unlike say a new comet)). We’re also working a a ground support telescope for the ESA Rosetta mission, where we’ll be monitoring comet 67P throughout its observable passage through the solar system over the coming few years. 
This will be to provide astrometry and photometry for observation programs (managed by NASA so well on the EPOXI mission with their AOP project), and also as we have so much telescope time (which is difficult for professional observatories with large instruments to get a lot of the time) on the almost Hubble sized Faulkes scopes, we’ll be able to provide very high resolution data on the dust and gas levels coming off the comet, which will feed in to our own research papers with the CARA (Italian Comet Research group) of which I am a member.
My own smaller team of Ernesto Guido and I along with colleagues in Italy at the Remanzacco observatory also monitor a wide range of comets and asteroid bodies in the solar system, looking for evidence of any unusual behaviour (again for a long term study) such as fragmentation and outburst type events.
Can you tell us something about the equipment you use –  the telescopes, cameras etc? 
At home I have a C11 Celestron,  a TMB105 refractor and several other smaller refractors and solar H-Alpha and Calcium K line telescopes. I use the C11 for occasional high resolution deep sky work, and the solar scopes for imaging the Sun of course. The TMB though is my workhorse. It’s a superb wide field telescope, ideal for imaging nebula and galaxies (which I enjoy for aesthetic reasons), but also for tracking comets and asteroids on a wider field basis. CCD’s I use the Atik 4000 CCD and the Atik 314L CCD for deep sky and spectroscopy work, and the Lumenera Skynyx 2-1 and 2-0 cameras for planetary, solar and lunar imaging.
Tell us about a couple of the comets you’ve observed in the past… Any famous names we might recognise? 
I was one of the people who detected the fragmentation of Comet C/2007 Q3 Sidiing Spring which made the BBC and Discovery Science (plus a ton of other) news and media outlets. We’re on the discovery MPEC (Minor Planet Electronic circular) for dozens of new comets such as ISON, and one of the latest ones by Jim Scotti in Arizona, which we helped detect during the last BBC Stargazing Live TV show, and which got announced live on air by Professor Cox. We’re observing ISON regularly, as well as Comet C/2011 L4 Panstarrs, and last year we showed some of the last post fragmentation images of Comet Elenin. Soon we’ll be ramping up our campaign on comet 67P (for the Rosetta mission). Last year we attempted a very tricky acquisition of Comet Hale Bopp out at a record breaking distance, but only managed to get one night of suitably good seeing, where we believe we imaged the comet, but without a second night, we could not officially claim it.
Everyone’s getting very excited about Comet ISON and we’ll come to that. What about PANSTARRS? It seems to be waking up again after dozing off for a while. What are your impressions of the comet at the moment? 
It’s underperforming against the original expectations. It’s a shame that so much hype in the press went in to both Panstarrs and ISON. Panstarrs is looking like a nice comet in the making, with the tail getting steadily bigger, but it will be very low down for UK observers, and whilst it will be naked eye visible, right now (and this could still change!), it’s below the magnitude we all initially hoped for.
Always dangerous making predictions, I  know, but are you more or less optimistic now about the comet’s appearance once it sweeps up into the northern sky? And why? 
A little less, but for dedicated comet observers, it will still be a nice comet. The recent observations from observers further south have been more encouraging that the data was showing only a few weeks ago.
Clearly PANSTARRS is going to be ‘challenging’  to see from the north, thanks to its low altitude in a bright twilight sky, but still worth trying, right? 
Yes, but caution is needed. This will be a near horizon and one should wait for the Sun to be well out of the way in the early evening. The latest observations in the south are showing it with a nice tail and around mag 4 and decreasing (getting brighter)… so yes, absolutely worth a go… Binoculars (with caution noting the Sun comment) and wide field refractors will be great for this one if you have a clear view of the horizon.
You’ve just released a new image of comet ISON, which shows a faint, stubby tail. Tell us a little about what we can see on the picture, and how it was taken...
NH interview pic
Taken with the 2m Liverpool Telescope on La Palma which I use on a research program being conducted by my team and the CARA group in support of the NASA and ESA missions as well as for Afrho (Dust/Continuum) measurements. It was taken using a robotic scheduling system where I get the coordinate data from the JPL Horizons website in a format determined by the software on the telescope. As the scope has 0.3 arcsecond/pixel (in the binned mode we use) capabiity, we always set the exposure times so that we get sharp images (no trailing) on the comet. We could in theory track non sidereally on the comet itself, but this method works well. We then slew the telescope to known and nearby reference stars, which gives us the reference data needed to get the measurements in our Afrho software. We generally use the SDSS or Bessel R band filter as this not only is near to the peak response on the CCD’s on the telescopes, but also a good way to help with seeing and light.moon light pollution, So the images are almost always mono and not “pretty”, but we get great science from them.
To a non – astronomer it doesn’t look that impressive, but it’s obviously got you excited! Why? 
To answer this and your last question, what’s great for us, is that this is a first time comet, which is predicted to be very bright. Seeing a tail at over 4AU is great as it means the comet is now already quite active (the tail is measured at over 65000 km in length and growing). It’s also enabling us to use algorithms to look at the tail jet struture already (albeit in less detail then when it will be closer) and from that look at how the comet is evolving and things like the rotation rate.
Prediction time again –  is ISON the real deal, is it going to be be the one we remember for the rest of our lives, or could it yet fizzle and leave us all shaking our fists at it as it heads back out into deep space at year’s end? 
To quote the great David Levy “Comets are like cats…they have tails and are unpredictable” We saw some wild predictions for ISON which made the press, all of which were amusing at best and total rubbish at worst. ISON, if it makes it round the Sun, will hopefully prove to be a dramatic sight, possibly for a very short time, reaching very high negative magnitude values, (but also close to the Sun at this time). We (our Remanzacco team) have been more conservative than some estimations (some reaching staggering mag -15 + predictions) at around mag -7 to -8, and that’s IF it makes iit in at all. Lots of comets fragment, for various reasons. It’s got a close approach to Mars coming up (which to my mind if MSL images it from the surface will provide us with the image of the decade so far). IF and it’s a big IF it makes it and does perform flawlessly, then we are in for a visual treat… but…for my team, already it’s exciting, and as with other comets, we’re tracking it now as often as we can with big telescopes in the hope that something does happen, be that an outburst or even fragmentation…
Where will you be when ISON is making its Fast and Furious screaming flyby of the Sun? 
I hope to be somewhere in the Arizona desert, where I was lucky enough to spend time with some great friends for the Venus transit. The light pollution is minimal, and the viewing opportunities are superb. If she does “blow” then some great observatories there will be one of the prime places to witness this amazing event.
Obviously the world’s largest telescopes will be trained on both these comets, but do you think there’s still a role for the amateur to play at times like this? Can they contribute, even if they’re not particularly skilled or experienced observers? 
Absolutely. Even only this week I was contacted by a NASA/Naval Labs team who are setting up an ISON monitoring project similar to the NASA EPOXI Amateir observers program. Amateurs have unlimited scope time, can reach altitudes closer to the horizon than many professional scopes can attempt, and with good methodologies and good scientific understanding, can provide superb data (albeit at a lower resolution) in to observing programs. My data both from the home setup and Faulkes has made it in to papers I am a co-author on in prestigious science journals such as Icarus and the Astrophysical Journal.
We’re all crossing our fingers for good shows from these comets, but it seems like we’re long overdue for a truly,  truly Great Comet that dominates the whole sky, like those seen in the past. If you could jump in the TARDIS and go back I  time to see one,  which would it be, and why?
I think the great comet of 1843. This was a period of great scientific discovery, with Fox Talbot’s pioneering work on the positive negative film process, with the like of John Herschel. Could you imagine being the first person to photograph a comet, as they could have, and to be stood with such giants of science doing so?
Finally, what’s next for you, when PANSTARRS and ISON have left the stage and things get ‘back to normal’? Any big projects on your horizon? 
Yes, 67P is the big one for our team. I’ve been a science writer for ESA for about 18 months, and have met and worked with some of the Rosetta team on other projects, such as the ESA Near Earth Object detection programs. To be able to provide ground based support for what promises to be one of the most challenging and exciting missions in history is a real thrill, but who knows, new comets are coming along all the time, finding one of our own is always the goal, and we keep looking, but being on so many discovery MPECS (myself and Ernesto between us have over 2000 NASA ADS citations), and providing good science to Lowell, ESA’s SSA program and others, will keep us all very busy for many years to come.
Thanks for talking to us Nick!

FEBRUARY 17th 2013

Two comets in one fantastic picture!

I must admit I’ve been getting a bit pessimistic about Comet PANSTARRS. One forum post after another, one Facebook update after another, one blog after another has reported how it’s fainter than predicted, how it’s going to be much harder to see than we had all been hoping, how it might even be lost in the twilight completely come March. Not good.

But this morning, my faith has been restored! I’m a Believer again! Well, ok, I’m not so pessimistic as I was yesterday, put it that way. Why? Because I woke up this morning and there, on Facebook, was an image that had my jaw heading for the floor. Taken by southern hemisphere amateur astronomer and astrophotographer Justin Tilbrook, and originally posted on the brilliant “Ice in Space” forum, it shows two comets on the one frame, shining serenely close together amongst the stars of the southern sky. Here it is…

2 comets Justin Tilbrook

I know what you’re thinking – where are the comets?! Let me show you…

2 comets Justin Tilbrook labels

Comet LEMMON has been delighting southern hemisphere observers for a while now. It’s over-performed a little, developing a lovely little tail and a greenish hue, and is now a good naked eye object. But it’s the view of Comet PANSTARRS down near the horizon there that has renewed my hope. It’s clearly got a nice V-shape, with real structure, and is probably naked eye brightness by now too. That suggests that when it sails up into our northern sky it *will* be visible against the twilight, and will be well worth looking at through binoculars and small telescopes… 🙂

Great shot Justin!

FEBRUARY 11th 2013

Terry Lovejoy’s PANSTARRS image…

I cheekily asked Terry Lovejoy to tell us a bit more about his latest image of Comet PANSTARRS, and he very graciously sent me back this…

Lovejoy PANSTARRS Feb 9

This image of Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) was made Feb 9.7 and shows 2 distinct tails. The brighter and curved tail extends over 0.5 of degree and the longer straight tail extends to the edge of the image for a length of nearly 2 degrees. The telescope used was a Celestron C8 “Hyperstar” with a QHY-9 cooled monochrome camera. At the time the comet was easily visible in binoculars at magnitude 5.5.

“Re comet’s brightness : The current brightening trend suggests a magnitude 3 at peak (but it will be difficult to find being so close to the sun in the sky) and will be around mag 4 when it is more generally visible in the later part of March. The brightening trend is actually pretty typical of comets in general – they hardly ever brighten as fast as the predictions (so why are such optimistic predictions posted – that is a very good question!!).”

Thanks Terry!

FEBRUARY 11th 2013

…and the countdown to the first “The End Is Nigh!!” howling, tin foil hat-wearing, basement-dwelling, X-Files obsessed, wild-haired, conspiracy theory loving nutter declaring that the Pope’s resignation is a sign from above that that appearance of Comet ISON is going to herald the End Of The World begins… (checks watch)… NOW…  🙂

FEBRUARY 10th 2013

Comet ISON might still be a stupid distance away from us, and we might still be 6 months away from our first naked eye sightings of it, but it is now being imaged regularly by amateur astronomers all across the world, including some with quite modest equipment. The key word there though is *imaged*. It’s showing up on long exposure photographs, as a teeny tiny blurry smudgy spot, but there are fewer visual observations coming in I think it’s fair to say. But still, the fact that ISON is being imaged when it’s this far from the un, and indeed is already growing a hint of a tail, bodes well for its Sungrazing fly-by in November.

Here’s an image taken by Doug Ellison, an amazing friend of mine who founded the legendary Unmannedspaceflight.com forum and who now works for NASA, at JPL in California. Doug isn’t an astronomer, amateur or professional, and he doesn’t have a telescope, but he is an absolute technical and web genius (he’ll be embarrassed by me saying that but it’s true) and without a telescope of his own has managed to take some images of ISON! HOW?!?! Well, he used one of  the network of  iTelescopes, which can be operated online. I’ll let Doug explain…

I’m using iTelescope to hopefully learn enough to image Juno (spaceprobe – SA) during its flyby in October.  I figure this makes a nice bit of practice for moving objects 🙂

“Cometary imaging advice I found suggested using a V-band filter. So that’s what I did… 5 images each of 5 minutes exposure.  All stacked in Photoshop and then the first and last images flicked back and forth to track down the fuzzy little swine….took a while to find it!

…but find it he did, and here’s Doug’s gif animation showing Comet ISON, centre, moving through the starfield…

Doug E 1 gif

Woo hoo! That’s it! That’s our comet! Nice work Doug.

And this morning, Rolando Ligustri, one of the members of the Yahoo Comets-ml group posted a colour image of ISON… click to enlarge…


Here’s a crop of the comet itself…

ronaldo crop

Just a little teardrop smudge, a tiny misty tadpole lost amongst the stars, but oh it could turn into something special, couldn’t it?

I’ve been thinking about when I might get my first glimpse of ISON myself, and I reckon that I should see it in August with my telescope, my trusty 4.5″ reflector. That ‘scope has served me well for many years now, and has shown me many of the wonders of the universe. But although it is very portable, and packs down into two holdalls, it’s not exactly light, and it does take a while to put up, so I decided to look for another telescope to use, something I could have ready to pick up and grab  and head out with if a break suddenly appears in the Cumbrian cloud, offering me a chance to look at the comet later in the year. I wanted something smaller and lighter, something I could take up to Kendal Castle – my prime observing location – and be observing with within minutes. Something like this perhaps…


…but then I decided to go down the “spotting scope” route, so I trekked around Kendal, looking in all the usual suspect shops, laughing nervously and uncomfortably at the prices before backing out of the shop and running away quickly. Then I decided to look in the local “Cash In A Dash” shop – kind of a modern day pawn shop, every town has a couple now – and when I walked in through the door there it was… exactly what I was looking for. In fact, more than what I’d been looking for. I asked how much it was and when I was told the price I thoght I’d misheard him, and made him say it again. Nope, same as the first time, so I got it. I didn’t get a chance to set it up and test it until half an hour ago, when I set it up on my porch and trained it on a tree at the end of my yard, but yep, it works, it works just fine…

So, dear readers, let me introduce you to the telescope which will be helping me enjoy comets PANSTARRS and ISON later this year…

new scope

Purdy, ain’t she? A 70mm Celestron refractor, complete with three eyepieses, erecting prism, barlow, tripod, carry bag… thank you very much. How much? Well, if I told you that you’d think I was gloating. Let’s just say it was more than £44 and less than £46 and leave it at that… 😉

So, time’s a’ticking, but I have my gear – telescopes, cameras, binoculars. Well, most of it. All I need now, I think, is a good wide angle lens for my DSLR – to allow me to cature the glory of ISON’s 90 degree plus tail! haha! – and I’ll be ready.

Bring it on… 🙂

Note: the picture behind my new telescope is a painting of Kendal Castle, painted by my amazingly talented girlfriend Stella, which she’s donated to “Lakes Alive” for their auction in support of this year’s “Mintfest” street festival here in Kendal. You can find more of her work in her gallery, and here’s a better view of the castle picture…

castle + choc2

FEBRUARY 10th 2013

…and we are at PANSTARRS minus one month and counting..!

We should get our first proper look at Comet PANSTARRS – and our first good idea of what it will actually look like at its peak – in a month’s time. It’s currently coming in towards the Sun, and lots of people are clearly hoping that it will buck its ideas up and put on a decent show for us. As ever, here on this blog, I’ll just say “Let’s wait and see…”!

FEBRUARY 7th 2013


Well, whaddya know, FINALLY, as the internet starts to groan under the weight of nutters and idiots ranting and raving about how Comet ISON will destroy Earth, or has been sent by God to exterminate Mankind, or whatever,  NASA has woken up to the imminent arrival of Comet PANSTARRS in our sky next month (next month!!! It only seems five minutes ago that I was typing “next March!”). Yesterday NASA released one of its updates, giving information about how, when and where to see Comet PANSTARRS. This was because one of its space probes, DEEP IMPACT, has taken some images of ISON from way, waaaay out in space. You can read (and listen to, and watch) the NASA release here

The NASA release features what must be the best “How to find PANSTARRS” graphic I’ve seen yet. I made a screengrab with my phone…


You’ll note that the graphic just shows a single long tail; that’s because it just shows the direction of the comet’s straight gas tail. As you’ll have seen from previous entries, below, it might be the comet’s curved, arcing dust tail which steals the show, we’ll have to wait and see…

Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago I added a page to this blog – which was picked up by WIRED magazine, amazingly!! haha! – suggesting that it *might* be possible for Comet ISON to be seen from Mars, and it MIGHT be possible for it to be photographed by the rovers exploring the red planet. A lot of people thought that wasa fantastic and very excoting idea, but others suggested it was a bit, well, stoopid. Oh yeah? Tell that to NASA; turns out they are already actively planning to look for and photograph the comet from Mars!

YES! I’m going to email Jim Green and ask him more about thse plans! Stay tuned…

Meanwhile, more and more amateurs are now taking images of Comets PANSTARRS and ISON, so this is all starting to feel very real, isn’t it? It’s now February 7th, and we should be looking at PANSTARRS in the evening sky after sunset FOR REAL in just over a month’s time. Can’t wait!

FEBRUARY 5th 2013

Well, I don’t know what’s going on. One website says that Comet PANSTARRS has fizzled, and might not even be visible to the naked eye at its best, while another says it is back on track to be almost as bright as Hale-Bopp was in 1997. I hope it’s the latter, but at this point in time I think we’re just going to have to cross our fingers, keep an eye on the reports of comet observers around the world, and wait to hear from the experts about what we might see in March. In the meantime, if you want to see the latest images of PANSTARRS and ISON, the popular Spaceweather.com site has a gallery of comet images which is updated almost hourly, so keep checking here for the latest pictures of the comets.

I’ve been busy on Photoshop again, combining the latest (brilliant!) computer simulation work being done by Uwe Pilz, one of the very talented members of the Yahoo comets-ml mailing list, with my Sky Safari screenshots, to produce pics showing what PANSTARRS ****MIGHT**** look like if it behaves itself. Uwe’s incredible work generates images which predict the appearance of a comet’s dust tail, and he’s checked its accuracy by running through it the numbers of past comets and seeing how closely his simulated views of their tails match the real thing, seen on photos, and his work is very accurate. He has looked at what PANSTARRS might look like, and his program suggests it will have a strongly curved tail, arcing over to the left. I added those simulations to Sky Safari screenshots – which pretty accurately predict a comet’s location in the sky and the direction of its GAS tail, though not its dust tail – and here’s what I came up with… as usual, I’m NOT claiming “PANSTARRS will look like this!” these are just my artistic impressions based on limited data and a good dollop of optimism, and they show the comet’s location in the sky, and the general appearance its tail MIGHT have if we’re lucky…



I hope it does look something like that, but this is all just wild guessing and adding two and two to get five, so again, I urge everyone out there: let’s just wait and see… 🙂

JAN 19th 2013

More potentially bad news re Comet PANSTARRS… as more and more observations come in it seems that the comet is definitely fainter than predicted, and that might mean it will be a lot fainter in March than we were hoping. Here’s the latest observations graph…

graph panstarrs jan 19

Oh… if you follow that curve to its peak you find it reaches magnitude 3. In a dark sky that would still be fairly good, an easy naked eye object. But we’re not going to SEE PANSTARRS in a dark sky, we’re going to see it in a bright, twilight sky, so that lower magnitude is worrying. It might be getting to the “difficult to see” stage by March if it keeps following that trend. Cross your fingers everyone…

JAN 13th 2013

Hmmmm. This might be bad news for the future of Comet PANSTARRS, or it might just be a blip. Look at this chart…


Every dot on that chart is someone’s observation of Comet PANSTARRS, and the two upwards curving lines are graphs climbing towards its maximum brightness based on those observations. That chart shows us that until recently PANSTARRS was on track to reach a peak magnitude of zero or even minus one, but it looks like it’s started to fade a little, and if you continue the curve upwards you see the comet’s maximum brightness reaches just +1. Now, +1 is still pretty good! That’s still “obvious to the naked eye”, but it’s not zero, and it’s a long way off minus one. So… hopefully this is just a blip, and PANSTARRS will climb back up onto that *higher* curve. We’ll have to wait and see… In the meantime, cross your fingers everyone…!

Read more about this here: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/comets-ml/message/20415

JAN 6th 2013

This time next year we will all, hopefully, have folders on our computer hard drives packed full of beautiful, spectacular, gorgeous images of Comet ISON, and will be looking back on its appearance in our Christmas skies with great fondness and happiness – or we’ll be cursing its name because after all the build-up it fizzled out to nothing! We’ll just have to wait and see…

But what does the comet look like now?

Well, the easy answer is “not much”! At the moment it’s still a long, long way from the Sun, and is out of the reach of all but the largest amateur telescopes. But it IS being observed, and even photographed, and I’ve generously been given permission by comet observer and expert Nick Howes to post here an animation made of photos taken just a couple of nights ago, with the 2m Liverpool Telescope on La Palma. Here it is (you might need to click on the image to set the animation running, WordPress is a bit funny like that..!)


(Image courtesy of Remanzacco Observatory) The comet is the slightly fuzzy object which is moving from lower right to upper left in the centre of the image during the animation.

That’s it, everyone… that‘s the ball of ice and dirt and dust we’re all expecting so much of, and pinning so many hopes on. Little more than a tiny puffball on images now, what will happen when its frozen body is warmed by the Sun? Will it grow a single, long, searchlight tail which will stretch across the sky like those of such famous past comets like Ikeya-Seki and, more recently, Lovejoy? Or will its tail be an exotic peacock fan with multiple streamers and tattered gaseous banners, like McNaught’s, or Comet West’s from the mid 1970s? Or will it thumb its nose at us and not turn on as we’re all hoping so desperately it will, and just develop a short stubby tail that leaves us all frustrated and disappointed? We can’t know that yet. But reading all the various bulletin board and forum posts, and articles (and there are more every day!) being written about ISON, I get the impression the experts are fairly optimistic, confident even, that it will put on a pretty good show this coming November.

Let’s all cross our fingers…! 🙂

54 Responses to “Updates and Images…”

  1. […] E’ troppo presto per dire se la Cometa ISON sopravviverà fino al grande evento. Allo stesso tempo, è ancora presto per dire se il tanto atteso Sidereus Nuncius, o Messaggero delle stelle, ossia la Cometa PANSTARRS, che si avvicinerà il mese prossimo alla Terra, sarà luminosa o meno. Un sito web afferma che la Cometa PANSTARRS è svanita e potrebbe non essere visibile ad occhio nudo al suo meglio, mentre un altro sito afferma che è di nuovo in pista per essere quasi brillante quanto lo era la famosa Hale-Bopp nel 1997″ ha affermato Stuart Atkinson, attesa osservatore del cielo, nel suo”Waiting for ISON” blog (https://waitingforison.wordpress.com/updates-and-images/). […]

  2. Can one take photographs of Pan Starrs with a DSLR through that telescope (70mm Celestron refractor)?

  3. Great June 14 update!

  4. nasa can take very detailed pictures of Halley`s comet yet none of ison? COME ON

  5. esa giotto probe in 86 now we have Hubble returning images of,for example,shoemaker-levey9,this amazing piece of hardware can see billions of light years away and can pick out the most obscure objects any where,how ever where are the detailed images of ison ?

    • ESA isn’t NASA so you were wrong there. And look at the Hubble images of SL9 and you’ll see they’re just the same as the ones it’s taking of ISON – starry points of light with gaseous and dusty tails. And it can only ever see comets like that because they’re just a few miles across and surrounded by a hazy cloud of dust and gas, far too small and too far away for HUBBLE to see any detail on. It can see billions of light years away, you’re right, but it’s takin pictures of truly huge objects, which aren’t moving, and captures them using very, very long exposures. Try that with a comet and you’d just get a fuzzy like, no detail at all. It’s why Hubble can’t take images of planetary moons. Do a Google search for Hubble images of Mars, which is closer and thousands of times bigger than ISON, and you’ll see it takes BEAUTIFUL pics of the whole disc but can’t see features on its surface smaller than dozens of km across. ISON is just a couple of km across, hence no detailed Hubble pics.

  6. thankyou,there is so much disinformation about this subject.

    • You’re very welcome, Neil. And it’s not disinformation, it’s sheer undiluted bullshit, to be honest. UFOs, solar flares, alien motherships/habitats, energetic particles, this comet is attracting the attention of sad loser nutters like spilled sugar attracts ants. But they’re the same people who predicted Comet Elenin would bring chaos, predicted the Mayan Calender rubbish, and insist on the Nibiru fantasies. It’s amusing at first, that people intelligent enough to turn on and usea computer, and the internet, could believe such crap, but then other people fall for it and get genuinely scared then it isn’t so funny any more.

  7. How do you know its not going to break apart and hit earth? Anything is possible. Maybe you’re the sad loser who’s spreading disinformation.

    • Even if it broke up the pieces wouldn’t hit Earth. Learn some astronomy before you go on people’s blogs, with a false name, talking bull.

  8. All I said was anything is possible. How is that talking bull? That’s the truth whether you like it or not. Comets are unpredictable and nasa admits they don’t even know how they work. It’s also a fact that comets cause solar flares, so maybe you need to do some learning there mr. know it all. Oh and pheonixpics is your real name?

    • Comets do not cause solar flares. Where is your proof supporting that claim? And not coincidences, actual observed and independently verified proof of a physical link being established between a small chunk of ice and an enormous ball of super hot gas that resulted in a release of energy.

      • Where is the proof that comets are ice?

      • The proof? Well, try measurements and photographs taken by spaceprobes that have actually visited comets and seen them close-up… spectroscopic measurements taken by Earth- and space-based instruments… you know, science. We’ve KNOWN they’re cold bodies – snow, ice, with rocky material and gas too – for a long time. The electric comet theory just doesn’t hold up with any observations, that’s the fact of the matter. And I don’t write off everything on YouTube, just the BS ISON-related videos about UFOs. Nibiru, Wormwood, meteorite showers, and the like. This is a blog about comet science and observation, not about pseudoscience. There are lots of blogs and forums out there happy to talk about that side of things, but I just won’t have that here, sorry. Thanks for your comment tho. And that skateboarding dog was pretty cool, by the way.

      • The measurements are spectroscopy mostly right?
        Which sees any compound of hydrogen and oxygen as a compound of o&h.The mainstream assumption is that this is water. But in reality it is possible that it is just another compound such as Hydroxyl.

        One final question. If its made of Ice how come NASA expect it to pass through the suns corona and survive to brighten our skies?
        Surely a ball of ice could not do this right?
        Again thanks for your time. 😀

      • Don’t expect, but certainly *hope*… 😉

      • But how can we hope that a snowball can survive the corona. My kids brought a snowball into my house once ………it melted. The corona is millions of degrees how can we expect a snowball to survive at all? Especially one only three miles across.

      • “Snowball” is just a convenient comparison, to be honest. It’s not like fluffy, damp, terrestrial snow. Comets are very hard, very compact bodies as was shown by the fact that when a NASA probe fired a projectile into one a few years ago it made a crater), held together by ice veins, and contain dense pockets of frozen gas too. But you’re right, the corona is very hot, and ISON may yet fall apart when it passes the Sun. Other comets have done that, and ISON may yet just fall to pieces in a week’s time. It will definitely lose a lot of material. Hopefully it will survive and sweep away from the Sun with a nice tail. Cross your fingers. 🙂

      • How do ice crystals become incredibly compact and dense in a vacuum ie;low pressure environment? High pressures are needed to compact ice. Surely this is against the laws of physics?
        I still do not buy into the ice theory.

      • Add to this that in a vacuum the boiling point of water is significantly reduced and you will start to see the real problems with the ice model.

  9. and if your so smart, then why is the jet on the front of the comet always at the front in every pic? If it was tumbling like comets are supposed to then it would not appear like that in every image. Being a know-it-all who insults anyone who disagrees with them just shows everyone how unintelligent and ignorant you are.

    • Now you see that’s actually a good, sensible question which I’m happy to answer for you. The ‘jet’ hasn’t changed position because new data suggests the comet is rotating around that axis, rather than tumbling end over end, so that feature has always been pointing forwards. That’s fascinating, and a good sign for the future,as it suggests a lot of the nucleus hasn’t become active yet, and when it does ISON might brighten a lot, fingers crossed 🙂

  10. I love you say “If you want to know the truth about comet ison ask an astronomer” then I ask you a simple question and you accuse me of talking bull. good job buddy.

  11. The truth is no one knows exactly what a comet will do, and if you believe everything nasa says then you are the nutbar. For all we know it could be on a collision course with earth and the powers that be would not tell us. so go watch your cnn and stick your head back in the sand like a good little sheep.

    • But you’re not *asking* me anything, are you? Like all trolls who just love to see their names on a screen by commenting on other people’s blogs and forums, you’re **telling** me things, the ignoring facts, not bothering do do any research yourself, then insulting me by calling me a sheep (that rang a bell actually, I’m thinking you’ve posted here under a different name, calling me the same thing, another dead giveaway of a troll) just cos I don’t believe in your deluded crap about NASA and the Govt lying to the world, keeping things secret etc. As if anyone could keep something as big as your Doomsday scenario a secret in this modern age of hackers and leaks it’s just ridiculous. The scientific fact is if ISON broke up the pieces wouldn’t explode out like shrapnel, they’d keep following the same path ISON was taking when whole – which takes it nowhere near Earth. So, no danger. I hope that reassures you.

  12. Look man I’m not one of those doomsdayers that believes ison is going to hit the earth, and no, I don’t know a lot about astronomy but I do know a little. It just seems like there’s some strangeness surrounding this comet. First, it was “Comet of the Century”, and now its just a regular comet. Wasn’t it you astronomers who said it was gonna be comet of the century and found out you were wrong, and are now saying you know exactly where it will be and what it will do? Smells a little fishy to me.

    • Some people did hype it up a lot yes, you’re correct, and the media took that hype and multiplied it many times. But responsible astronomers have been careful to point out from the start – as I have done here – that ISON might not be as dramatic as some said. And yes, our predictions will change as time passes because as our views of the comet improve we can understand its behaviour better. That’s how science works. It can be frustrating and confusing, but that’s science.

  13. I asked you about the jet at the front.

    • And I answered 🙂

    • Even The most brilliant scientists are seldom willing to accept the truth if it be such to contradict what they learned as students, taught as professors and hold as sacred ancestral treasures. Science Fanatics are just as bad as religious or sports fanatics…closed minded zombies

      • ‘Science Fanatics’? You mean scientists? I suppose your’ truth ‘ is different to ours?

  14. And its not my deluded crap about nasa, its people like former astronaut Edgar Mitchell, and former defense minister of Canada that are saying that.

  15. its going to hit mars or venus

    • Well, it’s already passed Mars so it can’t hot that, and it’s coming nowhere near Venus, so neither of those things are going to happen.

  16. “…and the countdown to the first “The End Is Nigh!!” howling, tin foil hat-wearing…”

    Took a wee glance at what you’re about and I’m moving on. There are some very lucid and well researched videos on youtube. I hope people are checking them out. Ciao buddy.

    • They’re certainly vivid, but well-reseached? No.They’re BS from start to finish. Unrelated clips of fireballs, meteors, etc, chopped up and sticky-taped together to make crappy-looking hack jobs. There is no science in them, just quackery. There is no research in them, just lazy rehashes of other people’s rubbish.

      • Try the electric comet by the thunderbolts project. It does not fit with what you are saying. Or are you one of those that will write off everything on youtube because you saw a dog on a skateboard there once?

      • Temple 1 impactor saw no ice and that bright flash should not have happened in the dirty snowball theory. All I am saying is that the jury is still out on this. So it seems to me that it would be imprudent to go accepting the first theory that comes along as outright fact. Especially as the electric comet theory, whilst not perfect, just keeps on making correct predictions about comet behavior, such as several aspects of theTemple1 impactor mission that even NASA were scratching their heads about. Such as.
        The unexpected erosion of surface features.
        The unexpected bright flash from the impact.
        The unexpected electrical camera interference that increased as the probe got closer.
        Amongst other things.

        I appreciate what you are doing here, I just think that the dirty snowball has not got much going for it. And thank you for taking the time to talk. Rational debate about this is tough to come by.

  17. What a pompous self righteous fool you are.I cannot believe how one tracked minded and opinionated you are.Of course you are a lounge room scientist..the worst kind.You blindly follow Nasa’s every word like a stupid lap dog when blind Freddy can see they are full of it and have been for years.I suppose images of rock carvings etc on Mars are a figment of everyones imaginations.You are the minority who need to be spoon fed your daily dose of crap.Those you put down so arrogantly dare to think outside the square..oh and those hubble images are paint by numbers finger paontings..so touched up it is beyond belief..catch up with the rest of the herd before you get trampled.

    • Always love it when someone who hasn’t got the guts to use their real name, and who can’t spell, or punctuate, leaves an ignorant rant on my blog telling *me* that I am wrong and that they know The Truth. Sometimes I wonder if I’m wasting my time here trying to educate people about ISON, and help them find it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. Then I read a comment like yours, full of stupidity about rock carvings on Mars and Hubble images, ignorance about basic science, and personal bile, and I am reminded why it’s so important to keep going – if people ;like me didn’t try to push back the tide of ignorance and stupidity people like you are trying to cover the planet with, we’d be just as guilty. So thanks for your comment Fred, appreciate you stopping by, now **** off back to your fantasy world and leave a beautiful sight in the sky, and a great scientific story, to the people who actually enjoy living in the real world.

      • You’re not wasting your time. Do keep pushing forward, even though (I admit) it sure seems science and the world is being blasted by more dumbing and deafening noise every day. “Signal to Noise” by P. Gabriel…a good anthem.

        I came into consciousness during the Apollo program, when the whole planet was so turned on by science and space and progress. What I’m reading and watching and feeling now is so bizarre. The film “Idiocracy” might hit very close to the future’s truth if the noise wins out. This YouTube clip almost qualifies as a documentary for some…right now!

  18. listening to u2 argue is the very reason this planet sucks! and i pray everyday this comet does hit, maybe then we can learn to love again.. and what good will it do to tell anyone the truth??? we already know what would happen from the orsen wells war of the worlds. yea, they have already done a practice fire drill.. so plz just be ready for ANYTHING. live and love like ur dying , then there is nothing to worry about… the ONLY REAL TRUTH is in ur ownself..u just feel it.. peace xoxo
    thank u for all the info on ison, you are a plesent bloger and fun to read.

  19. Thank you for the education, and taking away my worries obtained by the Nuts!

  20. “ISON is not going to shower Earth with météorites” … I think Yes , we could have a meteor shower from ISON. Look at this video from Science Nasa http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=_eSYxvUWwVk

  21. I have a phot of comet ison I took from my iphone November 14th at 3:300 in Katy Texas. Please tell me if you would like me to send it to you and if so please provide me an email address.

  22. Hello,
    There seems to be a question mark over the return path of ison,will earth pass through a debris field left by this comet ?Is there debris following ison? Thank you for your reply `s in the past,pheonixpics.

    • There’s no question mark Neil. If ISON stays in one piece or breaks into lots of little pices it/they will follow the same track we have already calculated, a track that will not bring it anywhere near the Earth. We’re safe. As for a “debris trail” the only debris trailing ISON is dust and grit, no bit bits of rock and certainly no asteroids dragged along with it, as some people still think.

  23. point is we depend on people telling the truth and not leave all in a barrel of lies trying to find the corner NASA let all down by first closing then to come back and say ison will hit the sun , then ison is dead then to say it’s not dead but only after others had beaten them by 2 hour.

    I never trusted them and now I never will , thanks to all for doing there bit thank you.

    • You need to get your facts straight. NASA *got* shut down by the US Govt, it wasn’t their choice; NASA never, EVER said ISON would hit the Sun because that was never, ever going to happen, we knew that from the start; NASA didn’t declare ISON dead or alive in the first place, teams of astronomers were making that call, and understandably that call had to change as new data and images came in. That’s how science works. You have a prediction, based on the info available at the time, then the event happens, and the real thing can go differently, but that’s okay because it helps you refine your models and computer programs to work more accurately the next time. No cover up, no conspiracy, just Science. You don’t trust them? Bizarre. You use a computer, or phone, to get onto the internet – they’re all made by science. You use email, texts – science. You watch TV? Science gave you that. You fly? Drive a car? Where do you think they came from? But when science tells you how a chunk of ice flying towards a star *might* behave, and then corrects itself, you don’t trust it? Ridiculous, really.

  24. you got to be from that bankrupt place so have a nice year , your going to need all the luck you can get , in other words i just don’t hear you or your poverty stricken country god bless the UK….

    i saw what i saw .._!_

  25. You rag on about others putting out des-information, when you do the same. Question in point: The Maya did not state anywhere “That the world will come to an end in December” as you among others read into it. But that mankinds conscious will change from hate to unconditional love. Not overnight of course, you and others must learn & walk this love. Stop being so judgemental as a know it all, would be a good starting point, before engageing your mouth.

    • The problem with the whole Maya thing was there was a hint of a whisper of a germ of an interesting cultural story in it, but – like most things nowadays – that story got hijacked by the nutters, and suddenly the whole thing turned into absolute rubbish, with one crystal-hugging, incense-sniffing, pyramid-worshipping X-Files addicted “conspiracy theorist” whacko after another predicting apocalyse, armageddon, death and destruction, etc. So thanks for your comment, but if you want to “rag on” at me about “des-information” maybe you should try “engageing” your own brain before criticising me, ok?

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