Updates: August 2013

AUGUST 28th 2013

Well, things are hotting up in the ISON world! Now it has come out of the Sun’s glare, and is visible in a relatively dark (and steadily getting darker) sky, the comet is easier to photograph than it has ever been, and amateur astronomers with reasonably large telescopes are now taking images of it daily, images which show a tail stretching away from it. Ok, it’s only a titchy teny tail, but it’s there, and it’s only going to get longer and more obvious from now on…

Here are a couple of recent images of Comet ISON taken by amateur astronomers with good telescopes and a lot of technical know how…

CRANFORD Aug 26th Canaries SLOOH telescope

That image was taken by Don Cranford using one of the SLOOH telescopes. You can see a pretty decent tail on ISON there, but it’s important to bear in mind that that’s a VERY magnified image, and ISON is still just a tiny dot with a tiny tail through a telescope eyepiece. I don’t expect to see it for another month or so through my humble 4.5″ scope, maybe longer. Meanwhile, Bruce Gary – the amateur astronomer who famously “recovered” ISON after it came out of the glare of the Sun – is now photographing ISON every opportunity he gets, and here’s his latest image taken on Aug 27th…

Bruce Gary Aug 27th

Love that pic!

But what do these grainy black and white images actually MEAN? Well, they’re proof that ISON has not, despite what the doom mongers said, “fizzled”. It has a very short stub of a tail now, which has to be good because as it gets nearer to the Sun, and us, that tail will surely only grow longer and more prominent in telescopes and on photographs. True, ISON might not be as bright as expected or predicted yet, but it’s not *that* far off track, and no professional astronomers I know or follow on Twitter or Facebook are pulling on hair shirts and sobbing “It’s rubbish, it’s another Kohoutek, we won’t see a thing…

All we can say is that although there’s still a lot of debate about ISON’s brightness, and some say sluggish brightening, there seems a general consensus that ISON’s future is looking a lot brighter than it was a few weeks ago,..

Meanwhile, broadcast media interest in Comet ISON has yet to catch fire, I think it’s true to say. It’s still a long way off, in news terms, and will remain so until it becomes visible in binoculars I think, i.e. sometime in October. But we are seeing quite a lot of astronomy and science magazine coverage now, and it won’t be long before the first ISON-related books start appearing on the shelves. As well as the inevitable quickly-produced cash ins, there will be a few higher quality books, and I’m hoping to be able to review some of those here in due course. Watch this space…

Online, there’s good and bad. Let’s look at he “good” first. The CIOC ISON “community” is very busy, and every day its members post new images or post comments discussing the comet’s progress and future. Elsewhere, many bloggers are writing good, thoughtful, accurate posts about ISON and what it might or might not do, On Twitter, there are several Twitter accounts you can follow which will give you regular and accurate updates about what ISON is doing, and provide you with links to websites well worth your time visiting.


Oh boy, the nutters are really coming out of the woodwork now, and are LOVING having Comet ISON to play with and drape their paranoid delusions over. Anything bad happening in the world right now – the outrages in Syria, the forest fires in Yosemite, earthquakes, you name it – is being caused by ISON. Not only that, but apparently the world’s security forces are standing by to handle “global emergencies” which will be caused by ISON, and more. And of course, it turns out ISON is actually the fabled “Planet X” or “Nibiru” to give it its full nutter title. Or it’s “Wormwood”, the fabled “Doomsday Comet” which people (i.e. nutters) have been predicting for a long, long time will collide with Earth and kill us all. Yes, that’s right – Comet Elenin was “Wormwood” and “Nibiru” too! Yes, that’s right, it was going to hit Earth and wipe us all out. LasttimeI checked we’re still here… 🙂

If you want a laugh – or if you want to throw your hands up in despair at the sphincter-tightening level of scientific ignorance and downright stupidity many people glory and revel in now – just do a Search in Twitter for #ison or #cometison – and see what comes up. You’ll be rewarded with gems like these…


See what I mean? Utter, utter garbage peddled by nutters and fruit loops who really shouldn’t be allowed within a mile of a computer. I now spend half an hour or so each day replying to these fruit cakes, telling them that no, ISON isn’t Nibiru, or Wormwood, and no, it’s not going to hit us, and no, it’s not going to blaze “15x brighter than the Moon!!!”. Why? Aren’t I just wasting my time? After all, they’re never going to stop spouting and regurgitating their nonsense, and the Army of ISON Nutters now outnumbers me by thousands if not tens of thousands to one. Well, I do it because I feel it’s my duty to, as a science communicator and Outreacher. Everyone knows and agrees with the saying “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. Well, surely, all it takes for ignorance and stupidity to triumph is for people who know the facts to say nothing. So I’m happy to spend a little time countering the ridiculous claims and nonsense of these lunatics, and I wish others would do too.

But I’m not obsessing about it, it’s just annoying, and I’m not going to let it spoil ISON for me! I’m really looking forward to my first view, which I hope will be through one of my Eddington AS friends’ telescopes sometime next month. I don’t think I’ll see it through my own scope until October. In the meantime, I’m practising taking astrophotos with my new camera (love it! Can do so much more than my old one!) and gathering together a toolbox of lenses for it, in anticipation of ISON coming into my view. I now have very high hopes that, if I can get to a really good dark sky, I’ll be able to take some pretty impressive ISON photos, whatever it does, especially after taking photos like this with it last night while I was out trying to catch a glimpse of the northern lights…


Very pleased with that! I’m also working very hard on this blog, and on my recently-launched “ISON Atlas” which features easy to use and understand finder charts for Comet ISON. After finishing this post here I’m going to be heading over to the “Atlas” to update it with some new charts, like this…

Dec 20th

…so I hope you’ll take a wander over there and look at those.  🙂

So, there you go… ISON is brightening and being photographed and observed by more and more people. Media interest is still on a very low heat, but that should start to climb once ISON related books and magazines start to hit the shelves.  And any day now ISON itself might suddenly brighten as it becomes more active, than all the naysayers and OhWoeIsMe-ers will be eating their words and backpedalling like crazy as the world wakes up to the possibility of a nice, bright naked eye comet in the sky later this year.

Ticking along nicely, everyone. Ticking along nicely… 🙂





AUGUST 17th 2013

This is a very confusing/nervous/worrying time for the comet ISON community.  If you look at the “Science” shelf in your local newsagent you’ll see that all the astronomy magazines are now running stories on ISON, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and optimism. Of course, the magazines are at a huge disadvantage here because they have to be prepared so far in advance that they’re easily overtaken by events, and that can make them look rather silly or foolish, but they do the best they can and the articles are usually very well written and illustrated. I bought the new “Astronomy Now” half an hour ago, and it’s ISON article is very well written, very balanced and cautious. Ok, so the cover screams out “Comet Of The Century?” and show someone with binoculars staring up at a huge, beautiful comet in the sky…


…which some people will jump on and condemn as “hype” but seriously, they really can’t win can they? Whatever they do, so I will support them as best I can.

Meanwhile, here online, it’s been a bit of a duel between good news and bad news – or rather good news and people determined to spin it AS bad news. The good news came on August 12th, when, earlier than we had been expecting, the comet was recovered by an amateur astronomer. It doesn’t look much on that historic recovery photo…

20s 20-48 mc23 PP crp box aug 12

Image: B Gary.

…just an elongated blurry… thing… with a hint of a tail, as you can see. But the important thing is IT’S THERE. “Yaaay!” right? Not quite, no.

Rather than triggering celebrations, the comet’s recovery, by US amateur astronomer Bruce Gary from southern Arizona, triggered a mini cyber firstorm of controversy when he quoted a brightness figure of just above magnitude 14 for the comet – a magnitude or more fainter than predicted. Inevitably, as they’re a notoriously fickle lot, ISON’s most trigger-happy commentators, experts and others jumped on the story like a pack of starving hyenas, shouting out “See?SEE?? Fainter! Told you so! It’s going to be a flop!! Comet of The Century? It’s got Kohoutek written all over it! Haha! Told you! Told you!” But calmer heads suggested the situation wasn’t anywhere near as dire as the doom-mongers were insisting, and maintained that analysed another way the recovery measurements suggested ISON was actually on track, and reports of its death were being greatly exaggerated.

But it was too late to push the mewling cat back into its bag. The internet lit up like a Christmas tree as one blogger, newspaper and ‘respected’ science site after another (mentioning no names… <cough> SPACE.COM <cough> ) parrotted the “The End Is Nigh! Comet Flop!” stories to their readers, and rather than have its recovery celebrated, ISON was soon being written off as the Ghost of Kohoutek.

I swear some people will be disappointed if ISON *isn’t* a flop; they’re enjoying putting it, and its amateur observers, down so much it will ruin their year if it develops into something beautiful…

Some of us tried to fight ISON’s corner, posting comments telling those people to not jump to conclusions and wait for more observations, which would hopefully clarify the situation. And we were right. ISON has now been photographed by prominent comet observer and photographer M Jaeger from Europe, and his images suggest the comet is shining at 13th magnitude, essentially bang on track

2012S120130817ut155s13x40 jaeger m

Image: M Jaeger.

As Daniel Fischer – one of the few voices of sanity trying to shout out above the roar of the crowd baying for ISON’s blood – wondered on Twitter this morning, will all the websites and commentators who leapt on the initial recovery data and portrayed it so negatively now leap on this new data and reassure their readers? Naaah, of course not, being negative is much easier, and more fun, than being positive. Or accurate.

Anyway. So, where are we? Well, as I – and others – have been saying for a while, everyone just needs to calm down and chill out a bit. Although it has been recovered, which is fantastic, the comet is still very hard to see because it’s still in a bright sky and barely scraping the horizon too, so these early recovery images and measurements shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. It’s still very early days for this comet. Yes, it might fizzle and flop, but it might be a lovely sight too. And even if it doesn’t get to “lovely” it will still be a fascinating thing to look for, observe and photograph, a rare visitor from the depths of space, and we should be focussing on that, not all this silliness.

As the days and weeks pass now ISON will get easier to see and photograph, and more and more people will do just that. I’m sure that within a fortnight we’ll have a much clearer idea of what’s going on with our still-distant, icy friend. Until then, can I humbly suggest that everyone who is straining at the leash to write off ISON just goes and makes themselves a nice cup of tea, grabs a chocolate Hob Nob, or four, and takes it easy for a while? 🙂

AUGUST 2nd 2013

So, here we are, August 2013, and it’s starting to get very interesting in the Comet ISON world / community / whatever you want to call it.

Out there, in the “real world”, the man and woman in the street is slowly but surely becoming aware that there might be a bright comet in the sky later this year, because it’s being talked about a lot in newspapers and online, usually by amateur astronomers and scientists warning everyone to just be aware that the appearance of ISON at its best simply can’t be predicted this far in advance, but sometimes by people who are hyping it quite outrageously, still trotting out that utter crap about how it might “be brighter than the Full Moon!” or even “15x brighter than the Moon!!” That’s still BS of course, and I thought we had put that myth out of its mythery months ago, but apparently not. But generally ISON commentators who have a clue what they’re talking about are doing a great job of managing public expectations, and essentially calming everyone down, at the same time as not putting too much of a dampener on things for people who just want to see something beautiful and amazing in the sky. As we all do!

Meanwhile, the internet is now groaning audibly under the ever-increasing weight of blog postings and YouTube clips created by total fruit loops and nutters who are desperate, DESPERATE to put out their tempel-tapping crazy conspiracy theories and Armageddon warnings to the world. Some are so ridiculous they’re easily dismissed, laughable in a “Aw, you poor thing…” kind of way. But others… boy, others are in-your-face full on works of utter stupidity and craziness, and they’re not going away, sadly. Even though we now know *exactly* what IOSN’s path around the Sun is, and can predict with almost frightening accuracy where it will be at any point in the future, there are still people out there insisting that it is going to hit Earth and destroy us all, or, at best, shower Earth with meteorites, or drench us in so much radiation that millions if not billions will die. Sad, deluded idiots, all of them, but I guess we’re stuck with them until ISON passes by harmlessly in December and heads back out into space again, leaving us untouched, Armageddon and the Apocalypse postponed yet again. But we all know that won’t stop them spouting their crap, will it? They’ll latch on to the next comet discovery, or the next asteroid flyby, and declare THAT’s Nibiru, or blog and Tweet about how NASA “knows the truth about it” and is keeping it secret from us all. Pathetic, isn’t it?

But anyway, I’m determined not to get too het up (“Too late!!” dozens of you just laughed, I heard you!) about them, and to just ENJOY Comet ISON, whatever it does.

And what it will do has been the subject of what’s usually called “heated debate” this past week, after an astronomer told a starved-of-ISON-information press that he thinks that the comet has either already “fizzled out” and/or broken up, or will do at perihelion as it pulls that Dukes of Hazzard handbrake turn around the Sun. Boy, when that hit the net all hell broke loose!  Within minutes fickle people who had been declaring ISON would be “The Comet of The Century!” were rushing to declare it a “flop” already, which was ridiculous, but probably inevitable. Anything to do with ISON, any paper written about it, any observations of it, any discussions on an astronomy forum are quickly harvested by the mass media and incorporated into their news coverage. Hence, when the big “Fizzle” story broke earlier this week, there was a very unsightly rush to declare ISON dead before it had even reached Mars, which was just bloody silly in my opinion. Yes, there’s a possibility ISON will disappoint us, sure, but that’s true for EVERY comet, it’s something cometary astronomers – and amateur astronomers – just have to accept and live with. But the bottom line is that right now no-one, no matter what they say, can have any accurate idea yet what ISON is going to do later this year because at the moment we can’t even SEE it, it’s too close to the Sun. In a few weeks it will drift out of the Sun’s glare and THEN we MIGHT be in a much better position to tentatively make predictions about what ISON **might** look like later in the year, but maybe not. It’s certainly too early – way too early – for any wailing and gnashing of teeth over Comet ISON’s fate. So, calm down everyone! 🙂

As I type out these words there’s a major Comet ISON Workshop taking place in America and it’s being broadcast live over the internet, via UStream. The quality of the broadcast is brilliant, just like watching TV, and all the contributors are giving fascinating and very educational presentations. It’s clear from this Workshop that it’s not just the public that are intersted in ISON but the professional scientific community too, and when ISON nears the Sun it is going to be studied by a fleet of space probes, telescopes and instruments. They’ll be drowning in ISON data for a generation, I think. But that’s not a bad thing!

Meanwhile, on the ground, amateur astronomers are just waiting for their first glimpse of ISON through their own telescopes. When will it make itself visible to them? Well, by the end of August it MIGHT be bright enough to see in an average amateur telescope, such as an 8″ scope, but it might not. It might be a little too faint still. Or, of course, it might brighten considerably once it crosses the so-called “Frost Line” between Jupiter and Mars, and delight us all by coming into the range of telescopes the size of mine – a true amateur telescope, with just a 4.5″ mirror! – by month’s end. We’ll have to wait and see.

So, we don’t know how bright ISON will get, but as I said way up there at the top of this post we do know WHERE it will be, we know that very accurately, and by now if you own a tablet computer and/or a Smartphone you will have downloaded one of the many Apps which allow you to turn your device into a “pocket planetarium” by pointing it at the sky and having it identify the stars and constellations for you, right..?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Apps like these – I am a huge fan of “Southern Stars” app “SKY SAFARI” – are an absolute godsend for beginner and advanced amateur astronomer alike, and if you haven’t yet downloaded one of them then what are you waiting for?!?! Do it NOW!!!!

So, ISON brightness = mystery. ISON position = known very accurately. But where will it actually BE IN THE SKY later this year? Well, there are pages on this very blog showing you charts for each month ISON is in the sky, but I’ve recently created a kind of “online ISON Atlas” which I hope people will find useful.


It’s not meant to replace the charts on this blog, but complement them, and provide a quicker route to get to sky charts showing where the comet will be in the sky later in the year. Go have a look, and let me know what you think, ok?

The ISON Atlas.

Now, how are everyone’s preparations for the arrival of Comet ISON going? I recently – after much humming and haa’ing – bit the bullet and bought myself a new camera. The writing was on the wall really when my old faithful and trusted DSLR, bought second hand from my astronomical society’s then-Treasurer, started to essentially stall on me, and stubbornly refuse to take pictures. Its 18-55mm lens was also sticking, and an uncomfortable number of hot pixels were appearing on my photos. Not such a big deal when photographing our cat, or daytiem scenes, but when night sky photos started looking like they were peppered with red carbon stars I knew I had to do something. So, off to Argos I trotted and bought myself a new DSLR which was on offer. Here she is…


Purdy little thing, ain’t she? 🙂 Faster ISO setting, clean, new lens, no hot pixels (that I’ve found yet) and lighter too. Can’t wait to see what she does with ISON.

…so, Tripod? check. Small refractor for wide angle views? Check. Larger reflector for high magnification views? Check. New camera? Check. ISON Atlas? Check.

All we need now is, you know, a comet… 😉

2 Responses to “Updates: August 2013”

  1. […] erklärten (und damit leider allseits zitiert wurden), ist nun überdeutlich und bereits Gegenstand angemessener Häme (“AUGUST 17th 2013″). [14:25 […]

  2. 9th September, 4.15am. ISON 12 degrees up in the north east, Mars in the Beehive, the Sun 18 degrees below the horizon. Perfect. The 200mm lens gives a field of view 6.8 x 4.5 degrees. ISON, Beehive, Mars. Fingers crossed for a clear morning.

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