Updates: November 2013 (1)

SATURDAY Nov 16th 2013: THIS is what we’re up against… and why I keep writing this blog.

So. No ISON-spotting for me this morning. Even if the comet hadn’t been completely hidden behind a porridge-thick layer of cloud, after almost a week of getting up at You Must be Having A Laugh o’clock I was too tired to drag myself and my camera bag to somewhere dark anyway. But I’ve still had a busy ISON day, keeping on top of developments, drooling over photos taken by Damian peach and others, planning my own future observations and photos, and finishing off my latest Comet ISON Powerpoint, ready to show to an audience of sky-watchers at Allan Bank, a beautiful 18th century Georgian house in Grasmere, once owned by the Lakes poet William Wordsworth and now owned by the National Trust. The plan for tonight was to give my talk – explaining all about comets and then giving advice about how, when and where to see ISON – and then take everyone outside to see the Moon, Jupiter and other things through my telescope. Unfortunately the sky was so cloudy we could hardly even tell where the almost Full Moon was, but the talk seemed to go down well, lots of great questions about comets and ISON, and I hope it will have helped people to find and enjoy ISON in the days and weeks ahead.

It’s always nice when you give a talk like that, and feel like you’ve done some good. So imagine my delight when I had a quick check of my phone messages on the way back home, and found this comment on my blog…


(When you’ve read it you’ll understand why I didn’t just quote it…)

I know, charming eh?

But you know what? Rather than being upset or mad about it, I was actually grateful. Because it proved, yet again, why it’s so important to challenge the Nibiru/Wormwood/solar flares/earthquakes mob and not just ignore them. Because it shows what people who try and educate about science are up against. Because it shows how, whenever their screwed-up, Conspiracy Theory believing, X-Files world is challenged, they rant and rave and fall back on personal attacks and obscenities.  Because it proves if everyone just ignored them they’d go on spreading their scientifically ignorant, scaremongering BS, and I’m not prepared to do that.

These people spread disinformation, and fear, and ignorance, and there’s already far too much ignorance in the world, especially about science. In an ideal world I’d be rich enough to pay some smart-arse cyberpunk basement-dwelling hacker kid in Japan or Eastern Europe to create a computer virus which would sweep through the internet like a digital tsunami, trashing and then swilling away each and every trace and line of code of every website, blog, Tweet account and YouTube channel infested by the Nibiru and Wormwood believers, the Doomsday Preppers and their like. But I’m not, so all I can do is show them for what they are, here. And if that gets a few obscene comments sent my way, or personal attacks, so be it. I just laugh at them, taking comfort in the sure knowledge that when ISON has sailed past harmlessly, without triggering any earthquakes or solar flares, without dropping any alien spaceships off in Earth orbit, without any angels descending from it, without even rustling a single hair on a sleeping kitten’s back, they’ll forget all about and their crazy predictions, just as they forgot their crazy predictions about 2012, the Mayan Calendar and every newly-discovered comet of the last decade, and just move on to something else and start their crap all over again.


Anyway, it’s now gone 01.30 here in the UK, and I want to be back up at the castle in a little over 3 hours, hoping to catch another glimpse of ISON, so I’ll sign off and hope you check back again tomorrow,





FRIDAY Nov 15th: ISON Ablaze…

Against all the odds I managed to see, and photograph, Comet ISON again this morning! Thanks to my friend and fellow Eddington AS member Simon White – himself an accomplished astrophotographer – I was able to escape the light pollution of Kendal and get out into the darker countryside, to have another go at seeing and photographing ISON. When we reached our observing site ISON was above the horizon, but behind this lot…


Not very promising! But we persisted, sensing that we would be lucky, and indeed we were. Slowly, so slowly, that bank of cloud dropped, revealing more and more stars. Above us, Jupiter was blazing brightly, still snuggled up close to Castor and Pollux…


…and then, finally, ISON emerged from behind the murk…


Yes! And it was SO bright! In binoculars it looked like a green star, smudged with a finger, with a stubby, quite fat tail streaking away from it. The view through my small refractor – which, if you’re a regular reader you’ll remember I bought specifically to look at ISON with – was even better, if a little dimmer. But there was no time to waste with just gawking at it, photography was the mission and with menacing banks of cloud gathering behind us, ready to advance upon the east and the comet’s part of the sky, we both took as many images as we possibly could, waiting for gaps in the passing traffic – monster trucks covered in more bright lights than a Christmas Tree thundered past every couple of minutes – squeezing every last drop of enjoyment out of ISON as it climbed higher in the sky, being pursued by the dawn…

We managed about half an hour of observations and photographs. I clicked away with my basic camera-on-a-tripod set-up, and behind me Simon worked away with his sky-tracking camera, checking the frames on his iPad as they were taken.

Here are my best pics from this morning…


ISON Nov 15 3


ISON Nov 15 1

Beautiful, just beautiful. Simon’s images are even better, as he was tracking the comet’s movement across the sky with his special motor driven mount.

Eventually the cloud army rolled over the comet and covered the whole sky, so we packed up and came home, tired, cold but very happy. I managed to get a few of my images onto Twitter and Facebook before I headed out to work, and for the rest of the day I wondered what was going on with ISON…

…and I came home to find the Internet groaning under the weight of new images of ISON, all showing incredible detail and activity in its tail. There can be absolutely no doubt now that something has happened, or is happening, to Comet ISON. Its brightness is climbing ridiculously, and there are now reports coming in that it has climbed to magnitude 4 or even brighter. If you’re astronomically savvy that last line will have had your eyebrows shooting skywards with surprise and delight. If you’re not, it basically means that ISON has shot up in brightness from “sorry, you need binoculars or a telescope to see it” to “you can see it with just your naked eye if you know where to look.” Which is remarkable.

So what has happened to ISON? Well all we know is that it has got a lot more active than it was. Pictures taken through telescopes tracking the comet earlier today show a quite bewildering amount of detail and structure in its tail. Here are some of the latest images – please click on them to enlarge them, and you’ll also be able to read who took them, where from, and how…


This one shows just how dramatically Comet ISON has changed recently…


But this is easily the best one I’ve seen, from astrophotographer Jerry Lodrigus…

Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON)

Oh, isn’t that beautiful? After weeks of looking like just a faint green star with a tent peg straight tail, ISON now looks like… that… unbelievable. The comet just had one tail a week or so ago, now there are now multiple tails made of streamers, pennants and ribbons of dust and gas all streaming away from the comet. Easy to imagine standing on the comet nucleus, feeling the ground trembling beneath your boots as ISON shudders and trembles as the light and heat of the Sun assaults it. Easy to imagine standing there watching geysers of dust and gas erupting out of the ground all around you, sending great fountains of material shooting off into space, adding to the comet’s already-impressive tail. Easy to imagine looking up and seeing the Sun looming ahead, a brilliant star, surrounded by a glowing rainbow halo as its golden light fights to get through ISON’s coma…

So what the hell is going on? Is ISON’s brightening going to continue? Will it soon reach a peak, stumble, and fall back again? Was the brightening caused by a mere crack or fissure opening up in the comet’s crust, releasing a huge amount of fresh dust and gas, or has ISON started to break up, and the end is nigh? We should know within a few days. In the meantime, if you want to see the comet for yourself, here’s my handy “absolute beginners” finder chart…

BZDps2GCcAA1vYf.jpg large

The next few days are going to be critical for ISON and ISON-spotters. If there has been a massive break-up of the nucleus images taken over the weekend may show the pieces spreading apart. If there hasn’t then… well, who knows, all bets are off now, I think.

I was beginning to think I had lost ISON, at least until after perihelion. It was just too faint, and too low, to compete with the brightening dawn sky. But now… now I’m daring to believe that it might be possible to keep seeing ISON for another week or so, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to see a long comet tail in the east before sunrise after all. I can’t wait to find out!

We’re in uncharted waters here, we really are. But one thing’s for sure. ISON has woken up, spectacularly, and is about to become the most intensely studied comet in human history. Any and every telescope – amateur and professional – that can be trained on ISON will be; every satellite and space-probe that can be turned towards it will be. The scientific spotlight is now shining right in ISON’s face, and she’s beaming back at us like a movie star.

Buckle up, everyone. This is about to get very interesting.

THURSDAY Nov 14th: The Day ISON Came To Life…

I had been losing heart a little, I’ll admit. ISON was fainter than predicted and hoped; it was a pain to see and photograph; Lovejoy was outperforming it in every way. It felt like it was getting away from me. So when I dragged myself out of bed again this morning at 4.30am and trudged up the hill to my little woodland observing site, I wasn’t feeling too excited or optimistic. With over half an hour to go until ISON cleared the treeline I took lots of photos of Lovejoy, and it looked pretty good even on single frames in the viewfinder. This stacked image shows how pretty it is…

LJ 1_cr2

Then I started taking images of ISON’s area of sky above the trees, and saw the stars it would be close to starting to appear, and wondered if I’d get anything at all, or have to go home empty-handed again, like yesterday.

Then, and I don’t know why, I decided to go on a bit of a wander, in search of a patch of ground which would give me a slightly clearer view of ISON when it came up. On the edge of the wood I noticed a trackway which might, just might, offer a much better view east, so I ended up tramping my way up the path which runs alongside the wood until I found the trackway. Sure enough it offered a much better view – a lower horizon, less light pollution – so I started taking pictures, not expecting to see anything.

Click… time to take a look, see if there was a feeble tiny smudge on the –

What was THAT…???

Right there where ISON was supposed to be was a star. Not a smudge, not a blur. A star. A shiny, bright, star. And it was green.

ISON 3 arrow

Not trusting my own camera, or eyesight, I fired off a few more shots, moving the camera slightly to rule out a hot pixel or some kind of freak cosmic ray hit. Nope, the “star” was still there… and when I zoomed in on it, it had a tail.

ISON 3_cr

“Oh little one,” I whispered in the darkness,” what have you done? What’s happened to you out there?”

After taking a clutch of images with different exposures, different ISO settings and apertures there could be no doubt about it: ISON had brightened, considerably. It was now as bright as some of the stars around it, the brightest of which shone at the magic potentially naked eye magnitude of 6.

ISON 3_cr mags

That meant that if I had been somewhere truly dark I might actually have been able to see it with my naked eye. That was… incredible after its recent disappointing performance. Clearly something had happened to ISON. But what?

ISON 3b  circle

There are now lots of reports coming in confirming that ISON has indeed brightened. There are several possible explanations. Perhaps the comet is just, finally, waking up, and is starting to really release a lot of gas and dust, as it was always going to do. Or maybe it’s in “outburst” – releasing a sudden huge amount of material – because some previously shielded pocket of gas and dust has been exposed to the Sun’s fury. Or maybe the comet is starting to break up and disintegrate, and has, to use a technical term borrowed from my comet expert friend Nick Howes, “popped”. We don’t know. What we do know is that this is a very important time for everyone interested in seeing, studying and photographing ISON, and everyone should get out there and look for and at it any and every chance they get, regardless of time, temperature or inconvenience. Are we about to see a bright naked eye tailed comet in the pre-dawn sky after all? Or will ISON now go back to sleep having rolled over in bed and spluttered? We’ll have to wait and see. But ISON is waking up, for better or worse, so watch this space!

WEDNESDAY Nov 13th 2013: So close and yet so far…

I almost saw Comet ISON again this morning. Almost. Hauled myself out of the flat at just after 4.30am and went straight to Little Kielder, knowing full well that it was waaay too early to see ISON but hoping to get some pictures of Lovejoy while I waited. After a forecast of frost overnight the sky which greeted me when I stepped outside was disappointingly dull and muted, and as I headed to my observing site I could tell from the distinct lack of a chill in the air that no frost had touched Kendal. Setting up my camera and tripod, a quick glance at the sky proved that – Jupiter was merely glowing, not blazing, a sign that a thin veil of mist or haze was between it and my 50mm lens, which meant I would have even less chance of capturing ISON later. But ever the optimist I set up anyway, and started clicking away at Lovejoy, higher, brighter and – for now, at least – a lot more impressive than ISON. test shots were surprisingly promising, so I took a few sequences of shots to stack together later. I worked on those this evening, despite You Know Who’s best peer-around-the-screen guilt-tripping efforts to make me put the laptop down and cuddle her instead…


…and here’s what I managed to make…



I don’t think they’re bad at all for unguided, untracked images with a tripod/DSLR set up. Of course, the pros are getting rather better results, like this beautiful pic taken by Rolando Ligustri… (full details on the image header)


She’s a beauty, isn’t she?

So, having taken my Lovejoy pics, ready for stacking later, I turned my camera and my attention to the east, where ISON was just getting high enough to clear the trees. The camera clicked in the darkness, and I looked at the screen… Did I see ISON’s kryptonite-green head shining above the branches? Did I see its long, neele-thin tail etched on my dawn sky? Not quite. I saw this…

ison no2

The comet was hidden behind that evil, rolling, roiling bank of low mist, and I knew there and then, just from looking at that one picture, and at the way the mist was moving, that I had absolutely no hope of seeing ISON. So I packed up and came home. I’m keen, I’m not stupid; I know when I’m beaten…!

When I got back from work and went on Twitter I realised that Things Had Been Happening with and to ISON while I’d been AFK (a nostalgic reference treat for all you old-timers out there. Younger readers, please ask your mum and dad what I’m on about..!)  Its tail has developed more in the past 24 hours, and now looks like this, as photographer Gregg Ruppel shows, which is just beautiful…

c2012 S1 ISON

Three tails now – count them! 3! That’s an active comet!

Even more exciting is the suggestion that ISON’s tail suffered a major disconnection event, i.e part of its its tail effectively  snapped off, before growing back again. This isn’t exclusive to ISON, it happens to comets a lot. Sometimes a comet’s tail snaps off completely. That hasn’t happened to ISON, but this image – taken by Luca-Buzzi and Andrea-Aletti and featured today on Spaceweather.com – clearly shows something has happened…


I’ve ringed the section of tail which has disconnected. Yes, definitely something happened there.

What does this mean? Well, added to the latest news about the size of ISON’s nucleus – it may only be 1km wide or less, and not 3km or so as originally thought – it’s all pointing to ISON finally, FINALLY “waking up” and becoming more active. For a comet, “more active” usually equals “brighter”, so ISON should start brightening considerably now… shame it’s sinking into the sunrise glow now too…

So, with all this stuff going on, the next few days look like being fascinating for all of us following and studying ISON. We’re rapidly approaching that “Anything could happen” point. Keep watching…

TUESDAY Nov 12th 2013: ISON – Sinking into the sunrise, fighting against the dawn…

Another pre-dawn hike up to the castle to try and photograph Comet ISON this morning, with mixed results and mixed feelings too. Set out at 4am (ISON is now so near the Sun in the sky that there’s no point in going out at 3 any more) under a beautifully starry sky, and went straight into the heart of the castle ruins once I’d climbed the hill. Still quite a lot of light pollution up there, but the castle’s walls – or what’s left of them – provide some shielding, so despite the low altitude of ISON I was hopeful of spotting it without too much trouble.

By 5am I hadn’t spotted it in my binoculars, and it was just registering as a barely-there blurry smudgy… something… on even my best photos, so I retreated back down the hill and fled into the mulchy, squelching darkness of my Little Kielder woodland clearing. Once there, tho, it took me what felt like years to actually find ISON. It’s now so low, so close to the Sun that even low trees hide it until an hour and a half or so until sunrise. When I eventually found it – on a long exposure photo, guided by Sky Safari, not in my binoculars – it was, again, underwhelming, at least at first. But half man hour after spotting the comet I had tweaked my camera settings just right and managed to get some quarter decent images of ISON, which I then stacked together to make some half decent portraits of the comet! Here’s what I got… again, not much, not claiming they’re anything special, but they are photos of the comet, taken with an untracked DSLR on a tripod, from a light polluted town, so that’s a pretty good result I think 🙂

I circle 50mm

That’s a stack of 4 6s images taken with my Canon 1100D DSLR, thru a 50mm lens set at f2 and an ISO of 1600. Cropping and enhancing that, gets this…

I circle

You can see that ISON has definitely grown a tail, and it must be brightening to be visible at all in such a bright sky. I’m wondering if I’ll actually get to see it with my naked eye before it rounds the Sun – ISON is really going to have to brighten, and grow in apparent size, a lot if it’s to become visible without aid before whizzing around the Sun. But even if it doesn’t manage that I have high hopes for it *after* perihelion, when we hope, still, it will really go into overdrive and unfurl a lovely tail. We’ll see…

Meanwhile, Comet LOVEJOY continues to show ISON how it’s done, or should be done. Lovejoy is much brighter, much more obvious in general, and really is slap across the face obvious in a pair of binoculars. This next image shows how large ISON is on a 50mm photo…

LJ 50mm

A crop of that stacked image…

LJ best

…and we were hoping ISON would be even better than *that* by now… Come on, ISON, you can do it!!

Looks like another frosty morning tomorrow, so look out for more ISON images soon. And don’t forget to let me know if you have seen and/or photographed it too!


SUNDAY Nov 10th 2013: A Very Special Morning…

When I look back at Comet ISON’s time in my sky, whatever it does, however bright it gets or doesn’t get, I’ll look back at this morning as one of the highlights. This morning was very special, very special indeed. This morning members of my astronomical society – that’s the Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal – gathered at Kendal Castle to hold an impromptu “Comet Watch”, for a film crew from the Discovery Channel, who had come to do some filming for a special ISON documentary program they’re broadcasting in early December.

What’s so special about that? Well, this all happened at 3AM, four hours before dawn… in temperatures of minus 4 degrees C… at the castle, which at the moment lies at the end of a very muddy, very icy, very treacherous path…


…and despite the biting cold, ungodly hour and general “You have got to be joking!!!” nature of the whole thing, more than 20 EAS members gathered at the castle for the film crew. That’s just fantastic. After putting the word out about the event I had hoped for maybe half a dozen die-hard members, but as we reached the castle there was a CROWD of people there waiting for us! The film crew were delighted, because it meant a lot more potential material – interviews, shots of telescopes etc – for them to shoot and use in the prog.


Image courtesy Carol Grayson

I am honestly so proud of the EAS today that I could burst… 🙂

But rewind a little… It all began at 2am when the film crew arrived at my flat, after travelling down from Carlisle. An hour later, after filming Stella and I wrapping up and preparing to go out ISON-observing, we headed out into the freezing early morning, The sky was littered with stars, absolutely perfect, and after making our way up the road to the castle, picking up several EAS members along the way, we headed up to the castle itself where, as I said earlier, a crowd was already waiting for us. Between 3.30 and 6am, with the film crew wandering around and though us, interviewing people, filming people, etc,  we observed and photographed Comet ISON (and Lovejoy too!), although it was difficult: the sky above us was crystal clear and strewn with stars, but ISON wasn‘t above us, it was very low in the east, shining feebly from behind and fighting its way up past low mist, and straining to be seen against a slowly but relentlessly-brightening eastern sky. I managed to get some pictures of ISON…just…. and other members did too. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the images Society treasurer Simon White took with his driven camera!

By 6am the sky was just too bright to see Comet ISON, so we all packed up and headed home. There was time for a bit more filming at my place before the camera team departed, clearly happy with all they had done, leaving me to get to work on the photos I’d taken. Here are the best ones…


If you click on that image to enlarge it you’ll see Comet ISON’s position indicated by an arrow. It’s still tiny, really tiny, and still can only be seen with the help of a large pair of binoculars or a small telescope. But it’s brightening, and developing some fine structure in its tail, so let’s give it the benefit of the doubt, ok? Another image…

ISON Nov 10 best

That’s my best image of ISON from this morning, and my best image of ISON to date I think. That’s a crop of an image created by stacking half a dozen frames together. The originals were all 6 sec exposures with a 50mm lens in my Canon DSLR, set at f2.2 and exposed at 3200ISO.

While ISON was struggling to be seen in the low eastern sky, high in the south east Comet Lovejoy was putting on a show – the kind of show we had all been hoping ISON would be putting on by now…

lj best nov 10

A close-up of Lovejoy…


Look at that lovely comet! Big, bright, colourful… Looking at that image – again taken with just a tripod-mounted DSLR camera, no tracking, no following the comet across the sky – I can’t help wanting to shout indignantly at the sky “Oi! ISON! THAT’S what you should be looking like now! Actually, even BETTER than that! Get your act together!”

In fact, comparisons between the two comets are grossly unfair. ISON is low in the sky, fighting dawn, fighting the haze and murk that lurk above the horizon, while Lovejoy is high in a dark sky, well above all the crud. I’m sure that if they swapped places, Lovejoy would be swamped by the dawn-glow and ISON would be easily visible in binoculars, and its tail would be easier to see, too. But we are where we are. Images being taken by The Pros show ISON is developing very nicely. Here’s the latest from comet photographer Michael Jaeger…


So, yes, a fantastic morning. I even managed to glimpse ISON in my large telescope for the first time, which on any other morning would have been a very special moment, but there was so MUCH special going on this morning it was rather swamped by everything else.

Oh ISON…what are you doing? You should be brighter than this by now… I’ve still got faith in you, I still think you’re going to impress us, but seriously, you’re going to have to buck your ideas up…!

SATURDAY Nov 9th 2013: ANOTHER Frustrating Morning…

Oh ISON, ISON… you’re making us work to see you, aren’t you? You’re determined to make us pay for every glimpse of you, aren’t you?

The weather forecast for Kendal this morning was rubbish – rain, cloud – so imagine my surprise and delight (i.e. horror and anger) when I took a peek out the window at 05.15 and saw Jupiter blazing in a clear sky. Damnit. Dashed out with camera only, literally rain up to Little Kielder, and started taking photos… but, again, as if by magic, a bank of mist brewed up in the east, looming up behind the trees, precisely covering where ISON was…


So to kill the time while I waited… optimistically… for that mist to blow the hell out of the way, I turned my attention and camera towards Comet LOVEJOY, currently stealing the show up there in Cancer, passing the famous Beehive star cluster. At first IT was determined to hide from me too…


But eventually it emerged from behind that misty veil and I was able to take a bunch of photos to stack together to make one good one…


And another view…


Lovejoy is a really pretty comet. Obviously green, obviously fuzzy, with definite hints of elongation, it’s everything ISON **should** be by now, and having it in the sky at the same time as, and relatively close to, ISON is kind of rubbing salt in the wound. But it’s great to have ANY comet in the sky that doesn’t need a cannon-sized telescope to see it, so not complaining.

Eventually the area of sky ISON is lurking in cleared of mist, and I was able to fire off a few frames. They do show ISON… just…and I’m not going to be threatening Damian Peach’s astrophotography crown with them,  but I wouldn’t dream of wasting a chance to take even a *single* photo of ISON, good or bad, after all this build-up. Anyway, here are some of my shots…



What I wouldn’t give to be back up at Kielder right now, with a really dark sky, now ISON is finally starting to brighten…!!

Anyway, the forecast is much better for tomorrow morning, which is good because that’s when the film crew from the Discovery Channel are coming to film us looking for, observing and photographing ISON up at the castle. Very exciting, but quite daunting too. I’m sure it will be fine… gulp… Wish me luck!

FRIDAY Nov 8th 2013: A Frustrating Morning…

Was out trying to observe ISON again at stupid o’clock this morning, but it was a bit of a shambles to be honest. I headed back to “Mini Kielder” (see previous entry) but it was such a mucky, misty, cruddy morning, with the light pollution of Kendal bouncing back off the low haze, that it was a very poor sky even from there. It took me ages to find Comet Lovejoy, on the last morning of its ghostly drift past the Praesepe star cluster, and the photos I took were of much lower quality than yesterday’s. Still, Lovejoy is there, clearly visible, so it was worth the trip…


And so to ISON. She really, really didn’t want to be seen this morning, hiding behind mist and cloud. At one point it even started to rain, and I had to stand there, getting soaked, hiding my poor camera under my jacket, until the downpour finished and I was able to ISON hunt again. When I started taking photos, initially there was no sign of ISON, even though I knew it was in the frame, and it’s taken, Ill be honest, a lot of processing to drag ISON, kicking and screaming, out of the noise…


Eventually the cloud just covered everything so I packed up and headed home. The next clear sky will probably be Sunday morning…and when I look fir ISON then I’ll have company: other members of my astronomical society, and a film crew from the Discovery Channel, which wants to film our ISON-spotting efforts for a documentary they’re making. Very exciting! Full report to follow.

THURSDAY Nov 7th 2013: Fighting the Light Pollution Again…

Well, after my memorable “first sighting” of Comet ISON at Kielder Starcamp (see separate page all about that) it was back to real life this morning, with a pre-work hike up to the castle to try and spot and photograph ISON from more familiar and closer surroundings, taking advantage of a very clear and chilly morning.

I had intended to go up to the castle, as usual, but this morning I decided to just try and photograph ISON from my local park instead. That failed miserably. SO much local light pollution, all I managed to photograph was a wishy-washy bleached out mess, with barely a handful of stars, let alone Comet ISON, visible. So I decided to head up to my usual hunting ground, i.e. the castle. But on the way I had a bit of a lightbulb moment and decoded to nip into a small wood which lies en-route to the castle, not even halfway up the hill, just to see if there was any chance of seeing ISON from there.

WOW! Pitch black! The trees blocked out a lot of the sky, of course, but they also blocked out all the surrounding neighbourhood lights, and there was a V-shaped notch in the tree canopy absolutely perfectly placed for allowing me to see and photograph ISON! So I set up camp there with my camera and tripod and bag of lenses, and went to work…

And yes, success! Not only did I manage to glimpse ISON in my binoculars… I think, not entirely sure about that… but I managed to image ISON again too – and my pictures actually show its tail! FINALLY the comet is starting to come to life on my pictures, after all these weeks of “Is that it? That fuzzy spot?” mediocrity. This morning, probably more so than at Kielder even, Comet ISON became a real comet to me. Here’s what I managed to get – and remember, these were taken with just a camera on a tripod, not tracked in any way.

ISON Nov 7 0500

Can you see ISON? Probably not! Here, let me help you…

ISON Nov 7 0500 circle

And a closer crop of that shows the tail for the first time in one of my images…


Oh, I am SO pleased with that! It bodes well, I think, for the days and weeks ahead. Surely ISON will only get better now, as it nears the Sun? And I’ve got me a shiny new local observing site – which I’m going to refer to now as “Little Kielder” just for fun – to use too!

ISON wasn’t the only comet I observed this morning. Comet Lovejoy was up there and ready for my camera’s attention too, shining amongst the sapphire blue and diamond white stars of Praesepe, the famous “Beehive Cluster”. And after taking a whole bunch of pictures, and stacking them together, this is what I got…


Lovejoy is the fuzzy green blur to the lower left of the cluster. I am VERY pleased with that, and it seems like Lovejoy is on a mission to shame ISON and show the world what a comet can really do. Will be keeping a really close eye on that one!

Meanwhile, in proper ISON news, things are definitely looking up. The comet is brightening, and the very latest images – such as the one below, taken (of course!) by Damian Peach,  show that not only is its tail lengthening but it is developing structure, perhaps even splitting into multiple tails… as usual, click to enlarge…


So, are things finally looking up? I think so. The next week will tell us a lot more about ISON’s prospects, and hopefully will see it brightening enough to be visible with the naked eye. But the Moon will start to creep into the picture again soon, and with our weather here in Cumbria continuing to be pathetic, and ISON dropping a little lower each morning now as it speeds towards the Sun it’s going to be a race against time to get some really decent pics of the comet before it loops around the Sun.

20 Responses to “Updates: November 2013 (1)”

  1. will it possible for people in South Africa To see the comet, i would really love to see it, ever since the 1 November 2013 I have been looking up to the sky but nothing. and really don’t want to miss it

    • Your best time to see ISON is now, you won’t be able to see it after it goes around the Sun I’m afraid. People in the southern hemisphere are now observing and photographing ISON quite easily, looking EAST before dawn. Your comment made me realise I have southern hemisphere readers too, so I’ll put up a page of charts for you later today, ok?

  2. I rose before dawn, checked exactly where the comet should be on 10th Nov and went out to find it, armed with fairly powerful binoculars. Could I find it – no! The sky was clear enough, I know my constellations well enough but despite diligent searching until the sky began to lighten I couldn’t find anything comet-like. I saw PANSTARRS earlier this year but ISON looks like being much harder to see. Can only hope it isn’t a fizzler after all.

    • Annoying isn’t it?!?!? ISON needs to buck its ideas up. I’m sure it will, hang in there, but I think we need to wait until it goes around the Sun now to be honest.

  3. Stuart, I have just came back from watching both ISON and Lovejoy. ISON is significantly brighter. It is now much more brighter than Lovejoy and very easy to find (almost naked eye). It seems that it’s either disintegrating (according to Prof Ferrin in Colombia) or it is having a significant outburst.

    • Thanks, appreciate that report. I am about to write up my own from this morning, I was stunned by how much brighter it was, a vivid green star in binocs.

  4. Man, your blog is just great! Keep up the good work, me and other astronomy enthusiasts totally appreciate it! I would like to see ISON myself, but due to lack of optics and time, wont have a chance. But I follow you updates on ISON and live through your feelings 🙂 Thanks man!

  5. […] skies don’t play ball?  Well, there was a stubborn bank of low cloud on the eastern horizon (Stuart’s wider angle photos give a much better context of our session) but suddenly, in the […]

  6. Watching the web ,i found this site .
    Following the story,s and links ,good info.
    This is just great ,a big thanks to all involved ,keep up the good work i will keep on watching .
    Thanks .

  7. Appreciate the time you have put in on this website. Went out this morning at 5:45am to try and find ISON and just can’t seem to locate it. No problem finding the key stars as locators. Using 15X70 & 20X80 binoculars. Trying again tomorrow. Maybe I’ll try Lovejoy as well. 🙂 Chuck in Green Valley, Arizona

  8. […] photos, advice on spotting the comet, etc. see EarthSky, for example. I just spotted this great Waiting for ISON blog you might want to check out, too. Finns: get thee to Ursa’s page for […]

  9. I want to thank you for this blog, I think it’s been fantastic. I have been watching and waiting and reading all your pages and it seems like what’s happening now is what we’ve all been waiting for! This is exciting and I’m hoping to spot ISON tomorrow morning here in Northern California. Thanks again!

    • Thanks Lisa, I appreciate that! Hope you get to see the comet soon!

      • Stu, I tried so hard! I am currently house sitting near Folsom Lake, CA. Not much light pollution here, but there’s a cotton picking digger pine tree right in the way!!!!! I am pretty sure I spotted Spica, but no blue green star, nothing with a tail. I also only have a pair of field glasses which is certainly not the best equipment! I’ve had a telescope on my wish list for years now LOL. How many fists would you say ISON will be from Spica on the morning of November 18th?

  10. […] 4. bis 13.11. diverse Zeichnungen. Auch aktuelle Helligkeitsschätzungen, Updates zur Lage hier und hier und Artikel hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier und hier. […]

  11. Do higher latitudes make it harder to spot ISON? From Scotland, I was out the morning of Tuesday 19th, from about 6 to 7am, had a fabulous view of Spica, with Mercury to the lower left (and Jupiter over my right shoulder – shame about the moon!) But ISON? Nothing, nic, nada, rien, zip, bugger all – not a sausage. Through bino’s or the camera lens. Given that this could be the last bit of sky we see here until next March it was a bit of a let down 😦

  12. i am living in india and i am in pune so tell me when i am able to see that please

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: