Updates: November 2013 (2)

THURSDAY November 28th 2013: Perihelion Day

Well, here we are. It’s November 27th – at least it is here in the UK, where I am – and I think it’s fair to say that it’s going to be a very interesting day indeed. Yesterday was a rollercoaster, it really was. When I got up there was much doom and gloom about ISON’s chances of survival, and many commentators and experts were insisting that Something Terrible had happened to ISON and that, like a Katy Price marriage, it was either in the process of breaking up or had already broken up. But…

As the day went on, those voices began to fade away, and after it appeared on the first SOHO image, creeping into the frame from one side, almost shyly, a more upbeat, more optimistic tone could be heard. Maybe ISON hadn’t fallen to bits after all? How could it have done – there it was! Look!

And then ISON started to slide across the SOHO field of view, a little closer to the Sun each time a new image appeared. And each time it looked a little bigger, and a little brighter too. And the mood changed.

I have sat here almost all day, from 7am yesterday morning until (checks watch) just gone 1am, following events, fuelled by countless cups of tea, and with classic (ok, some not so classic!) episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, Babylon 5 and DS9 on in the background, and it’s been absolutely fascinating to witness the change in the mood, as slowly but surely more and more ISON watchers, scattered around the world, sitting at their computers and staring at their phone screens began to think – and dared to suggest openly to others – that maybe ISON was going to not only survive long enough to reach the Sun, but would survive going around it too, emerging from its glare to shoot up, triumphantly, into the northern sky and put on a beautiful show for all its faithful followers…

It’s now just gone 01.15 and a new image has come down from the SOHO telescope, showing ISON approaching the Sun. Here it is…

SOHO Nov 28th 00.30

ISON is looking really healthy, which is fantastic. Many comet commentators are pointing out that ISON looks remarkably similar at this point to the Comet LOVEJOY which grazed the Sun in 2011 – and we know what a thrilling show THAT comet put on! That might be jumping the gun a bit, but there’s a bit of a party vibe on the CIOC Facebook page as I write this – and I’m dipping in and out of the discussions there while I write this blog – and I think it’s fair to say that there’s definitely been an outbreak of comet fever in the past few hours…

SOHO Nov 27 23.30_cr

“ISON Approaching”

But just pause for a moment. Just imagine standing on ISON right now… what you would see and feel… the Sun a blazing flare ahead of you, like falling into a furnace… the ground trembling and shaking beneath you as the comet bucks and quakes, gathering speed…the sky above and around you misty, hazy, as the dust and gas of the growing coma surrounds the stars with subtly coloured haloes… on all sides fountains of gas and dust are spraying into the sky… behind you, the shadow of the nucleus is being cast on the comet’s tail, and you might even see your own shadow silhouette, surrounded by a cometary Glory of rainbow hues…

I need to go to bed soon, I’m going to have to get *some* sleep to let me get through all tomorrow’s drama and excitement. Tomorrow will either bring sweet triumph or bitter despair, there’ll be no inbetween. ISON will either survive its encounter with the Sun, or it won’t, simple as that.

Tune in tomorrow for the next thrilling installment…!




WEDNESDAY November 27th 2013: While we wait for news…

P Minus One

On the horizon, its jaws open wide,
Golden flames dancing hungrily in its throat,
A dragon waits for me.
It has pulled me here, drawn me to its lair after staring
At me with its great jewelled eyes for an eternity;
Its lure so strong I had no chance to break free.
My fate was sealed millennia ago, the very moment
I glanced its way…

Screaming towards it I feel  its hot breath on my face,
Scorching my icy skin; melting parts of me away.
Shivering, shaking, quaking with fear as I draw ever nearer
To its gaping maw I know my time is short –
But if I can just avoid those scraping, raking claws for one day more
I may yet survive this trial by fire and flee
Into the darkness of the night again, unfurling a tail so long and bright
All who catch sight of me shining in their twilight skies
Will shake their sleepy heads in wonder
And cheer me on my way…

© Stuart Atkinson Nov 27th 2013

WEDNESDAY November 27th 2013: There she is! But what *is* she..?

So, here we are, Perihelion minus one day. After a couple of days of bewilderment, fear, confusion and doubt, what’s the situation with ISON? Is the show over? Do we all have to forget our hopes and dreams of standing in our gardens, or on our local school playing field or farm gateway before dawn and seeing a beautiful naked eye comet shining in the eastern sky before dawn? Or is there still a chance that will happen?

Well, the jury is still out. Depending on which expert’s Tweets or Facebook posts you read, Comet ISON is either gone, just gone, or it’s still there, at least in some form.

The good news is that we can still see ISON! In fact, we’re now enjoying great views of it courtesy of the C3 camera on the SOHO solar observatory, which offers a fascinating wide angle view of the Sun. SOHO monitors the Sun 24/7 for solar activity, and is used by solar astronomers to observe and study solar flares and coronal mass ejections. SOHO is also a great “Comet watcher” because if comets venture near the Sun they move into its cameras fields of view too. Ever since ISON was discovered, and its trajectory plotted, astronomers have been looking forward to watching the comet appear in SOHO’s images, and we’ve all been waiting for our first sighting of it… And since Monday, when the first suggestions were raised that ISON had fallen to pieces, leaving behind nothing but dust, everyone has been wondering if SOHO would see anything at all…

Late last night, there was no sign of ISON in SOHO’s field of view. We knew it was going to “come in” from the lower right, at about the 4 0’clock position… The time of the image (in GMT)  is at the bottom left…

SOHO 26 21.54

This morning we all rushed to check the images, and there she was! Coming in right on schedule…

SOHO 27 01.40

So SOMETHING remains of Comet ISON! Now, just what that is, we don’t know. Looking at that image didn’t really tell us anything except “there’s something left that is carrying on towards the Sun”, so we allowed ourselves a small celebration but realised that a lot more images are needed to give us more of a clue as to what has happened, and is going on now, with the comet. But look… look at the Sun itself… see that great bright arc of material rising up off it is a Coronal Mass Ejection (“CME”), a huge eruption of solar material blasting off the Sun… Those monstrously violent events can rip a tail right off a comet, and buffet it too… What would the more up to date images show, we wondered…


SOHO 27 04.30

That image, taken at 04.30 as you can see, shows the CME blasting off and spreading away from the Sun – apparently straight for ISON!

Oh the poor thing… as if the comet hasn’t been through enough already… now it’s about to get blasted by a solar eruption too.

A more recent image…

SOHO 27 06.42

And one a little later still…

SOHO 27 09.18

Is the CME going to hit ISON? It’s hard to tell from that image, but the latest reports I’ve read suggest that the CME happened on the farside of the Sun and is travelling away from the comet, so it should be safe. But even a glancing blow will buffet the comet and affect any tail it has. Another unknown, another uncertainty, another variable. But let’s be optimistic! On that image ISON looks very striking, doesn’t it? There’s definitely something there, something screaming towards the Sun at breakneck speed. But what? When we look at this…

SOHO 27 09.18_cr

…are we looking at just a cloud of debris, the ghost of ISON, its dusty remains slowly spreading out thinner and thinner before vanishing altogether? Or are we seeing an intact nucleus, that has suffered some kind of fragmentation event but is continuing on its way..?

SOHO 27 09.18_cr_cr

We just don’t know!!! And that’s so frustrating! My fingers are crossed that that sudden brightening and subsequent flat-lining of ISON was the result of some kind of brief disruption on ISON’s nucleus which released a huge amount of material in one go, essentially messing with the figures. Maybe a crack opened up in the comet’s crust, a fissure of some kind, out of which exploded a great jet of gas and dust, like a geyser. Or maybe an area of the surface collapsed, resulting in a great cloud of dust whumpfing (not a real world, I know, but you’ll get the idea!) up off the nucleus, making it suddenly appear brighter from here on Earth..?

Guesses, all guesses, and optimistic ones at that. Of course, the other alternative is that ISON suffered a cataclysmic event and disintegrated, completely, and all we’re seeing now is its dusty corpse carrying on blindly towards the Sun, destined to spread out into an elongated cloud before vanishing from our sight completely.

But this morning reports seem to suggest that the comet is “back on track”, and brightening as it approaches the Sun!  If that’s the case, then tomorrow will be crucial, and all we’ll be able to do is monitor the SOHO site for images as ISON whizzes around it, fast and close. We all have a front row seat for an amazing, incredible show tomorrow. So let’s all sit back, cross our fingers, and buckle up for what is going to be a fascinating, fearful ride…!

You can see the latest image from SOHO here. ISON is coming in from the right.

TUESDAY November 26th 2013: It’s the waiting that’s the worst part…


When I went to bed last night – well, early this morning; I stayed up late to watch a repeat of a BBC Horizon about “Comet ISON – The Comet Of The Century!” and wished I hadn’t bothered – there was a lot of confusion about what has happened to Comet ISON. Some were absolutely convinced it is either breaking apart right now or has already broken apart and is now essentially just a cloud of dust heading for the Sun. Others were rather more optimistic, and were suggesting alternative explanations for the comet’s fading, and suggested everyone just wait and see what happens, because all may yet be well! 🙂

This morning? Well, the picture isn’t much clearer, to be honest. There are still two opposing camps, the optimists and the pessimists (they’d probably prefer to be thought of as realists), but reading all the posts on the internet this morning, checking the many Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other sites I monitor to keep an eye on ISON, it doesn’t look good. Although the latest image from NASA’s STEREO mission (what is STEREO? From the website: “STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) is the third mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program (STP). It employs two nearly identical space-based observatories – one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind – to provide the first-ever stereoscopic measurements to study the Sun and the nature of its coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.“) shows an apparently healthy ISON heading towards the Sun…

20131126_071801_s7h1A STEREO

…there are also graphs, using data from STEREO, showing how ISON’s production of volatiles has dropped off, and it is now basically flatlining, behaving more like a cloud of dust that’s spreading apart than a solid object. I don’t know, I’m not an expert, I’m not qualified – or even going to attempt – to argue for either side here, but in my gut it feels like we’re going to hear bad – possibly very bad – news at this afternoon’s NASA media briefing, being held at 6pm GMT  to give the latest information about Comet ISON.

So what are the options? What might have happened to ISON? Well, as I see it these are the possibilities…

Being optimistic first…

* Maybe a piece of ISON’s nucleus split away, and it fell apart, leading to a sudden “outburst”, but the rest of the nucleus has survived and is still heading towards the Sun, so we’ll still see something in the morning sky in early December…

* Maybe the outburst and sudden fading were due to jets of material turning on and then off again as the pockets of volatile materials which fed them were emptied, and when new jets begin to fire up ISON will brighten again…

* Maybe the face of the nucleus pointing towards the Sun has run out of volatiles, but ISON will turn on again once it rounds the Sun and the rest of the nucleus is exposed to the Sun…

* Maybe ISON has broken into several smaller pieces, which released a huge amount of material, hence the sudden brightening, and the pieces are now continuing to head towards the Sun… That might actually result in an even more dramatic sight in the sky, if they all survive, because a LOT of material will be released to form a tail…

Now the more pessimistic/realistic scenarios…

* Maybe ISON has started to fracture and the sudden brightening was the result of lots of material coming out of the fissures as they widen, in which case the comet probably won’t survive much longer…

* Maybe ISON has actually disintegrated completely already, and it is now just a cloud of dust and debris. A lot of comet experts are saying this is the case.  If this is the case “ISON” may yet brighten more as it approaches the Sun over the next couple of days, but soon we’ll start to see images of an expanding trail of material rather than a single object… in which case it’s extremely unlikely we’ll see anything emerge from the glare of the Sun.

Obviously I’m crossing my fingers that one of the optimistic scenarios turns out to be the truth, but we’ll know more later today, I’m sure, when the media briefing is held.

IF ISON has broken up it will be hugely disappointing, of course, but not the first time it has happened. Breaking into pieces is something comets do really well, they love doing it. And when you consider that a comet is basically just a great big dirty snowball, a mass of ice, grit, dust and gravel held together by ice and snowflakes, it’s no surprise that comets often just fall to pieces, especially when they’re screaming towards the Sun at quite ridiculous speeds, buffeted this way and that by the solar wind, baked by merciless heat and shaken like a fish in a grizzly bear’s jaws. And over the years we’ve seen many comets break up. Here are some images of comets doing, or having done, just that…


Above: in 1994 Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke into a famous “string of pearls” and the pieces hit Jupiter, one by one, leaving behind ‘bruises’ the size of Earth on the gas giant’s churning cloud tops…


In 2000 Comet LINEAR broke up, and the Hubble Telescope caught it spreading out into a trail of debris, then imaged the individual fragments too…


In 2006 Hubble recorded the death throes of another comet, Comet Schwassmann–Wachmann 3, clearly photographing the shattered remains of its nucleus spreading apart in a cloud of debris…

Is this what is happening to ISON right now, as you read this? I hope not, we’ll know more later today. Cross your fingers, hope for the best. ISON has been the Loki of comets, a real trickster, and this might be just her latest attempt to fool us all..!

If ISON’s amazing journey has ended, it will obviously be hugely disappointing for the many people around the world (myself included!) who have been looking forward to seeing a bright comet in the sky, after many years of waiting. But the responsible bloggers and writers and commentators – again, myself included, I’m proud to say – have stressed from the very start that a bright naked eye ISON in our winter sky was never guaranteed, and a let down like this was very possible. A bust was just as likely as a “wow!” So if ISON has died, yes, it’s a shame, a dream dashed, but there will be other comets, we find new ones daily, and one day a comet will be discovered which will become a truly magnificent sight in our sky and will be seen by millions, something glorious and wondrous to behold. It looks like ISON may not be that comet, but we don’t know that for sure yet, so until we do, keep hoping, and remember, this is how science works: things change, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

But if ISON is still intact – which is possible! Enough of the doom and gloom and the wailing and gnashing of teeth! Let’s be optimistic! – we may yet be in for a treat in the pre-dawn sky in a few days. It’s FAR too soon to write ISON’s obituary. There’s a lot of work to do before we can do that.

So, everyone, just wait for proper news before writing ISON off, ok? All we have so far is speculation. Comets like to keep us on our toes, and ISON has certainly been doing that until now.

The Tale of ISON is not finished yet…

More soon.


MONDAY November 25th 2013: Uh oh…

As I write this, there are reports coming in that might mean bad news for Comet ISON. Things were looking pretty good over the weekend, with the comet being widely observed and photographed, showing a very active tail, and confidence seemed fairly high that we were in for a fairly good naked eye comet in December after ISON rounded the Sun. But this morning news started to emerge that observations made with some big gun telescopes show a sudden drop in activity by the comet and a fading too, suggesting that either the comet’s nucleus is turning off or disintegrating – or has already gone. Now, this isn’t confirmed yet, it’s still very early days, and no-one is coming out and saying that ISON has fallen apart and will now not give us a show to remember in the winter sky, so just watch this space, ok? No-one jump to any conclusions. Let’s just wait and see what happens. I’ll keep you all informed.

I actually went out this morning again to look for ISON, inspired/fooled by images taken by people over the weekend showing it with a bright head and pretty tail, but I saw nothing. No, that’s not true. I saw a lot, actually. While it was still reasonably dark I managed to get some decent pictures of Comet Lovejoy…


…and I also had a lovely view of Mercury (top) and Saturn (lower left) rising together before dawn, snuggled up close together against the cold…

merc sat_cr

…but of ISON there was no sign, and I tramped back home, frozen to the marrow, convinced that I had seen ISON for the last time, at least until it rounded the Sun. Now I’m wondering if I have seen it for the last time full stop. We’ll have to just wait and see. But this was always a possibility, and I’ve said from Day 1 on this blog that a no-show by ISON was just as likely as a fantastic show, comets being notoriously unpredictable and all, so all we can do is keep an eye on the reports and see what happens.

The Ghost of Kohoutek might be standing in the corner over there, rattling its chains and chuckling to itself, but don’t give up on ISON just yet…! 🙂

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 24th 2013: And now we wait…?

As I write this – absolutely chock-full of cold, with a throat lined with broken glass and going through tissues at a quite frightening rate and feeling like Death cooled down – I think I’ve had my last look at Comet ISON before perihelion. It’s now so low in the sky as sunrise approaches, so close to the Sun itself, that I just can’t imagine I’ll get another look at it. Here’s the view tomorrow morning…


There are still beautiful images of it appearing online, from exotic places like Japan, and Asia, some of them showing quite outstanding detail in ISON’s tail considering it’s in a very bright sky, and you can see them on the Spaceweather.com website’s dedicated ISON gallery, but I think I have to accept that I’ve taken my last pre-perihelion picture of it…

ISON arrowed

Which is a bit sad, but hey, that’s astronomy. There comes a time when you have to face facts and accept that It’s Gone, that planet, comet or whatever you were observing has finally slipped out of view. So – unless I hear that it has suddenly grown a sunrise-beating tail – I won’t be going up to Kendal Castle again now until the day after perihelion, when, if it’s clear, I’ll go up there and hope to see its tail pointing up from beyond the horizon even if the head itself doesn’t appear. That would be fantastic, but I’m not holding my breath! Instead I’ll start to bookmark the essential websites for following the comet as it rounds the Sun, i.e. the websites of the various solar telescopes and space-probes which will be aimed at ISON as it whips around our star at breakneck speed. It looks like it will be possible to follow ISON’s solar encounter almost in real time, which will be fascinating! When I’ve gathered those links I’ll post them here so you can all follow along too.

In the meantime, let’s not forget that there’s another comet Up There, Comet LOVEJOY, which is putting on a very good show. And with ISON gone for a few days, LOVEJOY offers us a fantastic chance to rehearse post-perihelion ISON observations and practice our comet photography. The comet is a lovely sight in binocs, and can be found near the stars of the Big Dipper…

Nov 24b

I’ve added a whole new page to this blog, dedicated to how, where and when to find Comet LOVEJOY, and I hope you’ll take a look.


Take a look, see what you think, I think you’ll find it useful. If you haven’t managed to spot ISON yet, it will definitely show you how small and faint comets are in the sky, and prepare you for the Return of ISON, however triumphant or shameful it is…

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 23rd 2013: Farewell to ISON..?

Just back from another waste-of-time ISON hunt…. grrr…. Alarm went off at 05.30, and looking out the window I saw the sky was strewn with stars! Grabbed gear, headed up to the castle… and as I sat up, a huge, thick filthy quilt of cloud was thrown over Kendal by the weather gods, and any chance and hope I had of seeing ISON were gone,. That happens so often.

BUT… yesterday was different, very different! Yesterday morning I enjoyed a bit of a comet banquet, but this is the first chance I’ve had to write about it, so apologies if anyone was worried my lack of posts reflected some bad news about ISON! No. ISON is still looking healthy, very healthy, and as it begins its final approach to the Sun experts seem more confident that it will reappear in the sky after its solar encounter and be a very satisfying sight. I guess we’ll have to wait and see about that! But yesterday I was spoiled by views of comets.

Yesterday morning I went up to the castle at 05.30, lured up there by yet another forecast for clear, starry skies. But as I headed up there I could see a familiar view – clear sky to the north, and south, with a river of thick, stodgy cloud flowing overhead, from NE to SW, exactly where I didn’t want it to be, exactly covering and hiding ISON… I could see Spica, just beyond the edge of the cloud, but ISON, to the star’s lower left, was hidden by it…

Yes, it was tempting to pack up and go home, but I persisted, cos I genuinely believe that sometimes you’re just meant go hang around and wait, and eventually the river of cloud dried up, clearing away from the north, until almost the whole sky was clear… ALMOST… look where the cloud lingered… ISON’s position is marked by the red circle, of course..!


But the signs were promising, and binocs showed Mercury popping in and out of view, so I just waited, and kept myself busy (and awake, and warm, cos it was bone marrow chillingly cold!!!) by taking pictures of Comet LOVEJOY, which is now a very easy binoc object, even in string moonlight, and is probably naked eye from a dark site. I think my pictures turned out pretty well. The first one here shows how close Lovejoy is to the Plough now…




Finally ISON came into view!


Over to its left, Mercury was very bright, but the eastern sky was brightening rapidly, and ISON came and went behind the few remaining tatters of cloud…

ISON arrowed


…and eventually I lost it altogether, the light of approaching dawn just overwhelmed it. But with another ISON notch on my belt I headed home more than happy!

Then last night I had an unexpected opportunity to go out to that lovely dark sky site again, so took it, and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours taking photos (with a borrowed memory card! Disaster and despair when I turned on my camera and saw the dreaded “No card in camera”  message appear on the screen! My observing companion and great mate Carol came to the rescue!) and git some really good results, like these…


plough lane

(LOVE that, must be honest!)


But the highlight of the evening was seeing Comet LOVEJOY again, and getting a few more photos before the Moon rose over the hill. LOVEJOY was just above the northern horizon, barely clearing the treetops, but it was there, and I managed a few shots…


LJ crop 1

LJ crop 2b

So, yes, yesterday was officially A Good Day. ISON seen, again, and Lovejoy seen twice in 24 hours. Can’t be bad. I should have known this morning was going to be a stinker, shouldn’t I?

Comet ISON is now so low before sunrise, and so close to the Sun itself, that I really do think yesterday might have been my last sighting of it before perihelion. Others around the world continue to post images of it taken at the same time I’m taking mine, but theirs show a lot more detail, which is a bit puzzling, but my camera is pretty basic compared to theirs, so I’m happy with what I’ve managed to get. Maybe that’s it, though. Maybe my next view of ISON will be on one of the websites run by one of the NASA observatories and missions which will be monitoring the comet as it rounds the Sun at the end of next week. The SDO solar telescope/observatory will be keeping a very close eye on ISON as it whoops around the Sun, and you’ll be able to see that happening almost in real time via their websites. Can’t wait for that!

But that’s a few days away. Until then, you never know, ISON might brighten enough to make it more easily visible before dawn…

Finally for this post, a huge THANK YOU to everyone who visits this blog and is using it to find out how, where and when to see Comet ISON. You’re all very welcome, and I hope you’re finding it useful. As I write this post the blog has had over 700,000 hits, and is now averaging 20,000 views a day, which is fantastic and much more than I ever expected. I’m trying to reply to as many of your comments and questions as I can, but it’s hard sometimes so please don’t be offended if I don’t answer yours right away! Likewise, don’t be offended if I don’t give you personal observing advice for your location – I’m trying to give observing advice general enough to help as many people as possible, but meeting all requests for visibility details from individual towns is just impossible, I’m sorry. My advice remains to – if you can, I know not everyone can – download one of the many astronomy apps which are available for Android or iOS phones which will give you all the info you need, specific to where you live thanks to your phone’s GPS.

Good luck viewing ISON, wherever you are!

TUESDAY NOVEMBER 19th 2013: ISON falling and fading…

Another sighting of Comet ISON (which hasn‘t broken up after all, it looks like… panic over..!) from Cumbria this morning, and I can’t help wondering if it will be my last before the comet swooshes around the Sun…

Thanks to fellow Kendal astronomer and comet-watcher Simon White I was able to look for Comet ISON from a proper dark sky site this morning. We headed out of Kendal at just after 04.15, leaving the bright lights behind in search of a dark, east-facing viewing site to hunt for ISON from. Soon we had pulled up in the gateway of an isolated field, miles from the nearest lights and offering a fantastic view of the eastern sky. If there hadn’t been a huge, blindingly-bright Moon shining almost overhead it would have been absolutely perfect, but the Moon was so big and so bright that we knew, even before we’d stepped out of the car, that ISON would struggle to make itself seen through the combination of bright moonlight and approaching dawn…

We got there with half an hour to spare until ISON rose above the far horizon, so we killed the time by tracking down and then photographing Comet Lovejoy. It had faded a little since the last time I saw it, and looked smaller too, more compact, but it was an easy find in binoculars, and stood out in long exposure 50mm frames…


See that hint of a tail? I was surprised by that. And it really stands out when half a dozen images are stacked together, cropped and enhanced a little…


Very pleased with that!

Soon Spica cleared the far horizon, and we knew ISON wouldn’t be far behind, and after watching several bright shooting stars dash across the sky – Leonids – eventually we saw ISON above the far hill…

ison clears horizon

ISON was just about visible to the naked eye using averted vision… I think… but it was easily visible through binoculars. At this point it looked just like a pale green star, tho, no hint of any tail. As time passed and I took more and more pictures, ISON climbed higher and higher, and a vague hint of a tail began to appear in the binoculars, but really nothing more than a slight elongation to the top right. ISON basically looked like a tiny, pale green misty puffball in the binoculars, and a green star to my camera, no matter which lens I used. By stacking a few frames together I have managed to rescue a bit of the tail from the bright background, but only a little bit…


By now it was bitterly, bitterly cold, the kind of cold that laughs contemptuously at your gloves and hat and just spears you like a hail of icy knives, but the sky was breathtakingly clear, not a hint of mist or cloud anymore, and I couldn’t help wondering what we’d be seeing and photographing if the Moon hadn’t been there… But it was, and we were seeing ISON again, so there was a lot to be thankful for. Never kick a gift horse in the mouth, I say…

Another Eddington AS comet-watcher Carol Grayson joined us just as Mercury was rising, and that looked remarkably bright, like a tiny copper spark above the hills. I’m always caught by surprise by Mercury’s brightness, but I think the picture below shows how much it stood out against the brightening sky…


By now Comet ISON was all but gone, its faint lime light drowned out by the glare of the Moon on one side and the growing light of dawn on the other, and through the binoculars it had gone back to just looking like a tiny green star, no hint of a tail, and looked the same in my photos too, so with frost coating the grass and the car we all decided it was time to go home and thaw out. But I took one last photo before heading back, showing the morning’s celestial celebrity line-up…

merc ison spica best labels s

Back home now, several hours later, thawed out and photos processed, I can look back on this morning as one of the highlights of ISON’s visit. A fantastic site, a clear sky, great company, and ISON seen and photographed again, with a side portion of Comet Lovejoy, Leonid meteors and a lovely bright ISS pass as a bonus. ISON was very faint tho, and there was no sign of that beautiful long tail we’ve all been drooling over for the past few days, and I really am thinking that That Might Be It for my pre-perihelion views of Comet ISON. But hey, you never know, we have more clear and cold weather forecast for here, so obviously I’m going to look for it again as many times as I can… 😉

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 17th 2013: Uh oh…

I tried to see ISON again this morning, but was well and truly beaten by the weather. As I headed up to the castle the sky was spattered with moonlit, puffy white clouds, which seemed to be flowing across it, and over my head, like a river running from the west to the north-east. Remarkably the eastern sky was relatively free of cloud, and at first I was very, very optimistic of seeing ISON again… but one line of dark grey hung above the treetops, stubbornly refusing to move, and as the eastern sky brightened with the approach of dawn, and the almost Full Moon, dropping towards the western horizon, flooded the whole sky with light, I – and a few other members of the astronomy society, who had joined me at the castle for an impromptu Comet Watch – searched and searched for ISON but to no avail. It was a bit of a lost cause from the start to be honest; because of the here-and-there cloud I was unable to pin-down where Spica would be, and all I could do was take one photograph of the horizon after another in the hope of recording the comet on one of them. But nope, nothing. Looking at the images I eventually found Spica, but that suggested the comet had been hiding behind the aforementioned line of dark grey cloud, and when the sky eventually clouded over completely I decided enough was enough, time to throw in the towel. It was a long and disappointed ridge back home, I can tell you…

…but when I went online, to check if anyone else anywhere else had enjoyed better luck, I read a report suggesting that details seen in the coma of ISON over the past couple of days were suggestive of the comet’s nucleus breaking up.

I know. Uh oh…

Well, maybe not. The break-up of ISON’s nucleus before its close encounter with the Sun has always been a possibility, and it doesn’t mean no naked eye comet in December. Such a break up might assist the release of material from ISON’s nucleus, triggering further brightening and maybe assisting the creation of a nice long tail! Or… it could be the start of the disintegration of ISON, which would be bad news, definitely. BUT WE DON’T KNOW IF ANYTHING HAS ACTUALLY HAPPENED YET! So let’s just calm down everyone and wait for proper news.

In the meantime, it can’t hurt to do some forward planning, right? ISON is now in the same part of the sky as the bright, naked eye star Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. Over the next few days ISON will drift towards and then past Spica, so if you can find Spica you can find Comet ISON! Simple! 🙂 And with colder, maybe even frosty weather due to take the place of this cloudy, mild, useless-for-comet-spotting weather we’re having now, I’m hoping that next week I’ll get at least one more shot at seeing and photographing ISON…

BUT!!!! It’s important to remember that now anyone wanting to see ISON is really up against it. The comet is now dashing towards the Sun, and is a little closer each day, which makes it a little harder to see each day. The sky behind the comet is brightening, too, not just because ISON is nearing the Sun but because after staying out of the way for a while the Moon is butting in again now, too, shining closer to ISON’s part of the sky each day. So, as astrophotographer and Sky at Night presenter Pete Lawrence put it so well, ISON is being “pinched between the dawn and Moonlight”, making it harder to see and photograph each day. So anyone expecting to see something like this in the sky…

c2012 S1 ISON

…is in for a BIG disappointment! That’s how ISON *looked* through a telescope when it was higher and in a darker sky. Now it’ll be getting pretty washed-out by all the light sources around it, so the best we will see with our naked eyes is a greenish star with a short, narrow, misty tail behind it. So if you haven’t seen ISON yet, and don’t know what to expect, expect frustration, that’s what! 🙂

Bearing all that in mind, here are some finder charts.

FIRST… at around 6am, face the east, and find the famous shape of “The Big Dipper” or “The Plough”, as you might know it.

THEN…follow the curve of its handle around and down to the right, stopping when you get to a bright blue-white star called “Arcturus”.

THEN… extend that line again, in the same direction, the same distance, and you’ll come to a silvery gold “star” just above the horizon. This star is actually a planet – the planet Mercury!

to mercury

merc crop

Comet ISON lies to the upper right of Mercury on Monday and Tuesday morning…

to ison from mercury

You might need binoculars to spot Comet ISON; sweeping them along and just above the horizon will see you finding the comet with no trouble. If you don’t find it right away don’t be too surprised; the sky around ISON is really brightening as ISON gets a useful height above the horizon. Then? Well, these charts will help you find Comet ISON…

19th b

20th b

21st b

22nd b

Good luck!


52 Responses to “Updates: November 2013 (2)”

  1. Can you debunk this please?

  2. If you check the Sky and Telescope website, there’s a nice update on November 17 with a link to a stunning photo….

  3. Hi Anonymous

    I don’t get the context of his presentation on the video? Is he saying he reckons the corona is solid mass, or is he expecting the comet to hit us or the sun. Please expand?

    If he is claiming any of those, then I call BS on all three.


    • As a basic rule of thumb, anything and everything that guy claims/predicts on his videos is absolute bollocks. He’s one of the worst offenders for spreading misinformation and fear-mongering BS.

  4. “Sacramento will see a sweep of clouds forming and cooling temperatures Monday as a rain-producing system enters the region”
    I could just cry!

  5. Maaaannnnn….

    I’ll have to wait for 2061 to see a surely 99% success rate comet!

    Anyways, IF the comet was to approach perihelion will it be visible during sunset?

  6. Finally found the elusive Ison this morning and took some long exposures of it, oooh yeh 😉 Mucho thanks to this blog for helping me find it.

  7. […] meldet soeben einen neuen Ausbruch ISONs, kaum dass der erste abgeflaut war! Auch Beobachtungen im britischen Morgengrauen und ein weiterer Schweif von heute. [15:05 […]

  8. Hi Stu

    There’s too much light pollution around my parts, so I’ll hope and wait for it’s fly-around the Sun, whereupon it ought to be much brighter. Can you tell me how ISON is performing as of the 20th please, and if it still is in one piece for sure?

    Keep up the excellent blog Stu. You don’t realise how many people – me for one – use your blog for all their updates about the comet. You have really created a wonderful resource! Thank you.

  9. Hi Stu

    Do you have any news or updates for us please?
    You haven’t wrote on here for three days. I’m wondering if it’s fizzed out on us, and you don’t have the heart to tell. 😉



    • Hi Chris, check this out! The comet’s fine, both of them.

    • Chris, panic not, all is well, update being written later. I have to sleep some time! 😉

      • I read the article you posted, and a few others on that website. Still not sure if your able to see comet Ison with the naked eye or not. It said it’s magnitude was around 3-4 which is difficult to see even in rural area’s which is where i reside. I’ll try to see if i can’t spot it with your charts, thanks for the update 🙂

      • Ison is in theory naked eye magnitude but actually so close to Sun in sky you need binocs to see it in the bright sky. I saw it in binocs this morning, just, but cameras picket up better.

  10. Aww that’s a bummer then :/. I have neither binoculars,camera’s, or a telescope. Guess i’ll just have to keep up with the updates and hope Ison decides to put on a show :). Oh and save up for some equipment for the next comet or celestial body to make a pass at earth.

  11. I have been trying to spot the comet at night, anywhere from sundown towards midnight, and I still haven’t seen it. If it is as low on the horizon as it is indicated, I won’t get to see it; I live in Florida. I used to live in MN, and really haven’t had the good fortune to see a bright, long-tailed comet; Even Halley’s was a bust!

    I live in central Florida, can you give me approximate location, degrees, where it will be found, height, time? I really don’t want to miss this one- but I may not be very lucky; there are a lot of trees, I may need to walk several miles to get a clear view!

    • Try to spot it just before sunrise. It is going to be difficult for you if not impossible given how far south you are and how close ison is to the sun (and getting closer). I managed to see Halley’s comet in late ’85 but only just and it was a tiny fuzzy blob with no tail that i could see. I have not managed to spot ison at all in spite of having a better location and better equipment. PS do not risk your precious eyesight by pointing binoculars or telescopes near to the rising sun! There will always be another comet at some other time! Speaking of which, comet lovejoy is better placed and is near the plough’s handle at the moment (plow?).Google comet lovejoy for maps etc. Good luck and good weather!

      • Rik, you inspired me to add a page to the blog, with Comet LOVEJOY finder charts….

      • Well, I’m about 29 Degrees North. And while the warning about eyesight and looking at the sun is always wise, I do know enough to avoid looking at the sun. 🙂 I used to have a telescope with a sun filter–they are both long gone, and my last ‘scope didn’t last too long. It got damaged when it got knocked over.

  12. There’s a ridiculously good photo here Stu, allegedly taken yesterday

    how can that be possible…

  13. Anyone know a good magic spell to get rid of clouds? Am I alone in thinking ISON will come round the sun blazing like an Olympic torch and I wont get to see the bloody thing until it’s back in the depths of space?

  14. Yes James. I fear the same here in sunny (not) Stoke on Trent.

    I remember the wonderful weather for Haley’s last visit, and also the clear skies we didn’t get in 1999 (August 11th) for the total eclipse of the sun in Cornwall.

    About twenty minutes before totality the misty sky turned into a huge 360 degree blanket of grey cloud. Just a good job the comet won’t be round for only 2 minutes. We may get a chance to see it in all its glory yet! 🙂

    But don’t hold your breath.

  15. The ironic part is that Prof Ferrin from Colombia had been saying for months that ISON would break and, then, the following day after he explains why ISON would not break after all it turns out that most reports indicate that ISON seems to have disintegrated. Today there are several new reports suggesting evidence towards the disintegration scenario. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any report of data supporting the healthy scenario. So it seems that there are 80 % or more chances that ISON has already died…. Very disappointing indeed. 😦

  16. I posted in October that comet Ison would not survive its close approch to the sun. I had heard on http://www.coasttocoastam.com That the comet has broken apart. You can get a live update on Comet Ison at this website. Dr. Sky will be on to give the update. Again maybe It will still survive. I hope so, Tune in to hear the latest updates on the program tonight. George Noory is the host of the show. Clear Dark Skies To All Rick

    • Well, I wouldn’t consider George Noory scientific at all. His show is just a collection of nut cases each with its own conspiracy theory, crazy ideas about the world.

  17. I can almost hear ISON now saying “incoming”… A relatively large CME is ISON directed. IN 24 hrs the CME will surely show what ISON is up to.

  18. The suspense is killing me! What a time!

  19. Wow! Thanks for the link Lisa.

    Stu. does this mean we still have a comet? They say its brightness as increased again, indicating there is still an active nucleus. I just hope there’s enough of it left to survive and put on a show.

    I’m really nervous now. This baby sure likes to tease. You were right about that.


  20. Never thought I would be so concerned about a tiny ball of ice and dust being hurled round the sun but this has turned out to be a real thriller. Even if it ends up in bits it’s been a learning experience (for me anyway). Been following this for ages, the weather is improving and my dslr shutter finger is getting itchy.

    Hang in there little guy 🙂

  21. Hey Stu,
    Way to get a link-back from Karl Battam’s latest blog. You’ve done a great job here.

  22. The link unfortunately doesn’t work for me. Either it’s getting heavy traffic and can’t handle it, or it has something to do with links from foreign countries i don’t know. I’ll totally be checking out the google+ hangout with NASA when they do coverage of comet Ison’s round trip. *fingers crossed*

  23. Woa, your poetry is utterly mind blowing! Had to be said!!!

  24. Loving your blog and been avidly following your updates, thank you! I live in Central Portugal in a sparsely populated area where there is no light pollution and the night sky can be seen clearly in all it’s glory (also thanks to good weather and many cloudless nights at the moment). The forecast is for clear skies until 4th December so I’m keeping everything crossed that I’ll be able to catch a glimpse of Ison on the return journey…

  25. A beautiful poem. Thank you!

    I posted it with complete attribution @ https://www.facebook.com/CometIson
    …the place is anything but science based, but it could really stand an infusion class. I hope that’s cool with you??

    Rooting for our little traveler to make it ’round the burning bend (fingers crossed)

  26. I am crossing everything I have, from my fingers to my eyes, hoping that ISON will make a good show, if not, the best show that will be rembered for the centuries to come!

    The Sky Live and the latest SOHO images shows a -1.8 comet! And the good news is that the comet had made a serious comeback after the heart-stopping “ISON: Is it dead?” days ago.

    One question,
    At what magnitude will the comet be visible during the morning hours when the sun is up?

  27. Just hanging out, making pumpkin pies and waiting for updates! This is AMAZING!

  28. OH and loved the poem too!

  29. Could you please tell me if comet ison will be visible in Southern Africa? And if so what direction to look?
    I have tried looking for it for a few days now, but haven’t seen a faintest hint of the Ison! That is in the 2 days of clear skies I’ve had this past 9 days

  30. phoenixpics!

    I will go down to church come sunday and pray for the comet. Hope god listens and restores ISON to a greater glory. Amen.


  31. Don’t be silly, ISON came from the ‘big bang’ hahaha:)

    • “ISON came from the Big Bang”. Really?

      I’m sure I heard one of the conspiracy nutters on here say that it came from the Big Bong.

  32. So Stu, now you’ve got a big audience and all feeling a bit let down after that darn sun spoilt our fun, what next? (Btw, it would have been very annoying if ISON had survived as none of us would see it through all this bloomin’ cloud).

    • Well, Steph, I’ll keep updating the blog with Comet Lovejoy observations and pics until it too fades from view. After that? Hmmm, we’ll see… 🙂

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