Updates: October 2013 (1)

Tuesday October 22nd: Comets behind the clouds…

Typical. Bleeping typical. While Kendal sits morosely under a mass of cloud as thick as curdled milk, the eastern sky is going comet crazy! News comes today that one of those “background” comets – you know, the ones that are always in the sky, every night, but are so faint they need either a huge telescope or a long exposure photo to see them – has undergone an “outburst”, suddenly brightening by an enormous amount, making it bright enough to see in a pair of binoculars! Well, it would be if there wasn’t a big Moon in the morning sky. And if we could SEE the sky, of course.

The comet in question is Comet c/2012 X1, and it’s currently sitting in roughly the same part of the morning sky as comets ISON and Encke. You can see its location on this chart I’ve made, which shows the eastern sky for around 5am my time…

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X1 is a long way away, and so quiet and unremarkable – as I said, it’s just one of that horde of background comets which are always in the sky, which makes a mockery of the efforts some people go to to try and link comets with natural disasters etc – and should be shining at around magnitude 14, i.e. so faint you need a telescope <—- this —-> big to see it. But suddenly it has brightened to magnitude 8.5, which is pretty amazing.

That means that when the sky eventually clears above Kendal – and it’s looking promising for Thursday morning – I might be able to photograph not only ISON, and try for Encke too, but X1 will be calling out to my Canon and its array of lenses too! Mag 8.5! I’m sure I can grab that, even with a bright Moon nearby…

Of course, astronomers around the world are now observing and photographing X1, and here’s a photo of it taken by Ernesto Guido, Nick Howes and Martini Nicolini – full details of where and when the photo was taken are on the image itself, so please click on it to enlarge it to see it properly…

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But what’s happened to cause this outburst? Well, the comet has clearly been disrupted in some way, something has happened to it to make it release, suddenly, a lot of material, which has hugely increased the size of its coma “atmosphere” and made it brighten in our sky. That ‘something’ might be the sudden bursting to life of a large jet on its surface, or a sudden dramatic outgassing after crack or pit opened up on its surface, exposing a lot of lovely fresh cometary ice. That would do it.

And this isn’t an uncommon thing. This often happens to comets. I remember back in 2007 when a comet called Holmes did exactly this, and after increasing in brightness a millionfold – yes, a millionfold! – in the space of one day, went from being a telescopic object to a *naked eye* object, resembling a large, fuzzy star in the constellation of Perseus, as you can see from this beautiful image taken at the time by Peter von Bagh…

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I saw Holmes in outburst myself, had some lovely views of it through my telescope just from my backyard, and even got some (very poor!) photos. That was in my pre-DSLR days. I’m hoping that X1 doesn’t fade too much before I have a chance to look for and photograph it. I have my fingers crossed for Thursday morning – wish me luck!

Amazingly, as I write this, none of the usual suspects who spout rubbish about comets have blamed the outburst of X1 on Comet ISON, but I don’t think they’ll be quiet for long.They won’t be able to help themselves! But really that will just prove how utterly foolish they are, because this is something that can happen to ANY comet, at any time, and it’s happened to a comet that was a) in the sky at the same time as ISON, yet none of them knew anything about it, and b) that is nowhere near ISON in space. It is just a coincidence, and proof that we live under a sky FULL of comets, so it’s ridiculous to try and blame them for anything that happens down here.

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Sunday October 20th 2013: Oh the weather outside is frightful…

As I write this the rain is hitting my window, again, as it has done on and off through the night. Again. I got up a couple of times during the night – ever the optimist – just on the off-chance that a gap would appear in the cloud, allowing me to at least try to get some new images of ISON, but every time I looked out the window it was either raining or cloudy, so that’s another morning’s viewing lost. And with the various weather apps I use all agreeing on a forecast for once – rain and cloud every morning until Wednesday – it looks like I may completely lose this whole week of potential ISON viewing, damnit.

Actually, it’s not that great a disaster. From what I’m reading, ISON is still too faint to see with binoculars, and might actually still be too faint to be glimpsed through my modest telescope – at least from the middle of light-polluted Kendal. And it’s definitely too faint to be photographed clearly with an undriven DSLR. I really want to try that camera holder on my telescope tracker tho, it’s so frustrating that I can’t! Maybe the end of the week will be better…

Hmmmm.

Anyway, with no new images of ISON to process I’ve been going back to the pictures I took of Comet PANSTARRS and having another go at processing some of them, now I have a little more of a clue as to what I’m doing! Here are a couple of my efforts from last night…

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Quite pleased with that! That was taken when Comet PANSTARRS was closing in – visually, not physically – on the Great Andromeda Galaxy, M31, at the start of April (the start of April?!?!?! It seems like just a couple of weeks ago!!!!). Another…

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…and one more showing Stella with the comet over her shoulder. No, it’s not one of those “heat camera” images, she’s over-exposed because I was exposing for the faint comet and galaxy in the sky behind her…

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…and one more showing Comet PANSTARRS hanging just above the ruins of Kendal Castle…

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Actually, looking at PANSTARRS on those pictures might – MIGHT!!! – give us a sneak preview of what ISON could look like on undriven DSLR images by early November, when it should, if it behaves itself, be almost visible to the naked eye, and a decent sight in binoculars. I’m actually hoping it looks more like this, to be honest…

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Yes, I’d be very happy with that… but what I have my fingers, toes and everything else crossed for is the opportunity to take a photograph like this from the castle. Everything will have to go absolutely perfectly right for that to happen – weather, comet activity, solar activity, etc – but please, *******please******** let us see something like this…!!

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I realise that might be incredibly, stupidly optimistic and unrealistic, but a) this is my blog so I can be as optimistic as I want, and b) to be fair, it’s not impossible; Comet ISON may yet put on a grand show for us after it rounds the Sun and all that lovely so-far-unexposed ice and volatile material on its surface is slapped hard in the face by the full might of the Sun. As I always caution in my posts, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, if you want to see what Comet ISON looks like now, wander on over to the Spaceweather.com site and look at the pictures posted in the “Realtime Comet ISON Gallery”. There are some stunners there.

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Friday October 18th 2013: Hubble Images and Horrible Skies…

Well, I still haven’t seen Comet ISON. And I haven’t taken any more images of the comet, either. Why? The Cumbrian weather. It’s been absolutely godawful appalling. When it hasn’t been raining it’s been cloudy. When it hasn’t been cloudy it’s been misty. Morning after morning for the past week I’ve set my alarm for stupid o’clock in the morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of ISON, or just grab another couple of photos, but my efforts have been thwarted every time. It’s just dreadful. I keep telling myself, ever the optimist, that this is actually the Universe rewarding me for my determination by getting all the horrible weather out of the way now, in order to leave the sky clear in a few weeks’ time when ISON is approaching and then actually at its best. Yeah, we’ll see. But looking at my favourite weather apps just a moment ago showed me that the Cumbrian sky will remain thick and fat with cloud over the whole of my weekend off (typical) and into next week too. Not fair.

I haven’t wasted my early mornings tho. I was able to finally do a job I’ve been meaning to do for ages, namely take test shots with all my lenses and then work out exactly what their fields of view are in degrees, thus allowing me to a) plan future photos, and b) identify ISON in starfields when I I take those future photos. Here’s one of the images I took, with my 18-55mm lens set at 55mm. You can see it cuts off one corner of Orion, but frames the famous Belt really nicely…

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…and it turns out that at 55mm my lens’s field of view is 24 deg x 14 deg. That will help me to take some really pretty photos of ISON if – no, when it grows a naked eye tail and starts to shine before dawn.

I was able to see where ISON **is** the other morning, but low cloud and stubborn banks of mist stopped me taking its picture. Here’s my best image of the Sickle of Leo, the part of the sky where ISON is currently doing its thing…

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Thinking about it, I really can’t complain about that morning can I? That’s a really pretty photo in its own right, clearly showing Mars and the bright star Regulus snuggling up together in the eastern sky before dawn. But where was ISON? Here…

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Above the horizon! Right there, waiting to be photographed!! But there was so much gunk and junk above that eastern horizon ISON just would not come out to play. Very frustrating.

Thankfully, many, MANY other astronomers around the world blessed with clearer skies than mine are now managing to photograph Comet ISON on a regular basis, and the Comet ISON Realtime Gallery over on the Spaceweather.com website is starting to groan under the weight of them. Predictably, astro imager extraordinaire Pete Lawrence has been taking some beautiful photos from the south of England, and this one shows where Comet ISON was on the very same morning I took my image of Leo, above…

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Isn’t that beautiful? ISON is very clear up at the top of the image. SO frustrating that I haven’t seen it yet..!

Of course, it’s not just Earth-based cameras and telescopes that are hunting for ISON. I’ve already posted about the images taken by the MRO probe, using its HiRISE camera. Now we have another new portrait of Comet ISON from the Hubble Space telescope, and it’s a beauty…

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Oh, how pretty is that?! Proof that you don’t need to take an image of the comet and stretch and enhance and bludgeon it half to death in Photoshop to make it look pretty, or “discover” features close to or in its tail. Sometimes a simple picture, elegant and natural, is what you need, and the latest Hubble image is certainly that. But, science time, what does it show? I’m just going to paste in here the entry from the Hubble Comet ISON blog, to make sure you all get the full story, ok? And here’s a link to the site itself, where you can find lots more images and information…

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The photographic proof is in: Reports of Comet ISON’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Contrary to some pessimistic predictions, new Hubble data show the comet still trucking along as it falls inward of Mars and ever closer toward the Sun.

This new image, recorded by Hubble on October 9, combines long exposures taken through blue and red filters. Over 29 minutes, Hubble switched back and forth between these filters as it tracked Comet ISON across the sky.

What little color ISON has is due to differences between a comet’s coma and its tail. The tail, comprised of dust particles torn away from the comet by the gentle pressure of sunlight, appears redder because dust grains reflect redder light. The coma, by contrast, is bluer. It doesn’t contain much dust, just gas sublimating from the comet’s surface.

The comet’s nucleus, estimated at less than 2 kilometers in diameter, is tiny even through Hubble’s eagle eyes. A single pixel in this image spans 55 km of comet, making the nucleus un-resolvable at this separation (about twice the Earth-Sun distance). Still, careful study of this image suggests the nucleus is almost certainly still intact — the coma spreads out evenly from a single point, which we wouldn’t see if ISON were falling to pieces.

In fact, the symmetry of ISON’s coma suggests that the comet’s entire Sun-facing surface is feeding the coma — no jets of gas have been spotted in this image. Without a jet to spin it around (see: WALL-E & Gravity, “fire extinguisher”) ISON likely isn’t rotating much. This suggests an exciting potential future: Perhaps there’s a “dark” side of ISON, which won’t have ever seen the light of day until the comet goes around the Sun. If such pristine material still exists, ISON may become more active than we currently expect.

One mystery remains. How has ISON — humble, patient, surprisingly average Comet ISON — sparked predictions that run the gamut from “bright as the full moon” to “disintegrating as we speak”?  Simply put, ISON peaked early. When it was first discovered, way out past Jupiter, ISON was really bright. Extrapolated, those first data points made ISON look like it would shine even more as it got closer — and when it didn’t, the coverage seesawed back toward calling ISON a total bust.  

According the University of Maryland’s Mike A’Hearn, that’s the curse of “dynamically new” comets, including the infamous Kohoutek. In the first four billion years of its life, ISON never once strayed into the protective umbrella of the solar wind. Without that protection, the comet’s surface was bombarded by galactic cosmic rays: high-energy particles from exotic places like the rims of black holes. That irradiated surface became fragile, volatile — only a little heat from the Sun was enough to sublimate a huge amount of gas, causing ISON’s brightness to spike early on. This is just one interpretation — Karen Meech from the University of Hawaii argues that an outburst of carbon monoxide better explains that early brightness — but the consequences still stand. ISON, like a burnt-out former child actor, has been unfairly judged by the benchmark of its own prodigious standard.

So here we see a dichromatic ISON, still in one piece, still en route to the Sun. We hope it survives its brush with destiny, heat, and gravity — at least long enough to light up our pre-dawn skies this December. What more can we ask of it?

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The Hubble ISON blog  team are doing a great job with their blog, and I’m sending a lot of people to it for accurate information and updates. Already tho, people are messing about with that image to “reveal” hidden features within it. I have criticised this practice before, but decided to have a go myself, and you know what? Turns out there’s something in it! After some skilful manipulation in Photoshop I found *all* sorts of amazing things hiding around and behind Comet ISON…

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And so, we wait. It’s frustrating to not be able to see ISON myself, yes, but I’m not stuck for reading material on these cloudy mornings, because the astro magazines are now starting to hit us with their comet specials…

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Because the magazines were written a while ago they do seem rather optimistic in their predictions for Comet ISON’s performance, especially the US magazines (note the cover headline of “ASTRONOMY” on the image above: COMET ISON BLAZES INTO GLORY”… !) and you’ll know, if you’re a regular reader, that recently there has been something of a feeling of doom and gloom around Comet ISON. But there seems to have been a change in mood. The discovery that ISON has so far only been half-illuminated and warmed by the Sun has been taken by many as a very promising sign, suggesting that when ISON rounds the Sun and becomes totally illuminated a lot more fresh material on its surface will be exposed to the Sun’s energy, which might make it flare and brighten a lot…

So now ISON commentators and watchers are feeling a lot more optimistic about the Comet’s prospects, and even predicting great things for it after perihelion. I’m not in a position to make a prediction of my own – I’m no expert – especially when I haven’t even SEEN the ******* thing myself yet, but I’m definitely sensing a change in attitude towards Comet ISON. We’ll have to wait and see!

Meanwhile, the Comet ISON Nutters are still spouting their nonsense about the Comet, still claiming it’s Nibiru, or Wormwood, still claiming debris from it is already striking Earth, still insisting that when ISON passed Mars it sent a massive electrical discharge to Mars which resulted in the Red Planet developing a coma of its own, effectively turning it into a planet-sized comet… yes, I know… you have to be pretty stupid to believe that’s even possible, and to not realise that if something like that had happened it would have been noticed by the hordes of amateur astronomers who monitor and photograph the night sky night after night. But there might be light at the end of the tunnel! An asteroid has been discovered which has a teeny, tiny chance of hitting Earth in 2032. That chance will almost certainly vanish as the asteroid’s orbit is refined after more observations, but I agree with my friend Dan Beale’s prediction that by January 1st, when ISON has sailed past harmlessly, without hitting Earth and without releasing locust-like clouds of alien spaceships, the Anonymous mask-wearing wackos and the chemtrail-fearing The End Is Nigh fruit loops will turn their attention towards this asteroid, and predict IT is Nibiru, or Wormwood, and is going to destroy us…

Pathetic, the lot of them.

Anyway, that’s it for now. ISON is brigthening.., slowly… and around the world more and more people are seeing and photographing it. It’s not bright enough to be seen with small telescopes yet, but I don’t think it will be long.

Patience, everyone… patience… 🙂

Saturday October 12th 2013: ISON Alive and Well…

If you’ve been following developments with Comet ISON over the past few weeks you’ll know that there’s been a lot of pessimism about the comet’s prospects. It hasn’t been as bright – or brightened – as much as we’d all hoped and expected, and many people were starting to get very gloomy about its future, firing around terms like “fizzle”, “Bust” and “damp squib”.  We tried telling them it was way too early to start pulling on hair shirts and cursing its name, but they wouldn’t listen, confirming my own, rather unkind, personal belief that some comet people actually WANT ISON to fail just so they can crow “Told you so..!” afterwards…

Well, a new study bathes Comet ISON in a much more positive light, and suggests that the comet might turn on in a big way as and after it rounds the Sun, which could lead to it looking very good in the December sky. It also offers an explanation for why the feature seen pointing away from the nucleus, towards the Sun, hasn’t been moving much…

It is being suggested by this new study that the reason Comet ISON hasn’t been brightening much is because it is flying towards the Sun with one side pointing towards it – and therefore being warmed by it – all the time. This means that large areas of the comet have so far been untouched by the Sun, so haven’t started to heat up and release gas and dust. When ISON gets closer to the Sun, and rounds it, these areas will be exposed to the effects of the Sun and then we may see a LOT of activity as vast amounts of gas and dust are released. The result of that? Well, hopefully a serious brightening of the comet and a dramatic increase of the apparent size and brightening of the comet in our sky. I hope this graphic  I’ve made clears all that up…

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1. ISON a long way from the Sun – in darkness, no activity.

2. ISON discovered when close enough to the Sun to be warmed and “activated” by it. Coma begins to form.

3. (now) ISON really warming up as it passes Mars, coma grows in size, but its nucleus’s rotation means only one side of it is facing and being heated by the Sun. The rest of it remains dark and inactive. This explains the behaviour of the “jet” – close to the comet’s Sun-facing pole, it just spins around like a garden sprinkler, always shooting material away from the comet in the same direction.

4 (Late Nov/early Dec) ISON approaches and rounds the Sun, lots more of the nucleus is exposed to the light and heat of the Sun so activity increases greatly. We hope!

So, if this is correct it has to be good news for everyone looking forward to seeing ISON in the sky. As ever, we’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, it looks very much like I *did* manage to photograph Comet ISON last Thursday morning! Looking at pictures other people took at the same time, my “smudge” IS in the right place at the right time, so I’m cautiously optimistic that I have indeed taken my forst photo of Comet ISON. What I need to do now is get out there on another clear morning and get some more photos, this time with my camera driven so I can take longer exposures and stack them together. But the weather forecast suggests that’s not going to happen until next Tuesday morning, so that will have to wait.

But ISON is starting to look rather promising now. So keep checking back here for more updates.

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Friday October 11th 2013 – My First Photo?

Ok. I might – MIGHT – have my first photo of Comet ISON. Hand on heart I’m not sure, but I have a smudge at the right place at the right time, so I’m 50% confident, maybe a little more. And if anyone looking at my pic can prove it’s not ISON trust me I’ll be very happy to hear from you; I want to do this right. 🙂

So, yesterday morning, taking advantage of a correctly-forecast very clear sky, I got up at 3am and lugged my small telescope and camera gear up to the castle, and set up, determined to try really seriously to see or at least photograph Comet ISON. Because it was very windy when I got up there- so windy I fled my usual observing site at the top of the hill and retreated into the castle ruins, to shelter there from the tree-shaking gusts – I wasn’t confident, but the sky was beautifully clear, and Leo – with Mars and, of course, Comet ISON, both nestling up close to Regulus – rising to the right of the ruins…

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I took that image with my widest angle lens, knowing full well that it wouldn’t be able to capture ISON, but it did frame the comet’s area nicely. By the way, that image was taken with the camera set for “Tungsten” on its White balance settings. I found out – by accident – that if you live in a light polluted area, setting your DSLR on that WB setting removes or at least decreases a lot of the orange glow from the streetlights especially. To show this I took two images, pointing at the same area of sky – Orion – with the camera set on “daylight” (left) and “tungsten”(right) settings, and everything else the same – exposure time, ISO, everything. Look at the difference…

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Very interesting that, don’t you agree? Advanced astrophotographers would probably have a fit seeing that, but for me, from my photo site, it’s a very useful tool to use…

Anyway, back to the ISON attempt! It was a beautiful morning, and while I waited for Leo to gain some altitude I tried out my gear on the Orion Nebula, just wondering how much detail I could capture. The results were pretty good, if I say so myself…

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I took quite a few images of M42, and when I stacked them together very roughly in Photoshop, this is what came out the other side…

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…which isn’t bad for a 300mm lens on an undriven DSLR camera now, is it? I did try some shorter exposures too, that didn’t give me star trails, but they didn’t turn out as well. I did however manage to get a lovely photo of planet Nibiru, hiding close to Jupiter…

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What do you mean it’s a lens flare??? All the Nibiru websites show photos of the planet looking JUST like that – wait! You don’t think THEY could just be lens flares too, do you? Wow…

Joking aside, I tried something else too – photographing the famous Crab Nebula, M1, with just my camera on its tripod and everything set at maximum. Why? What’s that got to do with Comet ISON? Well, M1 is an extended object, and as it shines at magnitude 8.4 I think it mimics pretty well how Comet ISON will look in a couple of weeks time, when it is a lot closer to the Sun and becoming more active, active enough to become visible in binoculars. I figure that if I can capture something like M1 with an undriven camera, I can capture ISON as it brightens too. So, how did it turn out? Pretty well…

8 M1bYep, there it is… so, photographing ISON in a couple of weeks time with an undriven DSLR should be easy! But what about now..?

Well, yesterday morning wasn’t all plain sailing. There was some cloud about, which kept coming and going, and for a while this long line of cloud just plonked itself over Leo and refused to move. Only when Regulus and Mars emerged from behind the cloud was I able to continue with my efforts…

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Finally everything was set for me to try and bag ISON. I had been looking for it with my small telescope, but no joy – still too windy, even inside the castle, and even though I knew for a fact that I had the right area there was nothing in it that looked like a comet, just a lot of teeny tiny dots, so I packed up the scope and concentrated on the camera. First, finding the comet’s “patch” of sky. Easy, as it was close to Mars… My finder chart showed me I would be able to “star hop” up to ISON by moving up from Mars, past a V of fainter stars…

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Note – the comet tail is clearly exaggerated by STARRY NIGHT there! And above that V of stars, ISON was lying just above the sharp tip of a small wedge of stars…

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… so that’s where I concentrated on, taking lots of photos of different exposures, hoping to capture just a glimpse of the comet, knowing full well that it would just be a small, faint, fuzzy trace, hard to distinguish against the “noise” of the sky taken with a high ISO setting, but hoping that would be balanced out by the fact that I was very sure of its location… eventually the sky began to brighten, so I headed home, reluctant to turn my back on such a lovely sky…

I didn’t get a chance to look at my photos when I got back from the castle – I had to grab an hour’s sleep before going to work! – and last night I was giving an Outreach talk, so this morning was the first chance I had to go over them. And after a lot of sifting through the dozens of images I took I think… THINK… I have it. This is it… you’ll need to click on the image to enlarge it…

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I said it was just a smudge! But it’s in the right place, bang on, and is an extended object rather than a simple line, so I think… I **think**… I have it on that photo. I wasn’t sure at all until I saw a photo this morning taken yesterday morning – at exactly the same time that I was taking mine – by astrophotographer extraordinaire Pete Lawrence…

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When you put Pete#s pic and mine together side by side… well, I think I’ve captured ISON, but see what you think…

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So, there you go. I **think** I’ve managed to capture Comet ISON with a tripod-mounted, undriven DSLR using a 300mm lens set at 3200 ISO. If I haven’t, if that’s not ISON, then someone tell me and I’ll be able to do better next time, I’m prepared to be proved wrong. But as the same smudge shows up in the same place on different photos, with that triangle of stars in different parts of the frame, it’s not just noise, and it’s not an imaging artefact either. If I have managed to nab ISON than a) WOOHOO!!!! I’ve photographed ISON!!! but more importantly, b) that means ISON is now within range of a lot more people than it was just a week ago. That has to be encouraging, don’t you think?

I’m now going to try stacking some of the images I took last night to see if that smudge becomes any clearer, and I’ll let you know how that goes, obviously. But in the meantime..well, unless and until someone proves otherwise, I’m allowing myself a contented little smile, thinking I’ve got my first photograph of the comet. 🙂

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Wednesday October 9th 2013: Last pieces of kit bought. Probably. Maybe.

Regular readers will know that I have tried to observe and photograph Comet ISON a couple of times now, without success. The odds were against me, to be fair. Modest equipment+faint comet+blinding moonlight = haha, good luck with that! But I’m ready to have another go tonight and tomorrow! The weather forecast is very good and with no Moon in the way, and ISON close to Mars, making it (in theory!) easy to find, early tomorrow morning, and the next morning too, I’ll be heading back up to Kendal Castle to try and bag me a comet! And to help me do this I’ve bought some new gear which should be the last items I need to see, record and enjoy the comet. Should be. We’ll see.

First of all, I’ve bought a cable release for my Canon DSLR. Should have bought one ages ago, when I first bought the camera, I know, but I’ve finally got round to it. Now I can use the camera’s “bulb” setting for exposures longer than 30 seconds! Yaay!

I’ve also bought something which will, I hope, really boost my chances of getting decent photographs of Comet ISON: a camera clamp.

“What?!” I hear you cry. “I thought you were thinking of buying a new telescope! A CAMERA CLAMP???”

Yes, well, a) I can’t afford a new telescope, and b) I really do think this piece of kit will do it without the need to buy a new telescope for £300/£400. Here’s the plan…

This is my big telescope – a 4.5″ reflector. Modest, humble, does the job…

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That shows me very nice view of Jupiter, its cloud belts and moons, Saturn’s rings, Mars’s ice caps, and a lot more. It’s a driven telescope, so it can track the stars as they move across the sky. It can also, in theory, be used for astrophotography. But when I tried attaching my camera to the telescope eyepiece tube, to allow me to take pictures through the scope, effectively using it as a big zoom lens, it turned out the camera was so heavy it sagged and I couldn’t get decent images.

So I wondered if I could use the telescope mount, minus the tube, as a camera tracker…

For a while I tried to figure out how to mount the camera to the set-up you see above there, but came up blank. Then the proverbial light bulb came on and I realised a clamp would work… possibly… so I trotted up town and into the Wilkinsons camera store in the shopping centre, and asked their advice. As ever the guys in there were very helpful, and after an epic search of the shop they found exactly what I was looking for… this beauty…

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See? SEE? That’s brilliant, isn’t it? Well, hopefully it will be anyway! I’ve taken the tube out of the cradle, and tightened the clamp onto the cradle in its place, and, in theory, with my camera fitted on that…

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…I’ll be able to take long exposure photos of the sky as the telescope tracks the stars…! Can’t wait to try it out. Wish me luck!

Meanwhile, every day more and more images of Comet ISON are being taken and shared with the world on the internet. The comet itself is brightening, slowly, yes, but brightening, and new data shows it has NOT disintegrated or broken apart, despite what some commentators are saying, Seriously, I think some “comet experts” will be GUTTED if ISON performs well, it will rob them of their chance to crow “I told you it would be a dud…!”

And, if course, every day new nutters crawl out from under their conspiracy theory stones to spread utter, utter garbage about the comet. My latest favourite claim is that, when it passed Mars, ISON “connected” with the Red Planet via a huge electrical discharge, which not only changed the comet’s own orbit, but – get this, I’m not making it up – GAVE MARS A COMA LIKE A COMET TOO!!! And this coma is making Mars look AS BIG AS A COIN IN THE SKY!!!

Now, obviously, that’s bollocks, if you pardon my language. I don’t know how the people spreading this story have the nerve, to be honest, it’s so slap across the face obviously utter rubbish. With tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of amateur astronomers now either observing or searching desperately for Comet ISON, I’m pretty sure that if Mars’ s appearance had changed in that way (or in any way) it would have been noticed, photographs of it posted everywhere online, and we’d all know about it. But that doesn’t stop the fruit loops and nutters from screaming to the world that Mars has been affected by the comet.

One good thing about all this rubbish being posted on Twitter and YouTube is that the idiot losers behind it simply can’t remain anonymous. Oh, they might wear those “V for Vendetta” Anonymous masks – and really, the novelty has worn off there, that’s got quite boring a look now, hasn’t it? – and give themselves oh-so-witty and mysterious names like “Pastor”, “Prophet”, “Truth”, “Angel”, or whatever, but their identities could be uncovered if that was necessary. Why is that a good thing? Well, this comes back to why I spend some time each day on Twitter trying to reason with the people who rant on there about how ISON will end the world, blah blah blah. It’s not a harmless joke. Back in 1997, 38 people were convinced to commit suicide by a fruit loop cult leader, who told them that a UFO was following Comet Hale-Bopp, which would pick them all up and carry them away to the stars. Those poor people who fell for the “Heaven’s Gate” rubbish lost their lives because they believed garbage about a comet spouted by a nutter. And the same thing is happening now, with ISON. Wicked people are, quite deliberately, without even believing it themselves, I’m sure, declaring that Comet  ISON is going to cause earthquakes, or hit the Earth, or bring the plague. What if some people out there are so scared by that, so convinced by that, that they kill themselves, and/or others, rather than face what they have been told is coming? It’s possible. These “Pastors” and “Professors” and “Prophets” are so convincing in their YouTube videos that I can easily imagine weak-minded, nervous and naive people falling for their lies, and being moved to do something terrible. That’s why I try to fight against their stupidity and mischief here on my blog, and on Twitter too, replying to BS Tweets by Before It’s News, GLP, fake Pastors, Professors and others. If another Heaven’s gate happened and I hadn’t done anything to try to stop it, well, I’d feel I was partly responsible. That’s why I take such a hard line with the comments posted on this blog too, and have no hesitation in just rolling up the the most stupid, most deluded comments straight into crumpled balls and tossing them into the Trash. It’s getting me a lot of flack, some of it very personal, but I don’t care.

But, as I said, I take some comfort from knowing that if something terrible does happen because of rubbish spouted about ISON, as it was with Hale-Bopp, the people who were making the claims and spreading the poisonous lies will be easy to track down, and I would hope they’d be prosecuted. That’s not likely, I know, but at least they could be named and shamed and exposed. Something for all you Preppers, UFO nutters, fake Pastors, Prophets and Prophets – and I know you’re reading this, lurking in the shadows, because your visits show up in my stats – to bear in mind, eh?

Right, I’m off to work. When I get back, I’ll be grabbing a few hours sleep and then heading out at 3am to try and bag me a comet. More soon!

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Saturday October 5th 2013: What does THAT mean..?

Remember back in August, when ISON was lost in the Sun’s glare and we were all starved of pictures? Well, the image dam has definitely burst now. Every day new images of ISON, taken by amateur astronomers around the world, are being posted for all to see, and it’s actually becoming quite difficult to keep track of them all! The first place to start is the dedicated Comet ISON Gallery on the Spaceweather.com website, which is updated regularly with the very latest images. Very usefully, too, many of the images are accompanied by technical details of the cameras, exposure times and processing used to capture the images.

But it’s not just amateur astronomers who are taking pictures of Comet ISON. The comet is now being observed by professional astronomers with very advanced instruments, and this means that their images are appearing online more and more too. These images are often accompanied by a bewildering amount and variety of additional information, line after line of numbers, characters, symbols, scientifc terms and words that look like an alien language to the non-astronomer. For example, this latest image release by astronomers using the 2m Liverpool Telescope is gorgeous, but what does all the stff around it actually MEAN..??

ison

That looks like a screengrab from Stargate, doesn’t it? 🙂

The thing is, as pretty as the actual central image of the comet is, all that “stuff” around it contains a wealth of useful and fascinating information, and I’m sure many of you reading this would just love to know what it all means, right? Me too! So  I thought the best way of finding out *exactly* what it is telling us was to just ask one of this blog’s greatest friends and supporters, astronomer Nick Howes – who is actually one of the team which TOOK that image – if he could decode the code for us. As ever, Nick very generously agreed to help, despite his increasingly crazy-busy schedule. So, here then is a Beginners Guide to Decoding Comet Images…!

I’ve added letters to various elements of the image, so let’s go through them one by one, with Nick’s explanations…

ison labels

A – This is NOT the solid part of the comet, called the “nucleus” (the big iceberg), it’s the comet’s coma, the huge cloud of dust and gas that surrounds the nucleus. Many people get confused by this. Some even panic when they read lazily-written and badly-worded reports declaring that “Comet ISON is x thousand km wide!” when what they SHOULD be saying is “Comet ISON’s *coma* is…” So you’re not seeing the solid part of the comet here, just a cloud of stuff surrounding it.

B – This is the comet tail, made of cometary material coming off the nucleus and trailing away from it. ( Actually, comets develop TWO tails, one made of gas, the other made of dust particles, but that’s a topic for another time, I’m keeping it simple this time!) Comet tails are often described in the popular press as “debris trails” and many people conjure up images in their minds of scenes from Hollywood blockbuster movies –  which show, very unrealistically, spacecraft flying crazily through blizzards of huge chunks of rock and ice spiralling away from comets as they approach the Earth – and then worry that such debris could threaten Earth. But what we’re seeing here, and what Earth will encounter when it passes through ISON’s trail, is essentially just dust. And although it looks like a thick trail, because you can’t see through it, the particles of dust in that trail are so few and far between compared to the vastness of space that no-one need worry about them causing us any harm. This is why, when ISON’s and Earth’s paths cross there will be – sadly! – no amazing meteor shower, as some predicted at first.

C – Stars. No, these trails aren’t UFOs accompanying ISON on its flight towards and then around the Sun, they’re just stars, far away, in the background. Why are they lines and not points of light? Nick explains:As the image is taken tracking on the motion of the comet, the stars appear trailed instead of points. For example in this image, 20 x 11 second images were taken, as the comet’s proper motion across the sky meant that in 12 seconds, if we exposed just on the comet, it too would start to trail across the pixels on the camera. These 20 images were then combined, locking on to the comet, which means that the star images are shifted between each image, and when summed together, appear trailed.

D – This is the orientation of the camera/image. North is up and the 111.6 is the comet sun position vector  whilst the tail position angle is around 290. This is best explained by looking at this image – http://www.iomastronomy.org/sections/comets/Comet%20PA.jpg

E – This is all information relating to the exposures themselves.  Nick explains: “R filtered means here a red filter (in this case the SDSS Sloan Digital Sky survey Red R’ band filter) , start exposure is the time that the first of the 20 images was taken, 2.0m Richey Chretien is the type of telescope, and it’s aperture (2m, similar size to the Hubble and using the same optical configuration). Remotely from MPC Code J13 is the observatory code for the telescope, in this case the Liverpool telescope on LaPalma is J13.” That makes a lot more sense now, doesn’t it? 🙂

F: Nick: “The upper-case Greek letter “Delta” is used to denote an object’s geocentric distance in ephemeris tables; see “ephemeris”. (Note that lower-case delta is used to denote declination.)

G: Nick: “The alphabetic letter (“variable”) used to denote the distance between the sun and the object being discussed, also called the object’s heliocentric distance; in most ephemerides of objects such as comets and minor planets, r is given in AU. Similarly, the upper-case Greek letter Delta gives the distance between the object and the earth (its geocentric distance).”

H: Nick explains: “Angular distance of a celestial object from the sun in the sky. In standard ephemerides, this is usually denoted by the Greek letter epsilon (or by the abbreviation “Elong.” (i.e. “Elong” = how far from the Sun Comet ISON was when the image was taken. The higher this number, the further apart they are, and the further apart they are the better, because the comet will be in a darker part of the sky and so a lot easier to photograph.

I: “Phase” – For a solar system object besides the Earth and Sun, (in this case Comet ISON) the “Phase Angle” is the angle between the Earth and the Sun (or the Earth’s elongation from the Sun) as seen from that third object. The phase angle is given in ephemerides on IAU Circulars and Minor Planet Circulars is denoted by either of the lower-case Greek letters beta or phi.

Additionally, “CCD Scale: 0.30 arcsec/pixel” 0.3″ is the pixel scale in arcseconds on this telescope. Giving a pixel scale helps astronomers interpret the size of features shown on images like this.

So, there you go! As many of the professional images being taken over the next few weeks and months will feature at least *some* of that information alongside the picture of the actual comet itself, you’re now much better prepared to follow ISON as it heads in towards the Sun and does… well, whatever it does!

And what WILL it do? I don’t know. No-one knows what it will do yet. It really is still too early to tell. But despite the ever-increasing number of images of ISON being taken and posted now, it seems to me like there’s a bit of pessimism creeping into many posts and write-ups about ISON. I even got the feeling while reading some of the Tweets from people on the HiRISE team that they were less than enthusiastic about having to turn their camera away from Mars and swing it towards ISON, but perhaps I was reading that wrongly. We all expected and hoped ISON would be brighter now than it is, but I still say it’s too early to write it off as a dud, or a damp squib, waaay too early. For now, let’s just  keep watching the comet, see what it does, and hope it puts on a good show later in the year. Moaning and whining about its brightness won’t change anything.

As for where ISON is now, well, it’s just passed Mars, and it’s here…

location

Well past Mars now, and gathering speed all the time. Very exciting tyimes lie ahead – and by that I don’t just mean in terms of observing ISON in the sky, I mean in terms of science gathering in general, as astronomers and scientists around the world turn their attention and instruments on the comet.

And while I’m sat here typing away, can I just say something? That chart shows very clearly why it is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE for “debris” from Comet ISON to be hitting Earth now, as some YouTube videos are screaming. Look! The comet is still almost as far away as Mars, and the tail is pointing away from the Sun and away from Earth, too. That means… duh… that any material coming off it is going away from us too. So, for material coming off ISON to be reaching the Earth it would have to first go into reverse after falling away from ISON, then fly AROUND the comet and set course FOR Earth… then it would have to cross many millions of kiometres of space in a matter of days, ignoring the Sun’s enormous gravitational pull before finally zeroing in specifically on Earth..!

location b

Yeah, that’s gonna happen. Anyone who believes that is at best blissfully ignorant about pasic astronomy, and at worst dribblingly, droolingly stupid.

More soon!

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Saturday October 5th 2013:

I now spend a little time each day (not long, maybe half an hour or so, maybe a little longer) on Twitter, countering the crazy claims of the ISONutters and their followers. You know the kind of things I’m talking about: “It’s not a comet, it’s a spaceship!”; “It’s Nibiru!”; “It’s going to cause solar flares!”; “Its debris is hitting us already!” It’s got me some critism. “Why bother? They won’t listen! You’re wasting your time! You’ll drive yourself nuts!” etc etc.

Well, I bother because a) no-one else is bothering, and I feel very strongly that such total stupidity, such utter, utter b*****ks should not go unchallenged by people who know better and are in a position to speak and spread the truth. And b) because this nonsense is cluttering up the internet, the ridiculous YouTube vids and Tweets rising to the top of Google searches like scum on the top of a pond, which is stopping people who might seriously want to find facts about the comet from doing so.

But I also do it because c) this crap is genuinely scaring some people who, naively, believe that if it’s online it must be true. I’ve had people say to me in the street, and after my Outreach talks, that they’ve heard about a comet that’s going to hit Earth, or cause earthquakes with its gravity as it passes us, and they are genuinely scared. That really hacks me off, the sheer stupidity and wickedness of the people spreading this BS is almost unbelievable. So, I go online, and go through the comments being posted, and – politely – set people straight who are reposting crappy YouTube vids, hoping to reassure them, and slightly less-politely reply to people making fresh claims about ISON.

They’re not hard to spot, Their names usually include a refernce to 2012, or Armageddon, or The Truth – though they wouldn’t know the truth if it kneed them in the groin – or the Illuminati, and more often than not their avatars feature them wearing a V for Vendetta mask, or an angel holding a flaming sword, or… well, you get the idea. Most, it has to be said, ignore completely what I say, and go on to post yet more crap to their Followers, pointing them towards the latest YouTube vid being featured on Before Its News, or on forums like Godlike Productions, often featuring the rantings of a self-proclaimed, red-faced, table-thumping “Pastor”, or a “Prophet”, or a rifle-toting Prepper who can fire off Bible quotes like a teenage girl can recite the lyrics to One Direction or Justin Bieber songs. Some reply angrily, insultingly, very personally, which goes with the territory. Others tho, occasionally, make my little, lonely, one man keyvboard crusade worthwhile.

Occasionally I get a message like this…

Screenshot_2013-10-05-07-31-54-1…then I sit back in my chair, give Chi – sleeping on my lap after a hard day of doing nothing, except looking cute, which she is very good at – a soft stroke, and allow myself a quietly-satisfied smile, thinking “Yeah, I need to keep doing this.” And that;s why I do this. Yes, it’s thankless, yes it drives me crazy sometimes, and yes, I’ve about as much chance of turning back this tsunami of ignorance, stupidity and wickedness as I have of flying to Mars, but I still remember what happened back in 1997, when 38 members of the “Heavens Gate” religious cult committed suicide, by taking poison cocktails and wrapping asphyxiating plastic bags around their heads, convinced by the evil cult leader that a UFO was trailing Comet Hale-Bopp, and was going to carry them off to a better life in the stars after their deaths…

So, why do I do it? Because if I can stop anyone, just one person, from believing crap like that about Comet ISON, if I can make just one person sigh “Phew! It IS rubbish! That’s a relief!”, if I can stop one young boy or girl from looking up at the sky through their bedroom window on a clear night and feeling worry and fear instead of awe, then it will all have been worth it. 🙂

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Wednesday October 2nd 2013: All Eyes On ISON…

While I haven’t had any luck seeing or photographing Comet ISON (see below), others certainly have. For the past month, since emerging from the Sun’s glare, Comet ISON has been observed by an ever-growing army of amateur astronomers around the world, and now professionals are joining in too. Even more exciting, telescopes and instruments out in space are turning their unblinking eyes towards the comet, making measurements, taking pictures, gathering data: as you read this ISON is flying past Mars, and the cameras onboard spacecraft both orbiting and driving across the surface of the Red Planet have been photographing it.

The scientific spotlight is now focussed and fixed on a little comet which may, or may not, grow to become something special in a couple of months’ time. And over the past couple of days ISON news has been all over the internet. Things are definitely hotting up.

First to hit the screens were the latest – beautiful – results from the Remanzacco Observatory team, which is based in the UK and Italy. Using the 2m Liverpool Telescope on the Canary Islands, they have been photographing ISON again…

liverpool-telescope-617x416

I say “again” because the team has already taken some lovely portraits of ISON. Anyway, on October 1st the 2m f10 telescope started taking images of Comet ISON. It took 20 exposures, each of 11 seconds, and when they were stacked together the end result was a new and striking portrait of Comet ISON…

Liv crop

Pretty, isn’t it? ( And in case you’re an ISONutter about to scream “Look at all the UFOs following it!!!” calm down,  calm down, those lines are just BACKGROUND STARS. Oh yeah?? Well how come they’re not points of light then? Because, you numptie,  during the time exposures the telescope tracked on the comet, meaning the stars trailed, that’s why… )

BREAKING NEWS!! In the past few minutes, when I went on Twitter to check…stuff… I saw a post from Nick Howes, one of the team behind that image, announcing that further work carried out on their images has proven the existence of a “jet” coming from the nucleus of Comet ISON..!

BVmR8KPCIAEGKdx.jpg large

It’s not easy to understand what’s going on there, all those colours and shapes, so I’ll let Nick explain via his post on Facebook…

Here and with permission, I post up the results of the analysis of our data from the 2m LT telescope after processing by Dr Nalin Samarasinha of the Planetary Science Institute. Using his own modelling and processing algorithms, he has validated the MCM processing our data showed, with a small, but discernible forward facing feature on the comet. He believes this to be a real feature and not the result of processing artefacts, given the very good S/N of the data. It closely matches the MCM model image we posted earlier, and as stated on the UT article “our one process seemed to show a possible small jet …etc”. I awaited the reply from the PSI team before making any further comment earlier.

Here is Dr Samarasinha’s image processing, using his own division by azimuthal average process to the left, and our MCM process image to the right. The pixel scale is 0.3″/pixel for a 2×2 binned image from the IO:O CCD on the 2m/F10 J13 telescope.

This jet was seen in Hubble images, and in previous Liverpool telescope images too. It’s a controversial feature, to say the least. Some amateur observers and image manipulators have been claiming – unrealistically, many think – that *their* images, taken with much smaller instruments, show the jet too. Whatever the truth is, this latest observation by the Liverpool telescope proves that ISON hasn’t  fizzled and hasn’t disintegrated, but is an active comet, a dynamic body, with things “happening on it”.

A good sign for its future? We’ll have to wait and see… I know I’m looking forward to seeing more images from this team, especially once they start imaging ISON with other instruments at their disposal: once ISON has cleared the instrument’s altitude limits they’ll be using the famous Faulkes North scope…

And then, not long after I’d stopped drooling over the LT images, in came the images we’ve all been waiting for – portraits of Comet ISON taken from *another world* …

From Mars

Let’s just take a moment to think about that. At the moment Comet ISON – tiny, 3km wide Comet ISON – is passing Mars, which means it’s as FAR AWAY as Mars (which is why, if I can digress for a moment, all those stories on YouTube and Twitter about ‘ISON debris hitting the Earth’ are such utter b*****ks. How, pray tell me, when the comet is so far away, and its tail is pointing away from us, can material from it be reaching us? It’s beyond stupid…!) which is why it’s so small and faint and hard to see in the sky. Luckily we have a veritable armada of spacecraft out at Mars, on the surface and in orbit around it, and with amazing skill and determination the teams behind those spacecraft have been able to reprogram them to look for ISON and try to take its picture. But remember, they weren’t designed to do this, in fact it was more than a little crazy to even try. But they tried anyway, because if they succeeded it might, might, tell us more about this comet in particular and comets in general.

It was also good practice for next year, when another comet, SIDING SPRING, will pass Mars, but at a much closer distance than ISON is doing. Even if the Mars fleet fails in its attempts to image ISON, they will learn a lot which will improve their chances of capturing good images of SS next year.

But back to ISON. Hopes have been high that one probe in particular – the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter, or MRO – would be able to get picturesof ISON  because its camera, called HiRISE, is such an incredible piece of kit…

MRO_HiRISE

HiRISE can see such incredible detail on the martian surface from Mars orbit – it can easily pick out the rovers Opportunity and Curiosity on the surface, and can even see individual boulders! – it’s like having a spy satellite in orbit around Mars. So it was only natural that someone would think “You know, HiRISE might be able to see that comet as it flies past Mars…”

But as the time of ISON’s martian encounter drew nearer, expectations weren’t exactly sky high for HiRISE. While no-one expected the comet to look blazingly bright in any successful images, many people even predicted the comet would be just too faint and far away to be picked up at all.

Here then are the first images released by the HiRISe team showing Comet ISON from the orbit of Mars..!

ison-montage

Now ok, they don’t look that impressive, just a bright, grainy… something… on a black grainy square. but just stop and think for a moment about what you’re looking at there. Those are photographs of a 3km wide chunk of dusty ice, taken from 8.5 MILLION kilometers away, by a SPACE PROBE that wasn’t even MEANT to take such images.  That’s an incredible thing.

There are more images to come from MRO, they haven’t all been released yet, and the European Space Agency’s MARS EXPRESS probe was re-programmed to try and image Comet ISON too as the comet flew past Mars. If any of those pictures came out – there’s an antiquated phrase for you! – I’ll post them here.

In the meantime, Comet ISON is on its way! It’s now passed Mars, and is heading in towards the Sun. Hopefully it will now start to brighten more rapidly, and quell the fears of all those comet experts who are already predicting it will be a huge disappointment.

More soon…!

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Tuesday October 1st 2013: And so it begins…

I have now started actively looking for, and trying to photograph, Comet ISON. More with optimism then confidence, it has to be said; still low in the sky before dawn, still very faint at magnitude 11 and a bit (some say even fainter), and recently close to a big bright Moon, the comet is on the borderline of visibility for my modest equipment – my 4.5″ reflector and my un-driven camera – so trying to bag it this past weekend during a spell of beautifully clear weather – has been more of an act of faith than a serious observation attempt. But as members of my astronomical society will tell you, my observing motto is “If you don’t look you’ll DEFINITELY see nothing!” so Sunday morning, my fellow EAS member, good mate and observing buddy Carol Grayson and I headed out of Kendal at stupid o’clock (02.30 actually) in search of a dark sky site and Comet ISON.

Eventually we found a layby just outside of town, with a great view to the east, and that’s where we planted our flag. I felt reasonably confident we’d see it, or at least photograph it, because everything was in place. The sky above and around us was crystal clear and ablaze with stars, despite the big Moon, looking like this…

orion

…and wIth Carol’s big kick ass Celestron telescope and my camera and assortment of lenses we were bound to see something, surely..?

Well, it didn’t quite work out for us, and although I went home with some beautiful sky photos…

IMG_3247

IMG_3098

…and the trip was a very useful recce for observing expeditions later in the year when the comet is brighter and easier to see, we didn’t get to see the comet. Telescope problems, the brighter-than-I’d-realised Moon and the faintness of the comet all conspired to stop us from seeing ISON. This time. We will see it, and soon, I just know we will. And disappointment and frustration go with being an amateur astronomer, that’s just the life of a stargazer!

When I got home – after a nap! – I went through the hundred or so photos I took, and, as I expected to be honest, could find no trace of Comet ISON on any of them. It is still just too faint to photograph with an un-driven camera like mine. I put some of the photos through image processing, stacking them, enhancing them, and after that I have a very tiny, tiny suspicion that I *might* **possibly** have a ***hint*** of Comet ISON on one of them…

IMG_3185 poss

…but I’m probably just kidding myself! Although that smudge is in the right place, it could be anything – a faint star, background noise, an image processing artefact, anything – and I’m certainly not claiming it is ISON. I’ll wait until the comet is obvious on a photo before I claim to have caught it!

BUT… I’m delighted and proud to be able to announce here that Comet ISON HAS been imaged from Cumbria, and by one of the members of my astronomical society! As Carol and I were looking for ISON, Simon White was busy taking images with his driven camera, and he managed to beat the comet’s low altitude, and the moonlight, and captured the comet! Click on the following image and you’ll see the comet’s position highlighted towards the top left…

1374889_10151663161218309_1050986502_n

Well done Simon! Proud of you!

To rub salt into the wound, during my break at work later that day I read how the BRISSON balloon – launched with a telescope payload to study Comet ISON from the edge of space – had failed to gather any data because of a problem and that added to the disappointment.

The sky was also clear overnight Sunday/Monday, but as I had to go to work at 07.00 I didn’t go out ISON-hunting again. I’m enthusiastic, not stupid! But I did go out earlier this morning, lured out by the BBC Weather App’s hand-on-heart promise of a totally clear sky, and hoping to see the Moon and Mars close together to the right of the Sickle of Leo, with ISON close by too. I thought that with the Moon much less bright than it was on Sunday morning my chances of seeing the comet were a lot better, so up to the castle ruins I went… to be greeted by this lovely moonrise…

IMG_3261

Haha! See the comet? Through that light-polluted murk? NO chance! Not when Orion looked like this, shining above the castle ruins…

IMG_3280

That looks like something from BLADERUNNER doesn’t it?!? Actually the sky wasn’t quite that orange, the light pollution has been exaggerated by the long time exposure, but I had no chance of seeing or photographing ISON. I did manage to grab a picture showing the Moon, Mars and the stars of Leo…

IMG_3286

…but even that was disappointing, so this morning was a bit of a bust. But hey, never mind, I tried, and I’ll see it soon, I know I will!

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13 Responses to “Updates: October 2013 (1)”

  1. Wow Fantastic pictures, hope you will catch Ison soon !!

  2. Nice pictures….I’m really looking forward to you next blog update.

  3. I have been watching your articles and appreciate that there are others out there trying to do astrophotography with limited equipment, like no motor driven telescope. I have been trying to get astro photos with these new digital cameras with little success and I can’t afford those CD cameras. For Comet Ison I am going to dig out of storage my old Minolta film camera. At least that gave me good pictures of comets. Keep up the good work and good luck.

  4. Your blog is by far the most scientifically yet simple to read, informative, and up-to-date article I’ve found. Thank you!

  5. Fabulous images! Thanks for all the great info.

    A local band just released a YouTube video for a song they wrote about Ison (a love story of sorts with the sun) called “Solar”. Thought you might find it interesting, from purely an artistic perspective.

    http://www.thehooby.com/?p=913

    Keep up the great work. I’m hoping to catch a glimpse with my binoculars!

  6. Hi, You could suffer from field rotation with your astrophotography setup as the scope mount is essentially a driven alt azimuth mount (or it looks like it). Might be ok for shorter exposures though.

  7. Hey Stu that clamp looks like a good idea – there will be some *cough* field rotation of course, but that can be sorted after. Look forward to seeing how well it goes 🙂

  8. Hi Stu

    Re Friday October 11th 2013 – My First Photo?

    Oh YES! Definitely 100% and a great piece of analysis to show it. Well done that man!! And on the last clear morning forecast for this month…

    Congratulations Stu, good effort!

  9. Well, I’m glad I’m not only one with a 300mm lens and a tripod and 3200 (and 2500) iso settings… I don’t know how many photographs of the sky I’ve taken where ISON is supposed to be and then carefully looking at each image. Your images look very similar to my attempts here in Las Vegas, NV, USA (in the darkest spots I could find, predawn). Keep up the great work, it’s helping me… I’m sure I have ISON somewhere in one of my photographs. Late November and December can’t come soon enough!

    • Really good to know my blog is helping you! 🙂 Keep at it, we’re bound to taste success soon…

  10. […] twitter using the handles @CometISONnews or @ISONupdates. Alternatively, you can check out the “waiting for ISON” blog which will keep you regularly […]

  11. […] twitter using the handles @CometISONnews or @ISONupdates. Alternatively, you can check out the “waiting for ISON” blog which will keep you regularly […]

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