Updates – October 2013 (2)

Wednesday October 30th 2013: Lovely Lovejoy, Infuriating ISON…

Oh, SUCH a frustrating morning this morning! The alarm went off at just before 03.00, I looked out the window, saw stars, LOTS of stars, and by the time I’d grabbed my gear and reached and opened the front door it was ****** raining!!! And that’s what happened for the next TWO HOURS as I stood in Abbot Hall Park with my camera and tripod. Clouds came and went, scudding across the sky, filling it, then exposing patches of stars, before filling them in again. Showers hissed impossibly out of a clear sky, again and again. Over in the SE, the Moon played hide and seek with the cloud, and lost every game. Eventually the clouds peeled away from the Moon, revealing the area of sky in which ISON is presently hiding, but as you can see…

ison area b

…the Moon was sitting almost on top of the comet, so my attempts to photograph it were all in vain. (One image shows a hint of something but it could easily just be background noise and I’m not going to insult you by showing it here!) And there was no sign of ISON in my binoculars, either.


I did manage to track down Comet Lovejoy, which is, I believe, currently the brightest of the quartet (count them: ISON, LINEAR X1, ENCKE and LOVEJOY) of comets in the morning sky, I’d already mapped out its position in great detail, so knew to look for it just to the left of Procyon, the brightest star in Canis Minor, to the upper left of Orion, Of course, that area of sky attracted clouds like magnets for ages, but eventually the area of sky I wanted to see emerged from behind the muck and murk and there it was, Comet Lovejoy!

lovejoy 1st arrow s

Unlike ISON, Lovejoy was *easy* to spot in binoculars, and showed up well on photos as a distinctly un-starlike blur, a ,lot like a bright globular star cluster actually. A couple more images…



lovejoy3_cr neg arr

So ANOTHER no show morning for Comet ISON, but made up for… kind of… by my sighting of Comet Lovejoy. Better luck next time?> I hope so.









Tuesday October 29th 2013: One more month to go…

Look at the date… wow… Where has the time gone? In a month’s time the First Act of Comet ISON’s great show will be over. It will have rounded the Sun, and will be…

Well, we don’t know WHAT it “will be”. It will either whip around the Sun and come out the other side intact, or it won’t, it’s as simple as that. If it survives, if the Sun’s gravity and heat don’t wreck it, hopefully it will release enough gas and dust to unfurl a lovely long, bright tail in the night sky during early and mid-December. If it doesn‘t survive, if the stress of its trip around the Sun fractures it, there are two possibilities. It will either just break into smaller and smaller pieces and spread apart, effectively “turning off” and we won’t see much of anything, or its fracturing will release a huge amount of material which will form a dramatic tail, or maybe even tails, in the sky. That’s a fascinating prospect isn’t it? And to be honest I’m torn. Part of me wants ISON to survive its trip around the Sun so it has a good chance of just behaving like a normal comet, grow a respectable tail, and head back into deep space, having earned its place in the history of comets as a Good Comet. But another part of me wants the Sun to smash and rip it to bits like a shark feasting on a tuna, releasing all that dust and gas to generate a face-slappingly dramatic tail and becoming a Great Comet. We’ll have to wait and see, I suppose.

Where is Comet ISON now? Go here for a realtime update… http://www.cometison2013.co.uk/perihelion-and-distance/

As I write this, on a beautifully sunny day in Kendal, more and more amateur astronomers around the world are seeing and photographing Comet ISON. Every day more lovely images of it appear online, and if you are a regular reader you’ll know that the best place to find them is in the “Realtime Comet ISON Gallery” over on the Spaceweather.com website. Observing reports suggest that ISON is brightening steadily, if slowly, and is growing a nice tail as seen through telescopes, but the last time I checked it still wasn’t visible in a pair of binoculars, and you still need to drive a camera to track the sky to get good photographs of it. Which is disappointing, I’ll admit.

I still haven’t seen ISON yet myself, thanks to a combination of our continuing godawful Cumbrian weather, the limitations of my own equipment, and the proximity of the Moon to the comet in the morning sky. But the Moon is dimming now, and according to my weather apps tomorrow morning looks like having a “clear sky window” between 3 and 4am,  so I’ll be heading out and really trying hard to see and photograph it… but I have to face the possibility that I won’t get to see ISON for another week or so, which is more than a little depressing!

I had been pinning my hopes on seeing ISON from the Kielder Autumn star camp this coming weekend, but that’s looking a little dodgy now. The weather up there has been so awful that large areas of the campsite – including the electric hook up area – are waterlogged, and although the event itself is definitely going ahead attendance might be affected. That might mean I don’t even get to see ISON from up there, because there’ll be fewer telescopes around to use on the sky. But we’re still going, and I’ll take advantage of any gaps in the scudding Northumbrian cloud before dawn to head out from the comfort, warmth and shelter of our tent and go look for ISON.

Meanwhile, the nutters and crazies continue to spout absolute b*****ks about Comet ISON. They seem to have got bored with telling people it’s a UFO or is being followed by UFOs, and the bull**** about ISON being an “alien biosphere” called Xanterexx seems to have died down too, which must infuriate old Tolec. Some people are still falling for the viral YouTube crap about “Comet ISON debris hitting Earth! Now! (which I shoot down, if you’ll excuse the pun, on a special page on this blog), but that too seems to be fading in interest and, um, impact. No, the nutters and fruit loops and their evangelical and Prepper friends have a new paranoid delusion to snuggle up to at night – they are convinced that the recent solar flares were triggered by Comet ISON, and are a sign of even more flares to come, which might well harm us here on Earth…!!!!!!!

I know… they just don’t know what BS to vomit up next, do they?

As usual, of course, just a few minutes of research (and I get lots of comments on here from the conspiracy theory crowd telling ME to “do some research”!) would show that while it’s true that there have been a lot of solar flares recently, that’s a) not unusual, and b) absolutely nothing to do with Comet ISON. It’s not unusual because it looks like the Sun is finally “turning on” for solar maximum, after a long delay which has been bugging solar astronomers like crazy, so flares will just happen more often naturally. That’s how the Sun works. Even if comet ISON wasn’t on its way towards the Sun the flares would be happening, just as they happen almost every day anyway, because, well, that’s what the Sun does, it flares sometimes. And it’s nothing to do with ISON because, well, comets simply do not cause solar flares. There’s absolutely no evidence for that, despite what some of the nutters insist. We haven’t seen flares after comets have literally flown into the Sun, so why on Earth would anyone believe that comets passing the Sun could cause them? Comet Lovejoy didn’t trigger any flares when it passed the Sun 5x closer than ISON will do at its closest, so there’s no reason to believe ISON will trigger any either. And as for ISON triggering solar flares now, that’s just idiocy: a quick glance at the website I linked to above shows that ISON is still 96 MILLION MILES FROM THE SUN, that’s even further from the Sun than Earth is! And yet the nutters still insist that ISON is responsible for the flares…

The most incredible thing to me isn’t the sheer impossibility of their theory, but that some of them seem absolutely gleeful about the prospect of Comet ISON triggering enormous solar flares when it rounds the Sun, and are positively celebrating the possibility. Doesn’t that strike anyone else as pretty f***** stupid? I guess it’s a sign of just how crazy they are that they can write and rant and rave about this on their forums as if it’s the most exciting thing EVER! I can actually imagine some of them peeing their pants with excitement while they’re tapping out their posts predicting mass extinctions and armageddon. I don’t get it, I just don’t.

The thing is, they don’t seem to realise that this is a perfect illustration of how dumb this kind of thing is. First they ignore basic science, and then, as the date of one predicted event comes and goes without anything happening they just quietly discard it and create another ridiculous story… then discard THAT when it doesn’t happen, and come up with something else… Comet Elenin was going to kill us all, remember? We’re still here. The Mayan Calendar was going to run out, and kill us all, remember that? And yep, we’re still here. All this ISON stupidity is just the latest example of ignorant people having too much time on their hands, and great gaping holes in their lives which they fill with writing utter crap about things they know nothing about. I’m so looking forward to all of them being made to look absolutely pathetic and stupid when ISON sails past harmlessly, and none of their apocalyptic predictions came to pass… but the thing is they won’t care. They’ll just conveniently forget all about ISON, solar flares, FEMA body bags, Russian troops, earthquakes, UFOs, Nibiru and Xanterexx and move on to the next comet or asteroid, and drape all those old fantasies – and a whole bunch of new ones – over THAT instead.

Seriously, if there was a button to press to swill all their stupid conspiracy theory blogs, YouTube channels, Twitter accounts, cheap Anonymous masks and angel pictures off the internet and down the toilet I’d hit it so hard there’d be a sonic boom.

Anyway, back in the real world Comet ISON is there in the eastern sky before dawn, getting brighter, and approaching the Sun. All as predicted, all on schedule, all perfectly safely. I’m getting up at stupid o’clock again tomorrow morning to try and see/photograph ISON, so I’ll let you know how I get on. And if any of you have seen or taken images of ISON yet, be sure to let me know, ok?

Saturday October 26th 2013: One Castle, One Camera, Three Comets… (well, definitely two, maybe three…!)

So. Last Thursday morning was a BIG morning for me. After a week of relentlessly cloudy morning skies, the stars came out to play and lured me up to the castle again, desperate to find and photograph not just Comet ISON (right, on the image below) but two others too! With Comet Encke (left) reportedly shining brighter and appearing larger than ISON, also in Leo but a little to its lower left…

2 comets

… I was quite hopeful of bagging it with my camera gear. And even lower in the sky, more to the north, Comet LINEAR X1 – the one which is is “outburst”  – was calling out to be photographed too. So, after a very rude awakening by my phone alarm at 3am, off I headed to the castle, almost walking into several trees I was so delighted by the gloriously starry sky above me…

Up at the castle, and, unsurprisingly, there was not another soul around, My sometime observing companion – the owl which hoots and twoots at me from inside the castle ruins sometimes – was nowhere to be seen, so it was just me, my camera, binoculars and the sounds and sights of the pre-dawn hours. It was wonderful.

Soon I was standing inside the circle of the castle ruins. That’s now my preferred viewing site. Not just because the walls – or what;s left of them – provide a very effective shield from the lights and noise of Kendal and Oxenholme, but because the ruins just frame the night sky so perfectly. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to stand somewhere which offers you a view like this..?

castle plough

But enough sightseeing! Time to get down to work!

Unfortunately, although the sky was loaded with comets, all begging to be found and photographed, there was also a big, bright Moon in the sky, which I knew would slash my chances of success considerably. But I gave it a go anyway.

An opening binocular sweep of the area around Mars turned up no sign of Comet ISON (not a huge shock, she’s still being very shy!) so I started taking photos, using the Starry Night screengrabs I’d prepared earlier to help me pin down the comet’s exact location. Here’s the chart I had prepared for that morning, setting the field of view at the same size as the field of view as my 300mm lens…

300mm Oct 24

Of course I knew the comet wouldn’t actually look anything like that (I wish!) but it was going to help me “find” ISON on my photos afterwards, by looking for a smudge in the correct place after I’d stacked a few images together. So I took a lot of photos, a LOT of photos, really chewing up my memory card (RAW files take up a LOT of space don’t they?!??!) in the process. And last night I finally managed to get stick into processing my images, initially using Deep Sky Stacker but soon giving up on that because it’s an insane piece of software and I just can’t get it to do what I want it to. I retreated into the more comfortable arms of old faithful Registax, and I think… I **think**… !

I managed to capture ISON. I’m not 100% convinced, but using my finder chart there is definitely something in the right place, just standing out from the crud and the noise in the background. It’s in the same place on lots of different images, so it’s not an imaging artefact, and I’m quietly confident that “it” is ISON. Here it is…

ISON arrow

Now I can just hear many of you laughing “What?!?!?!?” as you look at that image, and I know, it’s hardly up there with one of Damian Peach’s beautiful portraits, but that smudgy blurry thing is *exactly* where ISON is on the finder chart, and it appears on every photo I took of the area, even when I moved it “around the frame” to double check it wasn’t just camera noise, so I’m reasonably sure. And don’t forget these are unguided shots, just a camera, fast ISO setting, on a tripod. Yes, I think that’s ISON, but I’m prepared to be corrected. Either way, I didn’t see it in the sky with the binoculars, which was very frustrating!

Anyway, enough of ISON. Next I decided to try for Comet Encke, and that proved much easier! Again, there was no sign of it in the binoculars (I really wish I’d taken the little telescope up now! But I was too tired to lug even more gear up that hill!) but when I started taking photos of its area – there it was, clear as day!

Encke arrow

Again, it stands out much more clearly in negative…

encke oct 24 arrow neg

A crop of the comet’s area shows it nicely too…


Very pleased with that!

So, two down… possibly! … one to go. Time to look for Comet LINEAR X1…


I had to wait until almost 5am to look for this comet, because it is so low in my sky, and there was a little low cloud hugging the northern horizon. Again, although I found its area of sky easily, there was no sign of the comet through binoculars, and initially I thought my photographic attempts had failed too, but I persevered and then, zooming in on one of the pics, I saw this…

x1 oct 24

Er… what? Here, let me show you…

x1 oct 24 arrow

…and again, in negative…

x1 oct 24 arrow neg

And again, I know that’s not much to look at, not when you compare it to images like the ones shown on Spaceweather.com, like this gorgeous one from the Remanzaco Observatory…


Link to the image here, if you want the details…

…but for something taken with an unguided camera, on a brilliantly moonlit morning, from the middle of a light polluted town, I’m quite happy with that.

…but as pleased as I am, I’ll admit that it’s very frustrating that I *still* haven’t actually seen Comet ISON with my own eyes yet. And with the weather forecast for the following week ranging from “rubbish” to “******* rubbish”, it looks like that Big Moment isn’t coming any time soon. But this time next week I’ll be at a starcamp up at Kielder, and with the beautiful dark skies there, and the Moon moving out of the way, surely that is when I’ll finally get to see it….

One Response to “Updates – October 2013 (2)”

  1. Enjoying your hunt for Ison… Not doing much better here in the NE’s heavily light polluted skies. Trying some piggy back DSLR & Prime mounted 8″ SCT but like you say… Very evasive!

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