Monday, 30 September 2013

Ison update 30/09/2013

These are the current co-ordinates for Ison at 18.45 GMT  30/09/2013

Co-ordinates: 09h 34m 06.4s,   17* 40'  08.9"
Distance from Sun: 247,607,969 km
Distance from Earth: 322,707,837 km
Magnitude: 11.12

For those who don't know you can track Ison in real time from the comfort of your computer by visiting the fantastic The Sky live website

With thanks to The Sky Live

NASA Prepares for Ison's flyby of Mars

Tomorrow see's Ison reach it's closest approach to Mars. Ison is going to come within just 10,460,730 km of Mars, six times closer than it will get to Earth!
There are currently 5 active Mars missions which will be turning their attention towards Ison, 2 rovers and 3 orbiters. The best equipped to study Ison are NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and ESA's Mars Express Orbiter (MEO).

Artists impression of Ison from the surface ofMars

Mars Reconnaissance is equipped with the largest telescope ever taken in to deep space at 20 inches, however it was designed with surface observation, rather than imaging comets! Like wise Mars Express original purpose is also terrestrial mapping and comes equipped with the very impressive HRSC Camera. Between them MRO and MEO should give us some stunning pictures and the most in depth data on Ison so far.  We are hoping to get much more accurate data on her size, the larger she is the more likely she will survive her encounter with the Sun at the end of November.
What's more as she passes Mars she is warming up more causing her tail to grow and increasing her coma. With all these orbiters and rovers pointed in her direction, we should get a fascinating glimpse in to how chunks of ice evolve and grow into the magnificent comets we all know!

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

All of this is just a small part of the research being conducted on Ison. A grand total of 16 NASA craft will be observing Ison from space along with the Hubble space telescope, 4 ESA spacecraft and every observatory on Earth! Ison is without doubt the most study comet there has ever been, and we are extremely excited to find out what secrets will be unlocked!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Ison Location Update 28/09/2013

These are the current co-ordinates for Ison at 19.25 GMT  28/09/2013

Co-ordinates: 09h 29m 59.8s,   18* 03'  41.1"
Distance from Sun: 253,134,203 km
Distance from Earth: 331,329,671 km
Magnitude: 11.25

For those who don't know you can track Ison in real time from the comfort of your computer by visiting the fantastic The Sky live website

With thanks to The Sky Live

Friday, 27 September 2013

NASA to luanch balloon to study Ison

NASA has annouced they are launch a observation balloon to monitor Ison this weekend.

BRRISON to scale with the Washington monument 
The balloon, called "BRRISON"  ( Balloon Rapid Response for Ison) will be launched from NASA's Columbia Scientific Ballon facility in Fort Sumer, New Mexico. At around 204 metre (671 feet) this helium filled polyethylene balloon is capable carrying up to 3,600 kg and reaching an altitude of 37,000 metres (120,000 feet) for approximately 11 hours.
Andy Cheng, principal investigator said "By ascending above 99.5% of the Earth's atmosphere, BRRISON will be able to study the materials within the comet," ......... "It's possible that water and organic chemicals on comets may have played an important role in the evolution of life on Earth."

BRRISON's Mission objectives:

  • Develop and demonstrate gondola and payload systems for a balloon-borne platform designed to achieve planetary science objectives.
  • Observe comet ISON in the near-infrared, near ultra-violet and visible wavelength ranges.
  • Through these observations, measure CO2 and H2O emissions and the ratio of CO2/H2O.
  • These measurements will be used as vital diagnostics of the comet’s origin and journey through our Solar System.
  • How does the composition of Oort Cloud comets compare to Kuiper Belt comets?
  • What are the chemical processes that lead to complex organic molecules in regions of star and planet formation?
  • Were there systematic chemical or isotopic gradients in early solar nebula?
  • How did Earth get its water and other volatiles?


BRISSON gondola
BRRISON's Gondola and instruments
The BRRISON ballooncraft is made of two primary components.

First is the large, stratospheric helium (He) filled balloon, also referred to as a stratospheric scientific balloon, which also serves as the “launch vehicle.”
Second is the gondola, an aluminum structure which houses BRISSON’s scientific instrument payload. The payload includes a refurbished telescope with sensors in the near-infrared, near ultra-violet and visible wavelength ranges. Additionally, a student-led payload of a high-definition camera will be used for scientific and education and public outreach purposes.

  • Balloons fly above 99.5% of Earth atmosphere which results in access to spectral bands not observable from ground-based observatories (such as the Mauna Kea Observatory) or airborne platforms (such as the SOFIA aircraft).
  • The height of the balloon also means that there is an absence of turbulent air mass that can degrade the quality of images being captured by the various sensors onboard the ballooncraft.
  • Balloon-crafts provide access to near-space at a fraction of the cost of spacecraft missions.  Typical balloon mission development costs range from about $5 million to $10 million and typical balloon launch costs range from about $500,000 to about $1.5 million – a fraction of what spacecraft mission development and  spacecraft launch vehicles cost.
  • Balloon payloads can be recovered more than 95 percent of the time.  These payloads can be refurbished and re-flown multiple times.  Plus, since the payload is still within the protection of the Earth’s radiation belts, there is no need for radiation-hardened electronics.
  • Since balloon missions are developed on relatively quick time-scales (within a year or two), they are perfect training opportunities for young space engineers & scientists.

Ison location update 27/09/2013

These are the current co-ordinates for Ison at 20.23 GMT  27/09/2013

Co-ordinates: 09h 28m 02.7s,   18* 14'  44.1"
Distance from Sun: 255,804,818 km
Distance from Earth: 335,506,810 km
Magnitude: 11.32

For those who don't know you can track Ison in real time from the comfort of your computer by visiting the fantastic The Sky live website

With thanks to The Sky Live

A Newbies guide to Ison part 4

What is Perihelion?

Perihelion is term we use to mean that a comet has reached its closest point to the sun. Comet Ison's perihelion is on the 28th of November at approximately 23:00 GMT when she will pass the Sun at a distance of around 1,200,000 Km (800,000 miles)

What is A.U?

A.U is a measurement of distance, and stands for Astronomical Unit.
A.U is the distance between the Earth and the Sun which is 149,597,870,700 km (92,955,807,273 miles). So if you see Ison's distance from earth as 2.0 A.U this means it is twice as far away as the Earth is from the Sun. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Ison update Location on 26/09/2013

These are the current co-ordinates for Ison at 20.03 GMT  26/09/2013

Co-ordinates: 09h 26m 00.5s,   18* 26'  08.2"
Distance from Sun: 258,611,145 km
Distance from Earth: 339,902,455 km
Magnitude: 11.38

For those who don't know you can track Ison in real time from the comfort of your computer by visiting the fantastic The Sky live website

With thanks to The Sky Live

Ison Photograph clearly showing tail and coma forming nicely!

Photograph of Ison by David Peach showing tail and coma
Photograph of Ison by David Peach

Damian Peach captured this amazing image of Ison on the 24th of September,as she travels between the constellations of Cancer and Leo. David Peach a highly respected British astrophotographer used a 17" corrected Dall-kirkham telescope and a Finger Lakes Instruments Camera. David will be appearing at the Comet Conference by Astronomy Now in London on the 20th of October where he will be sharing his photography tips. For more information visit the Astronomy Now site here

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Comet Ison location update 25/09/2013

These are the current co-ordinates for Ison at 19:15 GMT  25/09/2013

Co-ordinates: 09h 23m 58.7s,   18* 37' 27.0"
Distance from Sun: 261,454,125 km
Distance from Earth: 344,360,900 km
Magnitude: 11.45

For those who don't know you can track Ison in real time from the comfort of your computer by visiting the fantastic The Sky live website

Ison's current location  25/09/2013    with thanks to The Sky Live

Ison Photographed with a 4" refractor telescope

An amatuer astronomer has photographed Ison using just a 4" refracting telescope. Even more amazing is he did it TEN days ago! This is the smallest telescope we've heard of yet viewing Ison, so well done Peter Lawrence!

Peter Lawrence took this photo of Ison with a 4" refractor telescope

"I photographed Comet ISON on Sept. 15th using my 4-inch refractor," reports astrophotographer Pete Lawrence of Selsey UK.  "The comet's tail is nicely on view even through this relatively small instrument."
"Here's a rough stack of images from the morning of 15 September showing Comet C/2012 S1 ISON imaged with a CCD camera through my 4-inch, f/9 refractor."

Have you seen Ison yet? If so we would love to here about your set up!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Comet Ison location update 24/09/2013

These are the current co-ordinates for Ison as of 17:30 GMT  24/09/2013

Co-ordinates: 09h 21m 53.6s,   18* 48' 53.6"
Distance from Sun: 264,386,944 km
Distance from Earth: 348,964,828 km
Magnitude: 11.52

For those who don't know you can track Ison in real time from the comfort of your computer by visiting the fantastic The Sky live website

Ison update from the Sky Live
Ison' current location  24/09/2013    with thanks to The Sky Live

Mars Express to start imaging Ison today

The European Space Agency will give it’s Mars Express Orbiter craft a new mission tonight, to start photographing Ison. Mars Express will get some of the best views in the solar system as Ison will pass Mars at just 10.5 million kilometres, three times closer than it will get to Earth. 
Mars Express is hoped to produce the some of the best data on the composition of Ison’s corona that we will get, so we are egarly awaiting the results. Mars Express is well equipped and with such an impressive aray of instruments at the ESA disposal, we are expecting some great insights in to Isons life.

Mars express orbiter observing Ison
The Mars Express Orbiter will start observing Ison today 24/09/2013

 Surface/subsurface instruments
· HRSC (High Resolution Stereo Camera)
· OMEGA (Visible and Infrared Mineralogical Mapping Spectrometer)
· MARSIS (Sub-surface Sounding Radar Altimeter)
 Atmosphere/Ionosphere instruments
· PFS (Planetary Fourier Spectrometer)
· SPICAM (Ultraviolet and Infrared Atmospheric Spectrometer)
· ASPERA (Energetic Neutral Atoms Analyser)

 This is just the start of a four pronged mission from the European Space Agency to study Ison. In November the ESA/NASA SOHO mission will turn its sights on Ison, then it’s the turn of the Venus Express orbiter and the Proba-2 satellite. We will bring you more information on these missions closer the time!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Ison location update 22/09/2013

Question: So where is Ison today?
Simple answer: Space.
Technical answer: 09h 20m  14.3s,  18*  57'  52.4"       (23/09/2013  20:55 GMT)

For those who don't know you can track Ison in real time from the comfort of your computer by visiting the fantastic The Sky live website
With thanks to The Sky Live

A newbies guide to Ison part 3

How fast is Ison?

Ison is moving fast! As of September she is traveling at approximately 107826 kph (67,000 mph), at this speed it would take Ison just 10 seconds to travel the entire length of the M1 motorway! 
But that's not the whole story, Ison is accelerating. As the comet gets closer to the sun, the effect of the suns gravity is stronger and will cause Ison to speed up. In December when Ison reaches the sun, the sun will "slingshot" her back out into the solar system at tremendous speed. Remember when you were a kid running up to a lamp post, grabbing hold of it and being swung round? Remember how you suddenly speed up, well swap the lamppost for the sun and you for Ison! (If you don't remember doing it, go and have a go now!)
When Ison goes through this slingshot around the sun we expect her to reach speeds of up to 1,359,895 kph (845,000 mph)! At this speed the M1 would take just 0.8 seconds, it is rumoured that Jeremy Clarkson has been seen building a giant harpoon to try and capture Ison.......

Where did Ison come from?

We believe Ison came from the Oort cloud. Our solar system sits inside a large ball shaped cloud of ice and rocks. This is the Oort cloud and is generally considered to be the boundary of the solar system and the birth place of most comets. 

You may notice on the picture above that the cloud has two parts, the inner cloud and the outer cloud. Imagine a football with a dinner plate inside. The outer cloud is where we think Ison came from. The Oort cloud contains trillions of frozen objects, mainly water, ammonia and methane.
The edge of the Oort cloud is about one light year away from the sun, around 22,5000,000,000,000 km (13,950,000,000,000 miles) and at this distance the effect of the suns gravity is very weak. It’s thought that the gravitational effect from our neighbouring stars dislodge chunks of ice and push them in to our solar system where they become comets, like Ison. Very little is known about the Oort cloud in fact most of it is theory, we have yet to send a space probe there! 

What is Ison's mass?
Just like size, it's not easy to work out the mass of comets! Many astronomers are reluctant to even take a guess, but we will! We have estimated Ison to be 3,175,146,590 kg. This estimate was reached by a mean average of estimates from 11 BCRS members. All the estimates were within a 9% range, so we are quietly confident with its accuracy. That said, new data is coming in daily so we might revise this figure in the future, but we would be surprised if it was by much! 

How close to earth will Ison get?
At its closest point Ison will be 69,000,000 km (39,900,000 miles) from earth on the 26th of December.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Where to Look for Ison

Apologies to everyone who were expecting us to have completed our new "How to see Ison" page.

We all got a bit carried away celebrating Ison's birthday, but fear not! We WILL have the page up in the next couple of days!

Until then we hope the following chart will be helpful!

Ison location update 22/09/2013

Question: So where is Ison today?
Simple answer: Space.
Technical answer: 09h 18m  13.8s,  19*  08'  42.9"       (22/09/2013  19:30 GMT)

For those who don't know you can track Ison in real time from the comfort of your computer by visiting the fantastic The Sky live website

With thanks to The Sky Live

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Happy Birthday Ison!

It was a year ago today that Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok discovered Ison, so here at the BCRS we've decided to throw Ison a little party!

Unfortunately Ison wont be able to join us, but we've got the next best thing......a comet cake! Roz did a fantastic job on the cake, with white chocolate icing, mini comets on top and more layers than I can count!

As you can see it didnt take long for everyone to start tucking in,less time than it took to find a camera in fact!

In honor of Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok, we've got a bottle of genuine Russian vodka and will be raising a glass or two, to the guys who found Ison a year ago today!

Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok who discovered Ison a year ago today

Ison location update 21/09/2013

Question: So where is Ison today?
Simple answer: Space.
Technical answer: 09h 16m  14.7s,  19*  19'  19"       (21/09/2013  17:53 GMT)

For those who dont know you can track Ison in real time from the comfort of your computer by visiting the fantastic The Sky live website

Comet Ison's current position
Click on the picture to expand to full screen

Friday, 20 September 2013

A newbies guide to Ison part 2

So should I be scared? 

No. Ison presents no risk to the Earth or anyone on it. There has been lots of rumor's about impending doom, far to many to list here so we have a dedicated page to put your mind at rest titled "Should I be scared" which you can find by clicking here.

When can I see Ison?

Comets are not like shooting stars, they don't streak across the sky before fizzling out, so you don't need to worry about blinking, Ison will be visible for weeks not seconds! Below is a quick reference guide, check out our "how to see Ison" for full details on how, when and where to view Ison.
September: During September will need a large amateur telescope to view Ison.
October: During October you should be able to see Ison with a decent pair of binoculars, or basic telescope.
November: Ison will be visible to the naked eye towards the end of November with the 28th being predicted to be the most spectacular due to it being at its closest point to the sun. 
December: Come December we enter the unknown, due to the gravitational force of the sun Ison may well be torn apart. If Ison survives then during the start of December she will have positioned herself to close to the sun for easy viewing but with a bit of luck, may still be visible just before sun rise. By the end of the month Ison will have completed the trip around the sun and will be heading back just in time for new years eve when she will be right above us, over the north pole with a newly energized  and hopefully even more dramatic tail. 
January: Come January and some people may be suffering from comet fatigue, but Ison has saved the best for last! Around the 15th of January the earth will pass through Ison's tail made of fine dust and ice. This will produce spectacular meteor showers, but it is the finer dust that does not burn up which will produce the main show. As this dust enters our atmosphere it will cause noctilucent clouds, one of the rarest and most beautiful clouds to form. But her crowning glory, her swan song, will be the colours that are produced by the suspended dust particles in the upper atmosphere, reds, oranges and purple will light  up our sky during the early evening like a psychedelic dream sequence!
February: As Ison heads back out away from us we expect Ison will only be visible with binoculars again.
March: Just like September she will only be visible with a amateur telescope, but don't despair as one comet leaves, another appears by the name of PanStarrs! (more info to follow)

Where can I see Ison?

Ison will be visible from all over the globe, but the northern hemisphere will get the best, and longest view. We recommend finding a dark place to view from, away from the city and the light pollution. Hills in the countryside are always a good place for astronomy, above the low level air pollution. It is worth doing a bit of reconnaissance or "reccy" to find a good spot.
The position in sky will change, it is moving object after all! You can check out where to look in our "How to View Ison" page which will be regularly updated as we track Ison across the heavens.

Why is it called Ison? 

Ison is named after the International Scientific Optical Network, the organisation where it was discovered. Normally a comet would be named after the astronomers who discovered it, but on this occasion the media nicknamed it Ison  and the name has stuck, which is unfortunate for Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok who first discovered it! Technically Ison should be called "Nevski-Novichonok comet" 
Ison is not really the name of the comet at all, just a easy to remember nickname. You may know that animals have two names  a common name which we use everyday like "Tiger" and an official scientific or "Latin" name like "Panthera tigris". Comets are just the same, they have their scientific name known as its designation and a common name. Isons real name or designation is C/2012 S1 catchy or what!
C/2012 S1 might sound like a Starwars character but there is a reason for the name.

The letter C is given because it is non-periodic (not a regularly appearing comet like Halley's comet).
The number 2012 is simply the year it was discovered.
The letter S is given to to indicate when during the year it was discovered, a comet discovered between the 1st and 15th of January are given the letter A, from 16th to the 31st they are given B and so on. Ison was discovered on the 21 of September so got the letter S.
The Number 1 is shows it was the first comet to be discovered in "S" period (16th to 30th of September)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Ison location update 19/09/2013

Question: So where is Ison today?
Simple answer: Space.
Technical answer: 09h 12m 14.6s,   19* 40' 27.1"   (19/09/2012 13:12 GMT)

For those who dont know you can track Ison in real time from the comfort of your computer by visiting the fantastic The Sky live website 

A newbie's guide to Ison part 1

What is Ison?

Ison is a comet which was discovered on the 21st of September 2012 by two astronomers called Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok from Russia.

Its been a long time since I was at school, remind me what a comet is again?

A comet is a large chunk of ice, dust and rock hurtling though space. Imagine making a snowball out of the slush you get at the side of the road during winter and you'll get the idea!

Why is Ison causing so much fuss?

Ison is what's called a "sungrazing comet" basically this means as it travels through our solar system it will pass close to the sun. As it gets close to the sun it will become heated by the sun and start to vaporize which creates the characteristic comet tail. The closer Ison gets the brighter and more dramatic the comet will become. Due to Ison's path and size, it is predicted to produce one of the most spectacular astronomical shows in living memory!

How big is Ison?

Judging the size of comets is tricky at best, but the current estimate is about 5km (3 miles) in diameter. This estimate comes from data obtained by NASA's Swift satellite, which has been watching the amount of debris (dust and ice) that is ejected from Ison as it travels through space. 5km sounds big but to put this in to perspective the Hale-Bopp comet of 1997 was 30km in diameter! The comet itself is not the main attraction for most people, its the tail which steals the show and this is currently 3700km (2300 miles) long and growing as it gets closer to the sun!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

New Gif Image of Ison 15/09/2013

This fantastic set of images taken by Bruce Gary and Dennis Whitmer, is easily our favorite so far! 

Comet ISON flying toward the Sun, ​383 million kilometers away from Earth. ​Dennis Whitmer obtained 40 useful images of ISON on the morning of September 15, 2013. Then Bruce Gary used some of those images to create this GIF animation. Image credit: Dennis Whitmer/Bruce Gary

Bruce Gary at his observatory in Arizona, USA

Bruce Gary was the first astronomer to pick up Ison as it emerged from the suns glare, he was not able to see it with his own eyes but by photographing where he expected it to be he was able to build up the composite image above. Well done Bruce, the BCRS salute you!

Photo of Comet Ison 12/09/2013 Taken by the Vatican Observatory

ISON on 12 September 2013

Date: September 12, 2013
Time: 11:41 UT
Direct link:
Related information: Comet ISON was approximately 1.993 AU from the sun. That’s over 185+ million mi (298+ million km).
Credits: Carl Hergenrother / University of Arizona / Vatican Observatory