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Looks like we got us a Comet Convoy…

Well, it seems that the much anticipated Comet ISON will have company when it’s in the sky later this year. Famed comet discoverer Terry Lovejoy has found another comet, and the latest Comet Lovejoy will be joining ISON in the northern sky in December. In fact, they will be keeping each other company from the start of November – a prospect which will have comet observers and astrophotographers alike drooling, I’m sure.

As this chart – created with the fantastic planetarium smartphone App “Sky Safari” shows – at the moment Comet Lovejoy is in the constellation of Monoceros, snuggling up next to Orion in the early morning sky…

now

…and it is far too faint to see through binoculars or even a small telescope, But that will change as the days and weeks pass, and by November it should be visible in more modest equipment. Initial calculations suggest the latest Lovejoy won’t reach naked eye visibility, reaching a maximum magnitude of between 8 and 9, but as comet experts and observers always say it’s almost impossible to try and predict what a comet is going to do, so the best thing is just to work out where it is going to be and go take a look at it yourself.

On November 29th, when ISON has rounded the Sun and, we hope, begins to unfurl a tail and become visible to the naked eye, Comet Lovejoy will be close by. Here’s what comet observers will be looking at and photographing then…

Nov 29

Note: you can see the Sky Safari software has shown where Comet ISON’s tail will be at that time, poking up from behind the horizon at the bottom left there, but there’s no way of knowing if it will actually be visible.

By mid-December, when many comet experts are predicting ISON may be at its best as it climbs up towards the stars of the Plough, Comet Lovejoy will be nearby…

Dec 12

That’s a pretty exciting prospect for comet observers. But what caught my eye was what we have a chance of seeing a month earlier, before dawn on the morning of November 9th. Given clear skies, and a lot of luck, we have a chance of seeing a veritable “Comet Convoy” as 3 comets line up with Mars and Jupiter in the south east before sunrise…

Nov 9

And how bright will they all be? Well, from the left, Comet Encke will be magnitude 6, ISON should be hovering around 6 or 7, and Lovejoy will be still very faint at around magnitude 9. That means, especially in a brightening sky, none of them will probably be visible to the naked eye, but this parade will have astrophotographers out in their thousands I should think, and comet observers will be giddy with excitement.

(And what the hordes of Nibiru nutters and ISON wackos who have been getting their knickers in a twist at the prospect of *one* comet in the sky will make of a line up of THREE comets and two naked eye planets I dread to think! Their empty little heads might actually blow up!)

So… that’s going to be a right old treat, isn’t it? Typical. You wait ages for a good comet, then three come along at once –

Oh come on, someone had to say it… 😉

More info on Comet ISON on my blogs here:

Waiting for ISON

The ISON Atlas

 

* * * * * * * UPDATE * * * * * * * *

When I went online before heading out to work this morning, and checked this blog’s viewing stats, just casually wondering if many people had read this post, I was amazed and initially delighted to see that this blog’s “viewing figures” had gone through the roof! Overnight more than a thousand people had read this post, which I thought was brilliant! Then I checked out where those readers had been, and to my disappointment and amusement I found that most had been on a forum for people who are into conspiracy theories, including, of course, many of the crackpot theories about Comet ISON being everything from a trio of UFOs, to the make-believe planet Nibiru, to the Earth-destroying Wormwood, and various other bits of nonsense.

At first I thought “Well, hopefully some of the people there will read what I wrote and find it interesting enough to make them go and check out the actual science behind this,…”

But then I saw that many of the people on that forum were actually quoting FROM this blog post to support their crazy prophesies and theories! Unbelievable! (I should be fair here and say that some of the posters were shooting down the cranks, insisting that this is nothing spooky or kooky, but they are very outnumbered. I thank them for their efforts tho!)

So let me be perfectly clear. I want to totally dissociate myself from that forum, and others like it, and I don’t want anyone coming here from anywhere else to think for a moment I share their beliefs. I think it’s pretty clear from things I’ve written on this blog and my other blogs in the past that I have no time for anyone who spouts and spreads nonsense about Comet ISON being UFOs, or Nibiru, or changing course and striking Earth, or triggering solar flares, etc. That is all utter crap, if you’ll excuse my language. The people who write and spread this stuff are either simply just so naive and so genuinely ignorant about the science behind the stories that they buy into them. Or they’re frankly too stupid to realise the truth behind the stories and will happily fall for anything crazy they read online. Or they’re deliberately and mischeviously spreading rubbish just to get attention and make themselves look big and clever on the internet. They want the world to look at them, and what they write, because it makes them feel special.

So, let me clear this up for the people on that forum, and people coming from elsewhere. There is NO connection between this new Comet Lovejoy and Comet ISON. There is no swarm of comets heading towards us. They’re not the first wave of a planetary cometary bombardment. They’re not Signs from God (any god). They’re just comets, natural members of the solar system, bits of ice orbiting the Sun just like planets and asteroids do. Neither ISON or Lovejoy will cause earthquakes, tidal waves, war or plagues, because they are just tiny objects compared to the Earth, passing us at distances of many, many millions of miles for a very brief period. Suggesting they might make things happen here on Earth is, frankly, bloody stupid, and no-one with an ounce of common sense or knowledge of basic science would believe that for a moment. It’s like suggesting a mosquito could knock over an elephant by flying past it ten miles away.

There are many scientific reasons why this is the case, but I know the hardcore nutters dismiss all of them and there’s no reasoning with them, just like you can’t reason with Apollo Hoax believers, so I’m not even going to try. So instead I’m just going to try to reach the people who are *curious* about these comets – the people who are maybe a *little* worried about them, the people who are wondering if maybe there *might* be something in all the scary stories – and give them something which will, hopefully, reassure them and lead them out of the WooWoo darkness and back into the light.

Ok. The thing is, on every day of every week of every month of every year since the formation of the solar system, all those billions of years ago, there have been comets drifting around and passing Earth. They are always there, ALWAYS there, out in space. They’re as natural a part of our world as the planets, clouds and kittens. Astronomers who observe the sky don’t get excited about comets because there are so many of the damned things! It’s like a birdspotter getting excited about blackbirds, or thrushes.

Occasionally a comet is found with unusual properties, or an unusual orbit, and then the ears of astronomers prick up, especially if orbit calculations show the comet might become visible to the naked eye. Because most comets don’t. Most comets never come anywhere near the Sun, or the Earth, so never get bright enough to be seen without a good sized telescope. ISON is unusual because it will get very close to the Sun, and relatively close to Earth, and it has the potential to become a bright naked eye object later in the year. But it might not. We don’t know yet.

But on any and every night of every year, if you wanted to, and if you had the right equipment, you could see not one but several comets in the sky. They’re not rare, they’re not unusual, they’re everywhere. So having three relatively bright comets in the same part of the sky at the same time later this year is not a “Sign from God,” it is not proof of imminent catastrophe, and it is certainly not a sign that Judgement day is upon us. It’s a happy coincidence, nothing more. It has happened before – earlier this year astronomers in the southern hemisphere were able to see two comets, PANSTARRS and Lemmon, in the sky at the same time without any Horsemen of the Apocalypse trampling them to death. It’s not unusual. Every night, EVERY night, the sky is full of comets, if you know where to look.

Actually, come to think about it, there was very little BS talked about PANSTARRS and Lemmon during that time. Is comet nutterness a northernm hemisphere thing? Could be…

Anyway, here, let me show you. This is what the sky looks like tomorrow morning (11th Sept) before dawn. The position of Comet ISON – low in the east before sunrise – is marked…

1

But if you could click your fingers and see all the other comets visible in the sky at the same time, the ones too faint to be seen without a telescope, this is what you’d see…

2

See? DOZENS of them! Let’s make that even clearer by flicking between the two…

ISON now

Surely that shows you how crazy the whole conspiracy fuss about Comet ISON is.  It’s just one comet amongst many. End of story. It’s only newsworthy for what it *might* do.

Now, this new comet, Comet Lovejoy. It’s great news for astronomers who love observing things in the sky, but it’s not a “sign” of anything, and really, the nutters and fruit loops jumping on it as a sign of something need to STFU. Because, like ISON, it’s just another comet. It might creep up to naked eye visibility if we’re lucky, but at the moment it looks like we’ll need binoculars or a small telescope to see it. But that’s ok. Comets can look pretty through binoculars and small telescopes.

But again, let me show you why there’s nothing “going on” here. Here’s the view, looking to the east, on a frosty mid December morning. By then ISON might, if we’re lucky, be sporting a long, bright tail, maybe even dominating the sky. Or it might not. Too soon to know that. Whatever it does, it will have company in the sky – newly-discovered Comet Lovejoy will be close by. Not *physically* close by, just visually, i.e. it will lie along the same line of sight for us here on Earth. Although it’s not marked on this next pic, Lovejoy is one of the specks to ISON’s upper left…

5

But if you could do the finger clicking thing again, and magically reveal all the comets visible in the sky at that time, this is just a small part of what you’d see, they’d be strewn across the sky like grains of sand…

6

Flicking between the two with an animation shows you how foolish it is to predict ISON or any other comet might be responsible for anything happening here on Earth, good or bad, or is a “sign” of some celestial event, or a threatening cosmic email from some invisible deity. ISON and Lovejoy are just comets in a sky full of comets.

ISON Dec 11

Which brings me to the “Comet Convoy” I wrote about in the first place and which, as I predicted, has got the fruit loops and Sign Seers in such a headspin.

This is what will be in the sky on the morning of November 9th. Three comets and a couple of planets, all lined up…

Nov 9

I know it looks very dramatic – a grand celestial alignment of comets and planets a line of worlds and worldlets angling down towards the horizon – but the pic is misleading. While the planets Mars and Jupiter will be clearly visible to the naked eye, looking like stars, it’s more than likely that not *ONE* of the trio of comets will be visible to the naked eye, because of the brightness of the sky and the faintness of the comets themselves. So no, there’ll be no traffic- or heart-stopping spectacle in the sky for the man or woman in the street. This is something subtle and actually quite challenging for *astronomers* to see and enjoy and photograph when sane, normal people are still fast asleep in their beds.

And **again**, this is nothing Earth-shattering or Prophesy-fulfilling. Because if you could click your fingers and make all the other comets visible at that time appear too, this is what you’d see…

4

Flicking between the two…

Nov 9th Comet Convoy

And remember, that’s just in *that* part of the sky. If you could stood and turned on the spot, letting the whole sky wheel around you like you were in a planetarium,  you would see the sky positively spattered with comets.

So please, enough of of the predictions and prophesies. Comet ISON is not going to hit Earth. It is not Nibiru – and we know that because Nibiru is a fairy tale, made up by people who basically know **** all about astronomy and can’t be bothered to haul their arses off their sofas while they’re watching their Apollo Hoax and alien abduction DVDs and X-Files re-runs to pick up a book or a magazine, or go to a science website, and learn. It’s not Wormwood, because that’s made up too. It’s not an alien habitat called Xanterexx because, well, come on, that’s too ridiculous to even slap down. And the appearance of Comet Lovejoy in the same area of the sky doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a coincidence, that’s all. If it had been twice as faint we would never have spotted it, but it would still have been in that part of the sky – and no-one would have been any the wiser.

I hope that has set some people’s minds at rest. If it still hasn’t, then consider this. The people who are insisting ISON is a UGFO (or 3 UFOs!!) and are predicting that ISON is going to destroy Earth, or is going to trigger solar flares, or is a Sign from God, are the very same people who predicted, with equal swagger and confidence, that another comet, Elenin, would cause havoc and kill us all when it passed this way a few years ago. It sailed past harmlessly, of course, and they have conveniently forgotten all about that. These are the same people who predicted with gleeful breathlesness that the world would end when that Mayan Calendar reached its end. The date they chose came, and went, and we’re still here. Now they’re busy recalculating the date of Armageddon, which had already been postponed several times before. These are the same people who predicted past alignments of planets would affect the Earth, and when nothing happened conveniently forgot all about their prophesies.

So yes, we do have a Comet Convoy to enjoy in November, and come Christmas we may have a nice, bright naked eye comet to stare at, and another, fainter one to peer at through telescopes. This is an amazing thing, an amazing treat. It doesn’t need embroidering with rubbish about UFOs, or alien habitats, or solar flares or meteor bombardments. It’s just part of living on a planet in a busy, dynamic solar system.

It’s called science.

And it’s wonderful.