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New SOLAR ECLIPSE Guide blog


I’m starting to get people asking me for advice about how to watch the solar eclipse on March 20th, so I’ve put together a blog for absolute beginners, with all the info needed to observe and enjoy the eclipse – timings, what equipment to use, etc.


Comet Lovejoy update…

Comet Lovejoy might be fading now, but it is still well worth looking for and looking at. At its peak, Lovejoy was a lovely if subtle naked eye comet, best seen from a dark sky site, but it is fading now and that beautiful tail it was sporting is shrinking and fading too. Still, I was able to grab a few (last?) photos of it a couple of nights ago, on Feb 5th…



Lovejoy is now drifting away from us and moving much more slowly across the sky, appearing to head towards the familiar W shape of Cassiopeia. Here’s a finder chart for the next couple of weeks…

chart 8 20 Feb

67P is awake…!

Well and truly! Look at this new ***gorgeous*** mosaic of four images taken by ROSETTA’s navcam…


That’s a mighty jet shooting out of the neck there, isn’t it? But if you boost that image you can see there are LOTS of jets now shooting out of 67P from all parts of it…


And of course, I couldn’t resist making a couple of rather more “artistic” versions of that image, because it’s just so beautiful…

31 Jan


Meanwhile, the OSIRIS team continues to horde its images, which we now know, thanks to the recent special issue of SCIENCE magazine, are absolutely stunning. I’m increasingly baffled by this, especially as they *are* sharing them with certain people and groups, they’re just holding them back from the media and the public. For example, yesterday my friend and fellow comet enthusiast/blogger/outreacher Daniel Fischer posted a fascinating report on his blog from a ROSETTA conference held in Germany, at which new OSIRIS images were shown to the audience. Of course, taking pictures of the images as they were displayed wasn’t allowed, and to their credit, and showing a remarkable restraint I’m not sure I would have been able to, no-one there (to my knowledge) has posted any sneakily-snapped screenshots of the OSIRIS pictures on Twitter or Facebook, though they must have taken some.

But seriously, come on, what?? Why, if they are so worried about other scientists stealing their discoveries, are the OSIRIS team showing their pictures to *anyone*, especially to roomfuls of the very same scientists they’re so paranoid about? I don’t get it. Either show everyone, or don’t show anyone. Stop treating the public and the science media like undeserving, greedy children, it’s stupid.

And if you think that’s unfair, think about this. During the past week we have seen incredible, historic images taken by other space probes released without any delay. The NEW HORIZONS team released the long-awaited first images from the probe’s final approach to Pluto; the DAWN team released stunning new images of dwarf planet Ceres; NASA continues its policy of DAILY releases of images taken by the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers. And, of course, the ROSETTA NAVCAM team released more pics too. From OSIRIS? Nothing. And no-one can tell me that’s right.


In his blog report and Facebook posts Dan reported that the OSIRIS team will start releasing their images from “mid-May” which is great news – if it happens; at this point I seriously wouldn’t be surprised if the OSIRIS team announced in May that they can’t post any pictures because the dog ate them…


67P Revealed

After many long months of waiting we finally, FINALLY have our first really close-up images of the surface of Comet 67P to drool over and enjoy. A few days ago a special issue of the prestigious journal “Science” was published, crammed full of scientific papers based on results from the ROSETTA mission, and many were illustrated with images taken by the probe’s high resolution OSIRIS cameras.

My opinion of the OSIRIS science team’s reluctance/refusal to publish pictures their amazing images of the nucleus of Comet 67P is well known, and despite the criticism and flack I get for it I will never change that opinion. And I’ll come back to it soon, I’m sure. But to criticise them about that again at this time would be churlish and petty, because this must be the highlight of their scientific careers, and they deserve all the praise and congratulations they can get, because the images in the Science special are truly stunning. So, everyone, feast your eyes on these, and revel in our first really close up views of a comet. It’s been a long time coming, and we suffered and endured centuries of superstition, fear and ignorance to get to this point, but we can finally imagine we’re standing on the surface of a comet and see its landscapes and features with our own eyes/. What an incredible thing!


This image shows “ripples” on the surface (which other people had pointed out on the navcam images) and dust “tails” behind rocks on the surface – proof that ‘wind’, of a sort, blows across the surface of the comet…

Active_pit s

That image shows an “active pit” on the comet – see the dust jets coming out of the hole in the middle?


Now that’s a fascinating image – it appears to show some kind of fluid or viscous material has flowed out of that hole and spread across the surface…!

And I love this view of the comet taken by OSIRIS from a distance of just 8km…


Of course, when I saw that I knew it could be turned into more of a landscape view…

Comet_from_8_km SA

But look at this… this is the image that everyone has been looking forward to seeing – the “goosebumps” on the inside walls of one of the pits in the comet’s surface…


They stand out a little more clearly with a bit of processing and enhancement…

8sierks c

And an even closer look shows this…

8sierks d

Absolutely fascinting! There’s a lot of speculation that that image shows the basic building blocks of comets – tiny roundish dust- and iceballs which collected together to form the comet billions of years ago. Images like this will be dissected very carefully by cometary scientists in the months and years ahead.

So, there you go, we finally have some OSIRIS images, and they are every bit as spectacular as we imagined they would be. Huge congratulations to the OSIRIS team for their fantastic achievement. :-)

DSS defeated..?

For YONKS now I have been trying to get to grips with an image processing program called “Deep Sky Stacker” which astro photographers use – as its name suggests – to stack photographs of the night sky. I’ve battled with it again and again, trying to get it to stack my “hmmm, ok” pictures into something, well, better. But I’ve never got to grips with it, and always just ended up with a tall grainy black and white monolith of crud…

Well, it turns out that was because DSS really doesn’t like RAW files created by Canon DSLRs, and just spits them out. Great. But I found, after Googling it, that the beta version of DSS positively loves Canon RAWS, so I downloaded that… and hey, whaddya know, it worked…!

Kind of.

It’s early days, but I actually managed to put into DSS some of my recent Comet Lovejoy pics and get out something… better. At least, better than Registax brewed up. I am going to need some proper help with the program, and have to start taking darks and flats and all those other things proper astrophotographers do, but for the first time I actually think it might be worth it, cos my very first efforts gave me these images…


That’s not bad… the tail stands out pretty well!


Now that one I am *really* pleased with, because the original half dozen frames all looked like this…


So I have to be pleased with that, right? I imagine if I can spend half an hour with someone who actually knows their way around DSS I might be able to get something a lot better than I’m getting with Registax…

Actually, this is great timing, because after humming and haahing for well over a year I’ve finally taken the plunge and ordered one of those iOptron star trackers for astrophotography, so the combination of that and a bit of work with DSS should get me some half-decent pics when I go up to the Kielder star camp next month. We’ll see…!

The beauty of 67P

Well, another day and another stunning navcam mosaic release from those wonderful people at ESA’s ROSETTA mission. This time we’re seeing an area of the comet I’m not sure we’ve actually seen before…? It’s certainly an angle we haven’t seen before…


…and with a bit of work…

Comet_on_16_January_2015_NavCam b2

But really, as soon as I saw that image today I saw one section and smiled, because it just screamed out to be cropped and enhanced to make it look… Well, like this…please click on it to enlarge it, as usual…

Imagine you’re flying low over the surface of Comet 67P, hugging the contours of the landscape, up and down over the ridges, scarps and valleys… suddenly the view opens up in front of you, like a curtain being pulled open, and you see *this*…


Isn’t that a glorious, stunning view? I want to say – again – a HUGE Thank You to the team at ESA which continues to produce and release these navcam views, which allow people all around the world to explore the comet and see new, unbelievable views of it every day. I have no doubt that without their efforts the ROSETTA mission would have slipped out of the spotlight the very day after Philae’s landing, because as everyone knows now, to their shame the OSIRIS team are exploring the comet in secret and not sharing anything – not an image, not a name, not a thing – with anyone outside of their offices. But thanks to the ESA team releasing these navcams, the public and the media are still aware that Europe has a spacecraft exploring a comet, out there in the depths of space.

Finally for this post an absolutely unashamed flight of fancy…



Yesterday was a fantastic day for space enthusiasts/advocates/geeks whatever you want to call us. First we had a new navcam release from the ESA ROSETTA team, which shows Comet 67P in stunning detail and from a particularly striking angle. Here it is…


Isn’t that a stunning view? The huge (and STILL unnamed!!!!) crater at the ‘front’ of the smaller lobe looks magnificent, its floor strewn with rubble and huge boulders, while over there on the front of the larger lobe, that plateau with its guarding cliffs looks incredible. Of course, I set to work on that image and created some new “visions” of it, purely for my (and hopefully your!) enjoyment, I’m not suggesting they are scientifically valuable or anything like that…

12 jan b

And really hitting the boost button reveals a lot of activity coming off the comet…

Comet_on_12_January_2015_NavCam enh

Then, out of the blue, without any real warning, I read a justifiably breathless Tweet from Planetary Society blogger and science writer Emily Lakdawalla informing her Followers and the world that NASA had posted images of the dwarf planet Ceres taken by the DAWN space probe just a week or so ago! Look at this!


Now ok, that might LOOK like just a grey smeary blurry mottled mess, and it’s not as good as the images of Ceres taken by the Hubble telescope,  but it *almost* is, and thanks to the better lighting it does show much more tantalising hints of what might be craters and other features on its surface. DAWN arrives at Ceres in March, and is getting closer every minute, so the next set of images released by the team, in just a few days, will be at least as good as Hubble’s and probably even better. What an exciting encounter this is going to be – a whole new world (albeit a dwarf one) to see close up for the very first time in history, to map and chart and place names on. True exploration!

So while the latest images of Ceres might not be as sharp and detailed as the ROSETTA navcams of 67P, they are still very exciting to look at, and we should say a huge THANK YOU to the Dawn team for putting them online for us all to see.

And in a way, that’s as important a thing as the actual images themselves. You see, the images of Ceres released yesterday were taken on January 13th, barely a week ago. Just think about that. Without making a big deal out of it, just because, in this modern age it is the Right Thing To Do, scientists flying a space probe to an incredibly exciting place, to a dwarf planet, took photos of it and let the world see them after just a week. And they will, they tell us, share the rest of the images they take too. What a stark contrast – and you knew this was coming, I’m sure – to the OSIRIS team currently photographing Comet 67P in secret from the ROSETTA space probe.

Clearly, the DAWN team get it. No bleating about the need for a “proprietary period”, no top secret presentations, no looking down arrogantly on the public, nothing like that. Clearly they “get” the importance of media and public outreach, and want the rest of the world to join in with the excitement of this bold mission to explore a new world out there in the depths of space.

You can read the press release about the images, and watch a funky animation of Ceres rotating, here…


So, you see, there’s the proof, again. NASA has shown us, again, that images taken by space probes can be released to, and shared with, the public, and the media, without the scientists involved having to worry about their careers being threatened or their discoveries being scooped. If the DAWN team feels able to do it… and the Mars Exploration Rover team… and the Mars Science Laboratory team… and the CASSINI team… then why doesn’t the OSIRIS team? It’s beyond ridiculous. And I’m sorry but it really does show, very clearly, that the OSIRIS team doesn’t feel it *can’t* release its images, it shows they just don’t *want* to. Which is very, very sad.

But it’s up to them. When 2015 turns into 2016, and the Reviews of the Year are proclaiming the past 12 months’ successes of Opportunity, of the Mars Science Laboratory, of New Horizons and Dawn, the Rosetta mission’s success will be celebrated too, but it will be the images taken by its navcams which are shown on the TV and across the internet to illustrate that success, not the OSIRIS team’s images. I’m sure the OSIRIS team won’t care about that. But it will be a great shame for ESA, which has made huge strides on outreach and engaging with the public. They deserve better.


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