Saturday, November 30, 2013

Breaking News: Comet ISON Disintegrating (VIDEO)


Call the Sun the Grinch as it appears to have just stolen Comet ISON! The latest videos from the SOHO solar observatory are showing a rapidly fading, dissipating Comet ISON racing away from the Sun. Unfortunately, while the previous reports of the comet's 'death' were quickly shown to be premature, this second demise looks to be for real.

See also:
the brightest comets in history

It was on Thanksgiving that the comet made its close approach to the Sun, coming within
a mere (in astronomical terms) 700,000 miles from our nearest star. Is is this close pass to the Sun, and the resultant melting of the comet that, according to optimistic estimates, could push Comet ISON to magnitude -11, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Unfortunately, though, the same mechanism that could make Comet ISON comet of the decade could also destroy it, which now appears to be the case
Stay tuned for more updates!


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Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Miracle: Comet ISON Survives Perihelion! (PHOTOS, VIDEO)


Miracles are real! It now appears that initial reports (including one here) suggesting that Comet ISON disintegrated have been proven premature thanks to further video (click the above picture to watch) by the SOHO solar observatory clearly showing Comet ISON, or at least part of it, emerging from the other side of the Sun.

So, what could have happened?

Right now, the Sun is near the peak of activity in its regular, 11-year cycles. This means that the Sun is blasting a lot of waves of charged particles (solar wind) out into space. With Comet ISON getting so close to the Sun, it will take a direct, close-range hit should a flare aimed at the comet erupt in the coming days. As for what could happen? While anything exact is far from certain, it appears as though the solar wind could have stripped off a sizable portion of the comet's atmosphere, thus reducing its brightness, and leading to premature expectations of its total demise. The same thing happened to Comet Encke in 2007.

See also: the 10 brightest comets of all time

In the end, though, the only way we'll be able to know what Comet ISON will do is to wait and watch. Hopefully, it will survive its close encounter intact and become a show for the history books when it reappears on the other side of the Sun.



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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Photo/Video: Comet ISON Appears to Have Disintegrated


New photographic evidence has shown something reappearing on the other side of the Sun, but it hardly looks like Comet ISON. Appearing as a small streak, there is clearly something on SOHO's camera, but all evidence indicates trouble in the form of a 'headless' comet (one that has largely been stripped of its atmosphere and tail) or the remains of a fragmented nucleus. Go here for a video.

AS of now, no one is certain exactly what is going on, but stay tuned for further updates!

Comet ISON Comes to Perihelion Today, Watch it Happen Live!



Comet ISON is coming to perihelion later today! In non-astronomer lingo, this means that Comet ISON is going to make its closest approach to the Sun today, coming to with 732,000 miles (a close very shave in astronomical terms). It is this intense solar heat that will cause the comet to melt at its fastest rate. Why does this matter? Simple: all of the solar light reflected off the water vapor pouring off the comet will give ISON the familiar, tailed comet look.

The best part: you can watch everything happen live (almost) online!

With Comet ISON being lost to visual observers, the only way to see it now is by way of Sun-studying orbital observatories. Mission control for one of these observatories, SDO, will be hosting a Google+ hangout from 1pm to 3:30pm EDT. Go here for a link to the action.

See also: the 10 brightest comets of all time

In the end, though, the only way we'll be able to know what Comet ISON will do is to wait and watch. Hopefully, it will survive its close encounter intact and become a show for the history books when it reappears on the other side of the Sun.


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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

List: The 10 Brightest Comets of All Time


In a matter of days, Comet ISON will make its perihelion approach, coming within 750,000 miles (a very close shave in astronomical terms) from the Sun. Both astronomers and the general public have gone abuzz over Comet ISON thanks to a prediction released a year ago by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that stated that the comet could reach magnitude -11.6, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Additionally, besides being shadow-casting bright at night, the comet would be bright enough to easily be spotted during broad daylight.

If this were to happen, it would not be a first, but it would allow Comet ISON to join a very exclusive list of the brightest comets ever seen. To days, only 9 comets in recorded history have been bright enough to be seen in daylight. Now, in chronological order, here they are . . .

Great Comet of 1106.
The Belgian historian Sigebertus Gemblacensis completed his
Chronica in 1111. In it, he wrote that on 1106 February 2 a star appeared during the daytime, between the third and ninth hours, about a cubit from the sun. The probable universal time of this observation was February 2-3. A cubit is roughly equal to one degree, meaning that the comet was in Aquarius. The comet was observed in other European countries as well as in the Orient. Some estimates credit the comet as having a tail spanning 100 degrees at peak.



Great Comet of 1680.
Even if it weren't for its amazing show, the Great Comet of 1680 had another distinction: it was the first comet discovered by telescope. First seen on November 14, 1680, the comet rapidly brightened as it approached perihelion, which took place on December 18, 1680, at which tie the comet, which passed within 600,000 miles from the Sun, was reportedly bright enough to be seen in broad daylight. Coincidentally, the Great Comet of 1680 has an almost identical orbit to that of Comet ISON. 



Great Comet of 1743-4.
This comet was discovered simultaneously be several astronomers in November, 1743. In november, 1743, it was reported as appearing as a nebulous star without a tail. By February, 1744 it was as bright as Venus and, after perihelion approach in March, 1744, it developed a spectacular, fan-like tail with 6 prominent streaks. This 6-tailed comet was even observed before it rose, its tail was that bright. The comet then moved into the Southern hemisphere, where some observers credited it with a tail spanning 90 degrees. After 2006-7's McNaught, some came to believe that the Comet of 1743-4 was the first recorded appearance of a comet featuring prominent dust striae.



 
Great Comet of 1843.
First observed in February of 1843, the comet rapidly brightened to the point it was seen in broad daylight at perihelion, which brought it to about 1 angular degree (or about 830,000 miles) of the Sun. This comet was known for its extremely long tail. At over 2 astronomical units (over 180 million miles), the Comet of 1843 would have the longest measured tail until Comet Hyakutake of 1996 was found to have a tail of over twice that length.



  
Great Comet of September 1882 (the Super Comet). 
Perhaps the brightest comet ever seen, at peak, some estimate the Great Comet of September 1882 of having had a peak brightness of magnitude -20, rivaling that of the Sun. Initially spotted in either late August or early September1882, the comet brightened rapidly as it approached perihelion, which took place on September 17. At this time, the comet was reported as being scarcely dimmer than the limb of the Sun, suggesting a magnitude as bright as -20. After perihelion, the comet quickly moved into dark skies, making it perhaps the most spectacular comet ever seen in all of recorded history. The comet remained visible to the naked eye for a long time, until February, 1883, with the last confirmed sighting coming in June, 1883. This comet was also notable in being the first great comet to have been photographed. 



The Daylight Comet of January 1910. 
In 1910, comet mania was in high gear with the anticipated return of Halley's Comet set for April. However, in January, a surprise came about in the form of a comet that literally burst into naked eye visibility virtually overnight. Initially observed in the Southern Hemisphere, the comet reached perihelion on January 17 and moved into the Northern Hemisphere thereafter, easily out-shining Venus and having a tail possibly 50 degrees long. Thanks to appearances of Halley's Comet later that year and the passage of decades, many recollections of the two comets were confused when Halley's Comet reappeared in 1986, with the Daylight Comet being falsely remembered as Halley's Comet.
Comet Skjellerup Maristany (1927).
This comet became very bright in late, 1927, being naked-eye visible for about a month. In mid December, the comet, already notable for its yellow appearance thanks to a shedding of sodium atoms, shot into daylight visibility thanks to a forward scattering of light, provided one blocked the Sun with one's hand. The Comet reached perihelion on December 15 passing within 1.5 angular degrees of the Sun.




Comet Ikeya Seki (1965).
Initially discovered in December, 1965, initial predictions projected a perihelion approach to within 500,000 miles of the Sun coming in mid October and the comet reaching incredible brightness. In this case, the comet lived up to the hype, reaching an apparent magnitude of -10 in October, 1965, becoming visible next to the Sun in daylight near perihelion. After the comet reappeared on the other side of the Sun following perihelion, it sported an extremely bright, long tail. 


Comet West (1976)
Discovered photographically in September, 1975, Comet West was predicted to reach perihelion on February 25 of the following year. At perihelion, observers reported the comet as being bright enough to be seen in broad daylight. Unfortunately, despite its spectacular appearance, comet West was largely ignored by the non-astronomical media thanks to another comet, Kohoutek, which failed to live up to its initial billing as 'comet of the century' in 1973.   



Comet McNaught (2006-7)
Like West, Comet McNaught was discovered photographically about 6 months prior to perihelion, which took place in mid-January, 2007. For observers, it didn't take long to realize that the new discovery was brightening rapidly and had the potential to become a 'great comet.' Until its perihelion approach, Comet McNaught was a Northern Hemisphere object. Even before perihelion, the comet was bright enough to be seen in daylight. Post-perihelion and after moving into the Southern Hemisphere sky, the comet sprouted a gigantic, dusty, fan-like tail, the end of which was even visible in the Northern hemisphere. In terms of measured brightness, McNaught was measured as having a brightness of -5.5, the brightest since 1965.



So, will Comet ISON get added to this list? In the end, only time will tell. The good news: whatever happens to Comet ISON, we won't have long to wait as it makes its perihelion approach in a mere 2 days!


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Sunday, November 24, 2013

How Bright Will Comet ISON Get? New Predictions!


Both astronomers and the general public went abuzz over Comet ISON thanks to a prediction released a year ago by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that stated that the comet could reach magnitude -11.6, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Additionally, besides being shadow-casting bright at night, the comet would be bright enough to easily be spotted during broad daylight. If Comet ISON were to become this bright, it would not be a first, but it would still be the astronomical event of the year should the JPL's prediction come true.

Now, less than a week to the (hopefully) big show, some new predictions regarding how bright comet ISON could get have been made.


So, how bright could ISON get? Short answer: no one knows, with everything hinging on whether the comet survives its close approach to the Sun, a point where the experts are in disagreement.

What we do know is as follows. At the start of the month, Comet ISON was shining around +8 magnitude, where it had been for over a month and a half. Then, without warning, the comet's brightness jumped about 2 magnitudes (or about a factor of 5 times) in visual brightness. By the 16
th, the comet was reported as having jumped another magnitude, to about 5th, near the dim end of naked eye visibility. Some current estimates place ISON in the 4th magnitude.

Now, how about that close solar approach?

On November 28, the comet will pass a mere (in astronomical terms) 732,000 miles from the Sun. Is is this close pass to the Sun, and the resultant melting of the comet that, according to optimistic estimates, push Comet ISON to magnitude -11, or about as bright as the Full Moon. Unfortunately, the same event could also melt the comet and cause it to disintegrate and fizzle out altogether. Bottom line: the only way to see what ISON will do is, literally, to wait and watch.

Okay, comet hunters, here are some key dates to consider:
November 28: Comet ISON's closest approach to the Sun, hopefully it will survive and if it does, a spectacular tail (McNaught on steroids) is a very real possibility
Early December: Comet ISON will be visible on both evening and morning skies for mid-Northern observers and circumpolar for the far North
December 26: Comet ISON makes its closest approach to Earth at 39.6 million miles


For an intriguing afterthought, according to comet hunter John Bortle through Spaceweather.com (go to the September 25, 2012 archived page), Comet ISON's path closely parallels that of the
great comet of 1680, which was bright enough to be seen during the day (just like McNaught).



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Sunday, November 17, 2013

180 Years Ago Today: The Great Leonid Storm of 1833


It was an ordinary November night in 1833 when, suddenly, the pitch-black sky (there was no electricity then) suddenly went ablaze with fire. All over the country, people rushed out of their homes, awakened either by the shouting in the streets or the light coming in through their windows, convinced that Armageddon was upon them. However, the reason for the fiery sky was not Doomsday, but meteors, as in thousands per second of them.

This event would go down in history as the Great Leonid Storm of 1833 and this event would spur an intense study of meteors.


Until the early 1800s, scientists weren't even sure of where meteors came from, with most believing that they were some kind of atmospheric phenomenon. By the time of the great Leonid Shower of 1833, a consensus was building that meteors did originate from space. Taking the Leonids of 1833 as a start, scientists started reading
 
old accounts of meteor showers. By looking back through the centuries, meteor showers were found to be not random, but regular in appearance. In regards to the Leonids, it was found that every 33-34 years brought a terrific storm far more intense than usual. By the 1860s (and the time just a few years ahead of the next forecast Leonid storm) it was confirmed that meteor showers came from comets. Right on schedule, the Leonids stormed in both 1866 and 1867.


It seemed as though the meteor mystery was solved, but nature has a way of playing tricks.


After the great storm of 1866 (1867 was nowhere near as strong, but, at over 1,000 meteors an hour, still a storm), the next Leonid storm was forecast for 1899. So, with predictions of shooting stars by the dozen per second being made, people all over the world went out to view the Leonids. They were disappointed, there was no storm that year nor the next, even the shower's parent comet, Tempel-Tuttle was not seen those years. What was going on?



Proving that great discoveries in the area of orbital calculations were possible before the advent of computers, turn of the last century astronomers did some calculations of Comet Tempel-Tuttle's orbit and found that a close encounter with Jupiter had occurred in the years before the great Leonid disappointment of 1899-1900. Unfortunately, no one could say with certainty where the comet and its debris had gone, especially after the comet/shower failed to materialize yet again in 1932-33. In all, the great Leonid Shower seemed consigned to the pages of history..
Fast forward to the early 1960s.


In 1961, the Leonids made a comeback. After years of meteor trickles, a shower came calling in 1961, with rates of around 50 meteors per hour being reported. Then, the astronomical community struck gold in 1965 when Comet Tempel-Tuttle, not seen in a century, was spotted. The next year brought a 
spectacular shower. During a short time span, meteor counts in the range of 40 per second were being reported in the Western United States. That translates to about 2,400 a minute or about 144,000 per hour. In summary, the Leonids of 1966 were the strongest since the legendary storm of 1833, but, unlike the earlier shower, were captured on camera.


In the years that followed, the Leonids started to regain their strength, with storms materializing in 1998-99, 2001-2. Since then, the rates have slowed to around 20-30 meteors per hour on a good year. Unfortunately, for those people marking 2031 on their calendars, Comet Tempel-Tuttle will have another close encounter with Jupiter in 2028, which means that, chances are, the Leonids will be upset once again in their rhythm.



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Friday, November 15, 2013

And We're Off!

It's up and running: my new website called The Nightly Sky. As is suggested in the title, the website deals with nightly goings-on in the sky. Want to head out and look at the sky but don't know what to look at? Well, look no further, just click on the logo below or bookmark this URL in your favorites: http://thenightlysky.blogspot.com/ 




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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nikon DF vs. D700 vs. D610 vs. D800: Which Should I Buy?


Nikon has put potential buyers on quite a pickle by having so many FX dSLRs available in the $2000-$3000 price range. Right now, there's the nearly 2-year old D800, the just-released D610 (which is essentially a re-warmed year-old D600), and the brand new old school DF. Throw in 2008's D700, which is now a bargain shopper's model and, presto, lots of research to do! So, with so many cameras and so little money, which is a photographer to buy?

Well, let's examine that question.

Construction:
DF: metal, sealed
D610: metal and plastic, sealed
D800: metal, sealed
D700: metal, sealed
The D600 is a little bit wimpy


Sensor:
DF: 16Mp
D610: 24Mp
D800: 36Mp

D700: 12Mp

All have more than enough for 99% of people reading this


Aspect ratios:
DF: 1
D610 1:
D800: 2

D700: 1

Pros will appreciate the D800



Maximum ISO
DF: 204,800
D610: 25,600
D800: 25,600

D700: 25,600

DF wins by a light year


Max shutter Speed
DF: 1/4000th sec
D610: 1-4000th sec
D800: 1/8000
th sec

D700: 1/8000th sec
D700, D800 are a stop better


White Balance:
DF: 12 preset, 4 custom
D610: 12 preset, 4 custom
D800: 12 preset, 5 custom
D700: 12 preset, 5 custom
D700 and D800 by a nose



Viewfinder coverage:

DF: 100%D610: 100%
D800: 100%

D700: 95%
New wins



Viewfinder magnification:
DF: .7x
D610: .7x
D800: .7x
D700: .72x
D700 by a hair



AF Points:
DF: 39
D610: 39
D800: 51
D700: 51
D700, D800 win here

LCD:
DF: 3.2”, 921k dot
D610: 3.2”, 921k dot
D800: 3.2”, 921k dot

D700: 3,” 921k dot
Newer is better, but will you even notice?

Built-in flash:
DF: no
D610: yes
D800: yes

D700: yes
DF loses



Continuous drive:
DF: 5.5fps
D610: 6fps
D800: 6fps
D700: 5fps, up to 8fps with battery grip
Get the grip and the D700 wins by a mile



Exposure Compensation:
DF: +/- 3 stops
D610: +/- 5 fps
D800: +/- 5 fps

D700: +/- 5 fps
DF looks decisively limited


Video:
DF: no
D610: 1080p
D800: 1080p

D700: no
Old and old school lose


Storage:
DF: single SD
D610: SDx2
D800: SD, CF
D700: single CF
2 slots are better than one


Wi-fi connectivity:
DF: yes
D610: yes

D800: no
D700: no
Older loses

GPS:
DF: optional
D610: optional
D800: optional

D700: no
Newer wins

Weight:
DF: 760g
D700: 1074g
D610: 850g
D800: 900g
DF wins here



So, which to buy? Unfortunately, that's hard to determine without considering one's needs.

If absolute speed is a top priority, the old D700 with a battery grip trounces the competition here. Believe me, an extra 2fps can make all the difference between getting and missing that shot for anyone who spends a lot of time shooting fast action.

If resolution is far and away your number one concern, get the D800 because, at 36Mp, it bests the others by at least 50% extra resolution.

Like to shoot in dimly lit settings? Well, then the DF, with its insane ISO 204,800, is 3 stops better than the competition (even though those last 2 stops are sure to suck at anything bigger than web size or a 4x6 print). Still, a picture is better than no picture, right?

Have lots of really old gear laying around? The DF can use any Nikon F-mount lenses ever made (and without modification) with full compatibility. On the others, all of the non-AI optics need a modification to work properly.

On a budget but want a current camera, then the D610 is your horse.

Problem: a lot of would be buyers' needs aren't as clear-cut as those listed above, which means that there is a lot of need to take the above considerations into account as well as the control setups, which couldn't be more different. Rather than writing a whole new piece about this, simply take a look at my
D7000 vs. D300s summary as it could be thought of as D700/D800 vs. D610 as the D700 and D800 share essentially the same interface as the D300s while the D610 and D7000 are very similar to each other, too. As for the DF, loses the dedicated white balance and quality buttons of the D700/D800 buy gains dials on the top for ISO, shutter speed, and exposure compensation, 3 controls the other cameras lack.

All in all, there's a lot to consider when one is about to drop $2000+ on a camera. Hopefully, the above analysis helped as much as possible. Personally, I'd take the above advice into consideration when going to a store in order to do a 'test drive,' which is the best way imaginable to see if you'll actually like a camera or not.



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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Will There Ever be a Nikon D400, Canon 7D Mark II?

What will the Nikon D400 and/or Canon 7D Mark II look like? Will there even be such cameras in the first place? Well, to be honest, many in the photographic community (myself included) are thinking that, if 2013 doesn't bring these cameras, they may never show up at all. 

Honestly, I'm not holding my breath on either camera, and I don't think you should, either (especially with November having just arrived).

Introduced way back in 2009 as an answer to the Nikon D300 (in light of Canon getting caught with its pants down with both the EOS 40 and 50D models) the Canon 7D was in many ways, the pro-grade APS-C camera that Canon shooters had been demanding for years. With a feature set clearly comparable to the Nikon D300, the 7D sent a clear message: Canon was serious about its APS-C line, after all. Selling for $1,800 new, the 7D has come down quite a it in price in the intervening 4 years since release and is looking rather antiquated by 2013 standards. Unfortunately, there's a big problem for people looking for a 'II' version: the $2100, full-frame EOS 6D which, despite being a 5D Mark II reheated in the technological microwave, is still a full-frame dSLR for just over $2000. Additionally, the trend toward increasingly affordable FF (what all APS-C shooters lusted for a decade ago) is undeniable, which begs the question: is there any point (and enough of a customer base) of offering a $1800 sub-frame camera when a FF model can be had for just $300 more? My bet: probably not.

Even older than the Canon 7D is the Nikon D300s, which is technically the same age as the Canon 7D (both 2009 releases) but in reality 2 years older as the D300s is merely a D300 (2007 release) with video. Throughout the digital era, Nikon has had a habit of adding various letter designations to established nameplates in order to create a new, stop-gap replacement model until a major overhaul of the old camera can be perfected. Typically, these letter models have production lives of less than 2 years. Well, the Nikon D300s is rapidly approaching its 4th (or is it its 6th?) birthday, which begs the question: is the D300/D300s the end of its branch on Nikon's evolutionary tree? My bet: yep. Unlike the 7D, which faces a single-front attack, the D300s is fighting a 2-front war against the D7100 on the lower side and the D600 on the higher side. Initially priced at $1800, the D300s sits smack in the middle of the $1200 D7100 and the $2100 D600, which both share a lot of features with the D300s. Result: Nikonians have 2 options here: pay a little more than the D300s and get a FX sensor, or save some money and get an in many ways (save user interface) superior D7100.

The bottom line here: both cameras are being kept afloat solely by their rung on their respective manufacturers' product lineups. Yes, the 7D and D300s may be slotted higher than the 70D and D7100, but one must remember that the 70D and D7100 are both less than a year old while the 7D and D300s are 4 (or 6?) years old meaning that one is paying all that extra money for the snob appeal of having a higher-tiered model, never mind the fact that these higher-level cameras are obsolete when compared to today's cameras.

Bottom line: its now or never for a Nikon D400 or Canon 7D Mark II and personally, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for either to show up in the first place.
 

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Astronomical News Galore!

It's going to be a big weekend in the astronomical world this weekend. First up: tomorrow morning brings the return to Standard Time (never mind that 'standard' is only 4 months of the year!) So, don't forget to set your clocks back an hour before you go to bed tonight. Later in the morning, there will be a hybrid solar eclipse (the eclipse will go from an annular to total eclipse as it moves along the path of totality) that will start in the Atlantic Ocean and conclude in Africa. The good news: you can watch the event live online!

For some fun:
Time Change Trivia



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