Comet Ison, Comet Panstarrs, & Aurora Borealis – Oh My!

2013 is promising to be a terrific year for night photographers!

We’re moving full-swing into the solar maximum cycle for sunspots, so the aurora borealis should be spectacular this year, and two comets are approaching, Ison and Panstarrs, that should really stir things up. I’m already making plans for all three.

Astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok discovered Comet Ison in September using Russia’s International Scientific Optical Network. At present, Ison is a mere blip on even powerful telescopes, but if some predictions hold true, millions of people will see it with their own eyes later in the year.

As Ison moves closer to the sun, the warming effect will melt it surface and create an immense cloud of gas and dust that will reflect sunlight. It is expected to become visible in binoculars in early October and visible to the unaided eye by the end of that month.

But the real show begins in late November. Some are predicting that Ison could become as bright as the full moon! Can you imagine what kind of night-sky images you could make with something like that in the sky?

Of course, there are no guarantees that Ison will amount to anything remarkable. But the potential is so great, I’m not taking any chances.

I have stopped accepting speaking engagements or making any permanent plans other than night shooting for a three-month period beginning in mid-November. I don’t want anything to interfere with what could be one of the greatest night-photography events in my lifetime.

Ison isn’t the only comet that night photographers will want to keep an eye on. Comet Panstarrs could become a terrific photo subject around mid-March, although it isn’t getting as much attention as Ison.

I’ll be keeping a close watch on all the news for both comets and will keep you updated here on the blog and through the free Night Photography News eNewsletter.

Regarding the aurora borealis, in think it is the most awe-inspiring sight in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, I haven’t had any opportunities to photograph it since I switched several years ago to Digital After Dark from Film After Dark. I did get a few chances back in those film days, but they were rare and in all honestly I wasn’t fully prepared to take advantage of them. I’m looking forward to the winter of 2013/2014 to view and photograph the aurora fully.

What a great time to be a night photographer!

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