Welcome to CIOC Blogs!

Welcome to the CIOC Blogs, and the first entry in what I (we ) hope will be the chronicles of a spectacular event!

With this website we're trying to strike a balance between a formal NASA-backed scientific program -- which is exactly what we are -- and an informal and accessible program that really just wants to get as many people excited about Comet ISON as we are, and try to leverage the truly global (and celestial!) reach that astronomy now has. One way I wanted us to do this was not just through static and (hopefully) informative web pages, but through blog posts too. Scientists are often conveyed or imagined as stuffy old grey-beards, terrified of public interaction and barely able to communicate on a normal level even when pushed to do so. But we're really not like that! (OK I'll grant you that there are exceptions, but none of us on the CIOC Team are like that!) So when I was given the opportunity to design/create this website* I knew that above all I wanted us to try and convey our genuine excitement and anticipation about Comet ISON, despite us really not knowing how it's going to behave.

For me and the CIOC Team, an event like this is not new. In 2011, we had Comet Lovejoy race past the Sun, and in only two weeks I was able to help coordinate observations from approximately 18 different instruments on 6 different NASA, ESA and JAXA satellites. The results were nothing short of spectacular, and we gained a wealth of new information about both comets, and near Sun conditions by analyzing our results. But one of the biggest lessons I learned was how truly fascinated and receptive the public is to events like this, particularly as viewed from the perspective a scientist who's immersed in it.

The amazing Comet Lovejoy in STEREO/SECCHI HI-1A


When Comet Lovejoy was discovered, I had an inexplicable urge to to create an off-the-cuff web page about it upon which I would write and post occasional updates about the comet as it neared perihelion. I figured the audience would be small, but hoped I could at least try and keep a few people entertained. So I began to write on there, almost as a stream of consciousness, with minimal rewriting or editing (hence many typos!), instead focussing on trying to convey what was going through the mind of a scientist as he was suddenly immersed neck-deep in a rare and spectacular event. Despite the rough edges (the Sungrazer website has no blogging functionality), the response I got from those two web pages was quite overwhelming! I received many emails from astronomers, educators, scientists and just generally interested members of the public who were enthralled by the scientific process, and seemed to genuinely feel the same level of excitement that I did. It was an amazing experience, and thrilled me to know that the science had reached so many people.

ISON Blogging

For Comet ISON I want not only myself, but also other members of the CIOC Team who have the time, to again try and convey the uncertainty and the excitement of an event like this. I'd like us to share our thoughts, our plans and our reasoning, because clearly there's tremendous public interest in that, as non-scientists try and peek into this mysterious black box of active scientific research. I will certainly try to make regular posts on here, all of which you will find listed at my blog page, and mixed in with all of the other CIOC-ers blog posts at the blog link at the top of the site. Through July and August there may not be a huge amount happening, but we'll try and maintain a steady trickle of fun stuff and information on to this site through both the blogs and the main pages, including our "Image of the Week" feature. But as we creep closer to perihelion we will certainly ramp up the information rate, and try our best to keep everyone as informed about the comet as we are.

I will continue to Tweet as @SungrazerComets and will maintain the Sungrazing Comets project as I have done for nearly ten years now (can't believe it's that long already!). I am also involved in a couple of ISON-related projects that I'm not allowed to talk about right now but I promise will be totally awesome if they go ahead! (I'm sure that will be the subject of more than a few future blog posts from me if it all comes to pass!) I'll also use this venue to chat about Sungrazing comets in general, given that the Sungrazer program discovers a new one -- albeit tiny -- every few days. I'm always open to answering questions about comets and Sungrazers, so feel free to email me at sungrazer@nrl.navy.mil if you have such a question. In future blog posts I'll cover any recurring questions that I get, and I have several other subjects I'll cover too.

Just one final thing I want to reiterate for now is this: we really can not predict how bright Comet ISON will be, and/or if it will even survive passage into the solar system. The existence of this website and the CIOC is does not mean that we will get a "Comet of the Century", or even a moderately bright comet. The purpose of this whole CIOC exercise is that there exists a possibility of obtaining some unprecedented science, and we are not going to sit idly by simply because we have no promises of what we'll learn. I really liked what Mike Wall (space.com) wrote in his first article about ISON: "...the CIOC Team is proceeding as if Comet ISON will put on a dazzling show, because that's the scientifically prudent thing to do." Couldn't have said it better myself.

*I'm not a trained web designer, in case you hadn't noticed... But our budget for the CIOC is approx $0.00 so this is the result of a few off-the-clock weekends' work for me, and to that end I'm happy with it!

Keep up-to-date on the latest ISON and sungrazing comet news via my @SungrazerComets Twitter feed. All opinions stated on there, and in my blog posts, are my own.