Thursday, November 21, 2013

Two Comets on a Moonlit Morning

Click on image for a larger view

Rick Henderson,the president of my astronomy club, the Astronomical Society of Kansas City, put out a note on our Yahoo-Group that he was going out to Powell Observatory to look at comet Ison on Monday morning (Nov. 18). As it so happened, I was planning on trying to photograph the comet that morning also, so I headed out about 3 a.m. and arrived at the parking lot next to the observatory (the parking lot has a good view to the eastern horizon). I set up two cameras, one pointing to the southwest setting it to shoot wide angle images of whoever showed up. The picture above shows me setting up my 300mm lens and camera on my iOptron Sky Tracker and tripod. Powell Observatory can be seen in the background as well as the bright Full Moon with Orion to it's left.

By the time comet Ison was high enough to see, a crowd started to gather. About 11 ASKC members showed up with various binoculars and telescopes. In the photo above, Rick Henderson has his 8" Meade scope set up. Denise Moser can be see looking through her binoculars at comet Ison. Lights from other people parking their cars light up the scene. As soon as I set up my 300mm lens, I started taking pictures of comet Lovejoy, a comet that was brighter than was expected. As can be seen by my telephoto lens, Lovejoy was pretty high up in the sky, sitting between the Big Dipper and the constellation Leo.

Comet Lovejoy is a very nice comet. It's fan-like tail is easily seen in binoculars and fairly easy to photograph. I took about 40 images, each 15 seconds long at ISO 1600. I wish I could have gone longer, but the bright Moon prevented that.

Comet Ison was about 10 degrees above the eastern horizon when I started shooting it. I took quite a number of images, but lost all but 8 shots. Each image was 8 seconds long. It took me quite a number of hours using various techniques to bring out the tail on Ison. I was amazed at how long the tail was, extending past the bright star Spica and out of the frame. Half way between the nucleus of the comet and Spica is a piece of the comet that shows up as a tail disconnection. Below are two images of the raw files, with no processing at all. As you can see, no tail is visible in the raw image, but it is there after I coaxed it out.

RAW image of Comet Lovejoy

RAW image of Comet Ison

Comet Ison is much dimmer than it was expected. Not easy to see, even in binoculars, much less with the unaided eye. The comet is now heading for a rendezvous with the Sun on Thanksgiving day. If it survives it's close encounter with the Sun, I am crossing my fingers hoping it will be a bright comet with a long tail in the morning sky. But comets are worse than cats and they do what they want to do.

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