Conjunction of Comet and Galaxy


Comet PANSTARRS & M31 (March 31, 2013)

Tonight, April 1, we enjoyed the rare conjunction of a comet with a galaxy.

This is Comet PANSTARRS below the Andromeda Galaxy, a.k.a. M31. The two objects were less than a binocular field apart – 4 degrees – on the sky. But in real space they were separated by millions of light years. The comet was 192 million kilometres from Earth tonight and receding. But that’s a stone’s throw compared to the 2.5 million light year distance of the Andromeda Galaxy. Light was taking a mere 10 minutes to get to us from the comet, but the light from Andromeda was 2.5 million years old.

And yet, the two objects looked similar in brightness and shape to the binocular-aided eye.

I caught the two just above the horizon as they were dipping into haze and trees. The circumstances didn’t make for a technically great photo but with PANSTARRS we’ve all had to shoot despite the conditions and hope for the best.

With worsening weather prospects for the next week I suspect this will be my last look at PANSTARRS for a while.

– Alan, April 1, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

Comet Caught in the Trees


Comet PANSTARRS (March 31, 2013)

Tonight’s view of the comet is a picture of Earth and sky – the comet caught in the bare trees of spring.

PANSTARRS is sure a tough comet to shoot! It remains low and skirting the treetops. Tonight, I decided to keep the camera rolling while the comet dropped into the trees. I think it made for a decent enough comet portrait that certainly tells its story.

This is a stack of six 1-minute exposures with the 200mm lens and 1.4x extender for a 280mm f/4 telephoto, on the Canon 60Da and the Kenko SkyMemo tracking platform.

Tomorrow, if skies cooperate, it’ll be a shot of the comet in the same field as the Andromeda Galaxy. I could nicely catch them both in the field of the 7x binoculars tonight. But the photo op nights are this Monday through Wednesday for the comet + galaxy portrait.

– Alan, March 31, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

PANSTARRS Rises into Darkness


Comet PANSTARRS (March 28, 2013)

At last. A view of Comet PANSTARRS in a dark and moonless sky. 

Nearly three weeks after first sighting it, I was able to finally look at and shoot the comet in a fairly dark sky, though with it still embedded in deep twilight. But at least the Moon was out of the way and the sky was dark enough to allow the comet to show off its broad fan-shaped dust tail, set against the stars of Andromeda.

The comet will climb a little higher during the next two moonless weeks as it passes the Andromeda Galaxy on April 2 and 3. However, it’s still very low in the northwest and needs binoculars to sight. You have to wait until the sky is dark to spot it. And hope for no clouds low in the northwest. The comet just dodged some here.

I shot this with a 200mm telephoto for a stack of eight 30-second exposures tracking the stars. The star at left is Delta Andromedae while the one above the comet is Pi Andromedae.

– Alan, March 28, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

PANSTARRS in the Moonlight


Comet PANSTARRS in Moonlight (March 23, 2013)

Pity this comet is so low and in twilight. Tonight, it suffered the additional indignity of moonlight.

This was Comet PANSTARRS from my front yard tonight, March 23, in a view looking above the trees to the comet setting into the northwest in the bright moonlit sky.

It took binoculars to pick it out visually, and a telephoto lens to frame it photographically with enough scale to show some of the subtle tail structure, in what seems like a broad fan-shaped dusty tail.

We can only hope that next week when the Moon is out of the way, and the comet is a little higher, it will show off more of its developing tail in a darker sky.

As it is, to bring out the comet and background stars I overexposed the frames for this stack of four images, then turned down the brightness and cranked up the contrast in processing. It made for a decent enough portrait of Comet PANSTARRS amid the blue sky and faint stars of Andromeda, the constellation it is travelling through for the next two weeks.

– Alan, March 23, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

Comet PANSTARRS Spectacle — With the Waxing Moon


Comet PANSTARRS & the Moon (March 12, 2013)

This was the night for Comet PANSTARRS! How often do we get to see a view like this, with a comet sitting beside a thin crescent Moon. Spectacular!

Again tonight, about a dozen visiting and resident Canadians gathered for a roadside star party north of Rodeo, New Mexico, to view the comet and Moon setting together over the Chiricahua Mountains. It was a stunning sight and made for a picture postcard image. The two set almost simultaneously, with the tail of the comet and “dark side of the Moon” lit by Earthshine the last to disappear behind notches in the mountain ridge.

And tonight, with the comet higher, it was visible to the naked eye for the first time, but only just – the sighting was made easier because you knew exactly where to look.

The Moon was just 3o+ hours old, so appeared as a very thin crescent. The entire disk of the Moon was visible, the rest lit by Earthshine, sunlight reflected off the Earth. In the clear New Mexico air, the Earthshine was easy to see even in the bright twilight. But adding in the comet made for a once-a-lifetime view.

As soon as they set together, we all cheered and applauded, almost like at an eclipse. It was a memorable night, the kind you always hope for from a comet. PANSTARRS performed tonight!

– Alan, March 12, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer

 

 

Comet PANSTARRS at Perihelion


Comet PANSTARRS C/2011 L4 (March 10, 2013)

Got it! After a few days of cloud, the skies cleared perfectly tonight for our first look at Comet PANSTARRS.

This is the comet on March 10, the day it rounded the Sun at perihelion, its closest point to the Sun. The comet, which came from the Oort Cloud, is now on its way back to where it came from. But for the next few days, it will be at its best in our evening sky in the northern hemisphere. Friends down under in the southern hemisphere have been enjoying views of the comet for the last two weeks, but the comet has now moved far enough north it has entered our northern hemisphere skies.

The view is actually best from higher latitudes but I’m here at latitude 31° N, in southwestern New Mexico, seeking the clearest skies for the comet. We got them tonight. This view is of the comet about 7° up, just above the rim of the Chiricahua Mountains to the west of us, in Arizona.

The comet will climb higher over the next few days, with a prime night on March 12 when the waxing Moon appears near the comet.

– Alan, March 10, 2013 / © 2013 Alan Dyer