I have posted lots of pics of Comet Lovejoy and managed to get up early enough this morning and brave the chilly Tucson (below freezing…don’t judge northerners!) temps to take some shots.
Saguaro National Park east is about a 10 minute drive from where I live. I wanted some pics with some nice foreground objects so I hiked into the park a little bit to get to the first batch of big saguaros. I got several wide shots with a 35mm lens. I used a feature on my Skytracker that will track at only half the rate the stars move across the sky. I did this to split the difference between the land and sky, keeping both of them reasonably in focus with minimal blurring during the 20-30 second exposures I was using.
Of course I felt the need to put on the longer (250mm) zoom lens and try a two minute shot of the comet. The tail is developing nicely and covers several degrees of the sky.
Comet Lovejoy was visible to the naked eye and it is definitely brighter than M13, probably a little brighter than 5th magnitude. Easy and nice binocular target, naked eye under dark skies. For finder chart, Heavens Above is a good place. Just set it to the time you want to observe.
I should note that Lovejoy is moving farther into the northern sky. For much of the continental U.S., it can be seen after sunset and before sunrise, although it is much higher in the sky and easier to see before sunrise. The farther north you are, the easier it is to see after sunset (although Mike Weasner got it after sunset from Oracle, just north of Tucson a few nights ago so anything Tucson or north is fair game for sure!)
I am enjoying this comet, but could the next one please be a good evening object?
I have always wanted to try a star trails picture. A couple of weeks ago, I had an evening at Kitt Peak. The Moon was waxing gibbous and very bright and lit up the domes very nicely. I was with a group over by the 0.9 meter telescope so I set up my camera outside, programmed it to take 30 second exposures for a few hours, and went about my work.
I ended up with
162 262 pictures by the time we were getting ready to go. I made some adjustments in Lightroom to tame the bright sky and then imported them into a free program called StarStax. StarStax will add the individual images automatically and create the star trails picture for you. There are some options you can adjust, but it’s pretty automated. Here is the result.
Overall I am pretty pleased with the first attempt. I can spot a couple of flaws to clean up (and I would like to figure out where they came from, but I might have to look closely at 162 pictures to find the bloody things!) You can see the north star in its tight dance around the celestial pole and many other stars making nice trails. The lights of Tucsonare off to the right.
I have some old pics I used to make time lapses. I might go back and put together a few more of these from those old pics.
Another shot from my night on Kitt Peak a few days ago. This is a wide shot taken from the Visitor’s Center.
You can see the iconic McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope in the background and the sky glow from Tucson on the left. However, if you look on the right side of the image, you will notice a faint green glow and possibly even fainter red if you look close. This is a real phenomena called air glow. Due to air glow, the sky is never completely dark. Airglow occurs all over the sky but is usually more pronounced close to the horizon since you are looking through a thicker layer of atmosphere.
There are several sources of air glow. During the day, atoms in the upper atmosphere are ionized by sunlight. When the ionized atoms and electrons recombine, they give off light…and oxygen can give off green light in the process. Cosmic rays striking the upper atmosphere contribute to air glow as well. Finally, oxygen and nitrogen can react with hydroxyl ions in the upper atmosphere and give off light through a process called chemiluminescence.
Air glow is not visible during the day as it far too faint. Even at night, you need to be in a very dark site to capture it. Thursday night was the first time I have captured this elusive phenomena.
Sitting around Kitt Peak today, I had some extra time and went back and took care of something that has been on my to do list. I photographed a great sunset from Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory back in March. I wanted to animate all the pics so you could see the progression of green flashes. I finally did that today and am pleased with the results.
This animation is roughly real time so they move fairly quickly. You can watch the green flashes (yes, plural) break off the Sun, move away and disappear. Look at the last green flash…do you see other colors as it vanishes? I recommend checking this one out full screen!
I see you have been really excited about Comet ISON. There was a lot of hype about it being the “Comet of the Century”, “Brighter than the full Moon” and a “Once in a lifetime experience”. I am happy my comet brother seems to have survived his close pass to the Sun. I wish ISON nothing but the best.
However, I can’t help but feeling a little ignored over here. I know I was only discovered on September 7th so maybe I kind of snuck up on you. I was originally only forecast to reach 8th magnitude according to Universe Today so maybe people thought you would need a big telescope to see me.
But hey, I have been working hard to put on a good show for you and I don’t feel like anyone is paying much attention to me. I have brightened up a lot more than expected and can be seen with the naked eye from a moderately dark site. I bet most city dwellers could find me with binoculars without too much difficulty. Heck, you can even photograph me with off the shelf cameras. Look at this shot from this morning taken with a Canon 60D and Ef-s 55-250mm zoom lens. Okay, he used an iOptron Skytracker to take a longer exposure, but I think I am looking pretty good here!
Come on, look at that tail! If you look close, I think you can tell there are two tails!
I am about at my brightest and best right now. I am going to start slowly fading as I get farther away from Earth but I think you have a few more weeks to take a shot at seeing me. I am hanging below the handle of the Big Dipper right now, one of the easiest things to find in the sky. Here is a finder chart from Heavens Above to help you out. Change the date and time if you need to because I move quick!
Okay, I am a morning Comet so you will have to get that strong cup of coffee when you come to see me. It will be worth it. The Moon is a slender crescent now and not too bright so it doesn’t interfere with seeing me. The Moon will be new December 2nd and move into the evening sky leaving me in a pristine, dark morning sky, the perfect time to check me out!
So, do we have a date? I would love to meet you all before I leave. I mean “Love” is right there in my name! I won’t be back for about 8,000 years or so and it would break my heart not to meet you.
It has been a few days since I got out to image Comet ISON but I finally made it out this morning…trying to beat the Moon which will shortly be returning to the morning sky. Much to my surprise, ISON has brightened up quite a bit since Sunday morning. It was easy in 8×42 binoculars and its nucleus is much brighter. Again I set up my Canon 60D with a EF-s 55-250mm zoom lens. The following pic is at 250mm, f/5.6, ISO 5000 and a 90 second exposure.
Not hard to see the bright nucleus and the tail is developing. If you look to the left of the comet, you might notice a faint blue smudge. I believe that is galaxy NGC 4697. I have seen other people post pics from earlier today on the internet (most using telescopes) and I got my smudge in the same place they got a galaxy. I am happy I got it using my less extravagant equipment. Visually, it was pretty easy in 8×42 binoculars and looking good in 20x80s.
I turned my attention to Comet Lovejoy, still riding high in Leo and a very nice site. Pretty much the same settings for this shot as the previous one.
I looked briefly for Comet Encke again but didn’t find it this time…I didn’t spend too much time on it as it is getting pretty low in they sky. However, the fourth I haven’t nabbed yet, Comet LINEAR, was passing close to Arcturus so I went for it. It proved to be very difficult. I barely got it and was debating whether to post this photo at all, but what the hey, see if you can spot the VERY faint blue smudge toward the top of the image above Arcturus (clicking to look at a larger version might help). The comet is slightly left of directly above Arcturus (the brightest star) near the top of the photo. I might go back and add an arrow pointing to it later.
Like I said, not very impressive at all, but I went for it to add a notch to the proverbial comet belt.
The weather may get dicey in Tucson over the weekend and the Moon will soon return to the morning sky, but I will try to get out every couple of days to observe.
On another note, I was on Kitt Peak last night. Lots of photos that I have to put together into time lapses and star trail photos. Busy few days so it may take a while to get to it, but I am looking forward to trying some new things!
I managed to get up early today to check out the progress of the morning comets. As I have mentioned before, I usually drive down to the Douglas Spring trailhead at Saguaro National Park East. It’s close to where I live and since Tucson is to the west, the eastern sky is nice and dark.
First I went for Comet ISON. It is noticeably lower in the sky and it’s motion toward the Sun will be accelerating. Still, it was up plenty high when I got setup about 4:30am and started shooting.
ISON is visible in my 8×42 binoculars if you know what you are doing, but not impressive yet. It is more obvious in my 20x80s which I set up today.
Next I took a couple of pics low to the horizon hoping to catch Comet Encke, one I hadn’t bagged yet. Comet Encke is a short period comet that goes around the Sun every 3.3 years. However, it rarely gets close to Earth so you have to get it when the gettin’s good. Today, the getting was good. I found the nice little blue spec just above the Rincon Mountains. It’s the blue fuzzy one in the lower right.
Finally I turned my attention back to Lovejoy. Lovejoy is the highest in the sky, brightest and easiest to find. I was still able to get it in the same field as the Beehive cluster. Today there was the added bonus of a meteor streaking through the field (I checked Heavens Above to be sure I didn’t get a satellite…nothing nearly bright enough in the area and meteors were pretty active this morning).
So a good morning all in all. Hopefully will get another shot at them later this week. The Moon will be out of the sky until late this week. Starting next week, Moonlight will start returning to the morning sky so this is a great week to go comet hunting.
I managed to get up early again and image a couple of comets. ISON is rapidly getting lower in the sky. It is still not too bad, but you can tell it is on the move, much lower than last time I got out (last Saturday). It is not visibly impressive, but still easy to photograph (although the Zodiacal Light interferes more due to the lower elevation). Here is a pic from this morning.
Turning my attention to Comet Lovejoy, it is much higher in the sky and much more impressive. Lovejoy does not have the tail but it is much brighter and very easy to see. As a bonus, it is in the same binocular field as the Beehive star cluster right now and probably will be for another couple of days. I highly recommend getting out and tracking this one down.
More updates will be posted as I manage to drag myself out of bed in the mornings!
Venus just had its greatest separation from the Sun a few days ago. Hence it stays up a long time after sunset. However, since the ecliptic makes a very shallow angle with respect to the horizon, it is relatively low in the southwest after sunset.
Last night, it was joined by the crescent Moon.
Another challenge is to see Venus during the day. I blogged about this before (and have posted pics of Venus and the Moon during the day). One of the important things when searching for Venus during the day is to avoid looking at the Sun. Remember I said Venus is about as far from the Sun as it gets? Well, that makes this a very good time to try. I still recommend standing where the Sun is behind a building but you can see the crescent Moon. Find the Moon and look nearby for Venus. The chart below shows for about 1:30pm today in Tucson.
And of course you can take pics! I have seen people capture Venus during the day with point and shoot cameras so you don’t need fancy equipemnet!
I think the title says it all…let’s just cut to the pics.
- Lovejoy Rising
- Star Trails Over Kitt Peak
- Air Glow Over Kitt Peak
- Green Flashes From Chile
- An Open Letter From Comet Lovejoy
- Comet ISON Brightens Rapidly
- Three Morning Comets: ISON, Encke, Lovejoy+the Beehive+a Meteor
- More ISON: Lovejoy meets the Beehive
- Venus and the Moon
- Green and Blue Flashes behind Kitt Peak
- Kitt Peak Sunset
- More Comet ISON and Comet Lovejoy Pics