The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

Here Comes Another Comet Lovejoy

Terry Lovejoy has done it again…another comet he discovered is becoming a nice object. This one is Comet Lovejoy 2014 Q2. He discovered it back in August and it has been a southern sky object but as it approaches Earth, it is moving into the northern sky. I finally got it tonight after fighting weather and my own busy schedule.

I went out to one of my usual spots at the end of Speedway in Tucson. This is the Douglas Spring Trailhead at Saguaro National Park East. It is about a 10 minute drive from where I live so it is reasonable dark to the southeast. Comet Lovejoy was faintly visible to the naked eye and easy in 10×42 binoculars. I took some pics but accidentally had my camera set in JPEG mode rather than raw (STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!) I will try again tomorrow night after the late improv show…Moon should be low enough then that it won’t be a big deal and the comet should still be far enough east that it won’t get lost in Tucson’s lights. Anyway, here is my pic from tonight.

IMG_6834This comet will be around for a few weeks…see it now or wait until after the full Moon in January when the skies will be darker. You might see it naked eye!



December 27, 2014 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comet Lovejoy | | Leave a comment

Two Morning Comets

The comets from last fall have been fading, but they are not gone. Last week, two of them had a fairly close encounter in the morning sky. On February 6th, Comets Lovejoy and Linear (X1) were just two degrees apart. Unfortunately, cloudy mornings ruled in Tucson for a while before and after that.

I finally got my break Sunday morning. Looking outside at 4:30am, it was clear so I grabbed my camera and headed to my dark site. The comets were fainter, but easily visible in my pics.

IMG_0169-2Comet Lovejoy is the upper blue blob and LINEAR is the blue fuzzy patch near the bottom center of the screen. At the very left of the frame is the open cluster NGC6633. I used my Canon 60D with 75-300mm zoom lens at 300mm, f/5.6, 120sec exposure at ISO5000 on an iOptron Skytracker. In other words, my usual setup.

These comets are still visible but moving farther apart. Universe today has a nice article on how to find them if you want to check them out.

February 12, 2014 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comet Lovejoy, Comets | , | Leave a comment

Comet Lovejoy and the Hercules Cluster

I got behind posting here, but last Sunday morning I went out to get Comet Lovejoy as it was passing a little over 5 degrees from the Hercules Globular cluster, also known as M13. It would have been better Saturday morning, but I got back from a trip late Friday night and getting up early Saturday just didn’t happen.

The problem Sunday morning was the Moon. The Moon was approaching full and lit up the sky when I got to Saguaro National Park east. I couldn’t see Lovejoy with the naked eye, but found it with binoculars. I took a few pics while waiting for the Moon to set. Once the Moon set, there was a very brief window before morning twilight started brightening the sky. Fortunately, I was ready to make the most of the 20 minutes or so I had.

Here is Comet Lovejoy in the lower right of the image and the fuzzy blob of M13 in the upper left.


Next I zoomed in for a closer view of Lovejoy.


Lovejoy still has a very nice tail. I could see the comet as a fuzzy blob naked eye once the Moon set, but it is not quite as bright as it was a couple of weeks ago.  Finally, as the sky began to gradually brighten, I found a nice saguaro and did a much wider shot with the comet.


The Moon is entering the morning sky and will make Comet Lovejoy much less impressive, but it should still be in reach of binoculars. The comet if forecast to slowly fade to a magnitude of about 6.0 by the end of the month when the Moon will finally get out of the way. You would need really dark skies to catch it with the naked eye although it should still be all right in binoculars. Due to the Moon, I probably won’t try for it again for a couple of weeks. However, I hope to use some of the slower time around the holidays next week to try some photography in the evening!

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comet Lovejoy, Comets | , | Leave a comment

Lovejoy Rising

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.

IMG_2753 IMG_2748 IMG_2747

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?

December 7, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comet Lovejoy, Comets | | 3 Comments

Comet ISON Brightens Rapidly

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!


November 14, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comet ISON, Comet Lovejoy | , , | Leave a comment

Three Morning Comets: ISON, Encke, Lovejoy+the Beehive+a Meteor

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.

November 10, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comet Encke, Comet ISON, Comet Lovejoy | , , | Leave a comment

More ISON: Lovejoy meets the Beehive

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!

November 6, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comet ISON, Comet Lovejoy, Comets | , | 1 Comment

More Comet ISON and Comet Lovejoy Pics

The Moon is out of the way so I set out to Saguaro National Park East this morning to capture some more comet pics. When I got there, I found I had some company as another local amateur astronomer was taking comet pics. He has a C-8 and a DSLR (didn’t catch the model) set up so he had a bit fancier setup than mine.

Again, these are all taken with a Canon 60D and a EF-s 55-250mmm zoom lens on an iOptron SkyTracker, no telescope involved.

First is a full frame shot of Comet ISON.


Next, I cropped this shot to focus more on the comet.


Next I switched to Comet Lovejoy, higher in the sky. The sky was starting to get a little bright giving a blue tint (I don’t try to correct it all the way…I kind of like it)


I also got a wider shot of Comet Lovejoy that shows the Beehive Cluster in the upper left of the shot.


I will keep posting pics as I get them. I won’t be able to get up that early every day, but hopefully a couple of times a week at least so I can chart their progress, especially ISON as it dives toward its close encounter with the Sun later this month.

November 2, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comet ISON, Comet Lovejoy, Comets | , | Leave a comment

One of the Other Comets: Lovejoy

Comet ISON seems to be getting all the love right now, but this morning I went for Comet Lovejoy. This is C/2013 R1 Lovejoy (not to be confused with the one he discovered in 2011 or the other two comets Lovejoy also discovered) and discovered back in September of this year. It is currently high in the morning sky a couple hours before dawn not far from the bright star Procyon.

I went out this morning and got the following shot with my Canon 60D, EF-s 55-250mm zoom lens at 55mm and f/4, ISO5000 and 30 seconds on an iOptron SkyTracker. Procyon is the bright star at the right and the faint fuzzy comet is on the far left of this image.

IMG_1294So although ISON is getting all the hype, don’t forget there are some other pleasing sites out there. Universe today just had an article on the four morning comets currently visible. These will provide some rich morning observing…if I can keep dragging myself out of bed that early!

For more on Comet Lovejoy, check out the Universe Today primer.

October 31, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comets | | Leave a comment