Have I mentioned the comet that’s gotten surprisingly bright in the morning sky and will be moving into the evening sky in the next few days?
First of all, if you want to see where to look for it yourself, there’s a free planetarium site online called TheSkyLive. Here’s a quick tutorial I did to walk you through setting it up for your location, looking for this comet in particular, and then bringing up the clock controls so that you can see where the comet will be on any given day or time.
Last night I was up at 04:45, but I wasn’t hunting blind. I had already run through the morning scenario using TheSkyLive (as well as the excellent Star Walk app on my iPad) and I knew that the comet (see above – click on the picture to blow it up full sized) would be at 44.8° azimuth, which is northeast. (You don’t need anything like that sort of accuracy unless you’re pointing a telescope. Knowing which way’s north (0°), which way’s east (90°) and eyeballing the halfway point is just fine!)
Knowing that, I had checked out a spot in the back yard which has a clear view in that direction, but also has an 8′ tall hedge between our yard and the neighbors’. Not good – the comet’s going to be low. So I went out in front and found a spot at the bottom of our driveway and another across the street where the view was clear, except for one of the aptly named “hills” in “West Hills.” But we’re on top of another one, so I was hoping I would get lucky.
As soon as I got out there, about 4:55, the head of the comet was clearly visible to the naked eye. There were a couple of wispy clouds over in that area and the sky was starting to lighten. To make sure I had it correctly I took a look through my binoculars. (Celestron 9×63 with a 5° field of view.)
Through the binoculars it was spectacular! The long tail was evident, with some structure in the tail showing. I wasn’t 100% sure that I could see the separate ion tail, but thought that I could.
I set up the camera quickly.
I was using the “normal” lens but zoomed in to 55mm. This is a 1/4 second exposure and is approximately what I saw with the naked eye. You can see the comet just above and to the right of where the two wires cross. (Click on the photo, blow it up to full size, etc.)
But cameras can see more than the naked eye can. Time to crank up those exposures a bit, knowing that it’s a race against sunrise, which is going to wash out the comet completely in just a few minutes.
A 1/2 second exposure.
A one second exposure. You can now clearly see the tail stretching straight up (pointing away from the sun always as the solar wind strips ice and dust off the comet).
You can also see that it’s getting bright. I hadn’t realized that the big telephoto lens would be better, so I went back into the house for it.
In the few minutes that took, the sky had lightened a lot. That stupid little pink cloud was trying to make trouble so I set up in a slightly different spot. The comet again is clearly seen along with the tail, but the sun’s going to wing this battle.
So I saw it. It’s beautiful and spectacular.
I’ll try again tonight. (Sleep is for the weak and sickly!!) And having learned a few things, I’ll get up about a half hour earlier and try to catch it about the time it’s just clearing those trees. But it will be much more dark, and stay that way for a while…
You should try to see it also. If not by getting up at 04:00, then by waiting about four or five days to where the comet (which is moving, just like the planets and everything else) will swing away from the Sun and into the evening sky. By the end of next week it will be setting behind the Sun in the evening dusk, climbing a little bit higher toward the Big Dipper every night. Use that app I gave you to play with the times to see when you might see it.
And if you’re in SoCal next week, there will be GREAT ISS passes in the evening on the 15th, 16th, and 17th. Maybe a picture with the ISS and the comet together?