A Bright Comet in the Dawn

We have a bright comet in the dawn sky for a few days. Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE has brightened rapidly over the past few weeks, now about 1st magnitude it can just be seen against the glow of dawn.

Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE against the dawn
Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE against the dawn

I took along Hodepodge to serve as a tracking mount for the TV-76mm scope and a couple cameras to do some comet shooting. The Canon 6D would go with the small ‘scope, the EOS-M5 with a tripod for wide angle shots.

Driving up Waikoloa road I was troubled by a bank of clouds in the Waimea saddle, thus I elected to head for the Humuʻula saddle instead. I ended up in the lava fields along the Mauna Loa access road. The view was perfect, and I had just enough time to get the mount and camera setup as the comet rose.

Continue reading “A Bright Comet in the Dawn”

Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková

This February will feature a very close approach of Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková. The comet will pass about 0.08AU (11.9 million km or 7.4 million miles) from Earth on February 11th, making it an easy telescopic object, and a marginal naked eye comet at around 6th magnitude.

C/2014 E2 Jacques
Comet C/2014 E2 Jacques on the evening of 27Aug2014
This is a short period comet with an orbit only 5.25 years long. At aphelion it orbits out very close to Jupiter, while at perihelion it is well inside the orbit of Venus. As such it may occasionally pass very close to Earth.

The comet itself is rather interesting. Discovered in 1948 the comet has been a the frequent target of scientific observation as it may pass quite close to Earth. In 2011 it passed about 0.06AU from Earth and was the target of radar observations.

Currently in the evening sky the comet is sinking into the sunset rather rapidly. It will pass by the Sun around the end of January to appear in the morning sky. It will rise rapidly above the dawn, by February 5th it will be rising at 3:22am, about four hours before the Sun. On the day of close approach, February 11th, the comet will rise well before midnight in the northern sky.

C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy
Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy as it appeared on the night of 20Dec2104, 28 x 4min with a Canon 6D and a TV-76mm ‘scope
The comet is predicted to remain quite bright, around 7th magnitude or better for all of January and most of February, possibly peaking at around 6th magnitude near close approach to the Earth. As this is a well observed comet these magnitudes are likely to be reasonably accurate.

Of course any comet getting this close to us will catch the attention of the doomsday preachers and assorted apocalyptic predictions. Comet 45P is already a bit of a YouTube celebrity with quite a few videos filled with dire predictions.

I predict that we will have a pretty comet in the new year’s sky to provide a nice target for telescopic observations and astrophotographers. I would suggest making a point to get out and observe this comet as it passes by.

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy

Back on August 17th, Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy disocvered a very nice Christmas gift for us all to enjoy… A bright comet that we have now unwrapped and are able to enjoy through the new year.

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy is currently passing through perihelion. While closest to the Sun and the Earth it will be at its brightest during the first couple weeks of January. For northern hemisphere observers the comet is currently low in the southern sky and getting brighter each day.

C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy
Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy as it appeared on the night of 20Dec2104, 28 x 4min with a Canon 6D and a TV-76mm ‘scope
You can not simply call this comet Lovejoy. Terry Lovejoy has been quite successful in catching comets, with five discoveries to his credit. As a result there are five comets that bear the name Lovejoy. To properly identify which comet you are referring to you should use the full designation, C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy, as clumsy as that is in conversation.

The comet passes through perihelion on January 30th of 2015. For earthbound observers it will be at its brightest during the first weeks of January, reaching near 4th magnitude. It is currently visible around 5th magnitude in the faint constellation of Columba south of Orion. It has been visible without optical aid for a few weeks, as long as you have access to a dark sky and know where to look. As it brightens it will be easily visible, even rather obvious. With binoculars the view will be even better, a bright fuzzball with a wispy tail.

C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy Orbit Diagram
The current position and orbital path of comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy from the JPL Horizons system
One of the best parts is that this comet will be well placed for observing through its perihelion passage. Longtime comet observers are used to looking for comets in the sunset or in the dawn sky as they near perihelion. Comet C/2014 Q2 has a perihelion that is just outside of the Earth’s orbit, and happens to pass by just as our planet reaches that part of it’s orbit. This puts the comet high in the midnight sky. No trying to catch the comet in bright twilight before the Sun comes up.

The next thing you may note about the orbital diagram is that the comet has a high inclination to the ecliptic. Currently approaching from underneath the plane of the solar system, the comet will exit north of our Sun. The practical side of this, is that over the next few weeks the comet will move northwards across the sky, rising higher each night. While our friends down south have been enjoying nice views of the comet approaching perihelion, it is northern hemisphere observers that will be able to best view the comet after perihelion.

C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy Path
The apparent path of comet C/2104 Q2 Lovejoy against the stars
The path of comet Lovejoy is shown in the diagram included here. The comet is plotted for today, December 28th at 0:00h. There is also a tick mark for January 11th near the top of the chart. A sweep with binoculars along this path will quickly locate the comet. There are no deep sky objects along this path that are bright enough to be confused with the comet. See a bright fuzzball? You found it.

One issue will be the bright Moon. Currently a waxing half phase, the Moon will be full on January 4th. This will make spotting the comet much more difficult and completely drown out the faint tail. By 9th or 10th the Moon will have waned enough to make comet viewing much more successful.

As January fades, so will comet C/2014 Q2. By the end of the month the comet will slip below unaided eye visibility, while staying within reach of binoculars through April or so. Sky watchers will be able to follow the comet for months betond that with the aid of a telescope. Enjoy the comet while you can, 8,000 years will pass before this comet returns to the inner solar system.

The Tail of Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy

Taking the material I acquired last weekend, you can process a single frame, or process an animation. To bring out the tail a little better I converted the two hours of frames into an animated GIF. I also converted the frame to black and white and inverted it to show the fine detail.

The results are encouraging. Now… How well will this comet photograph when at its brightest in a couple weeks?

C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy Animation
An animation of comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy, 29 x 4min exposures with a Canon 6D and TV-76mm telescope

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy

The first real product of Saturday’s imaging session on Mauna Kea. Processing comet images is a challenge (actually I am using far less correct language while I work on it). The problem is that comets move rapidly against the star field. This creates all sorts of issues when attempting to assemble a final image.

The single frame shown here is he product of 28 light frames and thirty calibration frames. The light frames used in this image were each 4 minutes long, accounting for nearly two hours of exposure total. There were a few more, but a few had to be discarded due to wind-shake of the telescope during the exposure.

The image below is processed to align on the comet as it moves against the background stars. During the two hours of exposures the comet moved appreciably. The stars are somewhat suppressed by using a sigma reject combine, but they are still there. Processing like this allows the details in the tail to be seen.

C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy
Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy as it appeared on the night of 20Dec2104, 28 x 4min with a Canon 6D and a TV-76mm ‘scope

With a set of images running for two hours taken without interruption other things can be done. One possibility is that these images can be animated, leading to another interesting product… Up next!

Geminids and a Comet

Stayed up late tonight to check on a few things in the sky. Firstly the Geminid meteor shower, which is peaking nicely. At least 100ZHR and bright enough to be nicely visible, even against the light of a bright gibbous moon.

The second item I wanted to see was comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy, now climbing higher in the sky as it swings northwards. It is currently somewhat low in Puppis, but getting higher each night as it moves nearly due north against the constellations. Currently it is an easy binocular object at around 7th magnitude. A quick sweep with my 9×50’s picked it up without effort halfway between Adhara and Canopus.

It is forecast to reach around 5th magnitude over the next month. Peak magnitude should occur near the new year while the comet is in Lepus. We placed and quite bright, I will be arranging to get a few photos of this comet through the new year!

Comet C/2014 E2 Jacques Animation

With 24 exposures, each 4 minutes long, it is possible to animate the comet’s movement among the stars. Just process the photos individually and import into photoshop as an animation, then export as an animated GIF. Just click on the image to view…

C/2014 E2 Jacques Animation
24 x 4min exposures of comet C/2014 E2 jacques assembled as an animation

Comet C/2014 E2 Jacques

An assembled version of the imagery I took of comet C/2014 E2 Jacques. 24 x 4min exposures, stacked in Images Plus and final processed in Photoshop. While traces of the tails were visible, I was unable to preserve the faint signal in this processed color frame.

Comet C/2014 E2 Jacques
Comet C/2014 E2 Jacques, 24 x 4min with a Canon 6D and a TV-76mm scope