Comet Lovejoy in the Daylight

I did attempt to see comet C/2011 W3 Lovejoy in the daylight. I actually tried several times. Once on the morning of the 15th and a couple more times on the morning of the 16th after I heard that the comet had survived perihelion passage. Neither time did I see the comet with an unaided eye.

On the 15th I was not surprised I could not see it. I was in Waimea where there was a lot of low altitude haze and a lot of glare around the Sun. On the 16th I had a much better chance using the clean high altitude air of the summit of Mauna Kea. But still, no comet seen even though it should be just over four degrees from the Sun. This is about the same separation that had allowed me to see comet McNaught in early 2007.

Just to be certain I set the camera on a tripod, placed it just inside the shadow of the Keck 1 dome, and blazed away. Examining the photos on the camera display likewise revealed no trace of the comet, but there were some interesting spots of light.

It was not until I sat down and really analyzed the raw frames that I found something. Using some astronomy software, I calculated the position of the comet when the shots were taken and the field of view of the camera. And lo! There it was, a small spot with a trace of tail. It showed up best in the green channel, and not at all in the blue thanks to Rayleigh scattering in our atmosphere. Stacking nine of ten frames and processing the heck out of the frames does allow you to clearly see the comet…

Comet C/2011 W3 Lovejoy
Comet C/2011 W3 Lovejoy photographed 4° from the Sun on at 19:47UT on the morning of 16Dec2011. Canon 60D and an 85mm lens, stack of nine frames, green channel only.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

2 thoughts on “Comet Lovejoy in the Daylight”

  1. Andrew, this is so awesome! No views of the comet from here in rainy Southern California. Congratulations, – Maureen

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