Fifth Night of the Comet: End of the Tail

Click for full-sized image.

July 22nd, 2020, 9:54 p.m. local time

This one was from almost a week ago now.  Comet C/2020 F3 had risen sufficiently high enough that I was able to photograph it from the relative darkness of my backyard.  If you follow The Big Dipper’s middle part of the handle straight down, you can barely see Neowise above two stars near the bottom.  This picture was taken with my iPhone and NightCap, on a tripod.

It was, sadly, the last night I was able to clearly see the tail.  As I watched it through my binoculars, I felt a sense of loss, that soon, this comet would never be seen by me or anyone else again for thousands of years, unless a means to travel the Solar System is developed before it arrives again.  To give perspective, assume very roughly that the last time this comet was in Earth’s vicinity was around 4000 B.C.  Any semblance of civilization was in Sumeria.  The great Egyptian kingdoms were still about a millennium away.  Writing had yet to be developed.  The chronology of The Bible had barely begun.  Perhaps the Sumerians or tribes of the settled world saw Neowise and took it as a great sign from their gods.

When the comet returns, millennia from now, I wonder how the inhabitants of Earth will see it.

Friday Night with Jupiter and Saturn

Jupiter with its moons (left to right) Callisto, Io, Ganymede, Europa.

July 24th, 2020, 11:00 p.m. local time

Continuing the series of images from this past Friday night were shots taken of Jupiter and Saturn.  Jupiter, above, is shown with its four largest moons.  The image quality is not great, as my objective was to accentuate the moons and their relative positions and brightnesses.  Note that I did some creative editing to bring out the moons, particularly by overlaying a duplicate image, brightening the lower, then masking the moon slots on the top layer.

Here is a closeup of Jupiter, slightly more polished:

And of course following Jupiter right now is Saturn.  I only had to wait about 15 minutes for it to clear the treeline from where I was:

All images taken with my Dobsonian telescope and same setups as recent prior nights.  Only main difference here was using ISO 800 instead of my normal 1600.  Perhaps because the planets are still close to their oppositions, they seemed to turn out slightly better than the sets at 1600.

Fourth Night of the Comet: Fun with NightCap

Click for full-sized image.

July 19th, 2020, 9:58 p.m. local time

The evening following my previous comet sighting was one of stifling air and binoculars that would instantaneously fog up.  I tried an observation only since the sky had some patches of openness towards the Northwest.  In the end, it was just too difficult to locate even stars.

The next night, however, was far nicer.  Since I had already photographed the comet by digital camera and directly at the telescope, I decided to try simply with my iPhone and NightCap (and a tripod).  It is a very easy setup, and you effectively let the NightCap app do all the work.  The above picture was taken in “stars” mode, and post-processed in PaintShop Pro.  The Big Dipper centers the image, with comet Neowise near the bottom center.

You can see a rainbow-ish lens flare in the upper left.  That was likely from the streetlight down the block.

Third Night of Neowise: The Comet Made for a Dob

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July 17th, 2020, 9:48 p.m. local time

With the humidity climbing in very hot air, I still attempted a third night of viewing  everyone’s newest favorite comet.  This time, I dragged my Dobsonian into my front yard, which I rarely do.  But I also rarely point my astronomical equipment towards the North.  Call it a special occasion worth the extra effort and sweat.

Of all the views I have seen myself so far of Neowise, the simple view from the Dob has been my favorite.  It was a tad difficult to locate manually, even guided by binoculars, due to how low it was to the Northwest horizon.  I rarely point the Dob so low as well.  It requires weight adjustments to prevent the tube from tipping forward, and this night was no exception.

In this image, I particularly enjoy observing the tail and being able to see how far back it flares from the comet.

For those interested, the two stars close to the comet appear to be HIP 42761/SAO 42503 (lower) and HIP 42773/SAO 42503 (upper).  HIP 42761’s magnitude is 9.25 and HIP 42773’s is 7.85.  My image appears to corroborate this, as the higher star is slightly brighter.  Thanks to Stellarium, both the web and desktop versions, for helping me to identify these stars.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: iPhone XS
  • Q70 32mm eyepiece
  • No Barlow
  • No filter
  • NightCap app
  • Relevant camera settings (afocal):
    • ISO 1600
    • Exposure: 1 sec
    • f/1.8
    • Focal length 4mm
    • Smartphone telescope mounting bracket
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups and contrast adjustment

Second Night of the Comet

Click for full-sized image.

July 16th, 2020, 9:40 p.m. local time

Between my first sighting of C/2020 F3 on the 13th of July to my second sighting on the 16th was a period of unusable cloud cover.  I thought that evening it would be the same for a third night, but fortunately the clouds broke sufficiently.  Having spotted the comet on the 13th so low to the treeline, I was a bit surprised when, three days later, it was significantly higher in the sky.

The image above was taken with my Sigma wide lens, my “go-to” lens for my best possible wide field shots of the sky.  Relevant settings were f/2.8, ISO 3200, 1/4 sec exposure time, and a 33mm focal length.

I then switch to my 300mm Canon “long” lens.  Here is a slightly edited and cropped view from it, f/4, ISO 1600, 1 sec exposure, and 75mm focal length:

Click for full-sized image.

Finally, I zoomed for this photograph, f/5.6, ISO 3200, 1 sec exposure, and 270mm focal length.  I didn’t go the full 300 millimeters, as the comet is relatively large when the full tail is taken into account.

Click for full-sized image.

One last bonus shot: while snapping the zoomed-in images of Neowise, I happened to capture the lights of a plane as it was landing into O’Hare International Airport.  It’s not as fun as some of the other airplane captures I got in the daylight, but this reminds me for some reason of the light cycles from Tron:

Click for full-sized image.

All cropped with minor edits in PaintShop Pro.

Jupiter at Opposition, and Another Planet

July 13th, 2020, 11:50 p.m. local time

My night of the comet also happened to be Jupiter’s 2020 opposition day.  Fortunately, the skies were clear from Dusk to past midnight, so I was able to take in both Neowise by binoculars and then later some planetary imaging at the telescope.

This was the first time since last year that I attempted to photograph Jupiter, and the first time since around March that I attempted a closeup of any planet (that was for Venus).  Fortunately, as I have done for years now, I had all of my notes available from last year on how to best use my camera’s settings.

Given that I had not performed this setup for almost a year, I am pleased with the result.  The above image was actually my first focus attempt of the night, and it came out pretty well, I think.

July 14th, 2020, 12:20 a.m. local time

Oh, and there happened to be another planet in the vicinity of Jupiter, so I decided to take some pictures of it as well:

A comet and two planets, not too bad for one night.  I was very fortunate having a crystal-clear sky.  Unfortunately, as I sit here finishing this post, I look out my window towards the unstable clouds, and at the forecast, showing clouds and rain for the next week.  At least the plants need the water.  Still, I will stay on alert, particularly for opportunity to see the comet again.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 1600
    • Exposure: 60 (Jupiter), 30 (Saturn)
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 25-35% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

First Spotting of a Comet

Click for full-sized sketch.

July 13th, 2020, 9:40 p.m. local time

Tonight was the first time I ever saw a comet.  I missed Halley’s as a kid in 1986, due to a combination of factors – location, light pollution, and simply not having the freedom as a youth to make the needed, determined effort.  I completely missed Hale–Bopp in 1995.  That was during my college years and probably the low point for my interest in astronomy.

So tonight was special for me, like the first time I saw any of the notable objects via a telescope.  Using my binoculars on this completely clear evening, I scanned several times near the Northwest horizon.  I finally found it, already falling downward into the distant treeline.

After observing the comet for a few minutes, I immediately went inside to draw roughly what I saw.  My crude sketch is attached, but I feel it a fairly good approximation, and better than nothing, at the least.  The comet’s core was bright, yet I could only see a thin faint trail behind it.  This is in contrast to the many photographed images thus far, which show the comet’s tail as an aura starting around the comet itself.  I could not see the comet unaided.

I hope over the next few weeks to photograph the comet, clear evening skies willing.

Relevant observation and drawing info:

  • Celestron binoculars, 8×56, Fov 5.8
  • iPad Mini using Procreate and Apple Pencil
  • Color inversion in PaintShop Pro