Comet Neowise

This piece is about my second foray into the realm of astrophotography. In particular, photographing the newly discovered comet Neowise.

A couple of years ago, I attempted my first astrophotography session of the Milky Way in my back yard. That was pretty much a trial and error effort that, all-in-all, I was quite satisfied with. Thank goodness for digital photography where you can see your results immediately, make adjustments where necessary, and shoot again! But with that session under my belt, it paved the way for this comet session.

That being said, this was actually quite different from the first session, in that, the subject – the comet – is pretty faint, and only about 20° above the horizon, and your looking only a couple hours after sunset, so there was going to be a noticeable glow on the horizon as well.

I planned this endeavor by listening to one of the meteorologists on TV who said the comet would be visible an hour after sunset. As the time drew near, I got my camera gear ready – Camera mounted on the tripod, the remote shutter released attached to the camera, and fresh batteries in the shutter release so I could time my exposures!

At this time of year, the sun sets around 8:45PM, so I figured by 10PM I would be presented with an awesome view of the comet!

Ah. . . Nope.

Now maybe I misheard what the meteorologist said, but in any event, the sky was still fairly bright. I decided to take a test shot in the direction that I knew the comet would be in. I set the camera to take a 8.4 second exposure, which should bring in more light than what the naked eye can see, and then look at what I had on the LCD screen. Unfortunately, that tiny LCD on the back of the camera didn’t reveal any more than what I was able to see with my eye – everything was just brighter. . .

(As it turned out, I actually had captured the comet in that initial photo, but it wasn’t apparent to me until I later uploaded the images to my computer!)

ISO 100, 8.4 secs, f3.5, 28mm – 10PM
(Comet Neowise inside the circle)
Click image to see full size

There wasn’t much to do at this point, but just stand there and wait. . . Oh! I forgot to mention that I set everything up, down the road a ways, and just a few feet off of the roadside on the south side of the road, me and my Dad, standing there – looking out across the road, camera on tripod pointed in the same direction, as the occasional car or pickup slowed down but drove by.

I’m sure every single one of them thought, or said out loud, “What in the hell are those damned fools doing?” No one stopped to ask though. . .

The sky gradually darkened however, and eventually, a faint “smudge” appeared in the sky. This thing was easier for me to see if I didn’t stare right at it. It seemed more distinct if I actually looked slightly to either side of it – I think they call this technique – averted vision.

In any event, by 10:45PM I was getting some decent photos of the comet. The nice thing about photographing something like this, is the fact that by taking long exposures, you can make it appear brighter than it actually is to the naked eye. Below are a couple of the best of the bunch, with camera settings listed in the captions. . .

ISO 1250, 12.5 secs, f5, 78mm
Click to see image full size
ISO 1250, 12.5 secs, f3.5, 28mm
Click to see image full size

I highly recommend getting out there and taking a look at it while it’s here. I believe it will be visible yet into August, but once it’s gone it won’t be around this way again for another 6800 years!

Just think. . . Assuming this isn’t the first time Neowise has made the trip, the last time this comet was seen here, was 4780 BC!! Almost 2000 years before the Pyramids were built. Up to 1700 years before Stonehenge. I wonder what primitive man thought when they saw this?

Anyway. . . If you’re not busy at night, and the sky is clear in the North-west, go out and see it. (It’s below the Big Dipper in the sky)