Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Final Comet Watch

We decided on Friday evening that we'd make one more trip down to Fort Churchill and take a last shot at seeing Comet NEOWISE. If I read things correctly, the comet was one day past its closest approach to Earth and would be higher in the sky, now below and to the left of the Big Dipper instead of almost directly below as it was a few days ago.

Sunset at Fort Churchill

We drove to the same spot on Fort Churchill Road (away from the lights 2 km away at the state part) and set up. This shot of the sunset was nice, but it showed one of the challenges: thunderstorms in the area meant there were lots of lingering clouds.

Moon Over Churchill

Cresent Moon over Fort Churchill

Switching to black and white, these photos of the crescent Moon show the other challenge: too much light when you want a very dark sky. When we were out here last time, there was no Moon visible.

Despite the unpromising conditions, Lisa pointed the camera north and we hoped for the best as full darkness approached.

Comet NEOWISE - Last Glimpse

There is a comet in this photo, but it would be hard to spot unless you already knew where it was. See if you can see it before clicking through the cut.

Comet NEOWISE - Last Glimpse

Even with it circled, you might have difficulty seeing it.

Comet NEOWISE - Last Glimpse

The heavy clouds that were in the area during sunset had blown through, but wispy clouds continued to drift across the area for the rest of the time we were there.

Comet NEOWISE - Last Glimpse

That's a bit better. I watched the comet through field glasses while Lisa experimented with camera settings and tried to zoom closer. A big challenge here is that while the camera can pick up the comet and stars on a time exposure, you can't actually see anything through the viewfinder, so the only way to sight in on the comet was to take a photo, wait for it to process, and adjust the camera zoom and angle until you got it right. There are lots of photos that didn't make the cut.

Comet NEOWISE - Last Glimpse

This one might just be the best of the lot.

Comet NEOWISE - Last Glimpse

Zooming in allowed for more resolution, but led to a different issue: more apparent motion in a 15-second time exposure.

Comet NEOWISE - Last Glimpse

Because the comet is itself not a point source of light, the apparent motion is slightly less obvious than that of the background stars.

Click through any of the photos to see the others including those from our previous trip.

I'm happy we got two cracks at the comet, and also that we've found a decent spot to go look at the stars. Two or three vehicles did come by, and one stopped right by us until (we think) they realized that we weren't broken down but were just looking at the stars. Although we were parked on a side road, the road entrance is so wide that anyone who by chance wanted to go down that road (as one vehicle did) could get around us with many meters to spare.

Around 11 PM, we called it a night. The comet would not be setting for a while, but the horizon is still full of lights from Reno over the mountains, and I'd been up since 4:30 that morning, so Lisa drove us home. By the time we got home, I was way too tired to fiddle with photos, so I put off posting this until Saturday afternoon.
Tags: comet, lisa, stars

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