Sunday, January 11, 2015

Comet Lovejoy and a Close Planetary Conjunction

As the weekend kicked into gear Friday night, two thought were on my mind.  The first was the close conjunction of Venus and Mercury, the second was of C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy.   I dedicated Friday night to some trial images of comet Lovejoy.  The comet was speeding north into Taurus and brightening nicely.  The Moon was well past full allowing dark skies for the next two weeks.  Now was the time to strongly consider imaging our recent visitor and take in the sights as well.

Images taken Friday night with the SMC 67 200mm f/4 lens and Pentax K-5IIs were decent, but the comet remained small unless cropped heavily.  It is winter in Maine and the cold had gotten the best of me, so I planned to shoot again Saturday night with the 400 F/4 SMC Takumar.

Prior to imaging comet Lovejoy Saturday night I anticipated the close conjunction of Venus and Mercury. This night they would be at their closest, within 0.7 degrees of each other.  Because my western horizon is blocked by trees I decided to drive down to Sorrento Harbor for a clear and more scenic setting.


Looking west at Sorrento Harbor


Like a pair of jewels, Venus and Mercury adorn the western sky

Watching the tandem planets as dusk deepened was incredible.  A cosmic perspective in an otherwise ordinary earthly scene.  I would have loved to watch the planetary pair sink to the horizon, but the cold air hastened my departure.  I took in one last view before packing it in.



I took a break for dinner once arriving home.  Skies were brilliantly clear and comet Lovejoy, obvious to the unaided eye was also noticeably higher than the previous night.  I managed to get the camera and lens arrangement mounted in short order.  After a few test exposures for framing and focus, I shut off the camera and went inside to warm up and the camera to cool down.  Once I had warmed up, it was time to take some images.


C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy


I spent about an hour performing about a dozen images.  While guiding one image I saw a satellite pass my field of view in the guiding eyepiece.  After reviewing the image I was delighted to find it had  passed right straight into the comets tail and through the center of the coma!  It felt like one of those Heaven's Gate Hale-Bopp moments.  Thoughts of posting the image on crank websites filled my mind for a moment, but I know there are people that amazingly take that stuff seriously. The thought of people taking their own lives influenced by such an image sobered me.  

Ultimately, the next to last image was the keeper from the night's session.  The stars are trailed as I had guided on the coma for the six minute exposure with the 400 at f/6.7 and ISO 1600.

Lovejoy is not an extravagant comet, indeed it reminded me of periodic comet Halley in it's 1986 appearance, but it is nice to see a decent comet show up in an easy see location in the sky.