Comet Lovejoy

Some of my earliest blogs have been focused on shooting the heavens.  I'm hoping this one might illustrate the journey to a great shot and the difference between seeing conditions.  Of course there is a risk that my best image might have already been captured already, so here's hoping that isn't the case.  (Unfortunately I don't own a telescope, so "great" is a very relative term.  Without a telescope, it will never be clear and crisp)

I first heard of Comet Lovejoy a while back and although I would have loved to have got a shot earlier, was far too faint for me to hope to catch it.  As days moved on though, it moved closer and closer.  In fact, in a day or two, it will have reached its closest point to our lovely blue planet but there are still another couple of weeks before it makes its closest approach to the sun, so it's tail should hopefully become more pronounced.

Shooting the night sky is a big interest of mine because it holds many challenges.  A) finding a good location, B) actually finding what I want to shoot and C) catching a day with good conditions, and; D) getting a shot that's a keeper.  Those are 4 pretty tough tumblers to line up.  Locations aren't easy to find, finding a dot in the sky that you can't see with your own eye is obviously an interesting one, good conditions have their own obvious issues, and then getting a good shot out of it isn't as easy as I'd like, but all add up to the size of the reward when it all goes right.

To keep this short, I'll focus only on the last 2 attempts and then add later if I have more.  My first attempt, I finished work and a friend and fellow sky-watcher noted to me that the sky was quite clear.  That was enough to prompt me to give it a shot.  I headed home, gathered my gear, and tried to find a good dark location close to home.  Sadly this took longer than I had hoped, and eventually I settled on a park here in the city.  There were no visible streetlights nearby, however the city is of course situated under a shroud of light.

Once parked (and having frightened off a car nearby), I set up my tripod, long lens and camera and began searching the sky.  A tiny barely visible greenish dot was the target.  Unfortunately my eyes weren't up to the task so using a star chart, I began pointing in the general area I knew it to be and began taking test shots and viewing the resulting image on the screen.  After 11 or 12 tests, I managed to find my target.  Unfortunately though, around shot 10, I noticed clouds forming and headed my way at a very high speed.  Such a speed that by the time I had found my comet, I didn't have time to get my focus dialed in before it was completely hidden.  And with that, the night was over.

Fortunately, my fellow sky-watcher texted me again last night to tell me about the sky being clear again.  Perhaps I should check the weather myself now and then.. hmm..

Armed with this news, I headed back to the same park and once again, 11 or 12 shots later, I found my target.  Incidentally, if you have binoculars, you can see it tonight if you find the constellation Orion, follow the line of his belt to the west and you should find it.

Dialing in focus took a little work as usual.  Getting into the ballpark is easy - set your focus at infinity, and you'll be able to see fairly well.  Getting it as sharp as possible means adjustments that are such a tiny amount of pressure on the focus ring.  Unfortunately it was extremely cold and a rather gusty wind.  The combination of these two things made it difficult to nail focus, and quite frankly, after a while, the cold was enough to make me lose my desire in the interests of not losing my fingers to frostbite.  A little dramatic, but not far from the truth.  It was clear that there would be no seeing the trail of the comet from this location, so my small victory would have to be simply finding and shooting it.  

With a bit of luck, I will have a follow-up to this blog if I shoot it from a darker location on a better night.  Stay tuned!