Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Photograph Comet Lovejoy in January

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy on January 6, 2015.
Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy passes closest to earth tonight, offering our brightest viewing of it for several thousand more years.  It will brighten as it continues to approach the sun, but appear to fade in brightness as it recedes from earth, and as those two trends work against each other we'll have continued good viewing conditions for the next couple of weeks. 

The recent full moon challenged viewing, but tonight, January 7, in the Northern Hemisphere the moon rises about 3 hours after sunset.  Once the sky is fully dark (approximately 6:30 pm in mid northern latitudes), you'll have roughly an hour of dark sky viewing before the approaching moon brightens your sky.  Tomorrow, January 8, your dark sky window extends roughly 6:30 - 8:30.

You don't need fancy equipment to see this comet.  It's bright enough to see with binoculars, or in test exposures taken with a 24mm or 50mm lens or to find in a 70-200 mm zoom at the widest 70 mm focal length.  For the next few nights Comet Lovejoy will be to the right of the constellation Orion.  +Universe Today provides a handy finder chart in their article "Finding Lovejoy: How to Follow the Path of Comet 2014 Q2 Through January".

I captured the test image above with the nearly-full moon in the sky, using a Canon 70D DSLR and EF 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 lens on a star-tracking mount.  If you don't have a star tracking mount, no problem, just use your widest lens (I'd use an EF 16-35 mm f/2.8 lens wide open at f/2.8 and at it's widest focal length of 16mm).  Crank up the ISO and take a number of long test exposures to determine which combination of ISO and exposure time work well on your camera.

If the skies remain clear I should be able to capture even better images during moonless hours in the coming nights.