Some you win…

Not sure if this constitutes a win or a loss, on balance.  It was a rare clear night on Saturday, after the weather system of the last week had passed, and it left in its wake a crystal clear arctic air mass with low humidity – low for Cumbria, that is, of which more later.

I took the gear up to the Shap Road lay-by and set about capturing comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy).  Once the mount was aligned, I dialled in the location of the comet, listened to the wheels and belts of the mount humming away and heard the handset beep to indicate the comet was in the viewfinder.

The 300mm lens was already attached to the telescope so I took a sequence of shots using this setup first.  The light level of the full Moon was ridiculous, and Lovejoy was only 30º from the Moon.   No trouble seeing the comet, of course, but I know there is a subtle tail streaking across the field of view and I wanted to catch it.

Stacking and processing was immensely trying.  The tail is there, but it is so completely lost in the moonlight scattering off the moisture in the air that it is an impossible task to isolate it.  The more I stretch the processing of these images, the more frustrating it becomes.

300mm telephoto lens ISO 800, 70 x 20sec exposures

300mm telephoto lens
ISO 800, 70 x 20sec exposures

Against a dark sky, this would be a stunning shot.  In the “low” Cumbrian humidity of around 80%,  catching the moonlight and spreading it across the frame, it is a nightmare.

Through the telescope at 805mm focal length, it’s the same story.

Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy)  Nikon D90 on Altair Wave 115/805 ISO 800, 100 x 20sec

Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy)
Nikon D90 on Altair Wave 115/805 ISO 800, 100 x 20sec

There’s a wonderful hint of comet tails here, but they are drowned in moonlight.

Maybe I should have stuck to the “context shot”, the wide angle image that shows the brightness of the sky and the fuzzy blob of the comet.  Oh well, we get what we get, and live to get some more next time.


For those that like the Moon (and yes that includes me!) here it is from that night.  I’ve toned it down a little, to show some surface detail and the tiny crescent of shadow on the edge that indicates it’s not quite full.  Once it’s safely out of the way in about a week, I’ll be back for more comet action.

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