The recent weather patterns have tested the patience of many observers and astrophotographers in the UK, but on the night of 18 January, it was most definitely our turn for clear skies. I drove to the church car park at Old Hutton at around half past five, to find three colleagues from the Eddington Astronomical Society already there!
There were three potential comet targets on my list that evening, resulting in varying levels of success and more lessons learned.
The handset of my AZ-EQ6 mount allows pre-programming of GOTO coordinates, so I had already loaded the comets’ coordinates in the warmth and comfort of home. Once the mount was aligned, picking up the pre-programmed targets was very easy. I also took the opportunity of the observing delay (caused by the slight cloud layer during the alignment process) to calibrate the mount’s adjustment knobs.
First up, low in the south west, Comet 15P/Finlay which is described in Sky Safari as magnitude +13, but is unexpectedly in “outburst” so significantly brighter. I could see it clearly in the 24mm eyepiece at 33x magnification. In the photo, its outburst form is very clear and really rather pretty.
Finlay had to be the first target as it was only 15° above the horizon at dusk, and quickly setting.
Then on to Lovejoy, which was visible to the naked eye and also very strong through the telescope. I had already attached the camera in place of the eyepiece on mine, so I got on with taking pictures. This is Lovejoy on the same scale as Finlay:
Switching to the 300mm telephoto catches more of the tail:
And finally a wide angle “context” shot through the trusty old 50mm manual lens (which came with my first Nikon, the F301, in about 1987). The tail goes on for ever, past The Pleiades and the head of Taurus.
All in all, a very satisfying evening.
What about the third target? More of that later…