This evening David Moffett of the Furman University Physics Department was hosting a viewing of Comet Pan-STARRS on campus. Laura and I decided to head up and see if we could spot it. Of course, I came overloaded with cameras, telescopes, and binoculars. I wasn’t going to miss out on a photographic opportunity.
When we arrived the sun had just set, and the weather was iffy at best. A low bank of clouds covered the horizon, and a larger bank could be found above that. There was a gap in the clouds that might allow for viewing, but we were afraid the comet would be behind the clouds.
David was the only one there, and was setting up two small telescopes – a Celestron NextStar and a small Meade, both about the same size as my Celestron C90. Of course, he had much better tripods with drive mounts. Still, I set up the telescope with my Nikon D7000 attached with a T-Mount. One student also stopped by, and we all started looking for the comet in binoculars. It took me awhile, but eventually I found it in the gap between clouds.
Finding the comet in binoculars and finding it in my telescope were two different things. I eventually found it in the spotter scope, but when I snapped a picture nothing came out but dark sky. I cranked up the ISO setting on the camera and set it for a 2″ exposure, and finally captured the image above. I managed to get two other shots, but that was the best one. Eventually the comet did set into the cloud bank.
We stayed and looked at the moon and Jupiter’s moons through David’s telescopes after the comet set. It made me wish for a better scope of my own. However, since we live in such a light-polluted area, that wouldn’t make much sense.
Still, I’m glad I got the shot. I’ll consider this practice for this fall when Comet ISON comes around.
UPDATE: I added my photo to the Comet Pan-STARRS Fickr group. There are some amazing photos in that collection. My favorite, though, is this time-lapse by photographer Kevin Palmer…