Comet Lovejoy – A Second Go…

I wasn’t happy with my first image of Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy).  I had the chance to join several of my fellow SEKAS members up at our dark(ish) sky site at the Paddock, outside Canterbury (where the comet is a naked eye object), to hunt for and image this little beauty again.  This time, I didn’t make the mistake of trying to image it up close with the C8, but took it right in the other direction, and gave my new Ikharos 70ED it’s first imaging light.

Comet Lovejoy - 16/01/2015

Comet Lovejoy – 16/01/2015

This shot consists of 20x 2 minute exposures at ISO800 on my Canon 1100D with Astronomik CLS filter. It was through the 70ED, with field flattener in place.  The stacking was done in Deep Sky Stacker, in Comet mode, hence the trailed stars.  The comet moves that much in 40 minutes – something that always amazes me!

I was very pleased with the amount of detail I managed to capture in the comet’s delicate tail.  As you can see from the picture, the comet is moving more-or-less perpendicular to the angle of the tail.  This often surprises people, as they expect comets to be going ‘forward’ (i.e. moving away from their tail).  The truth is, when a comet is in orbit around the sun, it’s tail is being fanned out behind it buy the solar wind, so the tail always points away from the sun no matter what direction the comet is travelling in.

Lovejoy Super-Enhanced!

Lovejoy Super-Enhanced!

During processing I also decided to produce an image that, although not as aesthetically pleasing overall, really shows up the structure of the tail.  This is just a super-stretched and monochrome version of the same picture, which brings out the tail at the expense of other things.

Comets are amazing objects, This one won’t be back around for another 8000 years after it fades from view in the next month or so.  Catch it whilst you can – we’re never quite sure when the next one will be around!

They’re the absolute epitome of the dynamic nature of the solar system.  They’re dark (almost black) chunks of ice for the majority of their lives, but flare into glory when they approach the sun, only to either fade away again, often for millennia, or get torn apart by the sun’s gravity when they skirt too close.

As a final bonus, I’ve made a quick animation of the movement of the comet in the 40 minutes I was imaging it.  This is made up from the individual frames, stretched in Lightroom and imported into iMovie to convert them into an animation.  Enjoy!




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