Home > Comets > Chasing Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy at dusk in moonlight – not recommended !

Chasing Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy at dusk in moonlight – not recommended !

Having somehow completely missed all of the best opportunities to image Comet Lovejoy I thought it was time to try this before the comet disappears below the horizon at dusk and becomes truly impossible to photograph.

To do that I needed time on the iTelescope T20 over in New Mexico. The problem is that I only had a 30 minute maximum window of opportunity to capture the data in 58% moonlight just after the sun had set and with the telescope rapidly approaching its low altitude limit of 25 degrees above the horizon ! In addition, as it was impossible to reserve time 2 hours before using the telescope, I had to run the gauntlet of someone else starting up a short random imaging session on the same telescope before I could get the session parameters set up and sent to the server. In the end I managed to run off two 5 minute exposures in black and white, but the following colour RGB session failed as I hit the telescopes altitude limit before the session was complete – aaargh ! The light from the moon and remaining faint daylight had  a pretty shocking effect on the raw .FITS files when I opened them up. There was a huge grey mist-like gradient across the images and numerous passing aircraft trails too due to the wide view provided by the Tak 106 telescope. Just take a look at this raw image below to see what I mean – this is what most astrophotographers don’t show you !

Before-processingAbove: Raw image before cleaning up – messy! Note the very long comet tail though

Now for the processed images which I am pretty happy with given the problems mentioned above. A good example of how to rescue things from a bad situation………

Lovejoy-wideWide view of comet Lovejoy after processing showing the long extended tail

Lovejoy4Detailed view of the coma and tail of comet Lovejoy

Lovejoy is fading in brightness from its maximum magnitude of 3.7 at perihelion in mid January to 6.8 now, but it is still visible with binoculars so take a look.  It was discovered by Terry Lovejoy in August 2014 and is currently travelling back out of the Solar System between the constellations Cassiopeia and Cepheus low in the north.

Lovejoy orbital pathCurrent orbital path out of the Solar System of comet Lovejoy (light blue line)

Images taken 28/3/15 8:30 am New Mexico time on iTelescope T20  Takahashi FSQ-ED 106, Camera  SBIG STL-11000M. 2 x300 sec, Bin 1, Luminance. RA: 01h 23m 18.0s DEC: 64° 40′ 09″ (J2000). Processed in MaxIm DL5, DeepSkyStacker 3, Photoshop CS2.

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