The comet in the top left of the photo. A tree in the bottom right.

NEOWISE update

Now that our fine comet friend has shifted so that it is visible in the evenings (~80 minutes after sunset, so ~10:20 p.m. Washington state time), it has been cloudy almost every single night. Yesterday it was cloudy all day too, but when I looked outside during our evening Zoom exercise class, I saw blue sky all of a sudden! After class, Cobalt and I went for a walk to get a better idea of the weather. It was relatively clear above us, but still cloudy to the northwest, where NEOWISE has been hanging out in the evenings. Maybe the clouds would continue to roll away in the two hours before NEOWISE was due to be visible in the sky?

We decided to attempt another comet sighting after dinner. We packed the camera and its tripod and headed off to our favorite area to see things west of us. It’s still in the city, but you have to go through some trees to get there, and then you end up looking across Puget Sound. Anyway, we got there at 10 p.m. but then had to turn around because the site has been closed during the pandemic to keep the number of people in the area down.

We drove north and finally turned down a street with a pretty good view of the northwest. There was one couple with masks and binoculars looking up, so we pulled over.

The viewing conditions were not great. The spot had tall trees blocking our view of the sky. And on either side of the trees were VERY BRIGHT streetlights. Also, other people showed up, driving down the street with their headlights blaring and then taking forever to get out of their cars and turn off all their lights. Everyone was staring at the sky, but no one was having much luck finding NEOWISE.

I was having trouble even setting up the camera. Because everything around us was so bright, I couldn’t find or focus on any stars through the viewfinder. And my glasses, which help me see the crisp pinpoints of light, were getting fogged up thanks to my mask. I was getting frustrated.

I took a break from the camera and pulled out a handy article from Sky and Telescope, which has very specific instructions and diagrams for finding the comet: Find the big dipper, it says, and then count three fists below the dipper. Then move a little to the right. I handed my phone to Cobalt to ask him if he could make sense of the diagrams while I struggled with the camera. “I found it!” he said, and motioned for me to move the camera even MORE underneath one of the streetlights. If I squinted to where he was pointing, I could just barely make out a blur that looked vaguely like the bright comet we had seen last week. Or maybe I was just imagining things.

I pointed my camera in that direction, adjusted the lens to “infinity” focus (no way to focus on something you can’t see… plus that streetlight was REALLY bright) and took a picture. This is what we saw 5 seconds later in my display screen.

The night sky with a comet tail barely visible at the bottom of the photo.
A TAIL! We found the tail!

COBALT HAD FOUND IT! Nice work, Cobalt. All of the other comet-viewers had given up by then, so it was just the two of us discussing how to tweak the camera settings without losing the comet. It’s always fun to photograph something COMPLETELY blind, using the display screen to give us any indication that we’re on the right track. Cobalt mentioned multiple times that we were so lucky to be in this digital photography age. Phew! Here are some more pictures from our adventure.

The comet in the top left of the photo with a small bright blur to the right of it. A tree takes up the bottom right of the photo.
I wonder what is next to NEOWISE in this picture. It shows up in a few of my pictures from around the same time, seemingly making an arc in the sky. Is it the International Space Station?! Someone who knows more about space, please weigh in.

 

The comet tail coming up from the bottom of the photo. You can sort of see the ion tail too coming off the top.
Did you know that comets actually have TWO tails? The main one is all the dust created from the melting ice/debris released when the comet passed the sun. The other is made up of ions released thanks to the solar radiation. I like this picture because I can sorta see the ion tail (it’s on top, kinda blue). Can you see it? :)

These photos were taken with a pretty long exposure (between 1 and 10 seconds) and a really high ISO. As usual, I have MOAR photo ideas that I want to try, but we’ll see if we get to go find the comet again. It is supposedly getting close and closer to Earth (it will be the closest on July 23), but it is also getting dimmer and dimmer. We’re lucky we have a telephoto lens and a camera that lets us take long exposures, but I’m worried that without binoculars, we won’t be able to see it by eye soon. :(

Anyone else have NEOWISE adventures that they want to share?

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