Christmas skies

I didn’t see Santa but I did find comet 46P/Wirtanen and the moon before the clouds drifted back in. Hope you all have an enjoyable holiday season!

Ever since I first read about Comet 46P/Wirtanen a few weeks ago we haven’t had clear skies at night to allow me to get out and try photographing it. But tonight, finally, there was a gap in the clouds, and I hauled the (new) camera and (new) tripod outside onto the balcony to see what I could capture.

Thankfully the comet was close enough to a bright star which I could use to 1) focus the lens and 2) use as a pathfinder. I set up the camera as best I could before heading out into the dark, and was pleased (if not relieved) to find that I could focus at full zoom, then zoom out and the focus remained good enough for me to photograph a larger patch of sky to find the little patch of fuzz that marked the comet.

I managed to get half-a-dozen shots, trying to strike the balance between noise and exposure time: too long an exposure reduced the brightness of the comet as it was smeared out by the rotation of the earth, while bumping up the ISO value to bring the exposure down obviously increased the noise. I settled on 10 seconds at ISO 3200 and I’m quite happy with the result. (Alas I still have to wait awhile before I can edit the raw files from the new camera – I only learned that DxO PhotoLab didn’t support the Canon CR3 format after I’d bought it…)

For the moon shot, I borrowed our friends’ camera, hoping to get a comet photo with it (since it is supported by DxO). However, the clouds foiled that attempt which left me just the moon to photograph. I fiddled with the settings and rattled off a few shots, and I must admit the results have turned out pretty well. Though the lens isn’t the sharpest, the processed photo is plenty detailed enough.

Spending this time outside looking at the night sky reminded me of another Christmas Eve, way back in 1985 when I first picked up a book showing the night sky (no convenient phone apps in those days!), and I borrowed my Dad’s binoculars to find a few celestial objects such as the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula, and a couple of other star clusters. That was the evening that really launched my desire to become an astronomer, a journey that took me through the next 30 years.

Wishing everyone a joyful and peaceful festive season! Merry Christmas!

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