2013-March-13 gave us the opportunity to see Comet L4 PanSTARRS for the first time here in southern New Hampshire, so many of us astro-types went out, sought dark and high-altitude locations with good westerly views. I found mine with my family: on top of Stratham Hill Parks observation tower. It’s like an old fashioned fire tower, but without the booth on top. It has a roof, but that’s it, no walls. We got set up with a pair of binoculars a tripod and the Nikon D7000 at about 6:20PM. Sunset was at 6:47PM, so we had time to sit, chat, and watch as other like-minded folk came to witness the event.
Sunset was lovely, and gave us a splendid view of some fracto-cumulus clouds off in the distance (Northwood) which were still expelling some rain as evaporating virga.
We were thinking that we’d be seeing the comet earlier and perhaps with binoculars, within minutes after the sun had set. No go. The comet was a fainter than expected. Not many people are making magnitude estimates of its brightness. We say about magnitude 0 or a little fainter is the right amount, as we didn’t see it for nearly another 30 minutes! When spotted (through our trusty 10x60s), it was hard to spot, then about 30% lower than the moon to the horizon. The moon was lovely: a waxing crescent with strong earthshine. The comet showed up well in photos though, so here is the wide field shot taken with a Nikon D7000 at 18mm. Look carefully and you’ll see the comet between the horizon and the moon.
As if that was fun enough, we also ran into a former student (you know who you are!) who happened to be in the area wanting to seek out the comet with the rest of us. She had recognized my voice and climbed up to verify: “Is that Mr. Blackwell up there!?” 😉 Working to get a closer shot, we zoomed in a bit and were successful to a point. It turns out that focus on the D7000 with this 18-200mm lens is NOT very sharp when set to infinite. Comet should be at infinity, right? I mean, they are over 1AU away. That’s pretty far. Well, it turns out that this lens focuses comets and other astronomical objects really well when set to 3 meters. Yeah. Silly. Here’s the result:
Not bad for a cold evening and an ill-tempered camera! Clear skies to you all!