Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Comet Pan-STARRS with the Crescent Moon, March 13, 2013

It's been rainy, snowy, and overcast since early last week - so I knew when the forecast called for "partially cloudy" skies I would take the chance to try to spot comet Pan-STARRS through the clouds.

sky facing west at sunset
My view looking West after sunset, crescent moon barely visible

canon rebel xt with 300mm lens
My setup, Canon Rebel XT with 300mm f/5.6 lens

canon rebel xt with 300mm lens
Bored and freezing, waiting for the comet to appear

comet panstarrs
Zoom/crop, a close up of the comet through the haze just above the horizon
300mm, f/5.6, ISO 1600, 3.2 sec, 8:49pm ET

I've been following the story for weeks; jealously looking at photos from the Southern Hemisphere and the southern United States, waiting for my turn. Earlier today, the skies were a blank gray. It even started snowing around lunch time. When I saw a patch of blue sky, I started obsessing over the hourly forecast hoping to get a chance to photograph the comet for myself.

comet panstarrs march 13
Had to go vertical to get the moon and comet both in frame, super cool!
95mm, f/4.5, ISO 800, 5 sec, 8:46pm ET

I got to Slippery Elm Trail around 7:30pm (sunset was 7:39pm ET). I got to see a cool sunset, and started setting up my camera. I ended up waiting around for 20 min or so before I could even see the crescent moon clearly. 30 minutes later I knew I should be getting close, but I didn't see any comet.

Watching the comet dip behind clouds in the fairly bright twilight sky
300mm, f/5.6, ISO 400, 4 sec, 8:32pm ET

I started clicking around looking for the comet with 1.5s exposures. I finally caught a glimpse of it in my LCD screen and I knew I had it! I followed it over the next 30 min or so until I could get a shot of the comet and horizon in the same frame. I stayed out for about an hour and a half total. It was freezing being out in the middle of a field with no protection from the wind, but it was worth it!

Target practice on the crescent moon, also useful as a focus aid

moon with earthshine
Earthshine with some clouds. I never get tired of earthshine!
75mm, ISO 200, f/4.5, 0.4 sec, 8:13pm ET

comet panstarrs above the horizon march 13
The photo I've been waiting for! Pan-STARRS low with the horizon in frame
300mm, f/5.6, ISO 1600, 3.2 sec, 8:49pm ET

After 90 minutes in the cold, I made a mad dash for my car. If I didn't have hand warmers in my gloves and shoes, I don't know what I would have done. Next winter I'll have to invest in some thicker gloves and some boots - this photography stuff is rough!

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