Comet C/2012 PANSTARRS K1

MAY 4th 2014

Camping and Comet-hunting…

Stella and i went camping over the weekend, to a campsite a little to the south of us which had a pretty decent dark sky after sunset. So, of course I had to have a go at photographing Comet PANSTARRS K1 while we were there. Luckily Friday night, the night we stayed, was startlingly clear, so I was able to click away for a good couple of hours around midnight until I realised I was really just taking the same pictures over and over again and headed back to the tent!

Here are some of my pics which will, hopefully, give you an idea of how small and faint K1 still is…

Firstly, to provide a baseline, here’s a single, unprocessed 50 mm frame showing the comet and the nearby galaxies M101 and M51…

single frame 50mm half labels

When I cropped that image, the comet stood out pretty clearly…

single frame 50mm full crop

If you’re not sure which blurry thing is the comet, it’s this one…

K1 best circled

…and with a bit more processing work, I think the comet’s tail starts to show…

PANSTARRS K1 a

 

Hmmm… that has to be encouraging! If I’m now able to pick up the tail with just my DSLR on its tripod, with a little processing of the images afterwards, I’m really looking forward to it brightening and increasing in size further in the days and weeks ahead!

In the meantime, here are a couple of images taken by the pros for comparison – full image credit details are on the pics…

stefano-pesci-M51_cometa_panstarrs_bw_DEF_small_1399151423

dd2711c3305a5ccb4f3e83eb19fe0965.620x0_q100_watermark_watermark_opacity-15_watermark_position-4_watermark_text-Copyright astroligu60

 

 

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APR 29th 2014

TWO VERY DIFFERENT NIGHTS…

K1 PANSTARRS is now… just about… a binocular object. I think. Well, if you have a good pair of binoculars and are looking for the comet through them from a very dark, light pollution free site on a beautifully clear night, which is what I was lucky enough to be able to do last Saturday night. Fellow comet-watcher and EAS member Simon White very generously took Stella and I with him on a trip to his new dark sky site, to take advantage of a wonderfully clear night, so I was able to get some new images of K1. And as I looked for it in my 12×50 binocs I was pretty sure… well, quite sure… that I was seeing a small, misty, blurry something where my trusty Sky Safari phone app told me K1 was…

Anyway, here are my photos of PANSTARRS K1 from that wonderfully dark and clear night…

 

k1 circle label small

k1 circle label 2

I kmow, I know, it’s still not much to look at, but give it a chance, it’s nowhere near at its best yet! If you want to see PANSTARRS K1 for yourself, you should try over the course of this coming week, when it will be drifting through the sky very close to the stars of The Plough…

PANSTARRS path Apr 24 - May 18

Just to give you an idea of how dark the site was, and what a clear night it was, here are some of the pics of other things in the sky I took before we all headed home at just short of 3am…

mw1s

nam1bs

stella stars s

stella stars 2 s

sw s

pano2

Really pleased with that last shot…!

In stark comparison, when I headed out last night to try and photograph PANSTARRS again, it was a very different story! Misty sky, with cloud on its way in, and light pollution on all sides, so this is the best I could do, and I’m amazed I managed to get ANYTHING to be honest…!

K1 label

Some clear and frosty nights are predicted for later this week, so hopefully I’ll be able to get better pictures of K1 then…

 

 

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APR 25th 2014

K1 From KENDAL

Spotting a gap in the clouds at 2am this morning I raced up to my woodland dark sky spot and started taking pics of the end of the handle of the Big Dipper, hoping to capture comet Panstarrs K1. After several nights of quite muggy, murky skies, this morning’s was very clear and very still, with good seeing (good, that is, for the middle of a large, badly light polluted town!) so I was quite hopeful of capturing the comet. Looking at the best frames and comparing the starfields with the maps generated by my favourite Android phone app, Sky Safari, I could see… something… a teeny tiny smudgy blur, but I knew I wouldn’t be sure until I’d stacked some of those images together and worked on the resulting picture…

…and yep, there she is, Comet Panstarrs K1!

First: a composite image, made of 5 images stacked together, each one taken with my Canon 1100D DSLR and its 50mm lens, set at f2, and exposed for 5s at 3200 ISO. I’ve added some lines and labels for interest, and it definitely is interesting to compare the size and brightness of well known Messier objects M101 and M51 with the comet, which itself is circled faintly to aid locating it.

K1 PANSTARRS 50mm Apr 25 labels

…and a crop of that image, worked on a little bit more…

K1 PANSTARRS 50mm Apr 25 crop

Quite pleased with those, but K1 could do with brightening a bit…

And just out of interest, another couple of pics I took this morning, showing the Milky Way…

MWay Apr 25 small

m way star cloud s

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APR 24th 2014

WHERE DO I LOOK FOR COMET PANSTARRS K1?

Comet C/2012 PANSTARRS K1 (listen, is it ok if we just call it “K1” from now on? I’m not going to type out THAT lot every time!!) is now very well paced for observers in the northern hemisphere, drifting slowly but surely up towards the stars of the famous “Big Dipper” / “The Plough” asterism, which lies within the constellation of Ursa Major. In fact, K1 will soon be suspiciously easy to track down in the sky, certainly easier than it has been. Having been hiding amongst the faint stars of a rather vague starfield in and around Corona Borealis for the past month or so, over the next month K1 will become easier to find, not just because it should start to brighten but because its path across the sky will carry it to the right of the Big Dipper’s “handle”, past some fairly bright stars. What will also help is the fact that the comet will already be very high in the sky after darkfall, and by the early hours of the morning will be almost overhead due to the rotation of the sky. So, with all, these things in mind, K1 is looking pretty promising in the near future. A quick glance at the Comet gallery of Spaceweather.com shows that lots of amateur astronomers are now imaging this comet, and it is coming into the reach of less and less expensive and sophisticated equipment.*

But you want to know WHERE to look, I know, so here’s what I hope is a very easy to use finder chart for K1. What I’ve done is add the comet’s positions for dates between now and late May to a photo I took of the sky a couple of weeks ago. The photo – which covers an area of the sky from Corona Borealis up to The Plough – was taken with my trusty Canon 1100D DSLR, through an 18-55mm lens, set at 18mm, with a fast ISO setting and a time exposure of maybe 15 seconds, or something like that, so that should help give you a sense of the comet’s visibility with your own phot0graphic equipment. Anyway, here’s the chart,  you’ll need to click on it to enlarge and see it properly, as usual. I hope some of you find it useful. Let me know if you do.

PANSTARRS path Apr 24 - May 18

* I mentioned how K1 is now being imaged by amateur astronomers – well, I’m one of them. During our recent camping holiday up in Scotland I managed to get some pics of the comet, despite the light pollution from nearby Edinburgh, and stacked together they show the comet pretty well…

K1 Apr 18 circled

That’s a 50mm shot, and I’ve circled the comet to make it easier to find. You can see from that it’s still tiny, and faint, and rather underwhelming to a 50mm lens, but when you zoom in on it and crop it a bit, it stands out more.  This next pic is a crop of an image taken on April 5th,before the start of our holiday on a beautifully clear and still morning here in Kendal…

PANSTARRS K1 April 5th 2014 b

If you’re going hunting for K1 – good luck! Let me know how you get on.

 

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APR 5th 2014

Yes, WAITING FOR ISON is back!

happy cat

See? SEE?? I *told* you it would be resurrected when something interesting came up, when there was something worth telling you all about… and there is, another comet called “PANSTARRS”, which is currently very faint and needs a telescope to see it, but “K1” will get brighter over the next few months to the point where it should be fairly easy to see in binoculars. and photograph, by summer…

But first things first – where is comet PANSTARRS K1 right now, as you read this?

Well, it’s just to the left of one of the most distinctive patterns of stars – or “asterisms” – in the sky, namely Corona Borealis, aka “The Northern Crown”. Amateur astronomers and experienced sky-watchers know exactly where that is – it’s beneath the stars of the Big Dipper, at least it is at this time of year…

to CB

As you can see, Corona Borealis looks like a back to front letter C, or a tipped over bowl. Anything but a crown, really! So where is K1 in relation to it? Well, as I wrote this it is here…

K1 tonight

i.e. to the upper left of the stars of the Crown. And the good news is that over the next month or so the comet is going to track up towards and then past the stars of the Big Dipper, which will really make it easier to look fir and find. Here’s my very basic, rough guide finder chart for the comet until the end of next month…

finder 1 to may 24

At the moment K1 can be seen pretty much right through the night for mid-latitude northern hemisphere observers, but it is so faint you absolutely must have a telescope to see it. Amateurs are imaging it tho, and photographs – like this one taken by Ronaldo Ligustri – show it has a strange comma-like shape…

rolando-ligustri-C2012K1_140323small_1395560309_lg

If it’s harder data re brightness, position etc  you’re after, check out the detailed info on this composite of images taken by Brazilian amateur Efrain Morales on April 3rd…

Efrain Morales Apr 3rd

So that’s what K1 looks like when photographed with, and through, a telescope. BUT… Last night I gave  photographing it a go with just my Canon DSLR on its tripod, set at a fast ISO and took 5 exposures of 6 sec9nds which I then staked together using software, and this is what I got…

PANSTARRS K1 April 5th 2014 s

That, above, is the result of stacking those 50mm frames, and I’ve circled where the comet should be. Did I get it? Well, let’s zoom in on that area and see…

PANSTARRS K1 April 5th 2014 crop

Ha! GOTCHA! Slap bang where Sky Safari said it would be! At the moment K1 is apparently just a little fainter than magnitude 10, so very pleased with that.

By the 5th of June K1 should be visible in binoculars under a dark sky, and it will be dropping down towards the NW horizon by midnight…

 

June 5th

…which raises an intriguing possibility… June is when we look forward to seeing “Noctilucent Clouds” in the northern sky after midnight.If you’re not sure what they look like, they look like this…

p

Gorgeous, aren’t they? There’s a full guide to looking for, observing and photographing noctilucent clouds – or “NLC” as we call them – on my main blog…

Noctilucent Clouds

And what have they got to do with Comet K1? Well, the thing is, NLC often brew up around (visually, not physically) the bright star Capella, which is low in the N on summer evenings… and if you look at that previous chart again, Comet K1 will be not that far away from Capella during June, when NLC activity usually reaches its peak…

June 5th plus NLC

Which is good, because NLC watchers (like myself) have to spend many hours just staring at empty sky, waiting, hoping for a display to start, so it will be nice to have something interesting to look at, in the form of Comet K1, while we’re kicking our heels and waiting for the first signs of an NLC display to appear in the north!

By midnight on June 30th, K1 will be here…

june 30th midnight

…and then really we’ll lose it for the rest of the summer. But by then, hopefully, we’ll all have got some nice pictures of it and will have seen it lots of times. Fingers crossed!

SO, another comet is in the sky (actually there are quite a few, but this is, I think, the most accessible one) and although it’s not a “beginners” comet, in the weeks ahead it’s going to brighten and get easier to find too, due to its proximity to the stars of the most famous constellation in the whole of the sky. So, dust off those binoculars and your DSLR, and get out there and start comet hunting again… 🙂

 

 

 


2 Responses to “Comet C/2012 PANSTARRS K1”

  1. […] Industries, die kühne Prognose eines Kometen-Profis, Jacques könnte der Komet des Jahres werden, C/2012 K1 (PANSTARRS) gestern (dito & dito) und am 4.4., die indische ISON-Kampagne, der Mars dieses Jahr […]

  2. Hahaha! That shot of Stella *was* with all the lights on while we were clearing up, wasn’t it?

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