Comet PanSTARRS From Antelope Pass

After last night’s frantic chase of Comet Panstarrs and the Moon, Pat and I decided to take a more leisurely trip or tonight’s view the comet.

We traveled into New Mexico via Route 9 to Antelope Pass in Hidalgo County. This location put us high above the San Simon Valley with a clear view to the west of Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains. We parked just off the road which immediately piqued the attention of a Border Patrol agent. When I explained to him that we were going to photograph the comet, he said “What comet?”. I guess we all have our own priorities as he headed down the road, no longer interested in us.

We spotted Panstarrs in binoculars at 6:58 pm, about 45 minutes after sunset. Pat decided to forego photography, opting instead to just watch tonight. Meanwhile, I busily set up two tripods and cameras. The Nikon D300 and Nikkor 18-200 VR zoom would be used to make another time-lapse sequence of the comet setting (see: Comet Panstarrs – The Movie). The Nikon D7000 was attached to my Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 “monster lens”. I chose this fast lens so that I could take relatively short exposures of the comet since I didn’t bring a tracking mount.

Comet PanSTARRS appears above the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona shortly before setting on the evening of March 13, 2013. Nikon D7000 and Nikkor 300mm AF f/2.8 lens, 2 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 1000. Photo copyright 2013 by Fred Espenak.

Comet PanSTARRS appears above the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona shortly before setting on the evening of March 13, 2013. Nikon D7000 and Nikkor 300mm AF zoom lens, 2 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 1000. Photo copyright 2013 by Fred Espenak.

The trickiest thing about shooting a comet-setting image sequence is choosing a middle-of-the-road exposure. The sky brightness changes enormously during the 18 minutes of the time-lapse sequence, so you need an exposure the won’t grossly overexpose the first exposures nor underexpose the last ones. From the previous night’s shooting, I chose 4 seconds at f/5.6 and ISO 1600. I started the sequence at 7:12 pm and ran though comet-set at 7:28 pm. During that period, two cars drove past us on Route 9 – each time ruining 3-4 exposures in the time-sequence which were later removed when making the final movie.

The resulting movie appears below. Overall, comet Panstarrs has been getting a little higher each night, allowing us views later in evening twilight. This means better views of the dust tail, and it’s also getting easier to see the comet with the naked eye.

Tomorrow, our Chicago friends Greg and Vicki Buchwald arrive for a visit and will get their very first view of Comet Panstarrs. I can’t wait to see their reactions. (See the Comet Panstarrs Viewing Charts for a preview of the comet’s appearance each night through March 25)

Fred Espenak

On the evening of March 13, 2013, Comet PanSTARRS was captured in a time lapse sequence as it set over the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. Nikon D300 and Nikkor 18-200 VR zoom lens, 4 seconds at f/5.6, ISO 1600. Comet PanSTARRS From Antelope Pass copyright 2013 by Fred Espenak on Vimeo.

4 thoughts on “Comet PanSTARRS From Antelope Pass

  1. Continued great work Fred and Pat. I finally bagged PanSTARRS last night but you’re showing me each day, what I’m missing by not being in Portal. I do however, plan to be there for Comet ISON ! Keep those shots and movies coming…
    Jim

  2. Fred–
    Wonderful photos! I am sure they will be a big hit with my planetarium
    audience tomorrow night. Let me know when you figure out what
    that UFO really is in your March 13 movie (I’m guessing internal reflections in your
    optics from the passing cars you mentioned….).
    Take care,
    Susan Stolovy

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