Comet Panstarrs from Granite Gap

Tonight (March 14), we returned to Granite Gap – the location where we first saw Comet Panstarrs on March 10 (Got Panstarrs?). It’s hard to believe it was just 5 nights ago. Since then, we’ve observed and photographed Panstarrs every night (March 11: Comet Panstarrs – The Movie, March 12: Comet Panstarrs Meets the Moon, and March 13: Comet Panstarrs From Antelope Pass).

It seemed appropriate that we bring our Chicago friends Greg and Vicki Buchwald to Granite Gap for their first view of Panstarrs. They were not disappointed. Because the comet is getting little higher each evening, it’s further away from the interfering glow of twilight. Consequently, Panstarrs is easier to see with the naked eye, and the tail appears longer with greater structure than on previous nights. I estimate the tail appeared 1° long to the naked eye, but photography revealed a tail twice as long.

We spotted Panstarrs in binoculars at 7:00 pm, about 50 minutes after sunset. Greg and I both set up cameras and tripods to image Panstarrs while the ladies viewed the comet through binoculars. I used a Nikon D7000 and Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 lens to shoot another time-lapse sequence of the comet setting. I picked this fast lens so that I could take relatively short exposures of the comet since I didn’t bring a tracking mount. My previous movies were shot with a wider angle lens (e.g., Comet Panstarrs – The Movie), but I wanted a higher magnification movie of Panstarrs tonight.

On the evening of March 14, 2013, Comet PanSTARRS was captured in a time lapse sequence as it set over the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. Nikon D7000 and Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 lens, 3 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 1000. Comet PanSTARRS From Granite Gap copyright 2013 by Fred Espenak on Vimeo.

The resulting movie shows hints to the ion tail (to the right of the dust tail) for the first time. If you haven’t had a chance to see Comet Panstarrs yet, the next few days will be your best opportunity before the Moon gets too bright. So get out there!

Fred Espenak

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