On March 12, sky watchers enjoyed an extra treat as Comet Panstarrs was joined by the crescent Moon only 1 and 1/2 days past its New phase. The pair were only separated by 4° and appeared low in the west during evening twilight.
After my success shooting a long image sequence of the comet the previous night and subsequently converting the sequence into a video (Comet Panstarrs – The Movie), I was determined to try it again tonight.
Pat and I, along with astrophotographer buddy Joe Morris drove up to San Simon, AZ where we enjoyed a great view the previous night. My plan was to shoot the comet and Moon setting behind the most recognizable features of the Dos Cabezas Mountains. We arrived at one possible location about 10 minutes after sunset and quickly set up our tripods and cameras. As we waited for the glare of evening twilight to fade, we searched for the crescent Moon in binoculars. About 25 minutes after sunset, Joe picked out the razor thin crescent. I quickly took note of the Moon’s position and realized that it would set far to the north of my desired mountain composition. “Everybody back in the car! We’re moving south!” I shouted. Joe fired back with “You’ve got to be kidding!”, but Pat reassured him I was dead serious.
So back into the car went the cameras, tripods and people. I drove south and stopped several times to evaluate the Moon’s position, each time estimating where it would set. I finally found a location I liked – out came the cameras, tripods and people once again.
Within 10 minutes, we were all lined up along the side of the road and happily shooting the celestial spectacle of comet and crescent Moon. Because of the Moon’s young age, it was brightly illuminated in Earthshine (sunlight reflected off of Earth which illuminates the “dark” part of the Moon). Fortunately, the Moon did not overpower the fainter comet. Indeed, I found it easier to spot Panstarrs with the naked eye than on previous nights. I suspect this was due to the comet’s higher altitude tonight, allowing us to view it later in a darker sky.
We watched in awe as Panstarrs and the Moon set on opposite sides of the tallest mountain peak in the Dos Cabezas. Time to pack up, drive home, download and process images! (see the finished result below)
On the evening of March 12, 2013, Comet PanSTARRS and the crescent Moon were captured in a time lapse sequence as they set over the Dos Cabezas Mountains in Arizona. Nikon D300 and Nikkor 18-200 VR zoom lens. Comet PanSTARRS and the Moon copyright 2013 by Fred Espenak on Vimeo.