Comet 144P/Kishuda

Last week I was able to get some good images of Comet 144P/Kushida which was located in the constellation Taurus and near the star Aldebaran. Being this close to a bright star makes it fairly easy to find.

Comet 144P/Kushida on 13 February 2024 while it moved through the constellation Taurus.
Comet 144P/Kushida on 13 February 2024 while it moved through the constellation Taurus.
Screen shot from Stellarium showing the field of view at 500mm.
Screen shot from Stellarium showing the field of view at 500mm.

I first shot using an 80-200mm zoom lens. The short end (80mm) gave me a wide field of view to find the comet and then I zoomed to the long end (200mm). After about a half-hour of shooting I decided to switch to the 200-500mm zoom lens. Starting at 200mm to center the comet, I then zoomed to 500mm. The image above is the result of stacking 22 images (11 minutes exposure time) then post processing with rnc-color-stretch and finally, Lightroom and Photoshop. Above is a screen shot from the sky application Stellarium showing the field of view at 500mm.

The waxing gibbous Moon on 18 February 2024.
The waxing gibbous Moon on 18 February 2024.

Bonus: image of the waxing gibbous Moon a week later. The image was converted from RGB to L*a*b color space and then the two color channels were adjusted to bring out the subtle colors of the Moon.

Winter Sunrise

The sunrise after a winter storm often results in beautiful scenery and colors. Low-lying areas may have shallow fog. Mountains may have multiple layers of clouds. All of this is enhanced by the low sun angle as it first rises above the horizon.

Low clouds and fog partially obscure the San Francisco Peaks as the sun rises (24 Jan 2024).
Low clouds and fog partially obscure the San Francisco Peaks as the sun rises (24 Jan 2024).

On the other hand, getting up before sunrise, driving on snow-packed roads, and standing around shooting photos with cold temperatures is a challenge. But the results are often worth the effort. Here are a few sunrise photographs.

Wispy clouds cap the San Francisco Peaks (08 Jan 2024).
Wispy clouds cap the San Francisco Peaks (08 Jan 2024).
First light on some old ranching structures near Mormon Lake (08 Jan 2024).
First light on some old ranching structures near Mormon Lake (08 Jan 2024).
Earth's shadow can be seen behind the San Francisco Peaks in this pre-sunrise image (26 Jan 2024).
Earth’s shadow can be seen behind the San Francisco Peaks in this pre-sunrise image (26 Jan 2024).
Telephoto image of snow and clouds on the San Francisco Peaks (26 Jan 2024).
Telephoto image of snow and clouds on the San Francisco Peaks (26 Jan 2024).
Layers of clouds are draped across Mingus Mountain (03 Feb 2024).
Layers of clouds are draped across Mingus Mountain (03 Feb 2024).

This week should bring lots of snow to northern Arizona. I hope to get some interesting photographs.

 

Fall Colors in Northern Arizona

A few more images showcasing fall colors in northern Arizona. It was great while it lasted!

North Wilson Trail.
North Wilson Trail.
West Fork Oak Creek (12mm fisheye lens).
West Fork Oak Creek (12mm fisheye lens).
West Fork Oak Creek (panorama).
West Fork Oak Creek (panorama).
West Fork Oak Creek.
West Fork Oak Creek.
West Fork Oak Creek.
West Fork Oak Creek.
North Wilson Trail.
North Wilson Trail.

 

Rocket Launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base

I was fortunate to see another spectacular launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Christmas Eve morning. I typically check the launch listing sites every few days to keep track of when the next launch will be. These are listed weeks or even months ahead of the launch date–although the dates can and do change. There are exceptions to this advance posting: certain top-secret satellites are often announced with only 24 hours notice. The SARah 2 & 3 satellites had this abbreviated announcement.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch the SARah 2 & 3 satellites into LEO (Low Earth Orbit). Exhaust from the second stage is illuminated by the Sun as it ascends.
SpaceX Falcon 9 launch the SARah 2 & 3 satellites into LEO (Low Earth Orbit). Exhaust from the second stage is illuminated by the Sun as it ascends.
First stage separation and return.
First stage separation and return.

Fortunately, I happened to check the updated schedule about 12 hours before launch so I was able to make preparations for viewing it.

The launch was scheduled for 0611 MST (0511 PST) on the morning of December 24. I went north of Flagstaff to the San Francisco Volcanic Field.

The launch was on time at 0611 MST and about a minute later I was able to see the rocket as it rose above the horizon. I wasalso  able to photograph the first stage separation. A  few minutes later the high-level clouds appeared once the rocket had ascended high enough to be illuminated by the Sun–which was still well below the horizon at my location.

Here are a few photographs of the launch plus a time-lapse video that shows the dramatic expansion of the high-altitude cloud from the rocket exhaust.

SpaceX/Falcon 9 launch of the SARah 2 & 3 satellites.

The next launch is in a week but may be too late in the evening to catch the last light of twilight.

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks

This is the first of what will be many posts on this comet. Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks will be in the western sky in the evening for the next few months and could brighten enough to be visible to the unaided eye. Right now, however, it is quite dim at a magnitude of +9.0 and is located near the star Vega in the constellation Lyra.

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks in the constellation Lyra and near the bright star Vega.
Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks in the constellation Lyra and near the bright star Vega.
Current location of Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks in the solar system.
Current location of Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks in the solar system.
Screen shot from Stellarium showing the location of 12P/Pons-Brooks, Vega, and the constellation Lyra. Rectangle shows the field of view for the 180mm lens.
Screen shot from Stellarium showing the location of 12P/Pons-Brooks, Vega, and the constellation Lyra. Rectangle shows the field of view for the 180mm lens.

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is a cryovolcanic comet. When exposed to the sun’s warmth the pressure within this cryomagma builds up until it triggers the release of gases, expelling icy fragments (and the gases) through cracks in the comet’s outer layer and into space. 12P has already had multiple bursts which have resulted in rapid brightening.

I ventured to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, an International Dark Sky Park, to shoot images of the comet. As noted above, it very close to the bright star Vega which made it very easy to find. My primary goal was to use my Nikon 180mm f/2.8 AIS lens, a legacy manual focus lens known for value in astrophotography and so that I could capture the full constellation. My secondary plan was to use the Nikon 200-500mm lens at its maximum zoom showing just Vega and 12P.

Owing to being a bit out of practice (it happens), both my focussing and star tracking were suboptimal. Something to work on for my next shoot.