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 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.
The evening sky has provided opportunities in February and early March to view several planets grouped together. In mid February there was an alignment of four planets and one asteroid: Venus, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, and Vesta. Only two of these were visible with the unaided eye but even a short exposure on a camera showed the other three objects. Okay…some of them were still hard to see.
A short time later the Zodiacal Light became prominent along with some faint airglow bands near the horizon.
In early March the planets Venus and Jupiter were very near each other in the evening sky. Cloudy skies prevented me from getting photographs at their closest approach but a few days later I was able to capture these images from Bonito Park near Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.
After several days of heavy snow in the higher elevations we got a break in the weather. I was specifically interested in photographing snow in Wupatki National Monument. The park had reported a few inches of snow so I had hopes that some of it was still around.
I arrived at Wukoki Pueblo a few minutes before sunrise. There had been snow all the way down—even at the Visitors Center—but dropping that last bit of elevation to the pueblo was enough to have erased the snow cover to just a few patches. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping to see but was still interesting.
Here are a few images taken just after sunrise.
I returned home via Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and captured this image of the cinder cone covered in new snow.
And now we have another snow storm approaching the area and January will end up with above normal snowfall amounts.
The weather has been fairly typical for late June and early July: warm temperatures, breezy afternoon winds, and mostly clear and sometimes absolutely clear skies.
That will change dramatically over the next few days as the North American Monsoon ramps up across Arizona and the desert southwest. As subtropical moisture begins to move northward we will see a significant increase in cloudiness and thunderstorms. Clear night skies will quickly become a distant memory.
With that in mind, I took advantage of clear skies and did some Milky Way photographs. I decided to try Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument so that I could get some of the volcanic hills and ridges in the image.
Near the horizon is Mars which is becoming very bright in the evening sky—and will reach its peak brightness later in July. The planet Saturn is also visible within the starry mass of the Milky Way.