Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard)—II

Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) is currently visible in the southwest evening sky for a short period after sunset. Evening twilight makes it difficult to see the comet with the unaided eye. Even in binoculars it is a faint object. On the other hand, a short exposure on a camera will reveal the comet and its tail.

A nearly-full Moon illuminates the snow-covered San Francisco Peaks as the comet sets in the evening twilight.
A nearly-full Moon illuminates the snow-covered San Francisco Peaks as the comet sets in the evening twilight.
Telephoto view of the comet and tail. (Stack of 13x15seconds, 300 mm, f/8, ISO 400.)
Telephoto view of the comet and tail. (Stack of 13x15seconds, 300 mm, f/8, ISO 400.)
Comet peaking out between the clouds.
Comet peaking out between the clouds.

Finally, here is a time-lapse of the comet on 17 December 2021 from 18:16:48–18:21:08 MST. It moves quite a bit in just a few minutes.

Time lapse of the comet.

The comet will reach its highest elevation above the horizon this week and then begin to slowly drop towards the horizon again.

Lightning over Wupatki National Monument

Lightning at Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.

It was only a few days ago that I photographed an evening barrage of lightning over the San Francisco Peaks and the Cinder Hills. Those photographs were taken from Wupatki National Monument—right at the entrance pullout off of Highway 89. And, now I found myself in this same location shooting lighting from an early afternoon series of thunderstorms—except looking in the other direction across vast grasslands.

Lightning at Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning at Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning at Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning at Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning at Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning at Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning at Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning at Wupatki National Monument.

The most amazing lightning strike of the day occurred before I had set up the gear. The bolt landed miles away from the storm in a sunny area. This was a classic “bolt from the blue” and would have surprised anyone in that location. The radar image below shows the bolt landing a fair distance from the storm.

Lightning continued in this direction for more than an hour. As the storms would move to the northeast newer storms would develop north of the San Francisco Peaks and move over Wupatki National Monument.

Lightning at Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning at Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning at Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning at Wukoki Pueblo in Wupatki National Monument.
Storms move to the distant northeast at sunset.
Storms move to the distant northeast at sunset.

After shooting at this location for awhile I decided to reposition to Wukoki Pueblo with hopes that lightning to the north would continue and I could get photographs with lightning and the pueblo. I was not disappointed.

24-hour lightning plot ending 1000 MST 12 September 2021.
24-hour lightning plot ending 1000 MST 12 September 2021.
Radar with lightning overlay for 1304 MST 11 September 2021.
Radar with lightning overlay for 1304 MST 11 September 2021.

Again, storms would move to the northeast and then be replaced by new storms from the southwest. This went on for several hours. The lightning plot above shows how many lightning strikes there were in this region during the afternoon.

I had hoped that thunderstorms and lightning would continue through sunset and twilight but it was not to be. Eventually, newer storms stopped developing and the other storms moved far to the northeast.

Lightning over the San Francisco Peaks

The data and models suggested there would be convection from the San Francisco Peaks northward to Grand Canyon and into far northwestern Arizona. At best, however, these would be weak storms and would probably dissipate by late afternoon. With that in mind, I headed to the south rim of Grand Canyon. And the models were right about both the location and weak character of the storms. After shooting for a short time I left well before sunset.

Sunset at Wupatki...before the lightning.
Sunset at Wupatki…before the lightning.

As I was leaving, radar data showed a strong storm well to the southeast of Flagstaff. Leaving Grand Canyon National Park, I was able to see the storm in the distance and hoped I might get a few good photos at sunset. I stopped at Wupatki National Monument to take a few photos just as the sun was dropping behind the hills to the west. A moment later, I saw a flash of lightning. Then another…and another. These flashes were almost 40 miles away but were clearly visible.

Lighting composite taken over a 3-minute period
Lighting composite taken over a 3-minute period
Lighting composite taken over a 3-minute period
Lighting composite taken over a 3-minute period
8-second single exposure.
8-second single exposure.
Lightning composite taken over a 4-minute period.
Lightning composite taken over a 4-minute period.
Lightning composite.
Lightning composite.

I spent the next 90 minutes shooting lightning photos from this spot. The storm was moving towards me and the lightning bolts were getting closer, larger and brighter. There were lots of cloud-to-ground strokes with multiple branches and leaders lighting up the sky. Because these lightning bolts were south of the San Francisco Peaks and the Cinder Hills, there are no photos showing the bolts in contact with the ground.

24-hour lightning map.
24-hour lightning map.

Above is a plot of 24-hour lightning ending the morning of 10 September 2021. There are two distinct clusters of lightning around the San Francisco Peaks. The cluster to the northwest occurred during the afternoon. Many of these were visible from the South Rim of Grand Canyon. The cluster to the southeast of the San Francisco Peaks occurred during twilight.

And what of the time spent at Grand Canyon? Yeah, this is what I saw.

Weak showers at Grand Canyon.
Weak showers at Grand Canyon.
Some mammatus.
Some mammatus.

Glad I left early and caught the second act.

Thunderstorms and Lightning

The North American Monsoon has been sputtering—for lack of a better term—the past week or two. We get a few days of storms followed by a hot and dry period. Finally, however, moisture is beginning to increase and we are seeing more storms. I have tried several times this year to get great photographs of storms and lightning but my success rate has been pretty low.

Here are a few photographs from the past week.

Clouds develop across the whole sky in Sedona.
Clouds develop across the whole sky in Sedona.
An outflow boundary arrives and thunderstorms develop within a few minutes.
An outflow boundary arrives and thunderstorms develop within a few minutes.
A distant thunderstorm seen from Wupatki National Monument.
A distant thunderstorm seen from Wupatki National Monument.
Mid-afternoon lightning near Mormon Lake.
Mid-afternoon lightning near Mormon Lake.

And, finally we have a time lapse of the same storm that produced the lightning above. The video is 200x real time; from the motion it can be seen that the storm has some slow rotation. This storm moved off the higher terrain and became severe as it neared the Camp Verde area.

The weather models have been consistent with forecasting a significant increase in storm activity next week.

Moonrise over Lomaki Pueblo

It was the day before the full Moon and I wanted to photograph the Moon as it rose above the Painted Desert. Unfortunately, a thin band of high clouds moved across the area late in the afternoon and were just enough to obscure the Moon when it was still low on the horizon. Time for a backup plan.

Moonrise above Lomaki Pueblo.
Moonrise above Lomaki Pueblo.
Moon rise over the interior of Lomaki Pueblo.
Moon rise over the interior of Lomaki Pueblo.

We drove a short distance to the Lomaki and Box Canyon pueblos in Wupatki National Monument and set about capturing the Moon as it rose above the ruins. It would have worked better if I could have gotten farther away from the ruins since this would make the Moon appear larger relative to the structures. I was able to get one shot using a focal length of 100mm which partially achieved what I wanted. The interior image was shot using 24mm wide-angle focal length. Good for the ruins but it makes for a tiny image of the Moon.

Shadows projected on Lomaki Pueblo.
Shadows projected on Lomaki Pueblo.

Finally, just before the Sun set we took some photos of our shadows projected on the ruins. Art? Hardly. Fun? Yes.