Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lights in the sky

Earlier this month there were some news stories written about a newly-discovered comet, Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3), that was predicted to come perilously close to the sun and not survive the encounter. Much to the surprise of many of those who follow and study such things, not only did the comet survive but as it moves away from the sun it now appears to be the finest comet seen since Comet McNaught in 2007 (C/2006 P1, also known as the Great Comet of 2007). If I was in Australia I could possibly see Comet Lovejoy looking like this:

Image copyright Lester Barnes

As for Comet McNaught it looked like this in late January from Australia:

Image copyright Robert McNaught

What an awesome sight that must have been!

About a week or so earlier in January Comet McNaught was visible in the northern hemisphere. It was so bright that it was visible during daylight hours. I tried looking for it using a building to block out the sun but I never saw it. I did try my luck photographing it at dusk. I managed to get a few pictures before it disappeared behind an advancing wall of low clouds:

Comet McNaught (C/2006 P1) 

Not a very awe-inspiring sight compared to how it appeared over Australia just a few days later. Still, comets that get this bright are uncommon, so I appreciate what I saw nonetheless. C/2006 P1 won't be back again in about 92,600 years.

(Shot with the Nikon D200 using the Nikon 300mm f/4 lens; program mode; camera chose 1/100 second at f/5; matrix-metered; -0.7 exposure compensation; ISO 800; normal JPG.)