March 22, 2013:  Comet Pan-Starrs      All text and images Copyright Michael E. Lockwood, all rights reserved.

The weather for the last two weeks here on the Illinois prairie has generally been horrible.  Spring just won't arrive.  It's been cold, cloudy, often with howling winds and unpleasant wind chills.  Of course, this is when comet Pan-Starrs has shown up in the sky.

However, the skies cleared briefly on the evening of Wednesday, March 12.

I got out my 25x100mm binoculars and my camera and tripod.  We had some nice views through the binoculars, and I captured the image below with a 135mm lens, shooting in between high cloud wisps.  The lights of a moving car give a hint of the exposure time, which was one second.  The car is about one mile away, but the grain elevator at lower right is about five miles away.  Yes, I have horizons.

Telephoto lens shot of Pan-Starrs

What followed was over a week of nasty, cold, cloudy, dim, gray weather during which time the comet was not visible.

Up yours mother nature.

Finally, the skies cleared on March 21, though the moon was now high in the sky at sunset.  I decided to get the binoculars and my Equatorial Platforms tracking platform out so that I could put a camera and telephoto on it for some longer exposures.  My friend Dave stopped by with his 6" scope, and my friend Bob was to stop by later, after finishing off some pizza and beer.  The skies stayed nice and clear, but it got pretty cold.

Ready for comet observing/photography

As darkness fell, I was not having any luck sweeping up the comet with the binoculars.  A quick look at an online finder chart didn't help much, and I was afraid I was going to strike out on this moonlit night.  Dave had to leave before I found the comet, but I kept searching and finally found it quite low in the west.

I quickly found it in the camera and started shooting ~15s images.  As the comet dropped lower, I got out the pruning shears to cut some branches on a bush that were getting in the way!

The image below is the result of stacking five of those images, along with some simple processing.

Stack of five images

Not bad for a fairly bright moonlit night on a platform that I only guessed at polar aligning!  
No doubt I'll try some more shots on my upcoming New Mexico trip to deliver Tom Clark's 42" mirror.

Now the forecast holds 3-7 inches of snow this Sunday, so I'm ready to get the hell out of here for a while.

Please check back for future installments of "In the Shop".

Mike Lockwood
Lockwood Custom Optics

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