I managed to grab a few shots of comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) as it flew past the Beehive cluster (M44) in the constellation of Cancer. Lovejoy is one of four bright comets currently visible in the early morning sky, including the much anticipated ISON. Unfortunately I don’t have the will power to get up at 5am to enjoy the show, but Lovejoy hangs much higher in the sky at this point, so appears much earlier. (These images were taken between 1 and 1.30am local time).
The comet is still pretty dim at the moment at magnitude 6.2, and invisible to the naked eye. But it should continue to brighten for the next month or so, hopefully developing a more pronounced tail as it dives toward the Sun.
A single 30 second exposure was enough to bring out the comet’s intense green colour caused by poisons gasses spewing from the core. I captured a total of 40 exposures at 30 second each stacking them in Deep Sky Stacker to create the 20 minutes image shown here.
Stacking the images centred on the comet results in the streaking of the background stars due to the huge speed of the comet (roughly 100,000 mph). DSS does give the option to stack the comet and the stars separately (so both are sharp). This sounds great, but in practice didn’t work too well and I actually prefer the original 3 minute exposure stacked on the stars.
Comet Lovejoy Update 30th November..
Comet Lovejoy is best seen in the hours before dawn, where it sits nice and high in the sky. But thankfully for people like me who enjoy their sleep, it’s also now visible in the evening sky as well. It appears lower down at this time, so the conditions aren’t as good, but it has allowed me to revisit the comet to see how it’s doing as it nears the Sun…
The comet, seen here gliding past the Sunflower galaxy (M63), has grown a pretty huge tail in the last month! Although I’ve found long exposures of the comet difficult to take due to its massive speed, the image below with the levels pushed to the maximum shows some nice detail in the tail.