Tobias Watzl

Programmer, photographer, engineer.

Looking for a Comet...

About the importance of research for proper photography and how a chain of mistakes can lead to an unexpected, but great result.

Tobias Watzl

3-Minute Read

If you follow my blog posts regularly then you know by now that I am doing astrophotography from time to time. Especially if there are noteworthy events that can be easily spotted. As you surely have heard by now currently the comet C2020/F3 (NEOWISE) is visible in the night sky and as you probably also heard it is only visible in the early early morning hours.

With C2020/F3 returning only in 5000 years I thought I got to take this chance. So I tried to hunt it down.

As usual I consulted Stellarium on where to find “NEOWISE”. If you are into astro photography yourself then you probably already spotted my mistake here. Neowise is only the spacecraft which discovered the comet. The comet itself is actually called C2020/F3. So I did not do this properly and since there is only one comet popping up in the search of Stellarium when entering “NEOWISE” I assumed it to be this one. However it turns out the comet which is now visible was only discovered in March of this year.

So due to this mistake I assumed the comet I was looking for was C/2016 U1 and that it would be visible in a south-western direction. I did what I always do and searched and combined information from almost all available map services on the internet and looked for a nice elevated location facing in a south-western direction. I finally found one not far from Linz and so I set my alarm for 4am and prepared to shoot.

However here comes mistake number 2 into the game. Right now it is summer in the northern hemisphere and so the days are very long. Actually summer solstice was not long ago. And so it turned out that waking up at 4am was not early enough. I was on location at about 4:45am and at that point it was already quite bright. Though even if I were on site earlier I would probably not have seen the comet due to some cloud cover.

However out of all those mistakes comes something good. I would not have been able to take these photos if it weren’t for my botched planning. The panoramic view was amazing.

The image quality of some photos is not quite ideal. However given they are taken with a Nikon D90 and the lighting conditions they are still pretty nice. Since I could not see the comet I did not want to put up two tripods, so I shot all the landscape photos handheld.

They are quite noisy due to high ISO. Especially the telephotos look blurry. This is probably due to the sheer distance. While writing this post I tried to find out which mountains I actually photographed and if I am not mistaken those mountains are between 60 and 75 kilometers away!

From the photo location I had an unobstructed view towards the local steel mill “voestalpine” (current official capitalization) and it just so happened that while I was taking photos a train with slag was unloading. This also lead to some quite awesome photos.

Unfortunately I had to leave again and could not enjoy the whole sunrise, but on my way back I could still catch the train ;) Despite not seeing the comet the trip was actually a huge success.

To be continued…

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