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Subject: "Comet Alert: March 12-??" Previous topic | Next topic
nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Thu 07-Feb-13 01:11 PM
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"Comet Alert: March 12-??"
Sat 09-Feb-13 02:54 AM by nrothschild

US
          

This NASA Link discusses the Northern Hemisphere viewing opportunities for Comet Pan-STARRS. It also discusses another potentially much better comet expected to appear in November 2013.

On March 12 the comet will appear just slightly above and left of the 26 hour old new moon (USA East Coast). It is a great setup for a fabulous image!

I previously posted a discussion regarding Chasing New and Old Moons. It should be required reading for anyone planning to shoot this comet . Shooting thin crescent moons has always been a favorite of mine. Here we have a fortuitous coincidence where we have a comet and a very thin and challenging crescent moon. As such I've taken the liberty of pinning these two posts to the top of the forum for the duration of this Comet apparition.

In my prior post I included an image of a 29 hour moon. This should give you an idea of the expected conditions and difficulty. That 29 hour moon was about 3 hours older (USA East Coast) than this upcoming new moon in March, and therefore a tad easier than this will be. The younger the moon the more difficult to photograph because the moon is closer to the sun, and as a result the sky is brighter and the moon lower in altitude.

(To avoid confusion, the image in my prior post was intentionally shot to illustrate that new moon setting. It could have been, and was shot higher in the sky, but it was not very high when it first appeared)

In Great Britain, the moon will be about 5 hours newer than East Coast USA, or about 21 hours of age, even more difficult. On the West Coast USA it will be 3 hours older at sunset, or about 26 hours old, about the same as my posted image. In other words, the relative difficulty will be dependent on your longitude, and also latitude.

This comet will require a very clear view of the western horizon, something you can plan for. It will also require reasonably clear air at the horizon with no thick clouds. Tougher to plan for. Where I live (East Coast USA), March is a generally poor month for clear air but it is certainly possible. Just takes more luck than average.

My linked image was shot at 220mm on FX, and I think would make a nice composition for a comet. It can, of course, be shot at longer focal lengths and there are certainly good reasons to do so. However, you do not need specialized gear for this. I think a good landscape composition is more important.

Some general advice:

1. Pick your location well in advance.

2. Arrive 30-60 minutes before sunset, and be fully set up at the moment of sunset.

3. Bring binoculars and use them to locate the moon, which will be about 13 degrees above the sun and less than a degree "left" of it (it will be almost directly above the sun). It will NOT be visible at the moment of sunset. Expect to see it about 15 minutes later, when it will be at an altitude of about 10 degrees. With luck, my linked image suggests it is possible to follow it right down to the horizon.

The following evening or two will also be good, but with the moon 15 degrees further above the comet each night. After that the brightness of the waxing moon will increasingly interfere, although the comet will be slightly higher above the horizon, which may help a bit. But not much.

The full moon occurs March 27. A couple days after, the moon will be rising after dusk, again allowing for potential viewing and photography. However, I have not seen projections other than what is posted in that Nasa link. We should keep an eye out for that, and as the comet approaches, the quality of the predictions, in terms of brightness, should improve.

Good luck, and post your images!

_________________________________
Neil


my Nikonians gallery.

  

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Thu 07-Feb-13 06:17 PM
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#1. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0


US
          

Addiitonal note... Here is a link to Sky & Telescopes web site. this is a good bookmark and they should be updating the data regularly.

According to their data, about April 1 the comet passes very close to M31 (the Andromeda Galaxy). That is an interesting composition, of course. The good news is that around that date, M31 is still about 13 degrees above the horizon (at latitude 40N) a full hour after sunset.

And, on March 28 the nearly full waning moon rises an hour and a half after sunset. On each successive day the moon rises over an hour later each evening. This sets up a good window to get a reasonably dark and moonless sky.

The bad news is that, according to current brightness forecasts the comet is only expected to get to magnitude 3 (in early March), and that is not very bright for an extended object like a comet. By the end of March it is expected to be about Magnitude 5, which is fairly dim for a comet.

If the comet at least maintains the current prediction I think good images can be shot, but ideally it needs to be done in skies as dark and clear as possible. So it is a doable challenge .

_________________________________
Neil


my Nikonians gallery.

  

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lastdaylight Gold Member Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning in the Best of Nikonians 2013 images Photo Contest Nikonian since 09th Dec 2007Fri 01-Mar-13 03:39 AM
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#2. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 1


Dallas, US
          

Thanks very much for the heads-up, Neil. I'm getting excited about the potential opportunities to photograph this comet. From what I'm seeing, the 12th and 13th seem most interesting. On the 12th the moon is newer and closer to the head of the comet, as you mention. But, my software shows that the tail of the comet might go directly behind the moon on the 13th, with the higher and older moon. Does that look right to you?

Best,

Mark Smith
Just like I previsualized it, more or less...

My Nikonians Gallery

My Website, www.lastdaylight.com

  

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Sun 03-Mar-13 11:31 PM
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#3. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0


US
          

Spaceweather.com has an update on Pann-Stars. It is now very shoot-able from the Southern Hemisphere and will shortly be in a sunset object for us in the Northern hemisphere.

_________________________________
Neil


my Nikonians gallery.

  

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Mon 04-Mar-13 10:24 AM
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#4. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0
Mon 04-Mar-13 12:24 PM by nrothschild

US
          

Tonight, in Perth, Au, the chart below is the view about 45 minutes after sunset, drawn by Skymap Pro 10, with a few embellishments. This is about 15 minutes before the end of astronomical twilight, which is roughly when you might be able to photograph this comet. The horizon line is marked by the background color change.

You want to be set up at sunset, for reasons given below.

Anywhere in Australia, the setup will be about the same 45 minutes after your local sunset time. Adjust accordingly, or ask me for your local numbers.

As time passes, the skies get darker but the comet is sinking, along with everything else in the west, and that is the challenge of shooting a comet near the sun at sunset .

The sun sets at about compass azimuth 262 degrees (about 18 degrees south of due west).

The comet will be about 7 degrees altitude at this time, and compass azimuth 257 degrees.

The comet is about magnitude 2, which *may* be visible naked eye but I would be looking with binoculars. Figure out your field of view in your binoculars and use that to figure out where 7 degrees is located.

If the comet is visible, then your job is simple: frame the comet and expose for a nice dusk scene, and as long as possible (maybe a few seconds at various ISO's and a reasonably fast focal ratio- as wide as possible to minimize trailing.

If you cannot locate the comet, then determine the precise location where the sun set. Use a compass, adjusting for your local magnetic declination, or be there at sunset and note exactly where the sun sets.

The image below includes a rectangular frame equivalent to 100mm FX or about 65 degrees DX. If, at that focal length, and in landscape orientation, you place the point on the horizon of sunset in the lower right corner of the frame, as indicated by my white rectangle, you should have the comet well framed, as shown.

If you do see the comet, then shoot it at longer focal lengths. The tail imaged by a couple second exposure may only be about the width of the full moon. In my previous post I linked to spaceweather.com, where they currently illustrate an image shot at 140mm DX with a 3 second exposure f/4 ISO 1600. I picked 100 degrees FX because I thought that was the most sensible focal length to use if you need to shoot this "blind".

Edit: The spaceweather.com image has an imaged tail of as much as a couple of degrees. So my "moon width": is probably very conservative. You should be able to do better than that.

Tonight the comet will set about 1 hour 26 minutes after sunset. If you have a very low horizon and clear skies you should try shooting for that entire interval.

The chart below is marked with the path of the comet over the next 30 days. As you can see, it will track horizontally until about March 9, so you should have 5 evenings or so to get this right .

Good luck!


_________________________________
Neil


my Nikonians gallery.

Attachment #1, (jpg file)

  

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scriberoo Registered since 20th Dec 2011Mon 04-Mar-13 10:39 PM
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#7. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 4


Leederville, AU
          

Thanks to Mr Rothchild and his spot-on calculations as to where Panstarrs should be, I was able to find it in the far reaches of our sunset coastline in Perth. That was until a long black band of cloud emerged from the ocean and prevented me from taking any pictures. Serves me right for turning up late! The upside was being able to view it with the naked-eye - but not before seeking it out with a small pair of binoculars. I found it at 2 o'clock from where the sun had actually set. Someone did show me a decent pic of Panstarrs the night before and it had quite a decent tail on it. Good luck to our northern hemisphere folk. It will be well worth the wait!

Visit my Nikonians gallery.

  

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Mon 04-Mar-13 11:03 PM
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#8. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 7


US
          

>> I found it at 2 o'clock from where the sun had actually set.

2 o'clock or 10 o'clock? My chart suggests it should have been 10 (See above). If it was wrong I would like to know.

_________________________________
Neil


my Nikonians gallery.

  

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scriberoo Registered since 20th Dec 2011Mon 04-Mar-13 11:19 PM
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#9. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 8


Leederville, AU
          

Big correction here Neil. You are right. I really should put my watch on the other wrist! Apologies. What I overlooked mentioning was having a fantastic six minute view at 05:29 this morning of the International Space Station. Having only a 70-200 VR lens, plus the speed of the thing, meant I won't be able to get a decent snap of it.

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Mon 04-Mar-13 11:35 PM
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#10. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 9


US
          

I was starting to think that not only do you guys down under stand upside down all day, you run your clocks backward too

Most people that shoot the ISS let it trail, and they want it to trail. Otherwise the ISS looks like any other star.

There is an exception, and that is the guys that shoot it with a very long focal length and image the solar panels. They do that on a motorized mount, I think (not sure), but since the ISS is moving fast and not in the direction of the stars, it requires some sort of skill set I simply can not comprehend.

I have also seen the ISS imaged against the sun (and even an eclipse!). In that case, at least for an un-eclipsed sun, no special tracking is involved. You "just" have to stand in a very certain place, and snap the image at a very certain time (within something like 1 second or two as the ISS quickly transits the sun).

Some amazing feats of technology, and skill and daring, have been accomplished with the ISS. Most of us have to make due with an overly long star trail

_________________________________
Neil


my Nikonians gallery.

  

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Mon 04-Mar-13 11:27 AM
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#5. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0


US
          

While I was working on tonight's Australia map, here is a map for the USA Mid-Atlantic area on the evening of March 12, about an hour after sunset. The map is centered slightly north of due west, including the relevant part of the western sunset horizon.

Other areas of the country need to adjust for local time of sun set.

In this case, the comet is about dead center of the same 100mm FX frame. As marked, if you can make out the comet icon in that crowded area of the chart.

The comet is at compass azimuth 270 degrees (due east, as adjusted for compass magnetic declination). The sun sets about azimuth 266 degrees. Using the same "can't find it" strategy I discussed just above for Perth Australia tonight, you could just frame such that the sun is about dead center (horizontally) in the frame.

I picked March 12 because the moon (as marked) will also be visible. However, the comet will be slightly less than 3 degrees above horizon, and the moon just slightly greater than 2 degrees. This would be a very challenging shot, to say the least, requiring perfect skies and an absolutely flat horizon, probably over water.

In the following days, the comet climbs steeply, such that by about March 17 it will be a more comfortable 8-9 degrees above the horizon an hour after sunset. However, the moon will be approaching first quarter an will start to interfere. We in the northern hemisphere will not get the best if the lunar cycle here. But that is the lot of comet observers.

The "lunar window" will probably close around the 1st quarter on March 19 (perhaps a few days before). It will reopen the evening of March 28th, when the one day past full moon does not rise until about one hour 45 minutes after sunset, allowing a half hour or so to shoot the comet before moon rise.

But by then the comet will have dimmed to about mag 4-5. At that point you could probably shoot it with a serious astrophotography setup, including a motorized mount, but it will be increasingly challenging for simple fixed tripod photography. But don't let that discourage you from trying! Just know it won't be easy.

Looking at the path, and considering the moon, I suspect March 15th may be the "sweet spot" for this shot. But I would still try the following evenings. Hard to predict with precision.

While this is far from the comet of the century, I think it will be good practice for future comets and help sharpen your skills.



_________________________________
Neil


my Nikonians gallery.

Attachment #1, (jpg file)

  

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mborn1 Silver Member Nikonian since 21st Nov 2008Mon 04-Mar-13 12:05 PM
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#6. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0


Taunton, US
          

For those Nikionians that live in SE Massachusetts I am planning to be at Horseneck Beach the evenings of March 12-14 to photograph the comet. Please see my blog http://photobee1.blogspot.com/2013/03/comet-pan-starrs.html

Myer
Photo Bee1
http://photobee1.blogspot.com/
http://photobee1.com

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glxman Silver Member Nikonian since 04th Oct 2008Tue 05-Mar-13 03:06 AM
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#11. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0
Tue 05-Mar-13 03:07 AM by glxman

South Australia, AU
          

Thank you for all your effort Neil,
learnt a few things so far, found out that au is not just the symbol for Australia

2 questions
What time should the comet be visible in Adelaide Australia , and
How long an exposure would be the "best guess"?

Clouds are rapidly moving in so may be a non event here

Regards,
Gary

I used to have a photographic memory but never got it developed

  

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Tue 05-Mar-13 10:16 AM
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#12. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 11


US
          

Hi Gary,

Previously I said:

"Anywhere in Australia, the setup will be about the same 45 minutes after your local sunset time. Adjust accordingly, or ask me for your local numbers."

Here are the important numbers for Adelaide on March 8:

Sunset: 6:44pm
End of Civil twilight: 7:09pm
End of Nautical Twilight: 7:39pm
Comet Pan-Starrs sets: 7:56pm
End of Astronomical Twilight: 8:10pm

Ideally, you want to shoot faint objects after astronomical twilight ends, but the comet sets almost 15 minutes before that time. I previously suggested 45 minutes after local sunset as a very rough guide. Perhaps Richard can weigh on on this if he recalls the exact time he saw the comet, relative to his local time of sunset.

Somewhere around the end of nautical twilight something with the brightness of the comet will be reasonably well imaged. Remember that you are making a fundamental compromise here - the darker it gets the lower the comet relative to the horizon. Even if the skies are as clear as possible, there is a concept of "atmospheric extinction" where celestial objects dim as they approach the horizon and this increases exponentially the final few degrees.

Plus, the closer to the horizon the further you "see" in terms of distant clouds impacting the horizon.

On the other hand, I have imaged several one day old crescent moons right to the visible horizon. But a crescent moon is probably brighter than this comet now.

This is why I suggested you have your gear fully set up and ready to search for the comet at or before sunset. Somewhere between about civil and nautical twilight you should see the comet if it is going to be visible at all. That's the best I can pin it down.

I went into this detail because it is important to be able to roughly estimate these things in terms of the end of the various twilights, and how dark the skies typically appear at those times, the faintest stars that can be seen, and etc.

You have a couple of days to do this, perhaps through the 8th to 10th, so we will all pray for clear skies somewhere in there .

_________________________________
Neil


my Nikonians gallery.

  

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Tue 05-Mar-13 10:45 AM
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#13. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 11


US
          

Note: In Australia, your shooting window shortens by about 3 minutes per day. On March 4, the comet set 1 hour 26 minutes after sunset. On March 8, 4 days later, it sets 12 minutes earlier. Those are very critical minutes here, and making this a very complex horse race.

Your days are getting shorter as you are heading out of summer and into spring. Here in the northern hemisphere we have the opposite, our days are getting longer as we head out of winter into summer. This has an effect on the time "lost" each day during an event like this, where the Southern Hemisphere has a slight advantage now. A good astronomical ephemeris (such as my Sky Map Pro or Cartes Du Ciel, which is free) is required to work all this out according to local circumstances.

_________________________________
Neil


my Nikonians gallery.

  

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glxman Silver Member Nikonian since 04th Oct 2008Tue 05-Mar-13 11:25 AM
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#14. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 13


South Australia, AU
          

Thank you for the detailed info
Much appreciated,
As would have it, a lot of cloud moved in late so missed it
Not sure about heading out of summer, we are getting a couple of days at 38C, (100.4F), starting Monday and 90F plus for the rest of the week
Regards,
Gary

I used to have a photographic memory but never got it developed

  

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Tue 05-Mar-13 11:34 AM
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#15. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 14


US
          

I once tried to shoot a one day old moon. I was standing there, staring at a long thin horizontal cloud covering the moon. The rest of the sky, except that one really tiny triangular cloud, was clear azure blue . The sky was literally about 99% clear. This stuff is not easy. Keep trying

_________________________________
Neil


my Nikonians gallery.

  

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glxman Silver Member Nikonian since 04th Oct 2008Tue 05-Mar-13 11:57 AM
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#16. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 15


South Australia, AU
          

Thank you Neil,
Has been an interesting exercise,
And I thought shooting birds was hard
Regards,
Gary

I used to have a photographic memory but never got it developed

  

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Tue 05-Mar-13 12:02 PM
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#17. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 16


US
          

This is easier than birds. You see a comet, you should know which comet it is. You see a bird, it could be 400 different species

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Neil


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scriberoo Registered since 20th Dec 2011Tue 05-Mar-13 10:50 PM
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#18. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 17
Tue 05-Mar-13 10:50 PM by scriberoo

Leederville, AU
          

Not only are you proficient in describing the location of our celestial guests Neil, you are quite the comedian! Makes a refreshing change to communicate with someone without a stiff collar! Unfortunately, I was prevented from a good viewing by cloud yet again. Nonetheless, I'll be trying my luck once more tonight. Cheers!

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scriberoo Registered since 20th Dec 2011Wed 06-Mar-13 02:33 PM
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#19. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 18


Leederville, AU
          

I snapped Panstarrs last night, but I was standing on a jetty with a ferocious cross breeze and had to put my body on one side of the camera to prevent the wind from moving it. It ruined the whole night. Panstarrs did not come into view until it was practically over the setting sun. I hope our Northern Hemisphere friends have a better view of our guest in the coming days. I might have better luck tomorrow.


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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Wed 06-Mar-13 03:59 PM
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#20. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 19


US
          

>> I snapped Panstarrs last night, but I was standing on a jetty with a ferocious cross breeze and had to put my body on one side of the camera to prevent the wind from moving it. It ruined the whole night.

Very nice job! I'm encouraged, for my sake, waiting for next week to get here.

You may be aware that I also moderate the tripod forum, where I have long advocated erring on the side of beefing up the tripod, perhaps more than some think "necessary".

One of the reasons I do that is that I have too often found myself in difficult conditions trying to do a shot I need to do NOW, regardless of conditions. In particular, astronomy related imaging.

Your comment made me feel quite vindicated . Sorry it came at your expense though!

Did you hang some weight from the tripod? Try 8-10 pounds if your tripod is sturdy (not sure what you are using?). Also try shooting with the tripod legs extended as little as possible, even if you have to lay on the ground to do it. Besides helping to stabilize the tripod, the wind should diminish considerably near the ground.

A right angle viewfinder can also be helpful here, although expensive if you have no other general use for one. Depending on how low you get, you may want to use LiveView, which I use anyway for situations like this, just to get focus and make sure that dim thing is really framed right.

I keep a set of scuba diver's lead weights handy, with some cord threaded through, in order to be able to shoot low and use weights. Something like a photo back back is often too big and/or bulky to shoot low and weighted down.

I always try to shoot these low to the horizon shots from an ocean or water view but wind is always exacerbated.

I would also try shooting at f/2.8, or at most f/4. I've shot many astro images with my 70-200 (old version) at f/2.8 or f/4 (see here for example).

There are only two reasons to stop down: 1) to increase sharpness and 2) to reduce corner vignetting, which I find a problem, on FX, with my older 70-200.

In the case of #1, this is a double edged sword when doing multi-second exposures because any increase in sharpness is accompanied by increased movement due to celestial motion. See my pinned topic regarding the calculation of the rate of movement of celestial objects.

Vignetting is not really an issue in this case because the image can use some cropping anyway. It was an issue for me in my linked example of the setting crescent moon. But that can be corrected in post and that is where it should be dealt with.

In the case of wind, doubling or quadrupling your exposure (f/4 or f/5.6 verses f/2.8) will almost surely result in a dramatic degradation, verses shooting wide open, even with support much sturdier than most people own. Far more than any minor improvement in optical sharpness you might get from stopping down.

And in particular, with your 70-200, that lens has a relatively huge cross section, exacerbating the "sail effect" as the wind pushes against that very long lens, and it makes the lens want to rotate or swivel around the lens foot. Conversely that lens is pretty decent wide open.

Some (most?) lenses will have problematic coma or astigmatism in the corners when shot wide open. But similar to vignetting, the corners are not important here because you will likely crop them out anyway. And that is only a problem if you have stars int he corners, which you do not have here.

And finally, any celestial object shot near the horizon (especially below 10 degrees or so) will be naturally blurred by all the air you have to shoot through. It puts a ceiling on the amount of resolution possible. Try shooting a high resolution image of the full moon rising and this will become very obvious- it simply can't be done.

If you ever see a landscape with a crisp long focal length image of the moon rising, it was probably a Photoshop cut and paste job .

Personally I treasure my fast lenses for exactly the case here- a very difficult shot in a bad wind. Take advantage of it . Or, at least, bracket your aperture to see what works best, and, of course, take at least a dozen frames at each bracket in order to try to catch a lull in the wind, or at least a lull in the vibrations.

There are some things you can easily do to improve your image. Here is a screen scrape from Capture NX2. I set up a modest crop, but importantly I did a severe contrast stretch in the Quick Fix curve tool (see red circle).



With that simple curve stretch I was able to bring out the comet considerably. This is a very standard post processing step for just about any extended and faint celestial subject, and especially when dawn or dusk reduces contrast, as it does here. The dusk sky does add immensely to the image, though.

You will have far better results when working with the original high res raw image.

There are other post processing steps you can take in order to bring out the contrast. For example, in CNX2 I would also put a color control point (CCP) on the blue sky and darken a bit, and extending the range to cover the entire image, or duplicating the CCP to get full coverage.

There are other ways to skin that cat. The idea is that you have a rather low contrast scene, as indicated by the histogram. You want to "expand that histogram", no matter how you want to go about it. The images you see posted on the net rarely if ever just drop out of the camera that way.

That can also be done, in reverse, for localized adjustments of the corners in the event that the standard vignette tool does not fully unwind the corners and you don't want to crop. My own older 70-200 vignettes much more at or near wide open than the Capture tool can deal with.

You did a good job with this. It takes a few iterations to get the shooting part right and to learn to feel your way through all the edges of the various envelopes you need to deal with. I hope you get another chance tonight!

A truly great comet will be high overhead well into dark or even all night. I remember going out at midnight and observing Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997, high overhead. I was amazed because that is just not the norm.

In order for that to occur the comet must come into the solar system in an orbit reasonably perpendicular to the ecliptic plane, which is the "disk" within which all the planets rotate about the sun.

The comet also needs to be extremely bright because it will be well overhead when it is about 1 Astronomical Unit (AU) from the sun. One AU is the nominal distance of the Earth from the Sun, and in fact the comet would basically be "directly above" the Earth when it is visible high in the sky at midnight.

Most comets are not very bright at that distance from the sun, and generally are "bright" somewhere around the orbit of Mercury or perhaps Venus.

It is that required combination of a perfectly placed orbit (perpendicular to the ecliptic) and extreme brightness that makes major comets so rare.

Halley's Comet did that in 1910, and in fact the Earth actually passed through the tail. It created a panic of sorts because many were concerned that the tail might contain poisonous gases that could seriously disrupt life on Earth. Of course, we persevered .

More typically, though, the conditions you have here, with the comet only becoming photographically and visually bright when very close to the sun, is more the norm, even with a reasonably "decent" comet as we have here.

I would say that 200mm FX is probably about the minimum needed here. A bit more than I was hoping we could get away with, based on that spaceweather.com image I previously linked to. But about what I was afraid would be needed. It just means that the comet needs to be visually located in order to shoot it. You did not seem to have a problem so that bodes well for others trying to do this.

P.S. I'm glad you enjoy my occasional humor. I was never one for starching my shirts, even back when I had to show up in an office every day .

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Neil


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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Wed 06-Mar-13 04:04 PM
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#21. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 20


US
          

P.P.S. I see you shot this at ISO 1000. On a D3s, with a wind creating severe problems, and generally with the scene as we have here, with not much detail anywhere, I would not hesitate to at least bracket some shots up to even ISO 3200.

Personally I try to shoot astro images at the lowest ISO possible, but in a severe wind something has to give and a little noise that can be easily eliminated with modest noise reduction, and especially considering that there is no fine detail here (the comet being very diffuse and no stars yet present), a little noise is surely the least evil here.

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Wed 06-Mar-13 04:44 PM
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#22. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 20


US
          

I want to add some more detailed comments about exposure, and this is without regard for the wind you experienced. You will need to factor in wind problems as conditions dictate.

Your objective here is to maximize the length and breadth of the comet tail. A "well exposed" image of the comet will dramatically overexpose the head of the comet and even a good bit of the inner tail, but that is not a pressing concern. You can either live with it or bracket and combine into an HDR.

Your limiting factor (notwithstanding wind, of course) is the movement of the celestial sphere. According to my calculations in the pinned post on this topic, for 12mpx FX, stars move at a rate of 0.88 pixels per second. Your exposure was 2s, and your focal length 200mm. That puts the rate of movement at 0.88*2*2 or about 3.5 pixels.

If you had stars in the image, then the movement would be more problematic, and in that case you are near the wall for a reasonably trail-free image. But given the diffuseness of the comet and the lack of any other detail, the amount of movement this particular scene could stand is very debatable and good for at least a bit more movement before the argument would get heated .

One more stop of exposure puts you at 7 pixels of blur, and that is why a 2-3s exposure is somewhere near the wall here.

In terms of an optimal exposure, without regard for star trailing, you want as much exposure as the scene can stand. In the case of this scene, as shot, that exposure would put the reds of the lower dusk sky at or just over "blown" at 255 on the 8 bit scale. Typically I would set my camera to display the red channel blinking highlights and increase exposure to fully expose the reds.

Another approach is to ignore the reds, either by intending to crop them out or by using a longer focal length. Depends on your goal but remember that the most important part of the scene is the comet tail.

For your image, even your red channel appears to be about 2 stops from maximum possible exposure. Given the situation, especially the wind, this argues for shooting wide open, maintaining the same shutter speed and ISO, with fully a exposed - but not blown - red sky.

Increasing ISO would further bring out the comet tail, but at the expense of noise (and the reds). And here is your final decision, and that ideally dictates for bracketing ISO, cross matrixed into some shutter speed bracketing.

Based on your comments about the wind, I suspect this was more or less an isolated "miracle shot" out of a run of generally wind blurred images. So in that case I would just push the ISO and call it a day. You can always fix the noise in post. And I would probably have been reluctant to increase shutter speed only because it would further diminish what little yield you probably got. It's tough to do a lot of bracketing when the yield is very low.

I mention this because your conditions might improve tomorrow night, plus it is a useful exercise for others who may be blessed with calmer winds.

If you do push the exposure another couple of stops, you might conclude that it was actually counterproductive based on what you see in the images while chimping in the field.

Underexposing, as you did here, will result in an image that appears to have more contrast. Increasing the exposure will have the effect of apparently washing out the fainter outer tail you are trying to improve. But that will all change in post processing when you contrast stretch your image! So don't let that fool you. Go for the richest exposure possible, regardless of what you see in the in-camera images on the rear camera screen.

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Neil


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scriberoo Registered since 20th Dec 2011Thu 07-Mar-13 01:20 AM
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#23. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 22


Leederville, AU
          

Many thanks for your wonderfully indepth feedback Neil. I can tell you, it is genuinely appreciated and more than helpful. I used a remote which I found very useful under the extreme conditions, while I simulataneously protected the camera from the wind. Bracketing the images is a good idea, but I was already kept on alert for the darkening conditions. You're spot on with regards to focussing on the trail. I found that quite challenging, perhaps because of the location of the comet itself. I'll most certainly push the ISO's tonight though and see how I go. I was over cautious I guess. Wish me luck! Thanks again for your help. Oh, and yes, I am in the market for a decent tripod. The one I have is fine for many events but not for cyclonic winds!

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Thu 07-Mar-13 01:30 AM
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#24. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 23


US
          

I also tend to be overly conservative with ISO, and that's why I stress it. If I keep repeating it, some day I may even listen to my own advice .

For focus, try focusing on the brightest star in the sky. In many cases, especially at typical telephoto focal lengths, cameras do a good job autofocusing on very bright stars.

You have Jupiter at about 32 degrees altitude at dusk, and to the upper right (north) of the comet now. That should make for a very good focus target.

After you shoot the comet you can also try to image Jupiter's equatorial bands and moons, as has been posted here recently. You probably need about 500mm for that on FX, more if you have it.

And even if you use LiveView (which is probably more reliable if you do a good job with it) it is far easier to focus on a star than a diffuse object like a comet.

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Neil


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simonsi Registered since 17th Apr 2003Fri 08-Mar-13 08:55 AM
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#25. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0
Fri 08-Mar-13 08:57 AM by simonsi

Auckland, NZ
          

Managed to get Pan-STARRS last night and tonight, massive crop gave me this:



This was taken from the Southern hemisphere, about 40mins after sunset. The Comet is only becoming visible when close to setting now so the shooting window is quite short.

More in my gallery

Cheers

Simon

A New Zealand Nikonian

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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Fri 08-Mar-13 01:18 PM
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#26. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 25


US
          

Nice job! Glad you got a chance to observe and image it.

I am, as usual, scheduled for rain and heavy clouds for the 12th . Maybe the following evening but I will almost surely miss that nice conjunction.

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Neil


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simonsi Registered since 17th Apr 2003Fri 08-Mar-13 07:55 PM
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#27. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 26


Auckland, NZ
          

Thanks Neil, fingers crossed you get a break in the weather.

Cheers

Simon

A New Zealand Nikonian

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lastdaylight Gold Member Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning in the Best of Nikonians 2013 images Photo Contest Nikonian since 09th Dec 2007Tue 12-Mar-13 04:00 AM
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#28. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0


Dallas, US
          

Here's a shot from the Dallas/Fort Worth area tonight, 3/11, 8:30 CDT.

And, here's the story. I never saw the comet while I was out shooting. We had a completely cloudless day and cool, calm evening - absolutely perfect (except for the light pollution thing.) I kept scanning the sky with binoculars and never saw anything. Finally at 8:30, about 57 min after sunset, I decided to shotgun it and just started shooting the horizon to see if anything showed up in the pictures. Looking through them, it turned out I did get it, but really nothing to write home about... I could probably get a better shot if I could see the subject Clouds willing, we'll keep trying.

D700, 70-200 VR @200mm, f/2.8, 1/4 sec, ISO 1600







Mark Smith
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jhanes55 Silver Member Nikonian since 19th Feb 2010Tue 12-Mar-13 04:08 PM
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#29. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 28


Surprise, US
          

Mark,
I like your shot even with light polution. The skyline gives a good reference and your non -technical no frills settings I understand

Jerry

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lastdaylight Gold Member Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning in the Best of Nikonians 2013 images Photo Contest Nikonian since 09th Dec 2007Tue 12-Mar-13 04:37 PM
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#30. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 29


Dallas, US
          

Thanks Jerry. I'm definitely no-frills. It's still a pretty weak result. I was so convinced that there was nothing to see that I didn't take the time to try to milk the best shot I could out of it. We'll see if the clouds stay away tonight...


Mark Smith
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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Thu 14-Mar-13 12:38 AM
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#38. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 28
Thu 14-Mar-13 12:40 AM by nrothschild

US
          

Hi Mark,

I think you did a good job with this. As I mentioned in a prior post, it is a good idea to expose the sky as richly as possible and then play with it in post to decrease exposure and stretch the contrast.

However... that works best when shooting well after nautical twilight or preferably after astronomical twilight.

This comet (and perhaps the typical comet) forces you to shoot in bright twilight, and the gains from a richer exposure are quite marginal. The problem is that the sky is as bright as the outer tail of the comet so there is not a whole lot you can do to improve it.

One thing you could have done, for the next session, is to shoot the wide angle image to find the comet, and then, using that image, try to zero in with a longer focal length. Not an exact science of course, but at that point you know the approximate altitude (if you complete the sequence relatively quickly!).

Just some ideas. Tough problem and as I said, I think you did well.

I zeroed out tonight because of one cloud. The rest of the sky was cloudless and I guess reasonably clear (but not ideal). This is why I don't like spring time horizon subjects where I live. Just the wrong time of year, and I have gone through this for years trying to shoot new moons in spring time when they are best shot (notwithstanding weather).

As a consolation prize, I did get around 1000 frames of a Black-tailed Godwit today. This is a European bird that shows up in the USA about once a year, somewhere. Perhaps rarer than a comet!

And a couple of days ago a Crested CaraCara. That may be as common as Robins down in Texas but around here it was a first in state (and in an adjoining state; I don't think mine has never seen one).

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Neil


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lastdaylight Gold Member Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning in the Best of Nikonians 2013 images Photo Contest Nikonian since 09th Dec 2007Wed 13-Mar-13 04:43 AM
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#31. "Nice Sunset"
In response to Reply # 0


Dallas, US
          

Great conjunction and nice sunset, but unfortunately nice sunset means clouds. Got shots that were too early and too late, but clouds blocked 15 or 20 minutes of "prime time." Not much comet in this shot... Who knows, maybe tomorrow. Have you been able to get anything Neil?







Mark Smith
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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004Wed 13-Mar-13 08:06 AM
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#32. "RE: Nice Sunset"
In response to Reply # 31
Wed 13-Mar-13 08:10 AM by nrothschild

US
          

I was completely weathered out last night, and the prior two nights the horizon was too murky. We've been dominated by moist southern air lately, and it is making even birding difficult.

Edit: according to the light curves on the Sky & Telescope link in the first posts here, the comet is apparently peaking around mag 0, rather than the mag 2 previously estimated. So it isn't a fizzle.

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lastdaylight Gold Member Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning in the Best of Nikonians 2013 images Photo Contest Nikonian since 09th Dec 2007Wed 13-Mar-13 02:24 PM
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#33. "RE: Nice Sunset"
In response to Reply # 32


Dallas, US
          

Sorry to hear of your weather woes, Neil. Hope things improve soon. No, it's not a bust, but it is still difficult to get a stunning shot.


Mark Smith
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avm247 Moderator Awarded for high skills in documentary architecture and aviation photography Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Charter MemberWed 13-Mar-13 04:17 PM
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#34. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0


Rancho Cordova, US
          

Hoping to get some shots tonight or tomorrow.


Anthony

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MotoMannequin Moderator Awarded for his extraordinary skills in landscape and wildlife photography Nikonian since 11th Jan 2006Wed 13-Mar-13 05:41 PM
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#35. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0


Livermore, CA, US
          

We had clouds on the horizon last night. Also I was shooting an event and didn't really have any time to try to find higher ground. I will try again tonight and have a better opportunity to get onto a hilltop.

Larry - a Bay Area Nikonian
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2pixels_short Gold Member Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning in the Best of Nikonians 2013 images Photo Contest Nikonian since 16th Oct 2003Wed 13-Mar-13 09:29 PM
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#36. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0


Anchorage, US
          

This thing is kickin' my butt. Some disappointing images so far. Will be back out tonight for one more try before the Moon takes over.

Mike in Alaska


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lastdaylight Gold Member Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning in the Best of Nikonians 2013 images Photo Contest Nikonian since 09th Dec 2007Wed 13-Mar-13 10:34 PM
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#37. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 36


Dallas, US
          

I'm with you on that, Mike. Nothing but kicked butt so far...

Best,

Mark Smith
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benveniste Moderator Awarded for is high level skills in various areas, including Macro and Landscape Photography Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his generous suppport to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Nikonian since 25th Nov 2002Thu 14-Mar-13 02:49 AM
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#39. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0


Boston Area, US
          

I was able to see it today through a 60mm fieldscope, but I did not get any usable shots. I'll try to do better later in the year.

"There is no real magic in photography, just the sloppy intersection of physics and art." — Kirk Tuck

  

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lastdaylight Gold Member Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning in the Best of Nikonians 2013 images Photo Contest Nikonian since 09th Dec 2007Thu 14-Mar-13 05:16 AM
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#40. "Try at Infrared"
In response to Reply # 0


Dallas, US
          

Got more marginal images tonight, but it did occur to me that perhaps an infrared shot would darken the sky and improve contrast. I think it helped some - if you have an IR converted body give it a try. From this evening, Mar 13.

IR D200, 70-200mm w TC1.4 for 280mm, f/5.6, 2.5 sec, ISO 800







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mborn1 Silver Member Nikonian since 21st Nov 2008Thu 14-Mar-13 11:55 AM
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#41. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 0


Taunton, US
          

Last Night tried for the comet, but did not see it Took photos and on my computer is a couple of the last slides there it was at the bottom.
First photo is a vertical with the Crescent Moon at the top and the comet in the RL Corner. The second is a large crop





Myer
Photo Bee1
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Attachment #1, (jpg file)
Attachment #2, (jpg file)

  

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lastdaylight Gold Member Laureate Ribbon awarded for winning in the Best of Nikonians 2013 images Photo Contest Nikonian since 09th Dec 2007Fri 15-Mar-13 03:16 AM
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#42. "RE: Comet Alert: March 12-??"
In response to Reply # 41


Dallas, US
          

Nice job of getting of the moon and comet together. It was a very tough shot.

Mark Smith
Just like I previsualized it, more or less...

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