Monday, May 27, 2013

A Conjunction and Orbital Plane Crossing!

After Melinda got safely off to work tonight, I headed west of Tucson looking for a suitable foreground for the planetary conjunction.  Tonight is about the best view of the trio, so I went to my standby background of Kitt Peak National Observatory.  It is easy to head south on the Sasabe Road from Three Points to position the Observatory at nearly any western view.  Back 7 weeks ago I used it for the Moon-PanSTARRS conjunction, so figured it would work again.

Unfortunately, there were some clouds near the western horizon, but sometimes they can add a lot to a photo, so I continued on my quest.  I set up about 15 miles south of Three Points, after a quick check with binoculars showed I needed continue another half mile or so.  I set up the new Vixen Polarie tracking platform, as I expected using a telephoto lens and a couple second exposure might show some trailing.  Using its half-speed mode, it split any trailing between the planets and the Observatory.

There was a little orange color visible in the clouds from last remnants of the sunset, but otherwise the Observatory is nearly invisible, but the planets were caught before clouds hid them.  I can't decide which I like best, but likely this last one at the intermediate telephoto setting (used 70X200 zoom with 1.4 converter for 180mm on this last one, 2 seconds at F/8).  Feel free to let me know which one you prefer, and of course, click the image to load a full version!  For those of you new to this triple planetary conjunction, the lowermost bright object is Venus, with Jupiter to upper left, Mercury at upper right.  As you continue to watch through this week, Jupiter will continue its dive downwards, Mercury and Venus will continue in the western sky for the next few weeks.

After packing up the equipment and heading back towards town, I realized that in the darkening sky, the moon was not up yet, and right in front of me as I headed north was Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) right next to Polaris - and tonight was the orbital plane crossing!  The anti-tail has been quite impressive of late, and I've not seen it for a week since a few days before full Moon, so I pulled over and set up the camera again.  This time, I was even too lazy to set up the tracking platform, but used the zoom lens at F/2.8 at 135mm.  A 30 second exposure easily showed the comet and anti-tail with minimum trailing so close to Polaris, which is in the upper left of the picture.  This image consists of 7 images, stacked and rotated to match up.  At lower left is NGC 188, and it is the anti-tail that is pointing towards the sun towards lower left!  In binoculars I could see the comet and make out part of its tail.  So it is still pretty impressive photographically, even without tracking equipment!  Just about the biggest bang with the least amount of equipment ever used!

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