This evening I ventured out as I do each month to photograph the new crescent moon. As far as moons go it was not as spectacular as I have seen. And to make make matters worse, I forgot to bring along my tripod! How did that happen, I don’t know but now I had to either hand hold my heavy Nikon D2x with a 400mm lens or just resign to the idea that today we are just going to sight it and that’s all. Well…the photobug that bit me 20 years ago and still has a hold on me gnawed at me some more and I did hand hold the camera and if I did not surprise myself I still came away with an acceptably sharp photo.
What made tonight interesting was not just the moon. As we drove along Skyline Highway atop the northern stretches of the Santa Cruz Mountains, we passed by a couple of women at my closest emergency go-to location when I am running late to sight the moon with a telescope set up and pointed out towards the setting sun. I pulled over a few hundred feet from where they were set up and consulted with my team of moon sighters, aka my photo-assistants, aka my kids if we should stop there or continue on our way to our normal location on Russian Ridge. The consensus was to stop there and we could possibly get a chance to look through their scope at whatever they came out to see.
So we made a u-turn and pulled in close to where they had parked. Come to my surprise there were others there as well waiting for something. I walkd up to the two women and asked what they were there to see only to find out that on this evening, about 30 minutes after sunset a comet was to appear just to the left of and above the moon! Wow! I asked if they would mind if I set up my camera next to them since I was there to sight the new moon and we could possibly sight it together. They welcomed it and we parked it there, and it was at this time that I discovered I had no tripod.
As the sun made its way down more and more people started appearing to see this comet. Discussion took place and I began to inform people about the moon and its location. I was the first to see the moon at 7:17 pm PDT, just three minutes after sunset. It was a fairly old moon about 30.5 hours old so it was fairly easy to see for me and my team of moon sighters. My team and I all saw it within about 5 minutes of my initial sighting. I then started to point it out to the others there and making my photos. The photo of the moon posted was taken at 7:34 pm PDT.
I started to ask about the name of the comet and discovered that it was called PAN-STARR. I opened my starmap application on my phone and started to look for that comet. It took me a while as most comets are named after the equipment used when it was first spotted. After some searching and comparing locations in the sky with those on the star map, I discovered that our comet in question is PAN-STARRS 2012 T2 and that it would be easily visible on this evening and the following evening March 12th.
At about 7:50 pm PDT, my youngest son, age 11, cries out – “I see it! Its just a dot just to the left of the moon”. Sure enough about three fingers width to the left of the moon there was a small star. Through my camera lens the comet’s tail was visible but the light had dimmed so much that the exposures were now pushing 1 to 2 seconds long. There just happened to be another photographer there and he came up to me in the dark and asked what kind of a camera mount I needed. He asked if I could mount to a Really Right Stuff plate and whoa I could! He offered up his tripod and I accepted. I made several photos of the comet, from about 8:00 pm to 8:10 pm before some clouds obscured the comet.
The following photo was my favorite of the bunch. It was a wonderfully serendipitous evening. Going out for the moon and coming back with not only that, but a comet as well! The company was great and all who were there were glad that I was able to capture the comet in a photo. I handed out my contact information to many who were there and most were interested in seeing the photo on the website. So if you happened to be there this evening the following photo is for you. Thanks for making it a great evening!