There are many stories going around the internet about a “Monster” Comet which is making a beeline for our solar system.
Called 2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein), this comet is currently 20 Astronomical Units (20x the distance of Earth) from The Sun.
The comet is absolutely huge, possibly over 100km in diameter.
Comets that big have the potential to make extremely bright apparitions, like Comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp), which put on a fantastic display in 1997, or Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), which gave a very fine display in 2020.
2014 UN271 is heading towards us, but will take quite a few years, reaching its closest to The Sun (Perihelion) in January 2031.
This has caused many stories to come out about us seeing a fantastic comet at that time.
Why there has been a sudden flood of interest, I do not know.
We have known about this object and its orbit since 2014.
Unfortunately, this is never going to give us a great show, as even at its closest, the comet is not going to get any nearer to The Sun than the planet Saturn.
As a result, it will not be close enough to The Sun to be heated properly to make it very active for it to produce a lot of gas and dust and a large coma.
Plus being such a long way from Earth, this will reduce its apparent brightness even further.
It will be extremely interesting to see how it behaves, being a brand new Oort Cloud comet, but you can ditch any idea of seeing a real spectacle.
From an amateurs point of view, it is only going to appear as a faint smudge of light at its very best. It will only be visible in large telescopes and revealed using deep long exposure photographs.
UPDATE 7th July 2021 Some reports suggest that the comet may not be as big as first thought, as it may have a large coma already which is making it look bigger than the solid nucleus. That’s what I love about comets, they always throw surprises.
So I will be following this story as it develops.
Unfortunately, even the Comet Interceptor will not be able to explore this celestial visitor for two reasons.
This cometary probe will be using solar panels to power it.
At the nearest distance of the comet, these panels will not supply enough power to keep it going as it will be too far from The Sun.
Plus it would take a number of years for a probe like this to match the comets motion in space, to keep up with it.
We saw this with the Rosetta comet probe a number of years ago, which took over a decade to reach Comet 67P.
I am constantly looking at different methods of processing images to develop better workflows and improve my images.
This is so I can see what different things work, and continue discovering new ways of processing images to improve the images.
When do process my images, I always try as hard as I can to make them look as natural looking as possible.
I always instil in people who attend my astrophotography workshops NOT to over-process their images.
As you can imagine, being such a purist, it really drives me mad to see so many really over-processed images popping up online and on social media, with all sorts of processing artefacts visible. But I am starting to think that I might be missing a real trick here.
In the early hours of the 20th of April, I was coming to the end of a short imaging session to capture Comet Leonard and some mono images.
I was desperate to try and get some RGB data to attempt a colour image with the setup I am trying out, but was short of bright objects to try it on.
I could see that Hercules was fairly high by this time, so despite the gathering murk, I though that I’d grab a few shots of The fantastic globular cluster M13.
I quickly rattled off a few shots using the three different coloured filters with the ZWO ASI183MM mono camera.
Now onto the processing.
It was never going to be a show-stopping image under those grotty conditions, but at least I got some RGB data to play with.
So, how did it turn out? The results are below.
The top image is a standard process using my tried and trusted technique.
The bottom image takes the processing a bit further, enhancing the brighter stars and their colours.
The bottom image, to my mind is well over-processed, but I felt that it does have something about it.
As an experiment, I thought I would put it to the test and posted them both on social media, asking which image folks preferred.
Apart from a few that liked the more natural looking top image, the vast majority of people who responded favoured the bottom image.
So this really was a eye-opener for me.
Does that mean I need to over-process my images to get more likes and shares, or should I stick to my principles?
My Sky Diary for June 2021 is now available to view on YouTube.
As well as the electronic version below, the Sky Diary is published electronically using a TeamUp calendar. Thank you very much to Steve Tonkin from binocular Astronomy and Neill Sanders from Go StarGazing, who are helping me to keep this right up to date.
To set up the calendar up on your mobile device, so you can carry it around and keep up to date,
download the TeamUp App from their Web Site: https://www.teamup.com
Being so busy lately, I’ve somewhat neglected my blog for a while, so it’s time to take it up again.
On the evening of the 25th of May, we finally got prospects of a reasonably clear evening.
Despite the late time of the sky getting dark, and an almost full Moon, I decided to get the scope set up and see if I can capture an image of Comet C/2020 A2 (Leonard).
This comet could give us a great show later in the year. (Where have we heard that before?).
See my YouTube video below describing what we might expect from the comet.
I contacted my mate Kev, so he popped round to see the ASIAIR in action.
I had another problem with the Off Axis Guider, so ditched that for this session, guiding with a 50mm guide scope.
Got all set up before The Moon got too high and bright, then sent the scope towards Merak to calibrate the position.
I then used Sky Safari to GOTO the comet, which wasn’t located too far from that first magnitude star.
We quickly identified that we were looking at the correct star field so the comet should be right in the centre.
So I rattled off a number of short 30-second subs, not knowing how fast the comet was moving.
(I will do longer subs next time).
Once stacked, I got this very nice image below, showing the comet near some very faint galaxies.
The comet is about 16th or 17th magnitude, so has a long way to go before it gives us a good show.
But I was well pleased to capture the comet so early in the year.
Once I finished that, The Moon was getting extremely bright, so I switched to the Hydrogen Alpha filter and went to the location of NGC6888, The Crescent Nebula in Cygnus.
The resulting image is shown below.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening, and great fun to catch up with Kev again.
Although it is starting to fade now, Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is continuing to give us a great display.
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s my latest YouTube video on finding the comet:
So as long as you are looking in the right direction, you should not miss it.
Before it got properly dark last night, I stepped out into the garden and was amazed to see that the comet is now so far north, that it was visible from my usual viewing spot by my shed. So it was a mad scramble to get out the mount, quickly polar align and take a few DSLR images of the coma through the scopes. I tried the C11 and the Mak-Newt. The Mac-Newt gave better images, due to it’s wider field of view and brighter image.
By the time I finished that, the comet was just about to disappear behind the neighbours roof.
So it was time to dash out to my darker site to capture more details in the dust and ion tails.
This comet has been depriving me of sleep, conditions were fairly appalling, and the surrounding towns were throwing loads of light up into the sky.
So I only did a quick imaging run before finishing by 12:30am before returning home to try and catch up on some much needed sleep.
Both images taken using a Nikon D750 DSLR.
First image of the core taken through my 190 Mak-Newt. Second image using my 72mm refractor.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you probably realise that there is a spectacular comet on display at the moment.
It’s Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE).
It’s so far north that it is visible from the UK throughout the night.
As the evening gets dark, the comet can be seen in the north-north-west, fairly low down, but a very easy naked eye object.
Here’s my latest YouTube video on finding the comet:
So as long as you are looking in the right direction, you should not miss it.
The comet is currently in the lower part of the constellation of Ursa Major, The Great Bear just by the front paws.
On the 17th of July, it clouded over in the northern sky just before the sky started to darken. Typical!
So instead of staying close to home, I packed everything into the car and ventured out south to hopefully get a view of it and bag some more images.
Only 7 miles from home, I found myself parked up at the side of a country road within the North Bedfordshire villages area with a clear view towards the north.
The comet was now well above the low clouds, so I very quickly setup the two driven mounts, doing a very rough and ready polar alignment on each one. The sky still wan’t totally dark, but I I started capturing subs.
As the sky darkened the extent of the dust tail could be seen. It was so long.
One the sky was totally dark, I could follow it for at least 8 or 9 degrees, using averted vision.
It was a fine sight through binoculars, the pseudo-nucleus appearing star-like and the tail visible across the whole field of view and just outside, so probably about 6 degrees or so. Funny that the naked eye could see a lot more.
There were still some interfering clouds, but I started rattling off shot after shot.
The main driven mount was carrying a 72mm refractor with my Nikon D750 full-frame DSLR capturing close shots to try and capture detail in the ion tail. This had shown some lovely red colouration a few days ago.
The second more flimsy driven mount had a Nikon D5100 DSLR with a variety of fixed and zoom lenses to capture wider fields of view to capture the complete extent of the dust and ion tails and some wide angle star fields around the comet.
The sky seemed to go very clear at one point, but there was always some thin cloud hovering around the comet, and scudding in front of the comet, making it a real challenge to capture really clean subs. But I persevered.
I was absolutely gob-smacked at how long the tail was coming out in my images.
This confirmed what I thought I could see with the naked eye.
I continued a variety of shots until by 1am the clouds finally won the battle.
I watched and imaged the ISS pass over and then packed up for the night.
Now hours of processing follow…
The animation at the bottom shows material moving along the ion tail.
This was created from 40 reasonably clear subs.
The subs were stacked in groups of 10 to create 4 individual images.
The four images were then put together into the animated GIF.
Being circumpolar means that the comet is visible throughout the night as it never sets from our latitudes.
The comet starts to become visible in the North-north-western sky as the sky gets dark, easily visible to the naked eye.
The comet is sporting a very bright dust tail, but it has also developed a very nice ion tail.
Some images, including a couple of mine, showing not only the expected blue colour within it, but there is red as well.
The tail is now at least 8 degrees in length and the tail/s should get longer as our perspective changes as the comet passes Earth later this month.
The image below shows the progression of the comet across the sky.
It is moving away from the area close to Auriga.
The bright yellow star Capella and Beta Aurigae, visible lower left are your best guides to find the comet.
Once Capella is visible in the fading twilight, start hunting for the comet.
Move left to find the beta star, then extend the line outwards and slightly upwards to find the comet.
It should be at least 15 degrees above the horizon at this time.
At it’s lowest at around midnight, it is still 9 degrees above the northern horizon.
By dawn it is visible low down in the north-north-eastern sky, but be quick, the brightening dawn from 3:30am BST will drown out the comets glow.
At the time of writing (15th July) the comet is in the constellation of Lynx.
Unfortunately this constellation is small and fairly indistinct, so it doesn’t have any bright stars within it, so Capella and beta are still your best guides.
By the 19th of July, the comet has moved further north and will be located right by the forelimbs of Ursa Major, The Great Bear, very close to the third magnitude star Iota (Talitha).
As the comet is getting closer to Earth it should be looking a lot bigger. How bright it will be at this stage no-one knows. but being closer to Earth it should hold its brightness quite well. At this time the comet will still be in Ursa Major, located directly below familiar seven stars of The Plough.
The direction the tail is pointed would have turned slightly anti-clockwise and should also appear a lot longer as our perspective changes.
On the 23rd of July Comet NEOWISE will be at its closest to Earth when it will be 103m Km distant, ~40x the distance of The Moon.
Will the comet fragment and fade long before then? Or will it get brighter?
The only way to know for sure is to get yourself out at any possible opportunity and have a look at this magnificent object.
Sleep’s for wimps!!
It could be more than 25 years before we see another comet as bright as this.