Comet Neowise from a Chennai terrace

Author: Ravi Kailas
The barely discernible Comet Neowise in the only image I managed to capture, before the clouds took over

An unusually (relatively speaking) clear July sky over Chennai (13N 80 E) yesterday evening (21/07/2020), prompted me to drag my behemoth 8″ Dobsonian telescope onto the terrace, to enjoy the spectacles that the summer night sky, with the star rich regions of the Milky Way, its numerous star clusters, star clouds and Nebulae, (potentially!) visible in the early hours of the night. Saturn (just past opposition, incidentally) and Jupiter, also rise just after sunset and plonk (not exactly) themselves at a nice height to view, at an ‘earthly’ time of the night. While fiddling around with pointing the telescope at Saturn, with a temperamental base (that rotates smoothly for 358 degrees and tightens up for the other 2, invariably, just in the part of the sky that I want to look) and guide scope, I happened to turn around and look at the section of the barely exposed (from my terrace, given a tall building that blocks a chunk of the sky in this direction) northwest section of the sky, through my 10×42 binoculars, to find a faint, fuzzy bluish-green source of light. Suitably interested, I clicked a hasty picture with a 40-150 2.8 lens on an M43 camera, at 150mm (300mm full frame equivalent) for 5 seconds @f2.8, ISO 200 (I would have pushed this to 3200, if I had a bit of time to think) which showed up the faint vestiges of a tail (light pollution and high clouds in that section of the sky, the culprits, I suspect, apart from likely imperfect focus, given the hasty set-up), confirming that it was indeed a comet and my Star Walk 2 app, confirmed that it was Neowise. While it was a far cry from the brilliant pictures circulating online, and, I am given to believe, views through the binoculars, that this comet (a naked eye object, the likes of which was last seen when Comet Hale-Bopp graced our skies in the 90s) has delighted watchers of the northern skies with, over the last month or so,  it was nice to see  it all the same, in Chennai’s almost perennially hazy skies (I did try earlier as well, in a brief window of somewhat clear sky, around sunset, a couple of days ago but no go). Hoping to get an opportunity at a better view though! The good news, that the Comet is projected to stay longer  above the horizon in the early part of the night, for the next few days at least. Just for reference, I saw the comet at around 19.40, a few degrees below and southwest of Ursa Major’s pointer star, but as for all celestial objects, its position is dynamic and if you are seeking an audience with this tailed wonder, you would be well advised to look at its current position, rising/setting times, with a night-sky app.

However the night was not just about the comet, and I had good views of the double double (Epsilon Lyrae – a star system that appears as a single star to the naked eye, but reveals itself, with the appropriate magnification/resolution, as a double star, and look closer, with a companion each – a great test for your optics and eyes!) in Lyra, Alpha (and one of its companion stars) and Beta Centauri, shining bright, low in the south, the crisply clear summer triangle formed by Vega, Deneb and Altair, the stunning contrast between a golden-yellow star and its bluish-white companion of Albireo, the vast Scorpius Constellation and its nuances, the dense collection of stars that make up Sagittarius Star Cloud, the intricate pattern formed by the bright stars of the Ptolemy Cluster, the tightly knit Butterfly Cluster, Jupiter and Saturn – all told, a satisfactory night of sky-gazing, by Chennai standards, which had both good seeing for the planets and transparency for the fainter objects, albeit marred by high clouds in some parts and fast moving, lower clouds, obscuring views on occasion.

For tips on astrophotography, based on our personal experiences, please see introductory post and for imaging the deep sky, by following the respective links.

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