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Okay, so you’ve all been scanning the western horizon at dusk looking for the most recent celestial wunderkind.  Having a difficult time finding comet Pan-STARRS?  Join the club.  My over 50 eyes had a difficult time finding the blur in space.  That’s why camera companies invented long lenses, to give us over-the-hill photogs a chance to see what our eyes miss.

Comet Pan-STARRS derives from the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, at the summit of the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii where astronomers first discovered Pan-TARRS in June 2011.  The comet is roughly 100 million miles from the earth. Visible about 30-40 minutes after sunset in the western sky, the comet will be visible until late March and should be more visible as it moves away from the sun.

The big photographic event with Pan-STARRS was it’s proximity to the crescent moon a few days back.  Hmm.  Just as the day approached, Sonoma County got cloudy to the west, obliterating any chance of seeing the comet and moon pair up.  It was frustrating to see all these nice photos from ALL OVER THE PLACE, even San Francisco appear over the Wire, Facebook and whatever other social media is out there.  True to form, I wanted to stay in Sonoma County to give it a local perspective.  Finally, the clouds parted on Thursday and was able to get a clean picture of the comet, but by then, it was too far above the city lights to give it a sense of place.

Starting Sunday the 10th, I stepped out at dusk, only to be greeted by clouds.  Not wanting to come back empty handed, I shot photos anyway of whatever I could shoot.

On Thursday (March 14) after a long day, my wife and I sat with our son for chow, when the clouds dissipated, bathing the landscape in beautiful afternoon light.

“Hah!” I said.  ”The clouds have parted!”  -only a photography geek could get this excited-.  My wife, ever so patient when it comes to my complete and overwhelmingly passionate embrace of photojournalism, looked at me with those green eyes of hers and smiled knowingly.

“I’m going to get a picture of this stupid comet tonight you know.” I said.

She leaned her head back and laughed, not sure with me or at me.

“I bet you will.”

Now my wife, she’s use to these vacations where I will kidnap the family to photograph something four hours away.  The last adventure was in Kona last year to see Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park.  I have to to admit I was pretty bummed when we arrived and there was little steam coming out of the crater.  Not only was it pretty much un-photographable, I faced a long drive back to the resort with a scowling teen in the backseat and a woman wondering why she married a “photographer”.  I pretty much butchered a prime laying on the beach family vacation day with that errant trek.

On Wednesday, hoping the clouds would part at sunset, I slung a camera over my shoulder as the family ventured to Safeway, Sports Authority and Office Depot.  I shot a stunning picture of a street lamp that night.

Enough rambling.

Comet Pan-STARRS appears above Santa Rosa, Thursday March 14, 2013. The name derives from the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, at the summit of the Haleakala volcano in Hawaii where astronomers first discoveredPan-STARRS in June 2011. The comet is roughly 100 million miles from the earth. Visible about 30 minutes after sunset in the western sky, the comet will be visible until late March, but each night the comet will become more faint. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Sunset above Santa Rosa from Rincon Ridge Drive, Thursday March 14, 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

 

A streetlight at sunset. No comet in sight. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Sunset, Alexander Valley. No Pan-Starrs here.(Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Sunset, Alexander Valley. No Pan-Starrs here either, just a giant sun. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Sunset, Alexander Valley. No Pan-Starrs here, but nice to look at anyway. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

A night star photo above Alexander Valley and Healdsburg. That's not a comet, but lights from an airplane in this long exposure. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

-Kent Porter

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

2 Comments

  1. Don Kaiser

    What equipment did you use? Exposure on night shots?

    March 16th, 2013 8:49 pm

  2. weather

    Don, on the star picture I used a 16-35mm 2.8 lens on a Canon 5d Mark 1. 30 second exposure. I was trying out different ISO’s and I think the one on the blog was around 2000. I also tried 100 ISO away from the city lights because I didn’t want a lot of noise in the frame. On the comet picture, I used a 300mm 2.8 lens rated at around 800 ISO at 1/3 of a second. Any longer than 1 second on the comet tends to makes the pinpoint start to make a star trail, misleading the reader. I also used a doubler on some of the photos, which were okay. I used my car as a tripod. Would that be called a four-pod?

    March 17th, 2013 11:55 am

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