Comet NEOWISE! title=
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By Robert Bernstein

Huge thanks to Merritt Adams for reaching out to me to show me his Comet NEOWISE photos and to explain in great detail where he took his photos and the camera settings that he used.

I had planned to go to the top of the mountains near La Cumbre Peak. But my favorite photos that he took were from closer in town because they included views of the mountains. Notably, they included Arlington and Cathedral Peak. Merritt reached out in part because I had recently hiked Arlington Peak with my music teacher Nancy and shared our experience here on Edhat.

Here are my own photos from Sunday night when my wife and I ventured out to see the comet.

Just as we arrived in the area another car pulled up right where I planned to stop. I was concerned there might be problems with light and also with finding a good spot in a limited space. But it turned out to be a wonderful bonus: The other person was professional photographer Bill Zeldis who makes an annual Santa Barbara Calendar.

It was a treat to share strategies and tactics for getting the best photos. He had a professional grade SLR whereas I use a Sony RX10 which is basically a high end point and shoot camera.

What seemed to work best with my camera was to take exposures in the range of 10-20 seconds with an ISO setting of about 800. For some strange reason if I lowered the ISO the image seemed to get more noisy, just as if I had raised it.

It also seemed that fancy techniques like HDR (High Dynamic Range) or multiple-image merging for noise reduction did not help. They just increased the motion blur.

What did help a lot? Using a two-second self timer for the shutter. That allowed me to start the shutter and step away. Even the slightest footstep near the tripod caused motion blur.

OK… Here are some of my photos:

These show the broad view while there was still a glow in the sky:

This was taken later as the comet appeared closer to the mountains, as the Earth rotated it down near the horizon around 10PM.

I liked this one because it caught a meteor crossing the comet's tail!

And this was the last one of the evening around 10:20PM

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macpuzl Jul 20, 2020 02:13 PM

Fun photos!

If we had a flat northern horizon, tonight the comet would be circumpolar, and wouldn't set.

FernaldPoint93108 Jul 21, 2020 07:11 AM

Amazing Robert. Thank you.

Red Creek Jul 21, 2020 10:13 AM

Thank you for an interesting article and "how to" on taking difficult shots.

helena Jul 21, 2020 10:28 AM

Love these!
I live in a part of town where we could easily see stars, constellations, meteors, comets, the ISS, and the Milky Way not long ago. Now there has been a proliferation of all-night solar-powered LED lights that cause the beautiful night sky to be obscured. These lights don't fool burglars, but they do cast an unnatural orange glow into our nights. Sometimes small changes have unintended consequences.

Curmudgeon Jul 21, 2020 10:38 AM

Very nice, indeed! Bear in mind, though, that the "meteor" crossing the tail in one photo is, in fact, an aircraft. Zooming in one can see pulsating dots along the trail.

macpuzl Jul 21, 2020 07:09 PM

I think that might be a satellite trail, rather than an aircraft. Planes tend to blink at regular intervals, but rotating satellites can vary in brightness more irregularly, as seen in this particular trail.

There may be an aircraft trail on the right in the first image after the main text, with the bright sky.

ESL_teacher Jul 21, 2020 10:49 AM

Bravo, Robert! Outstanding photos. and you even gave useful advice to other photographers.

qmc Jul 21, 2020 11:51 AM

If you want to stack images, try Sequator. Easy to use and it will separate the still background (mountains) from the moving sky. It's not the best stacker, but for us neophytes it works quite well. Best to throw 16-bit images at any stacker which means shooting in raw.
BTW, there are a couple reasons for lower ISO settings causing more noise: depending on shutter speed, the star intensity is only using the lower bits which causes quantization issues, if you're shooting JPEG, your camera may try beautify your image which can raise background noise (Nikon calls this D-Lighting), and/or sensor heating will cause issues with longer exposures.
Anyway, great shots with the mountains in the foreground. Wish I was back in SB to see such a beautiful sky show.

sbrobert Jul 21, 2020 05:49 PM

Thank you all for the very kind words. I am very grateful to the advice from Merritt Adams and Bill Zeldis. Merritt Adams looked at my "meteor" image and said it could be a plane or a meteor. We were surprised at how many meteors we saw streak across the sky while we looked at the comet.

Chuck/MACPUZL can you please say more? I cannot picture how that could be so. Is it because the comet is very close to the north celestial pole (if that is the correct term)? Is this only true tonight?

QMC thank you for the photo tips and possible explanations.

HELENA yes light pollution is a real problem. It will take public awareness to change this. Thank you for speaking out.

macpuzl Jul 21, 2020 07:00 PM

Robert - You're right. The comet was only circumpolar for us for the night/day of July 20, because it's trajectory brought it to a declination within 34.5 degrees of the celestial north pole. Since we're at 34.5 degrees north latitude, that means it would never go below a theoretical flat horizon for us. But now, its declination is decreasing as it heads south, so it is once again obscured by that (theoretical) horizon during the course of a daily rotation. That's why, if you're at the (true) north pole, no stars rise or set, but make circles around your horizon, and you never see half of the celestial sphere. Unless you wait for precession. ;)

EastBeach Jul 21, 2020 07:34 PM

Robert -enjoyed your photos and "the making of" story. I was viewing the comet through binoculars up on ECC last night - and was pleasantly surprised when a satellite whizzed "past" the comet at 10:10 pm. A few minutes later a meteor streaked across the field of view. According to Stellarium the satellite was OrbComm FM103 one of a constellation of 31 satellites in low earth orbit.

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