Comet NEOWISE Part 2
It was the following weekend before I got another chance to observe NEOWISE. This time I drove five minutes from home, parking up on the quiet backroad that runs between Blackfaulds and Coalsnughton. The view from here is of the central Ochil Hills looking out over fields to Alva and Tillicoultry which sadly contribute a bit of light pollution. The skies above the hills were nicely dark, although there was a steady stream of low clouds that occasionally obscured NEOWISE.
The comet definitely was no longer as bright as the previous weekend but still made a very nice sight above the hill. I concentrated on widefield shots and got some pleasing compositions with the hills below. The skies were fairly washed out by approaching dawn but the darkness of the hills below provided some contrast.
By the time I was packing up and driving home Venus had appeared, dazzlingly bright over the far eastern Ochils.
The next night conditions for comet watching didn’t appear too promising until much later when I stepped outside to see the ISS passing brightly overhead. I noticed the northern sky was almost completely clear and with a little help from the camera managed to spot NEOWISE above the house, positioned between the tops of two tall trees.
Given this might be my last chance to see it this bright I hurriedly set off for the Sherriffmuir Road. Unfortunately the clear window didn’t last very long. NEOWISE looked stunning with a very extensive dust tail clearly visible, but a dark patch of clouds quickly blew in.
I got a couple of widefield shots but by the time the scope was setup for more detailed observation the sky was almost entirely cloudy. In the south I spent a few minutes observing Jupiter and Saturn before they too succumbed to the clouds. It was a shame as this would likely be the last really good night to see the Comet.
After a couple of beers during the evening I suddenly found a clear sky overhead as midnight approached. I packed up my cameras and tripod and cycled across the strath to the road above Marchglen. Here the cyclepath continues on and there is a concrete platform which provides an excellent viewpoint over the Ochils.
By this time, now just over twenty days since perihelion, the comet was much dimmer and was not immediately obvious to the naked eye, even with reasonable conditions and low light pollution. Nevertheless I was confident it was high enough to be above the hills and so I set up the camera and fired off a test shot. NEOWISE was immediately visible in the photo and so I was able to tweak the framing and then started taking a series of photos.
The fact it was no longer naked eye visible was a little disappointing but I enjoyed viewing it through the camera where it was remarkably bright, even on just a 4s exposure. I suspect the bright northern sky was simply not providing enough contrast for a final naked eye view.
I continued taking photos for a good hour or so until the comet slowly dipped below the dark outline of Wood Hill. I was able to use the photos I’d taken to produce both a pleasing timelapse, and a detailed stacked image (above) which revealed the faintest hint of the ion tail and the vast span of the dust tail. Given the challenging conditions I was really pleased with how this one turned out.
After an incredible few weeks, and getting to see NEOWISE on five separate nights, this would be the last I would see of the comet. The next time the skies cleared it had dimmed into near obscurity and was low in the northeast, poorly placed for observation from our garden. Nevertheless it had been the most wonderful thing to have witnessed, the memories of which will hopefully last me until the next bright comet comes along.