Comet 2019Y4 April 3

April 3, 2020 – update on Comet 2019Y4

The weather has been even worse than usual for astronomy.  Don’t misunderstand – around here, there are just awful conditions for viewing at the best of times.  But cloudy weather has been unusually frequent lately.  The comet is still not very bright, in an area of the sky that is devoid of any bright stars for guidance and in a direction that is particularly afflicted with trees and city-light.  Nevertheless, I have attempted to spot the comet with binoculars several times – without success.

Attempting to photograph what could not be seen visually of Comet 2019 Y4, I am struggling with an unfamiliar DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera.   Just the camera on a tripod and guessing at various settings of exposure, “film” speed, focus and aperture.  No, I didn’t see the comet.  I was barely able to detect any stars in the city-light washed-out sky.

One thing that stood out was some much more concentrated and colorful points of light.  I wondered what these could be since they were far to point-like to be anything in the sky that was not even properly focused.  Despite that these were intense and focused bits of light.

Figure 1: In the blue circle, a star. Doubt me if you must, but it is there – about half the diameter of that blue circle. In the red circle, an unexplained cluster of bright pixels

Figure 2: Zooming on a longer exposure frame, this is a star, blurred by incompetent focus and unstable air.

The bright spot in the red circle  of figure 1 – what could make such undeniable point-like events?  The answer came back – after considerable snaky-eyed concentration – these must be traces of cosmic rays.  As it turns out – I was right.  The lens of the camera has nothing to do with these images.  The high-energy particles pass through the camera body from any and all directions.  If at a low angle to the “chip”,  the image extends to an oblong shape, like the examples below.

Figure 3. Left: the example of a cosmic ray trace in a DSLR camera at the website found by googling cosmic rays. Right: Extreme zoom, on what I found on my DSLR during my attempts to photograph the comet.

The irony is that the comet, which is right here in the Solar System – along with stars that are in the visible “neighborhood” are so elusive, while cosmic rays, which may originate half-way across the universe, are showing up  clearly as “volunteers”

It has become clear that I will have to make a trip out to a dark sky location to see this comet.  That may take a while, so I will hone my skills with the binoculars and camera, in the meantime.

 Others are not so unfortunate in their efforts to see this comet. Collected observations of the comet show that it has dimmed in the last week.  Please see figure 4.

Figure 4. It can be seen that the brightness fluctuates, but is in a down trend in the last few days.

Hasta Luego,

Steve

https://www.cloudynights.com/articles/cat/articles/capturing-cosmic-rays-with-a-digital-camera-r3046

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