Comet PANSTARRS and Me

It’s official. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind. As Goldfinger says in the book Goldfinger, ‘Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence. Three times it’s enemy action.’

Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS is doing its best to prevent me from enjoying it. I don’t know how it managed to do it, but every time there’s been a good photo opportunity, the weather here has been prohibitive. Throughout the first part of the year we’ve had cloudy skies here. If it was clear above, there was a cloud bank on the horizon to the west.

Eventually it got to where I gave up trying to just see the comet and started looking for particular photo ops. Oh, I didn’t really give up, I just quit focusing on it. Then we had a nice, clear evening and I had a family dinner. The next sweet photo op would have the comet near the thin sliver of the moon. I noted the dates and times and made my plans. I’d go out there an hour early, etc., etc., etc.. Then that evening it was cloudy. Just once, briefly, I saw the moon through a tiny, tiny break in the clouds. So much for that. That’s two.

Once I finally managed to get out to an overlook I use from time to time that’s readily accessible from my house. I got out there before sunset. I stayed out there until after dark, enjoying a clear shot of the horizon. I could not locate the comet and finally gave up. When I got home, I checked and discovered I’d needed to wait about ten more minutes after I gave up and left. Arrrrrgh!!

Ok, that’s not really enemy action, more like poor planning on my part. So we won’t count that one against the comet.

After that the clouds closed in again most of the time. I had a couple of chances with clear skies but no way to get out to a reasonably dark site with a clear horizon.

Now this weekend the comet is supposed to be near M31. The comet and Andromeda in one cool photo! What’s not to like about that? Why, the weather report, of course. Rain tonight. Rain tomorrow. Rain Saturday. Rain Sunday. Even if the rain wasn’t making the roads treacherous where for the last two weeks I had been planning to go, around here this time of the year rain means clouds. No liquid sunshine. Honking big clouds and real rain.

And the report is that it’s now, right now, visible to the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere from dark sites. Like the one I was going to this Saturday.

I’m not going to go to the site I was planning to, come Saturday, but I am going to keep a close eye on the sky this weekend. If it even looks like it’s going to be clear enough, I’m heading out to the overlook south of town. With binoculars and with my camera set to f/2.8 and ISO 1600 to start. Ten seconds or so exposure duration to begin with. There’s got to be a cloud break long enough and in the right place. Right? There’s just gotta be.

Let’s see…April 6, 2013, at 2116 MDT M31 will be at 317 degrees 17 minutes azimuth and 11 degrees 42 minutes altitude. C/2011 L4 will be 321 degrees 26 minutes azimuth and 12 minutes altitude. I will have until 2217 MDT after which they’ll be too close to the horizon for me.

Now where can I find a fan big enough to blow these infernal clouds away?

Given how it’s fading, this weekend just might be the last real chance I have.

At least there’s still C/2012 S1 to come.

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