A Summer All-Nighter 17-18th July – Comet 67P Imaged!

by on , under Astronomy Blog

It looked like it was going to be a clear night, so I was bracing myself for an all-nighter. As it darkened there appeared to be a thin layer of cloud which looked like it might have dashed my hopes. Thankfully it moved north westwards and disappeared. I started out by trying to image Comet 22P/Kopff low in the west, but nothing of note showed on the processed images. Next on my list was the Sky At Night challenge of imaging the area around the Hubble deep field just above The Plough in Ursa Major.
The Plough was getting lower and won’t be long before it is hidden behind my house, so it was now or next spring.
The resulting image does show four faint objects in the field of view. (I got the position slightly wrong at first, thanks to Pierre Girard for pointing this out). In the Inverted image you can see these a little clearer. One of these faint smudges of light is a 19.7  magnitude galaxy 1.85 billion light years away. And my camera captured and recorded its photons.
Absolutely mind boggling.

To show the image scale we are dealing with, I took this image of M51 just after with the same setup.

I then went to try for another Comet, C/2015 F4 Jacques. It was located just below Delphinus.

It was now the early hours of the morning, to amuse myself while waiting for my last and final object, I re-visited and old friend. 61 Cygni is a fast-moving double star. I imaged this and compared it to a previous shot from 2013. The image I took tonight is far superior, but you can see just how far the stars have moved during that time, revealing the much fainter background star they were moving in front of.

I then did a couple of not so successful deep sky images of galaxies in Pegasus. This is NGC 7331.

By this time the twilight was remarkably bright over in the north eastern sky, but the object I was trying to image last was now starting to become visible between the houses. Here’s my view, to give you some sort of idea of the challenges I face in my observatory. This is the view out of the observatory slit looking north east.

You can quite clearly see The Pleiades rising between the two neighbouring houses.
Here’s a closer view of that gap.

Just below and the the left of the two stars just appearing near the guttering is the long sought after and much loved 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which the probes Rosetta and Philae are currently exploring. I wanted to get Comet 67P Imaged. As the sky brightened even more, I star-hopped my way across the sky using C2A planetarium software to calibrate the scope on stars as I ventured towards my quarry. I finally centred the scope on the comet, but it was still behind the house! The sky was brightening rapidly and I thought all was lost. I didn’t really expect any results anyway. Slowly but surely the camera started to show stars in the image as the field of view emerged into view. I adjusted the exposure to just under a minute, so that the stars stood out without over-exposing in the brightening sky. Between 02:20 and 02:29 (GMT) I took 9 images before the stars were starting to fade into the background. I then called it a very productive night and went in to process my images. It was 3:00am (4am BST) before I finally gave up and went to bed.
It’s very  messy, and it doesn’t look like much, but here’s the result:

I submitted my image to the PACA_Rosetta67P co-ordinators. They have confirmed that this was indeed the position of the comet at that time and I may well be the most northerly observer to image this comet so far.
Thank goodness it wasn’t hidden behind that nearby dust bunny.
Now where’s my lens cleaning kit?

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