Streaking Through the Sky
Comet NEOWISE streaks through the nighttime sky above our trees in the latest entry from the 50with50 series.
Much has been posted online lately about NEOWISE (actual name C/2020 F3, but it was discovered by the NASA telescope named Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or NEOWISE) . At first, it was only visible in the early morning hours, and we aren’t exactly early morning people. But recently, this comet has been visible in the evening hours, which fits into our schedule much better. So nice of NEOWISE to accommodate us!
We recently had a clear night, so we grabbed our binoculars and telescope and went outside to join our mosquito friends for a time of skywatching. It took us a few minutes to figure out where the comet was and what we were looking for. We eventually found it first with the binoculars. But then once we knew what we were looking for and where it was, all three of us could see it without any aid at all. However, I did get the telescope focused on the comet just to get a slightly closer view. It was pretty cool!
The next day, I decided I would try to capture NEOWISE in a photo, and waiting in my inbox just happened to be a link to a post telling how to photograph the comet. It is best photographed using a lens with a wide aperture, so I knew the 50mm prime lens would be perfect for this. Read more about the settings in the “About the Photo” section down below.
It was really cool to be able to see the comet, and it was really cool to be able to get a photo of it, too!
By the way, if you are looking for the comet before it zooms away, it will not look quite this bright in person. It looks brighter here due to a long exposure time. But you can still see it, especially if you are away from the city lights. Give it a try!
Small But Big
In looking at the comet in person, in this photo, or even with my relatively small telescope, it mainly looks like a bright dot with a tail behind it. Slightly bigger than the dots of the stars, but still mainly just a dot in the sky.
But do not be deceived by appearances! NEOWISE is actually about three miles wide, they say! How amazing is that! And even though it looks to be relatively stationary in the sky, the comet is speeding along at 144,000 miles per hour! That’s 40 miles per second. I bet if some people could drive that fast, they would still be late to wherever they are going. But that’s another story.
It is always amazing to me just how big the universe is. We tend to only see things right around us, and we judge size by what we can see and know. That makes us focus on ourselves and on our perceived importance. But then we learn that there is a 3-mile-wide piece of ice flying through the sky at an amazing speed, and that makes us suddenly remember the scope of it all.
But don’t despair. While the problems we sometimes face might seem large to us, they are actually small to God. Not small in a bad way, but small in a way of God saying, “I have all of this universe under control, including that huge piece of ice, and so I can easily take care of your problems! All you have to do is ask.”
God takes care of everything from the small birds to the big comets, and he will take care of you, too. Nothing is insignificant to God.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” - Matthew 7:7-8
About the Photo
Nighttime long exposure photography is a little tricky, but once you learn a few tricks, it isn’t as difficult as you might think.
For a comet photo, the best thing is to open the aperture as wide as it will go, use a high ISO setting, and use a long exposure time, which requires a tripod. Also, keep in mind that it is best to be away from the city lights as much as possible. Since we live out in the middle of nowhere, that is not much of a problem for us, except for our neighbors’ barn lights.
I had some basic settings to start with, and then I used a little trial and error to see what worked best for me. For this particular photo, which turned out to be the best of all my attempts, here is what I used.
Mode: I used manual mode for this, knowing that I wanted to have complete control of all of the settings. Some people seem slightly afraid to do that, but it is worth it to be able to be in control of things.
Aperture: As you might guess, I had the aperture open wide at f/1.8. If your lens does not have a setting that wide, you will have to adjust the remaining settings.
ISO: I started with a setting of ISO 640. Although I tried a higher setting or two, 640 ended up working fine for me. If you do not have a prime lens with a wide aperture setting, you will need to increase the ISO. But try to keep it as low as possible, because the higher the ISO setting, the more the amount of noise introduced into the photo. As it was, I had to turn up the noise reduction in Aurora HDR somewhat, even with ISO 640.
Shutter speed: I started with a setting of 4 seconds, then increasing to 6 seconds, and finally to 8 seconds, which is what you see here. Obviously, a tripod is needed for an exposure of that length, because it is impossible to hold the camera steady for that long. I didn’t want to get the shutter setting to be too long, because the stars would start to look like little lines instead of little dots due to the earth’s rotation. Also, pushing the shutter button shakes the camera on the tripod slightly. You can overcome that by using a remote shutter release if you want. However, I just used the simple approach of setting the camera’s self-timer. My camera has a 10-second timer and a 2-second timer. I used the 2-second setting, which gave the camera enough time to settle before the shutter opened.
For more information on the different camera settings, be sure to check out Steve’s Photography Tips!
Photo: A single Raw exposure, processed in Aurora HDR. Read more about photography tips, photo software, camera gear, and more at Steve’s Photography Tips.
Camera: Sony Alpha A7 II
Lens: SonyFE 50mm f/1.8
Date: July 19, 2020
Location: Home, Williston, Tennessee