Comet ISON time lapse – my first attempt

November 2nd, 2013 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

I’ve been curious whether I could pull off a time lapse video of Comet ISON using relatively modest camera equipment and a telephoto lens. Professional photographer Justin Ng used a 20 inch (!) telescope and a monochrome CCD camera to do the same thing several days ago. I told him about attempting it with a 400 mm lens and camera and he was (justifiably) skeptical, but wished me luck.

My first attempt was this morning, and the results seem good enough to try again in a couple days at a dark sky location. Despite moderate city light pollution and some clouds, I captured the green glow of Comet ISON in 52 frames (try the “full screen” icon):

Comet ISON time lapse – first attempt from Roy Spencer on Vimeo.

I had difficulty finding the comet at first…I forgot my binoculars and had to guess where it was based upon online tracking maps…it’s currently near the back “foot” of Leo. I doubt I would have seen it in the binoculars anyway because it is still so faint.

I’m also using an AstroTrac for the first time, which allows you to track the stars with a camera tripod. My polar alignment wasn’t the best, so the stars are still moving across the camera’s field of view, but it was good enough to keep the stars from trailing in the individual 60 sec exposures.

For reference, here’s Justin Ng’s time lapse using that humongous telescope and B&W CCD camera:

Journey of Comet ISON on 27 October 2013 from Justin Ng Photo on Vimeo.

12 Responses to “Comet ISON time lapse – my first attempt”

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  1. Adam Gallon says:

    That’s a bit impressive!
    I’ve got some photos of Hale-Bopp & one who’s name I’ve forgotton that was clearly visible early this Millenium.

  2. Sparks says:

    Excellent, I hope it brightens as it comes in, Hale-Bopp was the last decent comet I was able to view, amazing!.

  3. Norman says:

    I think the biggest difference between the big telescope and your video is the clarity and length of the comet tail.

    I like your hobby. I hope you keep finding time to share your time-elapse on your blog.

  4. RW says:

    I own a couple of acres up in the New Market area if you want to get away from the Huntsville light pollution.

  5. Congratulations, Dr. Spencer.
    Very well done!

  6. Frank K. says:

    Very nice! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Roy and Comapny:

    Here’s a pretty good website talking about the comet. It features some really good constelation charts to help you find ISON in the night sky at it approaches the sun. Dr. Spencer certainly won’t need it, but I found it helpful.


  8. CNC says:

    Very nice! Love simple experiments with low cost equipment. Thanks Dr. Spencer.

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