On Christmas morning, at about 3 am, I struggled out of bed and quietly gathered together a few things I should have thought to collect the night before.
With a torch, my camera and a pair of binoculars in my daypack, and a woolly rug under my arm I quietly exited the house and walked up the path to the car.
I was heading to the top of Mt Victoria hoping to see Comet Lovejoy.
Cross about the cross
There is a ridiculously bright lighted cross on the tower at the top of the hill. This manmade object really disrupts our view of the wonders of the universe at least twice a year: at Easter and Christmas. It shines ferociously all night long, wasting electricity and proclaiming the hubris of those responsible.
I don’t ascribe to a religious belief, but if I did I’d have to puzzle why anyone would want to obscure a god’s amazing creation with such a monstrosity. It’s extremely bright and dazzling and must annoy the neighbours enormously.
It certainly made it more difficult for me to find a good spot to enjoy the comet.
A darkish spot
On top of the reservoir is a cosy spot by the steps where the light from the cross is shaded. The spot looks East and South — perfect for viewing Comet Lovejoy.
Once my eyes had recovered from the glare of the cross I could see the comet without problem. The tail swept for maybe 30 degrees from just above the horizon and up into the sky.
Unfortunately the comet appeared just above Kilbirnie and the airport, so there were loads of orange streetlights and sundry other lights just below it.
The day before I’d read a post on Ice In Space which mentioned camera settings the poster had used and that had worked. I figured I could try those same settings. I fumbled with my camera in the dark, but managed to set everything eventually.
Unfortunately I broke my tripod last year and haven’t yet been able to fix it, so I had to prop my camera on a very low wall and hope for the best.
I was glad of the rug to sit and kneel on.
Then came the timing problem. I didn’t want to wreck my night vision by looking at my iPhone so had to simply count and hope for 1 minute. I made several shots, counting for what I thought was 20, 40 and 60 seconds, but which turned out to be more like 53, 77 and 119 seconds.
Well, don’t count on me to keep time if there’s a bomb due to go off …
I had also forgotten my remote shutter release so had to keep my finger on the shutter and try to keep still.
The best of my efforts appears above. Although it’s a pretty lousy photo it is mine and does show the comet.
There are numerous much better photos available online. Try the Ice In Space thread I linked above for some.
Birds brought dawn
The best view of the comet was around 3.30 am. Soon after that the first Tui started singing in the dawn and I packed up my few items and drove home.
I’d do it again, that’s for sure. It was worth struggling out of bed in the middle of the night.
Star light, star bright
One of my themes for this year is that the starry night is the birthright of everyone on Planet Earth. It’s there for all of us to enjoy — we need to protect it.
Do you use outside lights that actually don’t need to be on in the middle of the night? Do your power bill and neighbours a favour and turn the lights off. Pull your curtains at night. Let’s brighten up the stars, planets and comets before we make them invisible.
Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.