July 18, 2020
Cottonwood Campground, Joshua Tree National Park
Weather: clear, calm, dry, 90° – 70° F (32° – 21° C)
Observing Time: 20:00 – 23:30 (UTC – 7)
Bortle Scale: 3
First image – non tracking shot
next two are tracking with just the Nikor 70-300mm lens
last image – 60 seconds through 8″ Telescope
I ALMOST DIDN’T GO!
I was there laying on my bed at about 5:00 pm local time when I felt super tired, ready to take a nap. I thought, “well I’ve already seen the comet, and I’ve already taken plenty of images from Gavilan Hills, do I really need to go?”
Call if what you will, that inner voice or consciousness, I finally got up, said to myself, “are we doing this?!” And sure enough, I made the two hour drive despite yawning often.
Being a Saturday night, the Campground was already crowded by the time I got there an hour before sunset. I didn’t necessarily care that I got a campsite, I just wanted a spot where there was no obstructions for the NW section of the sky. Thankfully I was able to claim the individual sight on the loop that was the most NW of all of them (thus no campfires or blaring lights in my way). Oddly enough the second loop of campsites was closed off, and I cannot tell you how many cars drove on the first one-way loop looking for an empty spot well into the night, even long after the comet had set!
A couple arrived and asked if they could share the spot, which of course I said, “go right ahead, I’m gonna shoot this comet and then leave, so it’s all yours if you’re staying overnight! Turns out they wanted to see the comet and were hoping they’d meet someone who could show them… funny how that works!
While the comet had long passed its peak brightness, at magnitude +2.5 it was still about as bright as any magnitude 2-3 star in Big Dipper or Polaris. With that said, from the cities it progressed to the point where it was invisible to the naked eye due to light pollution and haze – hence a lot of frustrated people that will remain disappointed because they refuse to leave the cities!
Binoculars and telescope? Yes. But yours truly had already seen it enough times with my telescope from a moderately light polluted location.
When the comet finally emerged in the sky, complete with the 6° visible tail after dark, I’ll never forget hearing all the nearby campers cheer when they realized what they were seeing! From Cottonwood, the comet was still obviously a naked eye object! I could see it with just my two eyes for over 90 minutes, even when it was about to set below the horizon!
Through my telescope, the coma was distinctively visually green, which was a rare thing because usually they appear gray until photography brings out the green.
Doing presentations, and allowing nearby campers, including two lovely couples whom I look forward to hearing from again, to look through at the comet plus Jupiter and Saturn through my scope was the added bonus, and a sheer reminder of why I do what I do!
Sky itself was remarkable, and not only was the comet easy to see with the naked eye, but brighter deep sky objects like M7, M31, and C76 were easily visible as faint smudges. C76- a star cluster, was an object that one camper actually thought was another comet before I told her, “we nickname that object the “false comet!”
All in all, a fantastic night! 10/10, would do it again!
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