Comet PanSTARRS C/2011 L4 Photos & Video:

A good warmup for the Comet ISON, the main course of 2013!

Comet PanSTARRSAs a lover of all things astronomical, I was taken in by the coverage of our first major comet of the year, comet panSTARRS, which was passing through our solar system and was going to give us a bit of a show during February and March of 2013. The southern hemisphere got to see the show first but then it was our turn in the northern hemisphere from early March. This being the case, living on the Costa del Sol certainly had its advantages because the further north you go in terms of latitude the closer the comet will be to the horizon, the less defined it will be and consequentially the less time you will have to see it.

I had been planning to get out March 12th to see the comet but bad weather had spoiled those plans. Nasty rains and cloudy skies meant zero visibility. It did get somewhat better on Wednesday the 13th March so I took a spin up to El Torcal de Antequera, an observatory about 50km from Málaga. Located in a natural park and at around 1150m above sea level it is one of the top spots in Málaga for spotting cosmic objects. It isn't a dark sky zone due to the huge amounts of light pollution from the populated Costa but it is a good compromise and sure if they go ahead and build an observatory up there it must be a decent location no?! As it turned out, I arrived far too Comet PanSTARRS late. The wind was howling and there was no shelter from it whatsoever. I rattled off a couple of shots to see if I could spot anything but nothing. Before I left I ended up speaking with one of the guys that works in the observatory. He was using his fisheye to see could he spot anything. He did show me this sort of haze on his LCD which he thought may have been due to the comets tail. But no comet. The shooting conditions were awful and I couldn't get a decent crisp shot due to gale force winds and frozen fingers so I headed home. I had a quick look at the photos in View NX2 and there was indeed a haze present in the direction of the tail of the comet. The photo to the right was taken at 21:25 on March 13th. You can vaguely see a dust cloud type haze below right of the central bright star (which is in fact Jupiter) stretching from the horizon up to the little cluster of small stars to the right of Jupiter (M45 Alcyone). In terms of where the comet dipped below the horizon the haze does tie in with the tails location and direction.

Comet PanSTARRSThe weather conditions were far better on Thursday the 14th March. The moon was also still relatively new so in terms of light spill it wasn't going to spoil my chance to see the comet. When I arrived I went trekking through the park looking for for a good spot where I could get a good clear unobstructed horizon and although not completely unobstructed I did find a spot in between two trees to shelter me from the wind, a big plus :-). I set up shop and waited until the sun dipped. The image to the left is a photo from where I was based looking down on to the reservoirs created by the Guadalorce river. People who regularly fly into Málaga will have seen them as they are just to the left of the landing path into Málaga's main runway. You can also spot the wind turbines lining the mountain tops. As the sun was setting I took a series of photos to see if I could spot the comet but absolutely nothing. Scanning the horizon once the sun set gave no indication of the comets location. I had a pair of binoculars to see could that provide some sort of clue but again nothing. The sun had set about 35 minutes at this stage so it was looking like another wasted journey. Even the deer looked disappointed.

About 8PM I was giving up. It was over 35 minutes after sunset and there absolutely nothing I could see in the series of photos I had taken. I took a photo at a minute to 8PM and did a check and found the slightest little patch of white with the faintest of tails. It looked like a wisp of cloud at first so I didn't get my hopes up but then after a couple of successive shots it became clear it was in fact the illustrious PanSTARRS comet.

I've included a some of the better photos below. In the first 3 you will not be able to see the comet but the last 3 in the set it is clearly visible. I started off using a 24-70 to give me a wider angle as I had no concrete idea where the comet was supposed to be, so having the wider angle allowed me search the image recorded on the LCD more easily. Once I spotted it I zoomed closer to 70mm to get a closer view. The final two photos are taken with a 70-200 f/2.8 at 2.8. The first of the two photos at 175mm and the last at the max 200mm. I upped the ISO to 2000 on the final image to see if I could get more of a capture of the comets tail and it does appear more apparent. The color balance is altered slightly too. You can get an idea how the tail shown in the final picture may in fact be represented in the dusty haze photo at the top of the page. It's hard to say but certainly based on the direction of the tail in the photo below and the direction of the haze in the photo at the top of the page it certainly adds up. Any astronomers out there might be able to put me straight on this.


Between 20:10 and about 20:25 it was just ever so slightly visible to the naked eye. I managed to set up a little time lapse on the D800 to catch the comet disappearing into the horizon. I accidentally stopped it a few seconds in so you will see a bit of a jump. It is in 1080p so you can choose it in the settings. There is another slowed down version of it on the Imagen Estilo YouTube Page at a lower resolution.

I've added all the above photos and others into a full resolution gallery. They are available in their original size and format so you can check the comet out in more detail. The gallery is open to all but for those visiting can you respect copyright. I have not added watermarks because, personally, I hate them. So if you want to share photos, can you link them back to this page. If you want to use any of the full resolution images then drop me a mail with the details and we'll get back to you. The HiRes image gallery can be reached here.

So now the wait until the bigger Comet ISON arrives. Apparently ISON will be easily visible to the naked eye and astrologers say it may almost be as bright as a full moon. I'll be back up in the observatory for that! If you enjoyed this article or others on the site and want to stay up to date with what we are doing then check out and “like” our Facebook page and you will get details of new articles posted straight to your newsfeed as soon as they are posted on our site. You can also find us on Google and Twitter. Author: Imagen Estilo

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