Picture PanSTARRS Before it Leaves | Learn Astronomy HQ

Picture PanSTARRS Before it Leaves

Comet Panstarrs 2nd April .jpg

Comet PanSTARRS is fading from view as it travels away from the Sun, but it is still possible to take a picture of the comet before it leaves us for the next 110,000 years. Read on to learn how to use your DSLR and a beginners telescope to get an image a bit like the one above taken on the 2nd April 2013.

The comet in March 2013 was bright enough to image easily using a DSLR on a tripod. Here is a post on how to image a comet. And here is a post on an adventure that resulted in pictures of comet PanSTARRS when it was close to its brightest in the northern hemisphere. 

The comet has now faded as it travels back out of the solar system. The advantage is that it now remains above the horizon for much longer and from the 2nd April it wont dip below the horizon for most of the UK. This gives us plenty more opportunities to catch it with a telescope.

The image above was shot with a DSLR camera attached to a 127mm Mak telescope. The telescope has an Alt/Azi mount which isn't ideal for imaging space objects (an equatorial mount is better for this) but this website is about trying to show what is possible with budget entry level equipment that anybody can achieve. The telescope was set to track the comet in sidereal setting. This type of mount isn't really for imaging, so it can take a few pictures before you get a selection without motion blur.

The image above has been made by stacking 6 pictures of the comet in a free to use Macintosh stacking program called Lynkeos. The image was then tweaked using the free to use software GIMP.

The camera settings for the DSLR were: ISO 3200, exposure time 10 seconds, there is no aperture setting as the camera was fitted directly to the telescope. A remote shutter release was used to ensure that the telescope and camera didn't need to be touched. Here is what a single frame at these settings looked like before being stacked.

 single frame photo of comet Panstarrs on 2nd April through a small telescope.

I tried to see what sort of image I could achieve by stacking 40 images taken at ISO 12800 but with an exposure time of only 1 sec and with 10 dark frames for subtraction. I used Deep Sky Stacker and Lynkeos but the results were pretty poor. The advantage of such a short exposure time is that you don't need any form of tracking to take the pictures as the star trailing would be minimal with such a short exposure time.

Here is a single frame taken with 1 second of exposure at ISO 12800.


Not much to see. The comet is on the right just below the middle of the image. Here is the image after stacking the 40 images with dark frames subtracted (a dark frame is the same camera settings but with the lens cap put on over the camera or telescope).


So you can see from the picture above that it is possible to get images of the comet with a DSLR and no tracking. This can be improved further, some people take over 400 images when not using tracking to reduce the noise (speckly appearance).

If the opportunity arises I will try to get a picture with 400 images to compare the difference. I hope this helps you to go out and have a go at shooting comet PanSTARRS before it leaves for a very long time.

Good Luck and if you get any pictures post them up here.

Related Posts: Astrophotography

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