Hyderabad: Starting January, stargazers across the globe have been uploading enviable photographs of the comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy on their Facebook, Google Plus and Flickr accounts.
And Hyderabad’s Neil Ghosh and Srinivasa Prasath feel “fortunate” to have joined that exclusive club. Because the comet won’t be seen again for the next 8,000 years. On Thursday evening, at around 7.30 pm, the techies managed to spot Lovejoy in the sky above the fields of Nazeebnagar, a village 18 km from Gandipet, along the State Highway 6, away from the city lights and pollution...
It was Neil’s idea to go Lovejoy-hunting. He has been chasing and watching stars, planets, comets and meteor showers since childhood and even owns a telescope with 1,000 mm focal length.
Neil says, “I had been following the Lovejoy news. But somehow I missed the news that it will be the closest to Earth, and the brightest, on January 7. Yeah, I was sad, but I thought let’s try the day next. And, we found it.”
So, Neil and his wife Poonam and friend Srinivasa set out from the city at 6 pm with telescope, DSLRs, tripods and a finder chart. The pollution in the city offers low visibility, so they needed to be at a spot that is free of smoke and pollution. And the fact that it was a cold, winter evening with fewer clouds, worked well for them.
Winter is a good time for stargazing. “We went when the sun was going down and we had a window of three hours before moon rise. We needed a pitch dark sky, even if Lovejoy was really bright,” says Srinivasa.
In just 15 minutes of pitching the telescope, Neil spotted the “green cottonball-like Lovejoy”. Neil says, “We had no doubt about spotting it. We needed to find the Orion and Taurus constellations and work out the coordinates then. But the problem was capturing its photo. My telescope isn’t that advanced.”
That’s when Srinivasa zoomed his DSLR camera, pitched next to the telescope stand, and managed to get 15-20 shots with his 50-250 mm lens at an exposure of five seconds. Neil and Srinivasa, who are part of the AHAA- Amateur Astronomers in Hyderabad Facebook page, wanted to return early from the site, to return to work. But the evening ambience was surreal and they stayed back and managed to click photos of the Moon-Jupiter alignment and four moons of Jupiter.
The good news is that the comet will be visible for the whole of January and bright enough for a week. So, if you at least have a binocular telescope, go Lovejoy-hunting.