Shooting Comet C/2019 Y4 (Atlas)

Comet C/2019 Y4 (Atlas) was detected at the end of 2019 by the Asteroid Terrestrial impact Last Alert System (ATLAS.) It was forecast to reach peak brightness at the end of May 2020, but due to a major fragmentation event in early April it is now not known if this will occur. It was previously at magnitude 7, but since the fragmentation it has dimmed to magnitude 9. Because it was due to reach its peak brightness on my daughter’s birthday, I decided that this was another comet that I wanted to have a good try at imaging.

Initially things didn’t go well. Despite having its RA and DEC coordinates from the Heavens Above website, I was having issues with plate solving in APT, and even when I attempted to do this manually I still wasn’t seeing anything on the single subs. Deciding to take a chance, I left Miranda imaging at where I thought C/2019 Y4 was and processed the results the following day. Sadly, I struck out on this first attempt and it wasn’t until a few days later that I was able to try again, this time with the portable rig at the kids house and utilising the modded 450D and the 55-250mm lens at 250mm (f/5.6) Using an ISO of 1600 with 60 second subs, I was finally able to capture something, although I was far from happy with the results. But, as a friend pointed out, I still managed to capture something moving through our solar system at tens of thousands of miles an hour, which is no mean feat in itself. With that perspective I was far happier.

First capture of C/2019 Y4. Lots of gradient and dust bunnies!!

My next attempt a few nights later at home was with the DSO rig, Miranda. Polar alignment and slewing to target went perfectly on this occasion and I was finally able to grab 45 minutes on target, complete with calibration frames. This time I was far happier, although post processing showed up a big smudge on the imaging sensor of the ASI 178MC, which all but ruined the resultant image.

Comet C/2019 Y4 captured with Miranda, and complete with smudge!!

I’ve obviously since cleaned the sensor, and further captures on Messier 1 have confirmed it’s now nice and clear. I’m hoping for one last go at the comet in the coming days, despite the fact it’s now fragmented. But, for now, this is where I’m at with it.

As this is only my second comet (my first was 46P/Wirtanen) I’m pretty happy with this, despite the smudge, and I’ve learned a great deal along the way, such as how to change my platesolving software and add new solar system objects into Stellarium, a process I cover in another post.

So, for now, keep your eyes up, and clear skies all

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