I’ve been a huge comet geek since I was ten years old (details here), so when I heard about Comet PanSTARRS almost a year ago, I was pretty excited. I became even more excited when I learned that PanSTARRS would be a little more than three degrees left of a new moon on March 12. Checking my calendar, I discovered I’d be on Maui for a workshop that week. Sweet.
Fast forward to March 12: I’m on Haleakala, the location of the PanSTARRS telescope that discovered the comet, with my Maui workshop group. After a sunset that colored the swirling clouds in all directions, the clouds close in and completely shut down the sky. We stick it out for a while, but when the cold saps the group’s enthusiasm (it’s 35 degrees with 35 mph winds), I reluctantly honor their wishes. Could I really have gotten so close to this event I’ve been anticipating for nearly a year, only to be denied. Descending the mountain with one eye on the sky, I hope for a break.
Less than two miles down the road we suddenly pop into the clear and see a thin slice of moon dangling like a Christmas ornament in the blue/orange band separating day and night. While PanSTARRS isn’t bright enough to be visible the twilight, I know I can use its proximity to the moon to guide my lens. I pull the car over and we yank out our cameras and start firing, wider shots at first, then tighter to zero in on the comet and moon. As a bonus, the amount of light necessary to reveal PanSTARRS also exposed exquisite detail in the moon’s shadow area.
I’ll write more when I have time but I just had to share. Now, off to Hana….