From the Vault: Comet McNaught C/2006 P1

Hi all

From the Vault is a new idea for my site, where once a week i’ll feature an old image and bring it back to life here and give some background and information on capturing and processing the image(s). I’ll mainly concentrate on images taken over the past few years, before my site was created so they won’t have been featured here before.

First cab off the rank is Comet McNaught (C/2006 P1). It’s a perfect subject to be featured this week because it’s exactly 2 years ago that it first made an appearance in our southern skies. It brightened rapidly to become one of the “great” comets, the best in 40 years and visible even during daylight. At its peak on the 20th January 2007, it had a tail that spread across over 40° of sky.

Rainbow of Comet McNaught (C/2006 P1) captured at IISAC2007

Rainbow of Comet McNaught (C/2006 P1) captured at IISAC2007

Continue reading to see more images of Comet McNaught and details about their capture and processing.

The image was taken on Saturday night, 20th January 2007 on top of the ironically named “Mount Disappointment”, in the Hunter Valley of NSW during the IISAC2007 star party.

We had about 100 people on top of the mountain viewing the comet, awe-struck by its beauty. It really was difficult to take a bad shot, and the image above is a simple 90 second exposure with my Canon 350D and Sigma 17-70mm lens. Processing was minimal, some noise reduction (it was hot!), contrast adjustment, saturation boost and really just trying to be careful not to blow out the highlights with the glow of the setting sun.

The image has been featured in magazines and on calendars and in presentations and is really my postcard image of Comet McNaught.

Going back a few days now, to when the comet first made an appearance in our Southern Skies. I headed out to The Entrance on the 15th January, 2007 to capture the comet still in daylight – the sun had just gone behind the mountain and we were able to spot it.

Comet McNaught making a daylight appearance at The Entrance

Comet McNaught making a daylight appearance at The Entrance

I used the Canon 350D with the stock 75-300mm lens @ 300mm, f/5. I exposed for 1.3s at ISO100 and processing was again minimal with contrast adjustment and saturation.

Back to IISAC2007, and the image below was captured on the first night, the 18th January 2007. I used the Canon 350D with the 75-300mm lens in portrait orientation to capure the length of the tail. The sky was still very bright and yet the comet was still easily visible and was a sign of things to come over the next few days.

On the first night at IISAC2007, the comet was already putting on a great show

On the first night at IISAC2007, the comet was already putting on a great show

Day 2 of IISAC2007, 19th January 2007, and the number of people on top of the mountain was growing. The excitement was palpable and people had binoculars and cameras at the ready.

In a similar shot to the previous day, the image below was captured just before the head of the comet was setting below the mountain.

Day 2 of IISAC2007 - the comet was very bright now just before it set behind the mountain

Day 2 of IISAC2007 - the comet was very bright now just before it set behind the mountain

One of my favourite images from the 19th is one showing the Comet, the Crescent Moon and Venus all in the one shot. You’ll probably need to view the full image to see them all as they were barely visible in the still bright sky.

Comet McNaught, the Crescent Moon and Venus

Comet McNaught, the Crescent Moon and Venus

Back at home, and a few days later now. Australia day, 26th January 2007, my friend Andrew Catsaitis and I headed down to the Gosford Waterfront to capture what was our last images of Comet McNaught before it faded from view. With people driving past shouting Australia Day Celebration messages to us, we battled the Gosford and Woy Woy light pollution to capture the Comet over Brisbane Water.

Comet McNaught amongst the light pollution in Gosford and Woy Woy

Comet McNaught amongst the light pollution in Gosford and Woy Woy

It really was a spectacular comet, and the memories I have from IISAC2007, sitting on top of the mountain with my wife and kids, viewing this once in a life-time amazing sight in the sky, is something I’ll never forget.

To see the rest of my Comet McNaught images, view them in my gallery. To purchase a print of the Rainbow of Comet McNaught, you can do so at RedBubble.

Thanks for looking and for allowing me to share these memories with you.

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