While Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2 has already peaked in brightness, Jackson Hole has only just gotten one of the only clear nights of the season so far. I took this opportunity to capture the comet before it leaves our skies.
With the comet higher in the sky, I couldn’t help but notice its position relative to the constellation Orion and how he appeared to be firing the comet out into the night sky from his bow. Of course it’s more accepted that rather than a bow, he’s actually holding a shield, but given the circumstances I prefer to think of the comet as a fiery arrow he just show from his bow. I expanded the view on my camera and began capturing this scene.
Orion is one of the most well-known constellations in the North American night sky, and for good reason. It’s a grouping of many bright stars that are easily recognizable even from major cities. It’s also home to some of the most awe-inspiring and dramatic nebulae in the night sky, constantly targeted by both professional and amateur astronomers alike.
Easily visible in this photo is the Orion Nebula, found along his sword hanging from his belt. This is perhaps one of the most well-known nebulae in North America for its easy visibility under dark skies and dramatic views under telescopes. Less apparent is IC 434 above the Orion Nebula, or more commonly known as the Horsehead Nebula. It’s found just below Alnitak, the left-most star in Orion’s Belt. Since this image is so zoomed out, making out the horsehead in this photo is a bit tricky. Just on the other side of Alnitak is NGC 2024, aka the Flame Nebula, another object that’s tricky to perceive this zoomed out, but be sure I’ll be zooming in on both in the near future.
Less commonly known is Sharpless 276, or Barnard’s Loop. This is the red loop that circles from Rigel, the bright star on the bottom-right of Orion, all the way up to between Betelgeuse and Alnitak. Using a modified Canon Rebel to pick up higher concentrations of Hydrogen-Alpha particles, this loop comes out much more vividly than it would on a standard DSLR camera.
All the way on the left side of the photo is NGC 2237, the Rosette Nebula. Though it is very close to Orion, it’s actually considered to be part of the lesser-known constellation, Monoceros, greek for unicorn and next-door neighbor to Orion, among others.
Of course, all the way on the right is the other main subject of the photo, Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2. This was discovered during August of 2014 and surprised everyone by glowing much brighter than it was ever expected to and became a welcome, but temporary, addition to the night sky while ringing in the new year.
With all this activity just in this photo, it’s no wonder astronomers look forward to winter! Clearer air and more vivid nights help too.