Comet C/2022 U2 Atlas in Auriga | Cristina Cellini

Astropod

Astropod | May 7th 2023


Comets are some of the most fascinating and elusive objects in the solar system. They are made of ice, dust and rock, and they orbit the Sun in highly eccentric paths. Sometimes, they come close enough to the Sun to develop a bright tail and a glowing coma, making them visible to the naked eye or with binoculars. Other times, they remain hidden in the outer reaches of the solar system, waiting for a gravitational perturbation to send them back to the inner regions.

Comet C2022 U2 Atlas in Auriga | Credit: Cristina Cellini
Comet C2022 U2 Atlas in Auriga | Credit: Cristina Cellini

One such comet is C/2022 U2 Atlas, discovered on October 9, 2022 by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) survey. This comet belongs to the long-period group, meaning that it takes thousands of years to complete one orbit around the Sun. Its last perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) was on January 14, 2023, when it reached a distance of 1.33 astronomical units (AU), or about 199 million kilometers. At that time, it had a predicted magnitude of 11.1, making it a challenging target for amateur astronomers.

However, some dedicated observers managed to capture stunning images of this comet, showing its faint tail and greenish hue. One of them is Cristina Cellini, an Italian astrophotographer. She took this amazing picture of Comet C/2022 U2 Atlas (the green blob in the bottom left of the center) on February 12th 2023 at 19:00 UTC from San Romualdo – Ravenna (Italy). She used a Askar 200 F/5 telescope on an Avalon M1 mount and a QHY294C cooled camera with an Optolong L-eNhance filter. She acquired 40 frames of 5 minutes each with Sharcap 3 software and calibrated them with dark frames. She then processed the image with Astroart 8, Paint Shop Pro 2023 and some plug-ins.

Auriga (constellation)

Auriga is a constellation located in the northern sky, which is visible from most parts of the world. Its name means “charioteer” in Latin, and it represents a figure from Greek mythology who is often depicted driving a chariot pulled by horses. The constellation contains several bright stars, including Capella, which is the sixth brightest star in the sky. Capella is actually a system of four stars, and its brightness and distinctive yellow color make it easy to spot in the night sky. Auriga also contains several notable deep-sky objects, such as the Flaming Star Nebula and the open clusters M36, M37, and M38, which can be seen with binoculars or a small telescope. Overall, Auriga is an interesting and easily recognizable constellation that is worth exploring for stargazers of all levels.

Gear and equipment used

  • Telescope: Askar 200 F/5
  • Mount: Avalon M1
  • Camera: QHY294C cooled -20
  • Filter: Optolong L-eNhance
  • Software: Sharcap 3, Astroart 8, Paint Shop Pro 2023

Location

San Romualdo – Ravenna (Italy)

Image acquisition details

  • Date: February 12th 2023
  • Time: 19:00 UTC
  • Exposure: 40x5min

Image processing techniques

  • Calibration with dark frames
  • Stacking with Astroart 8
  • Enhancement with Paint Shop Pro 2023 and plug-ins

Significance of the image

This image shows the beauty and diversity of comets in our solar system. Comet C/2022 U2 Atlas is one of the many visitors from the Oort Cloud, a vast reservoir of icy bodies that surrounds our Sun at a distance of about 50,000 AU. These comets are thought to be remnants of the formation of the solar system, and they carry valuable information about its origin and evolution. By observing and studying them, we can learn more about our cosmic history and place in the universe.

This image also demonstrates the skill and passion of Cristina Cellini, who captured this comet despite its low brightness. She used a combination of advanced equipment and software to produce a high-quality image that reveals the details and colors of the comet’s nucleus, coma and tail. She also shared her image with Astropod, our online platform for showcasing astrophotography from around the world.

Photographer credits

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