CSU photographers capture once-in-a-lifetime images of Comet NEOWISE

A time-lapse video of Comet NEOWISE.

Take a moonless, relatively cloudless night at the top of a 10,000-foot mountain pass, plus three members of the Colorado State University Photography and Video team intent on capturing long-exposure images of the night sky, and throw in one comet making its closest approach to Earth in 6,000 years. The result? Some truly spectacular images.

Photographers John Eisele and Bill Cotton and videographer Ron Bend took a road trip up Poudre Canyon on July 19, stopping when they were far from city lights on La Poudre Pass, next to the Neota Wilderness, not far from the CSU Mountain Campus. They set up their equipment before sunset, and by 10:30 or so, it was dark enough for them to get to work capturing stars.

Looking north, Bend noticed a smudge that he suspected might be Comet NEOWISE, just below the Big Dipper. Eisele said it was so faint that it was difficult to see if they looked directly at it, but focusing on a nearby tree brought it into their peripheral vision. Cotton tried for a tight shot through his 400mm lens.

“Since we couldn’t really see it, I just pointed it in the general direction for a quick test, and nailed it,” he said with obvious glee. “Sure enough, that smudge was the comet, centered in the frame, nicely exposed, and in focus! I wish we had thought to film our reaction to that.”

The team had several cameras set up for time-lapse photography of different parts of the sky and did some still photos as well. They were working at ISOs of around 8,000-10,000, with lenses wide open (typically f/2.8) and shutter speeds of between 10 and 20 seconds.

While the high temperature in Fort Collins on Sunday was 84 degrees, it hit about 35 degrees on the pass overnight, fogging their lenses pretty quickly. When the intrepid image-hunters finally called it a night and headed home, they encountered about a dozen moose on and beside Long Draw Road.

CSU University Communications photographers John Eisele (left) and Bill Cotton and video producer Ron Bend.

Comet NEOWISE photos

To see more still images of the Comet NEOWISE, which has already begun to dim as it continues on its long-term journey around the sun, visit CSU’s Flickr page.