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Hunting the Leonard A1 Comet in Taiwan

Taiwanese astrophotographer shares tips on photographing the newly discovered comet

The Leonard A1 Comet soaring over Yushan's North Peak. (P.K. Chen GIF)

The Leonard A1 Comet soaring over Yushan's North Peak. (P.K. Chen GIF)

The Leonard A1 Comet (LA1C) has taken the internet by storm lately — not to be confused with Leonardo the movie star or the A.1. steak sauce — and lived up to astronomy fans’ “disappointment” by making its way behind the sun and disappearing into the sunrise on Sunday (Dec. 12) with its dim light imperceptible to the eye.

However, beginners who are curious and patient may still huddle up at Hehuanshan’s Dark-Sky Park after Thursday to observe the “low-profile, humble” LA1C. For those like me who take this very seriously, look for the comet in places with good views to the west, such as Kenting’s Guanshan.

After Thursday, the LA1C will appear beneath Venus after dusk and may be found and observed through binoculars. Non-astronomy fans who simply want to join in on the hype may do so with the naked eye! Those interested to learn more about the comet can read a full introduction on the Sky at Night Magazine.

Hunting the Leonard A1 Comet in Taiwan
A close-up look at the LA1C as seen through a 400 mm lens. (P.K. Chen photo)

How to find and photograph the comet

Saturday (Dec. 11) at 3 a.m.

Considering reports in the U.S. and Japan about the comet’s “humble” visibility, I prepared my big boy telephoto lenses as well as 7x50 binoculars to capture it! I carefully selected a secret spot on Alishan as my photography location, so I could capture the beautiful sight of the comet flying over Taiwan’s divine mountain — Yushan.

A sensible photographer is also an artist who goes beyond equipment and Photoshop! More importantly, one must have a foundation in culture and good instincts, as well as know-how to select locations with good weather and angles to combine meaningful land scenery with the astronomical event and achieve a historic view of “The LA1C Flying Over Yushan’s North Peak!”

Hunting the Leonard A1 Comet in Taiwan
The LA1C Flying Over Yushan’s North Peak, shot through a 180mm lens. (P.K. Chen photo)

Additionally, one must not be obsessed with the popular trend of adding photoshopped colors to “create” and “paint” images that are completely different from what the eye sees. Just take individual photos simply and honestly in burst mode to form timelapse videos — as for the angle, I knew clearly before shooting that the comet would fly over the North Peak of Yushan!

That is how the two “The LA1C Flying Over Yushan’s North Peak” timelapse videos were made. One was shot through a 180 mm telephoto lens, which included Yushan’s North Peak in its frame; the other was shot through a 400 mm telephoto lens, which tracked and enlarged the image of the comet.

Hunting the Leonard A1 Comet in Taiwan
A 400mm shot tracking the LA1C as it disappears into the morning sun. (P.K. Chen GIF)

In the Buddhist Diamond Sutra, the meaning of “without a mind abiding in false notions of form” is to look at everything in life as its true form! For those who like to fiddle with colors in Photoshop just to “create” surprising photo “paintings,” independent thinking and abundant reading should be your focus in life.

Don’t be a copycat!

Hunting the Leonard A1 Comet in Taiwan
The light of dawn drowns out the comet. (P.K. Chen photo)

Hunting the Leonard A1 Comet in Taiwan
Camera gear used to observe and capture the LA1C. (P.K. Chen photo)

(Translation by Stephanie Chiang)

Chen Pei-kung (陳培堃), known among amateur astronomers as P.K. and children as Star Peter Pan, is a renowned photojournalist and astrophotographer. His writing and photography has been frequently featured in the American Sky & Telescope Magazine, the Japanese Tenmon Guide, as well as Taiwan’s major newspapers and magazines. In 1985, atop Jade Mountain, he became the first person in Taiwan to photograph Halley’s Comet.

Updated : 2022-05-21 18:26 GMT+08:00