So I'm off to the big city (i.e. New York) tomorrow for about a week. I'll mostly be in meetings, but anyone out that way interested in getting together, drop me a line. Once that is over with, this blog will hopefully become more interesting again.
I didn't forget entirely about our friendly local comet-in-outburst, which last time we had clear skies was still visible in the northeast. The picture below, again taken afocally through our 10-inch refractor, shows what it looked like a couple of weeks ago. Now it's expanded so much that it's an obvious fuzzball in the sky, and is really too large to photograph well through a telescope. And anyway, the interesting structures are now too low surface brightness to capture well with my equipment. As it is, to get the outer parts of the coma below, the sensitivity is turned way up, which produces the grainy texture (i.e. noise). As Jess put it, the quantum efficiency of my detector is rather low.
People with professional -- pricy -- equipment are, of course, having a field day. For example, over the past couple of weeks deep exposures revealed the comet developing and then releasing an ion tail. On the other hand, if you go to high resolution instead of exposure time, observers are noting all kinds of interesting jet-like structures showing up near the comet nucleus. Interestingly, that later picture was taken by a remote-controllable automated scope that you can apparently rent time with online. Which sort of makes amateur astronomy work the same way as it does for researchers, who these days often get nowhere near the telescopes that produce their observations.
In my research, on the other hand, we actually have to build the telescope before we can fly it. Which might explain why I enjoy cranking up the old refractor and fiddling around until I can take acceptable photos with whatever cheap equipment I have handy. It's just fun.