Going after 2I/Borisov – Solar System’s Second Interstellar Visitor


2I/Borisov is a comet that originated from beyond our solar system, and is presently passing though it. Once it leaves, it will never return. This only the second interstellar visitor that we humans have detected.

Borisov is not likely to be brighter than magnitude 15.5, it is a diffuse object, and will not appear any higher than about 30 degrees above the horizon from my location. These three factors suggest that this object might not be visible at the eyepiece of even my 12″ Meade. Still, though, to point my telescope at this object to capture a few photons would be really cool!

Technical challenges

In order to do photograph this comet, I have three really big technical challenges to overcome, and I will not have the luxury of a practice session before attempting a photo. First, I need an ultra-precise polar alignment so that my slews will land spot on the target, and so that my tracking will permit long exposures (10 minutes?) with minimal autoguiding. I have accomplished this with PoleMaster several times this year and within the last month, so this should not present a problem. Second, I need to be able to autoguide on a star to compensate for any residual errors remaining after I have obtained my best possible polar alignment. I have not done this in over a year, but I have opened the software, connected it to the guide camera and to the telescope mount, so this should not be a problem. And third, since 2I/Borisov has a significant angular velocity, I need to be able to obtain offsets from a star based upon the comet’s Ra and Dec rates. This is a very complex task that I have not tried heretofore. I have walked through the instructions, and I have connected the planetarium software to the guiding software.

Ideally I would test the last challenge – feeding cometary rates to the mount – but the only way that I can test is with a comet. Also, The conditions for imaging the comet are worsening as time passes, so I want to take advantage of the first opportunity. So, I will ultimately be testing on game day. At first I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. I have worked hard on this problem, and I think it is going to work.

Things to do before going to the field

Just a few more things to get done. I have written a brief guide for obtaining and feeding cometary angular rate data to the mount, so I want to practice running through a couple of times to tweak it. I also want to set up all of the equipment that I will be using. Practice is always good, and I can think of no better way to get everything that I need in one place.

Closing thoughts

2I/Borisov is viewable in the wee morning hours from my northerly location. Looking ahead at the coming weather forecast over the next few days, December 5th appears to be my first opportunity to image this object, so I will be watching the weather closely. I have lots more work to do over the next few days. More to follow shortly.

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