There was a furor about Halley’s Comet when it was visible from earth in 1986. I had seen a meteor streak through the skies back then and for a long time I thought it was the Halley’s Comet. Then, in 1997, when I was a teen, Hale-Bopp appeared and I saw its immensely brilliant form lingering above the horizon day after day. I realized my mistake. I also had vivid nightmares about a brilliant comet that was on a collision course with Earth, my subconscious mind mixing up predictions of Swift Tuttle coming into a potential collision path with Earth in 2126 (which have since been updated to a near-miss).
The Neowise comet has been lighting up the skies for the past few days, and I have been seeing my photographer friends killing it with some stunner images. Today was the only window that I could see with respect to a weekend and clear skies, so I woke up at 3 AM and drove off to a lake slightly further away from the city. When I reached the boat ramp around 4:45 AM the place was already filled with photographers. Everyone had masks on, and it took me some time to decipher the location of the comet. I mentally repeated the instructions I had read online.
“Look east and locate Venus. It is the shiniest object in the sky and you can’t miss it. Then, look Northward from its position, closer to the horizon. “
All I could see was a fat wad of cloud and the half-moon overhead that was lighting it up. All around me, people were going “ooh, aah” in a state of astronomical bliss. I cursed my glasses that fogged up thanks to my mask, unable to discern anything but a few stars. Finally, deciding to risk being exposed as the astronomical noob I was, I asked the gentleman closest to me, “Ehm, can you please help me spot it?”
He turned towards at me and said, “Oh, it is not visible to the naked eye now. Just point the lens to above those clump of trees and let rip a few 1-2 second exposures.” I thanked him and executed upon his advice.
After 5-6 photos of glorious darkness, I spotted a faint smudge of light encroaching into the base of my frame. Nearly jumping with joy and toppling my tripod, I quickly steadied my emotions and pulled back the frame and got a shot of the comet. The picture was out of focus, but still exhilarating. A few more tries gave better results, when someone muttered “Aww, man. Clear skies all over NC and look at this one cloud!”
Sure enough, an overhead cloud drifted North Eastward and in a minute, it blanketed the comet. We spent 10 anxious minutes watching twilight making the skies blush near the horizon. As the skies brightened up, the comet would disappear gradually. And suddenly, from behind someone exclaimed “The tail is out, the tail is out!” It reminded me of some painful labor scene from a movie when the baby’s head finally peeks through. There was a collective cheer as everyone went back to their cameras, and shutters started clapping all around once again.
I swapped out the lens, and made a few more images. Neowise the comet slowly dissipated into the brightening blues, and the crowd dispersed. I walked back, happy with what I had got, considering my last few outings for any photographic pursuits have been fruitless.
Embracing Darkness – Celebrating the Night Sky
- How looking out of the window saved my sanity – a quarantine birdwatching tale - December 28, 2020
- Stargazing on the Appalachian Trail - October 20, 2020
- Comet watching : Neowise aka C/2020 F3 - July 14, 2020