Neowise Nostalgia

Comet Neowise is fading fast. For the last two weeks, I’ve been watching Neowise climb higher and higher in the early evening northwestern sky. Neowise was a welcome sight in this shit-storm (2020) year. Gazing at its diffuse tail takes your mind off the Wuhan Coronavirus1 and the global, mostly self-inflicted, economic clusterfuck it caused.

In 15×70 binoculars Neowise was a fine sight; its bifurcated tail spanned the entire field of view but, without binoculars, Neowise was a dud for my cataract compromised eyes. Despite my best averted-vision efforts I never saw it without binoculars. So, as fine as Neowise was, it comes in last on my lifetime comet list. For a longtime amateur astronomer, my lifetime comet list is embarrassingly short. Here it is:

Comet Bennet 1970 near Canmore Alberta Canada

My first naked eye comet was a complete surprise. I was returning from a spring break Vancouver trip with two, now deceased, friends, Carl Sullivan and Lawrence Nazar. It was past midnight, we had just driven through Banff National Park on the way to Calgary when we pulled over to pee. While pissing on crusty highway shoulder snow we looked up at the mountains to the south. Shining high above the dark peaks was the most beautiful comet I’ve ever seen. At the time we didn’t know the comet’s name and we weren’t entirely sure it was a comet. It was just too perfect! It looked exactly like a textbook comet. Later, another friend Bob Blaxley identified the apparition: comet Bennet. We saw Bennet under nearly ideal conditions. The sky was pitch black and the comet was very high. The tail was spectacular.

Haley’s Comet 1986 Edmonton Alberta Canada

Haley’s Comet is easily the most famous comet out there. It’s the one comet every literate person knows. Haley is a short-period comet. It famously returns every 75 to 76 years. Haley’s human lifetime period distinguishes it from most comets. If you’re lucky you can see Haley’s Comet twice. Mark Twain often opined that he came in with Haley’s Comet and expected to go out with it. He did! Contrast this with Neowise. It won’t return for another 6,700 years. Nobody alive today will witness Neowise’s return. Hell, even Bristlecone Pines, trees that can live up to 5,000 years, won’t see Neowise again.

Some of Haley’s passes have been spectacular. The 1910 pass was impressive, but the 1986 pass was a dud. In 1986 Haley’s Comet was far from Earth and appeared as a small fuzzy tailless spot in Edmonton Alberta’s skies. I’m glad I caught Haley’s in 1986. I doubt I’ll see it again in 2061.

Comet Hyakutake 1996 Kingston Ontario Canada

In 1996 we were all holding our breath as Hale Bopp approached perihelion. Hale Bopp had been discovered way out and we were hoping it would blossom into the bright enduring comet we craved. We had been bitterly disappointed before; we shall not utter Kohoutek’s name. With Hale Bopp on the way, Hyakutake was seen as a warm-up act. But, just like warm-up bands can out-play headliners, Hyakutake, the little comet that could, put on a great show.

On the week of Hyakutake’s closet approach to Earth, I was eagerly looking for it but Kingston Ontario’s crappy cloudy skies got in the way. Every night, for a week, I gazed up at the butt-holes of clouds not exactly the tail2 I was looking for. The weather was grim, unrelenting, savage, cruel, relentless; it almost broke me, but then one night, as I was pulling into our driveway I looked up and saw perfectly framed in a cloud gap the long twisty filamentary tail of Hyakutake. The tail spread over twenty degrees. It was the longest comet tail I have ever seen. The following evening Kingston’s skies clouded out and I never saw Hyakutake again.

Hale Bopp 1997 Kingston Ontario Canada

You could make a good case that Hale Bopp was the comet of the 20th century. Most naked eye comets show for a few weeks; Hale Bopp graced Earth’s skies for over a year. Hale Bopp was easily visible to anyone that bothered looking up in 1997. It hung around for so long that we almost got bored3 with it! As grand as Hale Bopp was it could have been beyond epic. Like Haley’s Comet in 1986 Hale Bopp was very far from the Earth when it zoomed by, but unlike Haley’s which appeared as a small fuzzy blob, Hale Bopp glowed like the much closer Bennet for months. If Hale Bopp had passed as close to Earth as Hyakutake had people would have lost their apocalyptic shit!

Not the best posture for comet viewing but you have to respect the Nike product placement.

Some, too stupid to live, morons lost their apocalyptic shit anyway! Remember the Heaven’s Gate suicide squad that boarded spaceship Hale Bopp with phenobarbital? I’ll never forget their little Nike clad feet sticking out from under their purple death sheets. Ahh, good times!

Comet Neowise Meridian Idaho United States

Neowise is the last comet on my list. It didn’t put on a grand show or inspire any suicidal death cults but I’ll miss it anyway. Bon Voyage Neowise.

  1. I don’t give a ding-dong-damn about whether you think Winnie the Chinese Wuhan Coronavirus is racist or not. The virus cannot care about what it’s called, and neither should you. Ignore the wokerati; for them everything is racist. They’ve stripped the word “racist” of its meaning. “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”↩︎

  2. How’s that for micro-aggressive comet sexual innuendo?↩︎

  3. It takes a special type of asshole to be bored by a comet.↩︎

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