Call me crazy, but Friday night I convinced my husband and parents to go out to a remote area of the desert in the blackness of night to see a comet.
And am I glad that they didn’t think I had lost all my marbles.
The newly discovered Comet NEOWISE was visible to the naked eye in the northwestern sky. Just like you would expect to see, this comet had a bright point and large tail thanks to a recent pass by the sun that expanded its size.
NASA’s infrared space telescope discovered the comet in March and says its nucleus is covered with sooty material dating to the origin of our solar system some 4.6 billion years ago.
It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience as this comet won’t be passing close enough to see again for about 6,800 years.
For those of you who missed it, the comet can be seen until the end of the month, but now only through a telescope.
The last time I chased a comet in the middle of the night was 1986 when Halley’s Comet passed by. I took an astro-photography class so that I could take photos of the comet through a telescope.
I have seen such beautiful photos of Comet Neowise. In fact, it was a friend’s photo of the comet shining through the Seven Magic Mountains that prompted our nighttime excursion. It was also one of the sites recommended by the Las Vegas Review-Journal as a nearby dark spot that would make it easier to see the comet.
Little did I know that we weren’t the only crazy ones heading out at 8:30 at night to go comet watching. For a place that was supposed to be isolated, it was packed. Cars constantly pulled in and out of the parking lot and there was a steady stream of traffic on the road leading to the art installation in the middle of nowhere.
This time, however, I didn’t have access to a good camera or telescope but binoculars provided a splendid view and I will have to commit my views to memory. But that’s OK.
While seeing the comet was exhilarating, it was equally exciting exploring the night sky. With the help of a star tracking app, I was able to point out several constellations and planets.
It more than made up for the excursion I planned a couple of years ago to Great Basin National Park near Ely to ride Northern Nevada Railway’s Star Train with Dark Rangers to a night of stargazing. We arrived, rode the train and stopped at the appointed site but clouds played havoc with our view of the heavens above.
It is a beautiful sight, comet or not. Every once in awhile you need to be reminded of the wonders of nature around us. Hopefully, we don’t have to wait until 6,800 years to do so.
Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.