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A Fleeting Moment: Comet NEOWISE

Conservationist and nature photographer Ian Shive takes us on a journey to the California desert to capture Comet NEOWISE.

September 07, 2020
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Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

There is something magical, maybe even a bit romantic, to spot a celestial object passing through our night sky, a temporary visitor in an otherwise mostly predictable map of stars. The first time I saw a comet, I was eight years old and had to stand on a stool to look through a neighbors telescope. I caught a glimpse of the most famous of all comets, Halley’s Comet, while it transversed our sky on an orbit that allows it to visit us Earthlings around once every 75 years.

If I’m lucky enough to live to see the year 2061, when I’ll be 83, I’ll have a chance to see it one final time. And perhaps once again, I’ll need a stool. It wasn’t until 1995 that I saw my next slow-motion “shooting star”, Comet Hale-Bopp. I was a young photographer though, and despite it being so visible in the night sky, and even during the day, I never got a photo of it. Two comets, two memories, no photos.

When Comet NEOWISE surprised us all with a visit this year, though, I knew I had to capture it. I packed the tent and camera, and headed for the darkest spot in the desert I could think of.

We walked through the desert trying to figure out where to go to best capture NEOWISE. We checked out the Mobius Arch to see if this was the perfect spot, but we quickly realized that this wouldn't be the place to get the best shot of the comet.

We were lucky enough the clouds moved out of the way. Though it was difficult to find, we were able to capture the magic before it drifted off into space.

We tried all different spots and arranged composition after composition.

This cosmic snowball was a tricky but beautiful subject.

We were gifted with clear skies in a perfect location far from city lights to capture NEOWISE.

Unlike Halley’s Comet, it’s very unlikely I’ll be around when NEOWISE swings by again in about 7,000 years.

This was my one chance to finally connect this fleeting gift of the heavens with the natural world of our planet.

Until next time, NEOWISE.

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