I went comet hunting last week.
And yes, I found Neowise in the west northwest sky, clear as day when the sun finally cleared its last light from the sky. It was majestic and otherworldly to see, as all things in a dark night sky can be.
But the journey to find Neowise is also worth a few words, a drive into the rural north on a weeknight that left me in awe of what I’ve found in moving here.
The “last light” on Wednesday, July 22, was supposed to be at 9:36 p.m. Of course, one really needs to understand the definition of last light, which doesn’t mean a dark sky. It means civil twilight, during which there is still enough light to do most things outside.
Driving north on Hwy. 169, I discovered that, because of the clear skies and a mostly clear horizon line, the sky actually did not get dark until well after 10 p.m.
There’s a certain magic in that time, watching the entire spectrum of the rainbow sit at the horizon as the moon rises. Waiting for it to finally go dark still gave a great view of northeast Minnesota.
I ended up driving more or less to Palisade, enjoying the last light and the cool evening. When I finally found what I thought would be a good place to stop and look for the comet, the Mississippi River was on my right and a clear sky above.
Star-gazing is something that everyone should take the time to do, especially in an area like this, where light pollution is easy to avoid. Never in my life have I been in an area where the night sky is such a gorgeous black curtain, the perfect canvas for stars to form their constellations.
And of course, to find a comet. As it turned out, the comet was much more to the west than I expected, which meant that it was about 10:30 or so before I really saw where it was in the sky.
Neowise hung right below the Big Dipper, trailing its tail fully behind the nucleus, a sight that brought me to the edge of tears. To see something so clear and bright, an object of the heavens that won’t be visible again for thousands of years (more lifetimes than I can count) ... it left me in awe.
For the first time since I moved here, I truly felt I understood the meaning of “God’s Country,” or – perhaps more to the point – God’s Sky. I felt like I got a glimpse into another place, like someone had opened up the sky just for my viewing and yet for everyone else as well.