Well, it can definitely be said that Comet McNaught was not at all camera-shy.
Unlike its hard-to-spot predecessor, Halley’s Comet (back in 1986), McNaught brazenly blazed across Cape Town’s skies in apocalyptic fashion, and we Capetonians came out in force to catch a glimpse of this celestial spectacle.
For me, it became something of an obsession, and I found myself, night after night, making the trip all the way over Ou Kaapse Weg to get just one more look at it.
The first night (a Tuesday) I went to look for McNaught, unruly clouds got in the way, shrouding the comet from view. All I saw was a beautiful Noordhoek sunset (agh, shame) and I returned to the southern suburbs with my comet-thirst unquenched.
The second night (a Wednesday) was much clearer, so once again I zipped over the mountain to Noordhoek and settled down on the deck of Thorfynns Restaurant, in Monkey Valley, knocking back tequilas and hoping there’d be a good show.
There was. And once I’d spotted the comet, I whipped out my tripod and started taking photos… Everyone on the deck got very excited (I suspect happy hour helped with that) and pointed upwards for those who were overly focused on their beers.
Suddenly, everyone was a comet expert. Long discussions ensued as to how far away it was (‘500 gazillion miles’), where it was going (‘straight into the sun!’) and how long it would be before it came around again (‘not in our lifetime, bru’).
“More, more, I’m still not satisfied!”
It was beautiful, and the perfect evening, and it should have been enough. But, as I was rapidly discovering, hunting comets can be addictive, and I wanted MORE – just one more look, just one more photo.
I held out until the weekend.
Come Saturday I was champing at the bit, waiting to see McNaught again. When I found out that Venus and the moon would be putting on a bit of show of their own, there was no stopping me, and I made yet another trip to Noordhoek to set up my tripod and wait.
As the sun set, a beautiful crescent moon appeared on the horizon. Then, the comet started showing, very faintly at first, but growing brighter as the light left the horizon.
As if that wasn’t beautiful enough, Venus then appeared right next to the sliver of moon, looking somehow like a sparkling diamond on a slender silver ring.
The combination of streaking comet, venus-and-moon ensemble and the sweeping light of Kommetjie’s Slangkop lighthouse will stay with me forever, I am sure. After all, what are the chances I’ll see something like that again?!
Winding my way back home I wished, somehow, that I knew nothing about astronomy, and could just have concentrated on the scene, like a child, without knowing how it all works (or sort of how it all works). Knowledge kinda takes the magic out of it, I think.
But that’s not all, folks. On Monday, I decided that my mother simply had to see the comet (‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ blah blah) so in exchange for a home-cooked meal I took her to get her very first look at it.
As it turned out, a fire had been raging in Noordhoek all through that day, and the resulting view (from OU Kaapse Weg) was startlingly apocalyptic.
Looking at that fiery scene it wasn’t so very difficult to understand why comets were so often regarded as harbingers of doom and signs of a god’s wrath… (perhaps they were on to something, and we should be paying more attention!).
And so ended my McNaught addiction, almost as abruptly as it began.
For all you fellow addicts out there, here are a few places to look at images of Comet McNaught, taken from around the world:
- Comet McNaught Photogallery on Spaceweather.com
- Comet McNaught Photo Pool on Flickr
- SkyTonight Photo Gallery
My own comet pics are here.