The lady at the gas station sent me here! — My finding Comet NEOWISE

Yesterday (July 17), I was on the fence as to whether or not to brave the weather to go and find Comet NEOWISE, but I happened to talk to Bart Fried (our Vice President), and he asked if I had seen the comet yet.  Then, soon enough, I ran off.  I drove through two rainstorms, chasing a destination that right now I cannot recall.  I apparently drove north in the direction of the Catskills.  Anyway, I pulled into a gas station, abandoned my destination, then headed into the empty fields around there.  Above, I saw a sky full of stars; at the northwest horizon I saw apparently clear skies.  On the other side I could see lightning.  I drove around, many times through fog.  At times I wasn’t sure if I was chasing a comet, or if I was being tailed by a creation of Bram Stoker.  I soon found a couple staring into the horizon, and asked to join.

Richard and Christine welcomed me, and showed me where to look for Comet NEOWISE (they had been shown, just a few minutes before that, by someone else).  They were local to the area.  So, I saw it with my naked eyes, then with my binoculars, and then I set up Richard’s camera on my tripod.  We Googled for his camera’s instructions, and he might have gotten some usable shots.  Of course, I shamelessly used the opportunity to plug the club.  Anyway, I then set up my own camera, and snapped a few shots with my old and tiny EOS SL1 body, and two lenses (Sigma f2.8 17-50 mm, and Canon kit lens — the one that’s 75mm at the long end).

I got off a few shots there.  As it turned out, we were standing at the entrance of someone’s private property, and were interrupted when one of the people living on the property drove out.  Luckily, my new local guides happened to know the family, and we all had a friendly conversation.  I was amazed that people upstate can be so cavalier about passing comets, but they’re also used to seeing the Milky Way up there, regularly.

The fog rolled in and out, and it created an often-moody atmosphere.  It was great!

Before leaving, Christine asked me what caused me to go to where I had met them, all the way from Uptown Manhattan.  That’s when I said:

“The lady at the gas station sent me here!

“I just pulled in, shopped, and asked if she got many comet hunters passing by.

“’To that, she said, ‘Oh, just head to the bridge, past town, and if you don’t want city lights, just drive past the bridge, and you’ll find open fields all around.’”

So, thank you, my helper of comet hunters.  It was a great night to be gaming in the amazing sky preserve.

Afterward, I scouted out a nearby location, the Valley View Overlook near Ellenville, where I went the next night and met Gowrishankar L. and George Preoteasa for another night of comet watching.

Faissal Halim runs the AAA Instagram account @aaadotorg .  See Faissal’s photos @faissalhalim