A Story of a Father and Son’s Hunt for the Neowise Comet

A Story of a Father and Son’s Hunt for the Neowise Comet

(Brandon Kolo, July 25, 2020)

Royal Oak, MI – The last four months have been hard for everyone.  As parents of a five year little boy, Henry, and one year old baby girl, Kennedy, my wife Carly and I have tried to make the world as normal a place as possible to the little ones.  We have celebrated three birthday parties with just the four of us and a house filled with balloons (you would think we lived in a Party City distribution site), replaced our planned European vacation with 12 days of watching YouTube videos of cruise ships & port cities while cooking our way through the itinerary, and explored new parks in our home town of Royal Oak.  Life is different, but we are staying safe while adjusting.  It goes without saying that we’re masking up and social distancing.

We have also taken on many adventures during quarantine because it’s healthy to be out enjoying the world.  From exploring Belle Isle while watching the Blue Angels fly over Detroit, traveling to Armada to meet the farmers and tour the fields where the vegetable plants in our garden started, and spending a day at the Detroit Zoo, where that taught Henry his favorite way to remember social distancing (stay one tiger apart from everyone).

When Comet Neowise was discovered and local newscasters shared it was available to see just after dusk – but only for a limited amount of days, I knew that comet hunting would be the latest adventure for us to take on.

Little did I know the adventure would last 10 days.

The first step was buying a telescope.  Luckily Amazon was able to deliver one to the house next day.  That led to an entire day learning how to use the telescope while bird watching in the backyard.

Next we had to find a good location.  We spent a long afternoon driving around southern Oakland County looking for a good open field to set up in that night (parent confession, I was hoping Henry would take a nap in the car).  Our search led us to Royal Oak High School athletic fields.  Having our spot ready, we just had to wait until 11pm to venture out.

Arriving at the fields with an excited but tired little boy in tow, it quickly became apparent that I forgot to take one important factor into consideration while picking a site; light pollution.  With only a modest telescope, and no binoculars to help guide us, the surrounding street lights drowned out the field of view.  We attempted relocating to Civic Center Park in Madison Heights but had little luck seeing the comet.  Our consolation prize of a beautiful view of Jupiter.

After some online research and advice from people on social media, I spent a Saturday night alone driving around northern Oakland County trying to find an open field away from city lights.  A quick stop at Sylvan Glen Lake Park in Troy was beautiful, but still too bright.  Continuing my search, I drove to Addison Oaks County Park.  The sky was ideal outside of densely populated southern Oakland County.  While it was now past midnight and the comet had “set” for the night, I knew I had found the spot for our next attempt

Unfortunately, my Saturday night alone would be the last clear night for days.  Henry and I ventured out to Addison early in the week, hoping to get a break in cloud cover, but had little luck.  Once again I was stuck with an overly tired kid and no comet.

Looking into the sky forecast (websites are dedicated to telling you the cloud coverage on any given night) I knew Thursday was our best chance.  Henry and I once again packed our astronomy kit – which had now grown to two sets of binoculars, a tripod to hold a camera steady, and our original telescope, and trekked out to Marsh View Park in Oakland Township.

After a quick walk down a trail to avoid the one light of the parking lot, the sky lit up with stars.  Henry immediately was able to identify the Big Dipper; our week of astronomy lessons had paid off if this was his take away.  With everything set up we looked to the sky and finally found Neowise!

While viewing through the binoculars we could clearly see the comet body and a cloud of light around it.  Even more spectacular was setting up the phone on a tripod, allowing a long shutter length, and capturing the comet and tail.  Ten days of preparation and practice had finally paid off.

After viewing the amazing celestial site, we celebrated with a McDonald’s ice cream sundae in the car.

Parenting through a global pandemic isn’t easy, but little adventures are a great distraction and keep the world a normal place for my young ones.

For tips on how to view the comet, visit the NASA website.

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