Photo by: Ian Shive

Ian Shive

Catching a Glimpse of Comet NEOWISE, a Once in a Lifetime Moment

If you find yourself in a place with clean air and an unobstructed view of the night sky, you will undoubtedly be mesmerized by its starry-depth and beauty.

September 04, 2020

From here on Earth, the wonder of it is never lost on us. As a photographer attempting to make images of the night sky, it has always come with tremendous limitations. Only in the last 15 years or so has astronomical photography taken a huge leap forward, the faint light of the stars finally appearing in our frames. At first, it required a somewhat extreme technical approach, with expensive cameras and equally as expensive tripods. Now, even your smartphone can capture some of the glint and is sure to only improve with time.

Read More

Nature in Focus | Chasing Comet NEOWISE 05:12

When Comet NEOWISE surprised us with a visit this year, nature photographer Ian Shive packed his tent and camera and headed out to the desert. His goal? Attempt to capture this once in a lifetime event.

The Fleeting Comet

Photo by: Ian Shive

Ian Shive

Comet NEOWISE, however, is a horse of a different color. Unlike its predecessor, Comet Hale-Bopp, which captured photographers imaginations as it flew through the night sky in the mid '90s. It was visible with the naked eye even in the bright mid-day sun, but NEOWISE is much more faint. You wouldn’t know it looking at my photos (or the photos others post on social media), but when I first got out into the desert, I couldn’t find it! Only with my peripheral vision, which is more sensitive to faint light, could I discern what looked almost like a small white smudge in the sky. As it became darker and dusk turned into a moonless, inky blackness, the smudge remained faint, but slightly more visible.

It was also at a sort of odd angle, about 30 degrees above the horizon. Had the comet been straight above, it would have almost been easier to photograph with a foreground element, such as a giant sequoia or cactus. At 30 degrees, and so faint and small, the only way to photograph the comet with any sort of foreground, whether it be a rock formation, mountain, or other object. I'd also need to use a telephoto lens and find something far enough away, but tall enough, that it would appear high into the sky near the comet.

For those of you not super technical in photography, this basically meant I needed the goldilocks of compositions…something just right! Add to that the challenge of clouds obscuring the night sky, I’m working in total darkness in a cactus-filled desert and the knowledge that if I miss this chance, it’ll be another 7,000 years before the comet comes back. No pressure!

In the end, it all worked out. Are there things I would change? Always. Maybe a different spot or a different lens. However, I am pleased with the result, because back when I was just starting as photographer, when Hale-Bopp came through almost 20 years ago, I never had the opportunity to capture it. Adding Comet NEOWISE to my collection was a true victory and hopefully great practice for whenever the next celestial visitor swings through our world.

Ian Shive

Ian Shive is a photographer, author, film and television producer, and conservationist who has been praised as the “leading chronicler of America’s national parks.”

Next Up

Mark Rober and MrBeast Team Up to Plant 20 Million Trees

They're planting 20 million trees, but they're on a deadline. Here's what you need to know to support their cause!

Baby Raptor Fossil Found in Alaska

Over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, paleontologists found baby velociraptor fossils with big implications.

Penguins Roam Art Museum in Kansas City

Penguins from the Kansas City Zoo took advantage of the lack of people in the The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and spent the morning taking in the masterpieces. They loved Caravaggio. Monet, not so much.

How the West Coast’s Wildfires Could Irrevocably Change Wildlife

Wildfires have swept across the West Coast of America this year with devastating consequences. Burning millions of acres of land in their wake, the fires have not just wreaked havoc on forests, but could have a long-lasting impact on numerous wildlife species too.

An Underwater Adventure From the Comfort of Your Couch

The Georgia Aquarium is live streaming from some of their epic habitats!

A Woolly Rhino was the Last Meal of a Prehistoric Puppy

Russian Scientists are hypothesizing that the last living Woolly Rhino was eaten as the last meal of a puppy!

Clear Skies During Lockdown is a Pandemic Upside

With almost all of the world under lockdown, cars are off the roads and the smog is disappearing in some of the planet’s most polluted atmospheres.

Scientists in Antarctica Get the Giggles from Penguin Waste

King penguin poop is causing some issues for scientists in Antarctica. This flightless bird's guano releases nitrous oxide, a gas that is known commonly as laughing gas.

Pangolins, World's Most Trafficked Animal, May Finally Be Safe

China is removing one of the world’s most trafficked animals, the pangolin, from its list of animals used for traditional medicine.

How COVID-19 Revived the World’s Addiction to Plastic

Surgical masks, gloves, hand sanitizer bottles – all the most sought-after items in the coronavirus pandemic have one thing in common: plastic. So what does this temporary shift to single-use plastics mean for the environment and the world’s anti-plastic pledge?
Related To: