Thursday, 16 July 2020

Comets NEOWISE and McNaught

Last weekend, as I was going to bed, I noticed a very bright light in the northern sky, not that far above the horizon. I stupidly assumed it was Venus or Jupiter, and that it was looking slightly blurred through the glass, so I didn't take a closer look with binoculars (you can sometimes pick out the main moons of Jupiter with a decent pair of bins).

Next day, I saw all sorts of things on Twitter that made it clear that it had been Comet NEOWISE. And of course, since then, there hasn't been a clear night to have another look, although it should be visible until around the end of the month.

It reminded me of Comet McNaught, from 2007 (also sometimes called the Great Comet of 2007), which was bright and pretty spectacular. It inspired a poem (in as much as a poem is ever inspired by one thing) that appeared in my first collection, Troy Town, which was published by Arrowhead Press in 2008. Here it is:


That spray of light on the western horizon
this last fortnight is a comet. All the papers say so now.
The best of it was believing it was our discovery

but it seems a scientist at an Australian observatory
has been tracking its orbit for months. Yesterday, late,
as I walked back the long way round, the way I haven't

walked in years, I watched a single cloud
swallow half the heavens whole, but this morning
– oh my sungrazer, my hyperbola, my single apparition –

it was only the hills the stars have always hid behind.

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