poetry and prose about place

places off-planet #3 – Halley’s Comet 1986

with 6 comments

Halley’s Comet, first recorded by astronomers in 240 BCE, has been a regular visitor through the ages, although people did not realise they were seeing the same comet until astronomer Edmund Halley determined this in 1705.  Halley’s Comet makes an elliptical orbit of the sun and returns to view approximately every 75 years.  It was last seen in 1986.  Halley’s Comet is composed of dust, ice water and other frozen gasses, and was described by astronomer Fred Whipple as a ‘dirty snowball’.  Its nucleus is 15 km long, 8 km wide and 8 km thick; its tail is as much as 100 million km long!

We saw Halley’s Comet as a family, waking in the middle of the night, and driving to a nearby hill overlooking a big field with French Lake and its treeless wetlands in the distance.  The night sky was overcast with a thin high-elevation cloud, so our view was not the best.  However, to me, it was marvellous… a huge (relative to the size of the stars) ball of fuzzy light.  My son can barely remember our watch on the hillside, all swathed in blankets.  However, when it returns in 2061 and he is 78 years old, he will be able to say he saw it twice!

Photo from Wikimedia Commons, taken by Kuiper Airborne Observatory



Halley’s  1987


we choose a roadside watching place

beside a farmer’s field

across from the cemetery

few trees

few lights


we set the alarm for three

coax one another

into the icy car

in awe for an hour

at the comet    fuzzy      indistinct

four fingers above the horizon


too undefined, too faint

for the dirty snowball

they predicted

I scrape our breath from the window

I see it, says my son, only three

I think


he sleeps between us until ten o’clock

his blanket a soft ball

pressed to his nose


almost eighty

he waits for the return


I saw it when I was only young

I think



©  Jane Tims 1997

Written by jane tims

May 7, 2012 at 7:43 am

6 Responses

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  1. Well, if I never get to see a falling star at least I’ve seen this comet because of this post. Many thanks, Merrill



    May 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm

  2. My grandfather remembered watching Haley’s Comet in 1910, when he was 5 years old. He and his mother saw it from the front room window of their house in Abington, Massachusetts. He told me about it around the time it came back in 1986, but I don’t remember if he actually got to see it then. I didn’t see it. Don’t remember if the weather wasn’t favorable or if I was just too tired from mothering three small children and helping out with my mother-in-law, who was ill. I enjoyed reading your account of seeing it with your family and how you described your feelings about seeing it in your poem. Maybe your son will be reading this blog post in 2061, preserved somewhere or other, grateful that you recorded the memories!


    Barbara Rodgers

    May 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    • Hi Barbara. You are lucky to have your grandfather’s story. It is interesting how many ways we ‘remember’ things… through story, photo, poem or sometimes as an image preserved in our own brains and memories! Jane


      jane tims

      May 7, 2012 at 8:31 pm

  3. Hi Jane,
    I like the way you’ve capured the images of a sleeping three year old and his tenuous remembrances, both past and future, of seeing the comet. Wonderful.


    Carol Steel

    May 7, 2012 at 9:35 am

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