poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘1986

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

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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

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