By Sheldon Greaves
The year was 2004. We were living in New England, and the buzz was building about the upcoming transit of Venus, which would be repeated in 2012. Things were busy, the usual scramble to find work, make a living, and keep from going crazy in the meantime. I had picked somewhere a pair of special filters mounted in cardboard eyewear frames that would let me safely observe the transit without frying my retinas over easy. As the day drew closer, the weather looked iffy, but the chances of seeing something were still there.
For any number of reasons, most of which have faded from recollection, I decided not to get in the car and seek a place with a view of the right part of the sky, and try to see this rare event. That was a mistake. Not because there was a great view or because anything happened other than what was supposed to, but it was a failure on my part to give my own curiosity a poke when it needed one.
I kicked myself for months afterwards about that, and held on to those glasses because there was an opportunity for redemption eight years later. I tend to have a pretty long planning horizon. 2012 drew on, and Denise and I planned that we would make a day of it, no matter what, and hound this event like paparazzi chasing a rock star. Life is was chaotic, for many of the same reasons plus a few new ones. Starting literally with telescope and cameras set up in our front yard, we shot hundreds of frames, then moved to a rest stop along highway 280, and gradually to the balcony of some friends that offers a mostly unobstructed view of the ocean horizon. It was exhausting, intense, and utterly rewarding. I even used those goofy glasses briefly, perhaps as a small act of contrition.
When something like the coming comet ISON blows through the neighborhood, it’s easy to think, “Oh, I’m sure another once-in-a-lifetime comet will show up soon enough” and, given the press’ penchant for hyperbole about all things astronomical, that may be true. However, it is unimportant. It’s not enough to look at the reports and photos. If you can get a view, do it. Even if you don’t have any equipment more fancy than the Mark I Eyeball. Not an astronomer? It’s time you stuck a toe in those waters. No telescope? Use an ordinary camera. No camera? Make a sketch with notes. Do something to mark it in your mind, and then use that as a jumping off point to learn whatever else you can about it.
We’ve posted information on how to and where to look. We’re going to make a go of it, and I hope you do, too.