Print
Comet Neowise C/2020 F3 from Glen Haven beach in Leelanau County on July 26, 2020

Seeing the Stars Requires Clean Air

I recently spent a few evenings observing the Neowise comet (also known as C/2020 F3) and posted a picture to Facebook; a number of people commented positively on the photo even though it isn't particularly well composed or remarkable. A friend in Dallas posted one from his balcony, that was much less clear with no stars. People liked my photo not because it was artistic, but because they can't see the comet in a city with air and light pollution.

In Northern Michigan, we take for granted that the night sky is alive with stars. In a metropolitan area with air and light pollution, you can't even see the planets some times. When we chose Traverse City, we did our research and knew that it had very few days per year that the EPA classifies as bad, but I didn't really understand what this meant until the first time I took the garbage out on a clear night, and stood in awe of so many stars. As Kristin now puts it, "it's nice to live in a place where we can see the Milky Way from our driveway." If you've never lived anywhere else, it would be easy to take this for granted.

Unlike many rural counties, Grand Traverse County is growing, and will probably grow at a faster rate in the future due to the migrations that will occur with climate change and the aftermath of the pandemic. To maintain the breathable air and clear night skies, our community will need to make a choice on whether to preserve the things we love while we grow, or to consign the clear skies, bright stars and clean water to the past. I want to preserve and improve on clear skies, bright stars and clean water. It won't be hard if we start now, but cleaning up 50 years from now would be a challenge if we fail to preserve what we have now.

Comet Neowise C/2020 F3 see from Saylor Park in Acme Township, Michigan on July 17, 2020.
Comet Neowise C/2020 F3 from the Saylor Park boat ramp in Acme Township on July 17, 2020. The comet is fairly clear in the lower right corner and more or less in a straight line from the Big Dipper.
Comet Neowise C/2020 F3 seen at sunset from Glen Haven beach in Leelanau County on July 26, 2020.
Comet Neowise C/2020 F3 from Glen Haven beach in Leelanau County on July 26, 2020. The comet is very faint and more or less in the center directly below the left-most star in the Big Dipper.