Neowise comet makes tracks across Oregon skies
Robert Cutshall has a message to anyone out at night: Take a moment to stop and look up at the stars.
Cutshall, an amateur astronomer and skywatcher for the past 35 years, was excited by the arrival of Comet Neowise, the brightest comet seen from Earth since Hale-Bopp in 1997, in the night skies of the Northern Hemisphere early this month.
On Saturday night, July 18, Cutshall trekked out to the Gaston area from his home in Metzger, pointed his camera to the heavens and got a stellar shot of Neowise.
"That was a long night," he said. "You could actually see it with just the naked eye with no binoculars or anything."
Cutshall said he used his trusty Pentax K-1 Mark II, equipped with a 70-200mm lens, to get a photo of the comet, which he described as looking like a "little smear in the sky," at about 11 p.m. Saturday.
He thinks it was the third shot that captured the essence of the comet, which was discovered March 27 — by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or NEOWISE, for which the comet is named.
"I think that was a two- or three-minute exposure on it," Cutshall said.
That same night, he took a photo of the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy as well as witnessed 20 or more meteors, often known as shooting stars.
"I've been interested in photography and astronomy for a long time," said Cutshall. "The first time I ever took a picture of anything in space, I think was in high school back in the late '80s."
Cutshall recalled one night back then when he stuck his old Pentax SLR on a tripod, aimed it at the North Star and tapped down the shutter. He went back to watch a movie, fell asleep and forgot about it until the next morning when he developed the film himself.
"It came out with a perfect circle of the star trails," he said. "As the earth spins, it spins it around."
Cutshall was hooked on astronomy photography from that point onward.
The type of sky phenomenon he likes to view most are nebulas, saying that in the night sky, they look like pieces of cotton candy.
Cutshall, who works at Tigard's Good Neighbor Center, a family shelter for the unhoused, compares viewing Comet Neowise to asking a person how much they would be willing to pay to see a once-in-a-lifetime Broadway show that would never be produced again.
"People would pay beaucoup bucks for that," he pointed out. "Well, every night, there's this great show above you that's for free."
A comet's tail is formed by the sublimation of ice from its surface, as solar rays warm up the icy body and turn solid ice into vapor. What Cutshall finds most fascinating about Comet Neowise, which won't be seen for another 6,800 years, is that while the tail of most comets points away from the Sun, since Neowise is going back into space, its tail is in front.
Cutshall said a lot of people will go through life and never look up, unless by chance they come across a shooting star or a satellite. His advice is to take the time to enjoy the sky at night.
"There's amazing things up there," he said.
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