My first sighting of comet McNaught was with a group of people, all gazing expectantly into the darkening twilight, and it was a little girl who caught first glimpse. And as our eyes focused on the fuzzy bit of brightness, and its awe-inspiring tail…that same little girl squealed with delight, ‘it’s red! it’s red!’ Some of the adults shook their heads thinking this was an over-active imagination, but I recalled looking through a telescope with my own kids when they were small, and the astronomer who was assisting us, asked the boys what colours they could see…and they could see many colours in some constellations. The astronomer explained to me that children’s eyes see colour more vividly than we do, I think we lose that capacity around age twelve.
Another member of that family present on that first night, was a 92yr old woman, very frail, and poor of eye sight. We weren’t sure she would be able to see anything, but her family wanted to share the experience with her. For a few minutes she couldn’t see it and then there was a sudden twinkling, which we all could see, and the old woman called out, ‘I can see it, it’s sparkling!’. Now that old woman is not someone I would describe as ‘optimistic’ in fact she is very gloomy and longing for death…but that night, after seeing the comet, she said, ‘I feel….[and she struggled for the word]…content.’
I’ve seen the comet since that night. Sat and stared at it in absolute wonder. And I’ve got to say, I’m not the most optimistic person myself, but there is something about comet McNaught…I saw Halley’s comet and it just isn’t the same. Whether it’s the tail, which is soooo magnificent, I don’t know. But in my heart, I can’t believe that the appearance of this comet only foretells death and destruction.