Neowise and 6 feet foolish: Residents gather for glimpse of comet

Timeless snapshot of a heavenly body. [Morguefile]

By Max Fontaine | Bored with taking photos of exterior of buildings

Astronomy geeks and semi-bored residents in the Bass Lake area flocked Friday night to Mudrock Hill northwest of town for a fleeting look at Neowise, a comet whose appearance is something like 3,000 times less frequent than a global pandemic.

Sky-gazers toting binoculars, cell phones, video equipment and coolers full of beverages headed to the site, despite rules against gatherings of more than roughly a dozen people.

For several attendees, it was worth the trip and potential health risk.

“I’m awestruck,” said J.P. Zansworth, who was accompanied by his brother, Billy, and young dog Seth. “Just awestruck. I can’t be any more struck.”

Petri-Ann McDaniel, 33, was highly giddy, too. She said the chance to view Neowise was not quite as thrilling as Hale-Bopp in 1997, but slightly more exciting than her exposure to “MMMBop” that same year.

Social-distancing was “sort of practiced” at the event, according to official reports.

Tug McNabb, chief of Bass Lake Authority Police, was at the scene to help “maintain order,” although witnesses noticed he did not wear a protective face-covering.

“Heh-heh, I guess I left my mask at the precinct,” McNabb told The Beacon in a brief Zoom interview following the event. “Normally I would’ve called the station to have somebody bring one out to me, but that could be dangerous. Besides, we had to lay off most of the staff this summer and nobody else was working that shift anyway.”

Not everyone at the party was impressed by the sky display. Boyd Gromjonkovich, 57, departed disappointed.

“All I could see was The Big Dipper, and that’s up there pretty much every night,” Gromjonkovich said. “Comet, schmomet.”

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