The weekend before last, I was lucky enough to see Comet NEOWISE from my sister's in darkest Burgundy – F and I waited for it to become visible on Saturday night, and once we had located it in Ursa Major, everyone came out and saw it on the Sunday. It was clearly visible with the naked eye; young S's small binoculars really enhanced it, though not enough to see the split in its tail. If you haven't seen it yet, but you have clear skies and you're in the northern hemisphere, you still have a chance of catching it this evening or tomorrow, though you will need binoculars or a telescope to get the full effect. My astronomy apps helped me locate it; the best was Night Sky.

I remember seeing Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 – I was with a group of political activists on my way back from a day-trip to Sarajevo, and our bus pulled over on a mountainside road to let us all have a good look. And back in the winter of 1985, when I was working at Armagh Observatory, I showed people Halley's Comet through one of the larger telescopes there. But that's only thee comets that I can definitely remember seeing in my lifetime, and I am 53.

(I also remember, in the very early days of the internet, waiting for images of Jupiter after it was hit by Comet Shoemaker-Levy to come down the line. Wow, those were pioneering times.)

One can see why they were a cause of dismay in ancient times. Unlike meteors, which are there for a moment and then gone, a comet hangs menacingly in the sky, a disruptor of the natural order, changing its place rapidly from night to night. And because the tail always points away from the sun, it's always upwards form our point of view, looking like the comet is threatening to fall but not quite doing so.

Comets have been less inspiring than other solar system bodies for writers, but the SF Encyclopedia still has a decent entry. I remember reading Brin and Benford's In the Heart of the Comet many years ago. Will look out for more.

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