Comets are cosmic snowballs of frozen gases, rock and dust that orbit the Sun. When frozen, they are the size of a small town. It orbits the Sun just like planets and asteroids, except a comet usually has a very elongated orbit. As the comet gets closer to the Sun, some of the ice starts to melt and boil off, along with particles of dust. These particles and gases make a cloud around the nucleus, called a coma. The coma is lit by the Sun. The sunlight also pushes this material into the beautiful brightly lit tail of the comet.

The word comet derives from the Old English cometa from the Latin comēta or comētēs. That, in turn, is a Latinization of the Greek κομήτης (“wearing long hair”), and the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the term (ἀστὴρ) κομήτης already meant “long-haired star, comet” in Greek. Κομήτης was derived from κομᾶν (“to wear the hair long”), which was itself derived from κόμη (“the hair of the head”) and was used to mean “the tail of a comet.”

The astronomical symbol for comets is (in Unicode ☄ U+2604), consisting of a small disc with three hairlike extensions.

For centuries comets have created fear and amazement. Our ancestors believe that the appearance of a comet brings good and bad luck to humans. And for some, it is a sign that a public figure will be born or shall perish. They have been branded with such titles as “the Harbinger of Doom” and “the Menace of the Universe.” They have been regarded both as omens of disaster and messengers of the gods.

Neowise Comet July 24, 2020 photo taken Kaanapali, Maui, HI by Tracy Teagarden

Neowise Comet July 24, 2020 photo taken Kaanapali, Maui, HI by Tracy Teagarden


This comet was discovered on March 20, 2020, by a team using the WISE space telescope under the NEOWISE program and was classified as a comet last March 31, 2020 (by NASA). It is a long period comet that will be seen again in 6800 years as estimated. So for those who saw the comet, this was a once in a lifetime experience.

Gly remembers, “I once saw a comet, as far as I could remember I saw one when I was a child that’s around 1990’s and that was probably the Hale-Bopp Comet.” Upon searching that comet happened in 1997, the same year Princess Diana died. Another example is the Halley’s Comet, the last time it appeared was 1986 wherein the Chernobyl disaster happened.

Kathy remembers seeing Hale-Bopp Comet in 1997 when living in Northern California, “it was very bright and big in the sky and stayed with us for a while, I could see it with the naked eye even with low city lights.  It was incredible.  I was also fortunate to see Neowise in the West Maui skies the last 2 weeks of July 2020, however, you could only see it clearly with binoculars.  It was below the Big Dipper.”

As mentioned, the appearance of a comet is a sign that something good or bad has happened our bound to happen. So for this Neowise comet, do you think it is just a coincidence that it appears this year alongside COVID-19?  Is this a sign of the birth of someone special? Do our ancestors have a better way of reading natural phenomenon than science does? Do you believe in myths or legends?

Let us know when was the last time you saw a comet and how old were you? When and where were you during the celestial event?  🙂