Hi, my name is Kevin Milani, professor of chemistry and astronomy at Hibbing Community College in Hibbing, Minnesota. I’d like to relate to you one of my astronomical memories.
The last appearance of Halley’s Comet was in 1986. Halley’s comet is a periodic comet that returns to earth about every 76 years. Records of its appearances date back to before the time of Christ, however it was not recognized as a periodic comet until Edmund Halley did so in 1705.
I remember that anticipation was high in 1986 for the comet’s return. I was living in Minneapolis at the time while attending the University of Minnesota, and as it turns out, the comet never became very bright in the night-time sky. In addition, it’s close approach to the sun occurred the end of March, when it was in the constellations of Sagittarius, which was visible very near the horizon in the pre-dawn sky in Minnesota. That meant I would not be able to see the comet through the light pollution of the city, so I realized I would have to drive out into the country to view it. Now, my two oldest children were 3 and less than 1 at the time, and I wanted to take them with me so I could place them in the foreground of a photograph of the comet. I thought it would be neat for them to be able to look back at the photo in 2061 when the comet made it’s next visit. They would be 79 and 76 years old then. My wife however looked at me like I was crazy when I ran the idea by her. I remember her saying “You’re not taking a toddler and an infant way out into the country in the middle of the night”, She was right of course, so I drove out into western Wisconsin by myself.
I stopped on the side of the road somewhere and got my camera setup. The comet was so dim, I couldn’t even see it, but I knew where it should be, so I shot up a roll of black and white film. When I got back to Minneapolis, I went straight to the University, where my work study position while going to school was working as the darkroom technician for the University photographer. I developed the roll of film, and was thrilled to see the comet on every frame. One of these prints hangs in my office to this day.