Why a Picture's Worth 1,000 Words

A dozen people, some giddy from sleep deprivation, gathered at the Tempe home of Tom Polakis on March 30 to compare notes after one of the most remarkable weeks of their lives. Comet Hyakutake, which caused only a minor stir for most Arizonans, had turned life upside down for these Valley residents--all dedicated amateur astronomers.

Dropping everything to accommodate more time in the dark with their telescopes and cameras, Polakis and his guests had watched in awe as the brightest comet in 20 years, a hurtling, five-mile-wide hunk of primordial ices, had sped over the Earth's north pole (missing us by a comfortable nine million miles).

Now that the comet had begun to shrink in the sky on its way to perihelion--its swing around the sun--it was time to compare photographs. None produced as many gasps as Chris Schur's montage. An electrical engineer during the day, Schur retires at night to his Payson observatory. He's been observing and photographing the sky for 30 years--his name is well-known in astrophotography circles nationwide--but this, he says, is the best comet he's ever seen.

Polakis bets that many of the best photos published in the coming months will come from Valley residents. "I think we've seen some of the best shots that will be produced throughout the world right here in this room tonight," he said as his guests gradually made their way back out into the deepening night.


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