With his adrenaline surging into overdrive, a Canton man staged a whirlwind, 24-hour journey across Michigan to capture a breathtaking photograph of a celestial body that won’t be visible in these parts for another 68,000 years, give or take a few years.
Awadhut Munj, a Ford Motor Company engineer whose hobbies include astronomy and photography, ultimately snapped a stunning shot of the Neowise comet, the brightest such object to pass earth in the past 23 years.
Munj’s eye-pleasing image, taken following an adventurous statewide chase, resembles a Pure Michigan advertisement, enhanced with Ludington’s Little Sable Point Lighthouse in the foreground and framed at the bottom by Lake Michigan and a golden-hued horizon.
“Once I saw a preview of the image on my camera, I was just amazed … so happy,” said Munj, whose quest to capture the sky-slicing ice ball commenced days before he finally secured the elusive image.
Once posted on a Canton Township community Facebook page, the image generated hundreds of reactions and dozens of comments in less than 48 hours. One admirer posted: “Awesome. Looks like a painting.”
Creating the masterpiece was anything but easy for Munj, who initiated his photography adventure by setting his alarm clock for 4 a.m. one mid-July night and walking outside his Canton apartment near Palmer and Morton Taylor roads.
“I knew which direction to look, but the comet was visible near the horizon and there were too many trees blocking my vision,” he said.
Related: Yes, Neowise is fading. But meteor showers Delta Aquariids and the Alpha Capricornids are on the horizon.
After an unsuccessful early-morning attempt less than a mile away from his residence the following night, Munj and his wife drove to Canton’s Independence Park, which is located in a more rural setting, away from bright commercial lights.
“The only problem with that,” Munj shared, is that the park closes at 10 p.m. and the comet isn’t visible until around 4:30 a.m. So that location didn’t work.”
With the assistance of bloggers who shared Munj’s passion of photographing the comet, he and a friend packed a few essentials on the morning of July 18 and made the close-to-three-hour trek to Port Austin, a city in Michigan’s thumb that sits near Lake Huron.
“All of the information we had collected said that Port Austin would be an optimal location to photograph the comet,” Munj noted. “However, it turned out to be a disappointment with a less-than-desirable view of the comet.”
Undeterred, Munj returned to Canton that night before turning to Plan B, which required another three-hour drive the following morning, this time to Michigan’s west coast.
“I was determined to get a decent photo of the comet and another three-hour drive wasn’t about to stop me,” he said, smiling.
On Sunday, July 19, not long after sunset, with the horizon blazing in all its orange glory, Munj and approximately 15 other comet chasers discovered they had hit the mother lode of Neowise photography locations.
“Believe it or not, seeing the comet with the naked eye was more beautiful than the photo,” he revealed. “It was funny because, although the comet is actually traveling very fast, it appeared to be motionless in the sky. This gave me time to try different camera settings.”
With his image safely secured on a memory card, Munj drove back to Canton that night and was in his Ford Motor Company office the next morning.
Munj said he is ecstatic with his accomplishment, adding that he is not going to rest on his laurels.
“In 2024, there will be a total solar eclipse with the optimal viewing location near Dayton, Ohio,” he said. “I missed out on the partial eclipse in 2017, but I’m not going to miss the one in 2024.”
He’ll be in Dayton, camera in hand, adrenaline pumping in overdrive.