Erik Johnson was happy with the photo.
The bright comet in the early morning sky, surrounded by a smattering of stars, sharing space with a Nebraska landmark.
No cloud cover, a perfect picture-taking opportunity, worth the drive from Lincoln to Chimney Rock on Saturday.
Worth waking up at 3 a.m. in a tent outside Scottsbluff, hiking in the dark holding a flashlight and his Nikon — hoping the rattlesnakes were asleep — to the ideal vantage point.
He posted his best shot on Instagram on Monday. The spire lit by the half-moon in the predawn sky, the telephoto lens making the comet Neowise, the brightest to grace the skies in 23 years, appear larger than life.
A few hours later, National Geographic shared the photo and part of Johnson’s post: “As I stood there in the early morning, I couldn’t help but wonder what other remarkable celestial events those that came before me might have witnessed in the night sky above the towering rock formation.”
By Wednesday morning, the post on @natgeoyourshot had 74,000 likes and the photo’s orbit had expanded, finding its way to the social media pages of the U.S. Department of the Interior, NebraskaLand Magazine and Nebraska Through the Lens.
Johnson’s aunt saw it on the TV news up in North Dakota and its Instagram love came from around the world.
“It’s kind of cool seeing Nebraska being recognized on a global level like that,” said Johnson, 29, who works in sales at LiCor.
For the past five or six years, he’s been taking pictures, too, blending something creative with his love for the outdoors, often accompanied by his yellow Lab Khloe.
He’s fallen for the beauty of the Sandhills and the more western reaches of Nebraska, making friends along the way.
“I love the Wildcat Hills,” he said. “I’m looking to spend more time out there.”
Sharon Henderson spent a full year in the orbit of Chimney Rock, circling its base, reading the Panhandle sky, searching for the right moment …
And when he read about the newly discovered comet, he set out west to capture it before “it made its way through our solar system to wherever it’s headed.”
He’s been following the comet’s rise on social media — and recommends people try to catch it in the pre-dawn or post-sunset sky soon.
Among his favorites of the hundreds of comments on his stunning photo?
“Let’s buy plane tickets to Nebraska today.”
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On Twitter @TheRealCLK