It's a few minutes to five atop Mt. Tabor on Friday night. About two-dozen people swaddled in scarves and jackets watch the sky to the southwest, through a break in the trees. A small telescope sits on a tripod; a family of five sits in a line while the father scans the sky with what looks to be the scope of a hunting rifle; a jogger slows, stops and stares. Others have binoculars and pace back and forth in front of the view, occasionally glassing the horizon where the sun burns slowly down and sets the sky on fire.
Everybody's waiting for the comet.
That would be Comet McNaught, the brightest comet visible from Earth in 30 years. The comet made an appearance Thursday night over the southwest skies of Portland, and multiple mentions in local and national media on Friday were enough to get people outside and to high ground. McNaught is unusually bright, but its close proximity to the sun makes it hard to see: The view must be carefully timed so that the glaring sun is below the horizon while the comet still hovers above. Right now, a gorgeous sunset is stretched out over the West Hills, but there's no comet.
"When's it happening?" whines a little girl to her dad. It's five. The crowd is growing restless.