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Nitro sponsoring stargazing event Aug. 11 at Ridenour Park

By Ben Calwell, Metro Reporter
Nancy Harrison holds a photo of Halley’s Comet at the gazebo at Nitro’s Ridenour Park. The City of Nitro is sponsoring a stargazing event called “Halley’s Night” on Aug. 11 at the park in memory of Harrison’s daughter, Halley Brooke Smith, who died of cancer in 2010. Halley was born in 1986, when Halley’s Comet made its most recent pass by Earth. Visitors can see portions of the Persied meteor shower during the event.
One of Nancy Harrison’s treasured keepsakes is a painting of Halley’s Memorial Gazebo, which is in Nitro’s Ridenour Park. The gazebo was named in memory of her daughter, Halley Brooke Smith. Harrison and the City of Nitro are organizing Halley’s Night to view the Persied meteor shower on Friday, Aug. 11.
An engraved plaque at Halley’s Memorial Gazebo at Ridenour Park in Nitro commemorates the life of Halley Brooke Smith.

Whenever Nitro resident Nancy Harrison looks up at the stars, she can’t help but think of her daughter, Halley Brooke Smith.

Her daughter, who died of cancer in 2010, was named for the famous Halley’s Comet, which last visible from Earth in 1986, the year she was born.

The comet, which passes by Earth about every 75 years, is due for another appearance in 2061.

Area stargazers won’t have to wait that long to see a celestial show, though. On Friday, Aug. 11, at the gazebo area at Ridenour Park, the City of Nitro is sponsoring “Halley’s Night,” starting at about 9 p.m.

Harrison, who is an assistant to Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt, is spearheading the event as a tribute to her late daughter. Although Halley’s Comet won’t be visible, the Persied meteor shower will be putting on a show.

According to the website, Earth is passing through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle through Aug. 24. In the comet’s wake are dust and debris that cause the Persied meteor shower. When Earth passes through the densest, dustiest area -- on Aug. 12 -- the most meteors will be seen.

Stargazers can still see meteors, though, before and after that date.

“The peak time is around Aug. 12, but we’re going to do this on Aug. 11, because nobody had rented a shelter at the park on Friday night. So, we’ll have the entire park available,” Harrison said.

In Harrison’s job as assistant to the Nitro mayor, she has been active in planning some of the events in the city.

“We’ve been planning events, and this just seemed like a great time and a great thing to do,” she said.

Visitors should arrive at dark, or around 9 p.m. The event should last until about 1 a.m.

Those with telescopes are welcome to bring them, but they aren’t really needed to view the Persied meteor shower. They could be used, though, to view stars, planets and other heavenly bodies. The area around the gazebo is flat and clear of trees.

“A guy at my church has two (telescopes), and he’s going to bring them.”

There will also be some fire pits set up, and “s’mores” will be made for people to enjoy. Harrison is also trying to line up some guest speakers for the event.

“I suggest that people bring bug spray and something comfortable to sit on,” she said.

Harrison said that Nitro’s public works supervisor plans to turn off the lights at the park on the night of Aug. 11 so that visitors to Halley’ Night can see the night sky more clearly.

Harrison organized Halley’s Night as a way to pay tribute to her daughter.

“In 1986, that was the year that she was born. It was also the year that Halley’s Comet was visible -- that’s why I named her Halley,” Harrison said.

Over the years of Halley’s life -- she died at age 23 -- that connection to the stars was something she and her mother bonded over.

“Both of us had been stargazers,” she said.

Harrison said her daughter also had a connection to Ridenour Park. She was a member of a Nitro-based Girl Scout troop, which camped out at the park and also helped to keep it clean.

“Her Girl Scout troop came once a month to the park and picked up trash.”

In fact, the gazebo at Ridenour Park is named for Halley.

“It’s called Halley’s Memorial Gazebo,” she said.

A plaque at the gazebo has Halley’s likeness on it and is engraved with Halley’s philosophy of life.

“When she got cancer, she came up with kind of her motto, and it was, ‘Strive for the positive, take the negative in stride and be thankful for each day.’”


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