Photo captures couple's starry engagement under rare Neowise comet: 'It was an amazing moment'

·3 min read
New York photographer Timothy Leach shot engaged couple John Nicotera and Erica Pendrak under the rare Neowise comet.  (Screenshot: Instagram/tleach18)
New York photographer Timothy Leach shot engaged couple John Nicotera and Erica Pendrak under the rare Neowise comet. (Screenshot: Instagram/tleach18)

A breathtaking photo has captured two once-in-a-lifetime experiences: A couple getting engaged under a comet that appears once every 6,800 years.

On July 18, New York photographer Tim Leach documented the starry engagement of John Nicotera and Erica Pendrak as they observed the Neowise comet, an astronomical wonder that, according to NASA, resembles “a fuzzy star with a bit of a tail” and won’t be seen again in this lifetime. The comet was discovered on March 27 and generated excitement last week as it traveled through the inner solar system.

Nicotera, 33, a physical education teacher at OHM BOCES Oneida Schools was to propose at Oregon’s Crate Lake National Park, but in May, the couple canceled their vacation amid the pandemic. “I had to come up with Plan B,” he tells Yahoo Life.

As a lover of space and the outdoors, Nicotera wanted to catch the comet, and realized that proposing at Old Forge in the Adirondack Mountains was the perfect alternative. “I couldn’t wait to blow Erica out of the water,” he says.

Timothy Leach photographed John Nicotera and Erica Pendrak of New York getting engaged under the Neowise comet.  (Screenshot: Instagram/tleach18)
Timothy Leach photographed John Nicotera and Erica Pendrak of New York getting engaged under the Neowise comet. (Screenshot: Instagram/tleach18)

However, that evening, Nicotera was so distracted that he forgot his binoculars at home. So he quickly called his friend Leach and asked him to join the couple on the mountain, divulging his plan to propose. Naturally, Leach brought his camera.

Pendrak, 26, a first-grade teacher at Deerfield Elementary School in Utica, didn’t notice the bulging square box in the pocket of Nicotera’s sweatshirt. “It was so hard to hide the ring,” he tells Yahoo Life. “You could tell there was a something in there so I covered it with my hand until the sun went down.”

At 10 p.m., Nicotera signaled to Leach that it was time. “It was an amazing moment,” he says. “It felt like I was falling in love with her all over again.”

As the photographer snapped away, Nicotera knelt on the ground and asked Pendrak, “Are you ready?” and held up a square-cut princess diamond ring. “I was completely shocked,” she tells Yahoo Life. “We called our parents right away.”

The couple, who already framed one of Leach’s photos, can’t believe the timing. “It blew my mind that we got this photo,” Nicotera tells Yahoo Life. “And — that she said yes.”

John Nicotera proposed to Erica Pendrak under the stars — and a historic comet — in July. (Photo: Courtesy of John Nicotera)
John Nicotera proposed to Erica Pendrak under the stars — and a historic comet — in July. (Photo: Courtesy of John Nicotera)

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