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

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)

Read more from Yahoo Life:

Want daily wellness, lifestyle and parenting news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.


More From

  • Jillian Michaels 7-Minute Fitness Challenge, Day 5: Legs and Butt

    Health and fitness expert Jillian Michaels created a 7-day challenge for Yahoo readers. Each day features a 7-minute calorie burning, strength building, confident boosting workout. Are you up to the challenge? This body-carving challenge is just the beginning. Michael’s is offering Yahoo Life readers an exclusive deal on her fitness app, which is stocked with a slew of effective 7-day workouts, and much more. Enjoy a free 7-day trial and a 3-month subscription for just $19.99 (usual price is $44.97), and 12-months for $59.99 (usual price is $179.88). Get the offer here, by cutting and pasting this link: jmfit.io

  • Jillian Michaels' 'foam melt' challenge feels as delicious as it sounds

    It’s day three of our fat-burning, body-sculpting challenge with Jillian Michaels, and today, it’s all about “giving your body a chance to rebuild, recover and smooth down cellulite.

  • These clear face masks are teacher-approved: 'So excited for my students to see my smile!'

    The best transparent face masks, according to teachers.

  • Lawmakers protest Polish president's anti-LGBTQ views by forming rainbow with their outfits at his swearing-in

    While Poland has been declared, per a 2020 survey from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, the worst country in the European Union for gay rights — indeed, President Andrzej Duda’s more centrist rival also opposed adoption by gay couples — not everyone shares those views. On Thursday, a group of parliament members let Duda know exactly how they felt about his homophobic positions by wearing rainbow face masks and outfits representing the colors of the rainbow, defiantly posing outside the Polish parliament building in a show of solidarity for the LGBTQ community and the rainbow pride flag. (While predominantly women, the group included one male MP, Maciej Kopiec, who sported a bright orange blazer over his dark suit.)