Thursday, November 15, 2007

Comets

This afternoon while trying not to fall under the crushing weight of my mundane job, I was browsing the news online and read about Comet Holmes. Last week one of ACC's professors set up the telescope so that people could take a gander, but, being the lazy fellow I am, and so dedicated to my dog that I rushed home to let him out rather than wait in line to look at a faint smudge across the blackness of the sky, I missed it. It didn't seem a big deal and I did have a rather disappointing history with comets. I'd been burned before, during the frenzy that was Halley's Comet back in '86 when my friend Tim Bernasek ruined my only chance to view the once-in-a-lifetime occurrence by leaning on the telescope moments before clouds moved in and blocked it from my view for the next ninety-some odd years. Comet Hale-Bopp, the Great Comet of '97 was a wonder to see, however. Ken and I drove all over northern Illinois searching for a darkened patch of country road so we could gaze up and marvel at the sprinkling of glowing dust across the northern night sky. It was quite an adventure and after hours of driving to and from we returned home only to discover it was perfectly visible from our porch. It was a wondrous thing to experience, yet in March of the following year my memory of the event was forever changed by a houseful of whack-jobs who wore Nike tennis shoes and committed suicide in order to hitch a ride "home" on the tail of the thing.

I had almost no interest in Comet Holmes until this afternoon when I read that it has now become the largest object in our solar system, bigger than even the sun. I won't (read: can't) go into all the scientific details of what happened (I'm not even sure the scientists know at this point), but it seems Holmsey experienced "an unexpected eruption" that caused the comet's coma, a kind of atmosphere, to expand to a tremendous size. Although that little ball of ice or rock or whatever it is is actually quite small, the haze around it is now bigger than our own sun and is visible to the naked eye.

Visible to the naked eye?! thought I. I love naked-eye visibility. It's the best kind! I must check this out!

Being the not-so closeted romantic I am, I envisioned my walk with Duncan on the hill above Columbine, kneeling in the grass and gazing into space at this thing, this ancient piece of space detritus that is destined to circle and circle our solar system, witnessed by thousands of eyes over the course of thousands of years, and even though I could not shape it or touch it, or impact it in any way, my eyes upon it, and the moment shared with Duncan, would somehow be enough to matter, would carry forward with the thing, through space and time, gliding silently around and around, beautiful, cold and unending.

Sounds nice, right? Ah, if only the clouds had agreed.

Maybe tomorrow. Or perhaps Tim will appear and ensure that this one, too, will be lost to the ages.



*Photo taken with no permission whatsoever from wikipedia. org

1 comment:

Ruth said...

If you were out in a public park at night, and Tim did appear, I fear for the reason why Comet Holmes would be lost to the ages.

Keep an eye out. I'm just sayin'.