12 January 2007

The Good Comet

The windows of my flat look out to the west, across Elliot Bay and the Sound towards Bainbridge, the Olympics, and the setting sun. Last evening a minor miracle (given Seattle's recent weather) occurred and the sky was clear. This, I determined, meant that I had one shot to catch the supposedly brilliant but hard to find comet McNaught -- the Bringer of Hope for our troubled times.

McNaught is very close to the sun, and (I read) only visible in the first half hour after sunset. It emerges slowly from the deepening twilight and then descends below the horizon. When the stark red light streaming sideways through my windows began to fade, and the shadows cast on the wall opposite the windows blurred, I knew the time had come. I went to the window and gazed, seeking our astral visitor. One account said McNaught was so bright that the author initially mistook it for a plane. I looked. And there it was! Amazing! And she was right -- it does look just like a plane. Oh, wait...that *is* a plane. Crap. Contrails highlighted by dusk light look pretty cometlike.

Over the next fifteen minutes I scanned the horizon, peering above the distant hills of Bainbridge Island, searching in vain. Then Venus emerged, higher in the sky than I had expected. This meant that the comet was likely also still well above the horizon. I pressed my search higher, beyond the red of the sunset and into the blurry blue.

Another fifteen minutes passed before I finally found it. McNaught appeared, quite suddenly it seemed, in exactly the part of sky I had been searching all along. How had I not seen it before? It sported a long wispy tail, easily the best of the handful of comets I've observed. I reached for my binoculars and, naturally, lost sight of the comet. The sky was still plenty bright, and there wasn't much contrast for my visual system to work with. But soon I found it again, and this time noted the point on Bainbridge directly below it, so that I would be able to easily get a lock on it again after turning my eyes away. Under 15X from my IS binoc's McNaught was extraordinary, and seeing it against the deep red cyclorama of the sunset, with the sky still bright, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now IANAA (I am not an astrologer), but I can only conclude that this beautiful comet, appearing in our skies at the beginning of the year, is a good omen for the shape of 2007. Here it is so close to the sun, our source of life. That must mean that 2007 will be a marvelous year of sunlight and warmth. Wait a minute. Greenhouse gases. Global warming. Predicted record temperatures worldwide --- um, forget I said any of that. There's no significance to the comet being near the sun. It's a good comet, bringing a message of hope. Yes, look at it -- it's almost setting. Its feathery tail pointing up while its tiny little head almost touches the hills. Like a cute little missle about to descend upon Bainbridge bringing nuclear-tipped terrorist destruction. What am I saying!? No -- strike that. This is a *good* omen. It has to be. This comet has journeyed far to see us. All the way from the frozen depths of the outer solar system. It has trekked its narrow elliptical path from the deep silent dark straight for the bustle and life of the inner system. It's an emissary, an ambassador of goodwill from the great emptiness. One by one it's crossed the orbits of the planets, greeting them with its message of peace as it passes. Hello, Earth. Looking good, Venus. Hot enough for ya, Mercury? Soon it will swing round the sun, with perihelion a scant 15 million miles, half the distance of Mercury. There the intense radiance of Sol will boil it, ice and rock alike, so that only a cinder remains for its return trip. Aw, geez. I give up. Happy 2007.


The market is Open.

1 comment:

Periapse said...

Apparently McNaught is now visible in daylight: http://www.space.com/spacewatch/070114_comet_mcnaught.html

All you need to do is occlude the sun behind a building (or even your hand). Worth checking out if you have clear skies today.