Lost in Space

While most people were bubbling up with excitement over the end of the month paycheck + 13th month pay bonus, some eyes were turned away from ATM screens and glued toward the sky. Mine were on Twitter, plying through breaking news for C/2012 S1 aka comet Ison, the sungrazer.

As you may know (or not know… where have you been living, under a rock?!), Ison “died” on the 29th of November as it passed around the sun (perihelion, when it reached the point closest to the giant). Like Icarus on his father’s wings of wax, Ison flew too close to the sun.

There were news saying that the comet rekindled sometime after the choke point passage. Prior to perihelion, a lot of observers said they weren’t expecting it would survive the voyage intact. I guess I just counted my chickens before they hatched. If Ison survived the perihelion, we would have had the best light show in our lifetime. It would have passed so close we could see it unaided by a telescope.

Have you ever seen a meteor shower? Take one of those buzzing space rocks, magnify its brightness oh say 10 times, let it move much much slower (so slow it doesn’t seem to move away from the same patch of dark sky), and let it sit there at night for a week. We wouldn’t need witnesses to watch with us (unlike in showers where meteors pass too fast they don’t seem real). It would be a burning super-star, 200 years old, its long, bright tail (by then pointing away from the sun) a road to the belly of the universe.

If you ask me, no amount of fireworks come New Years’ day would ever beat that.

I’m still hoping some fragment survived perihelion. Comets are made of dust and ice, things the sun could very easily disintegrate. They are not a rare thing. Ison is just one of millions (or billions), hovering around the universe, teasing solar systems and careening on suicide trips to unnamed suns. Every day, somewhere, stars die while we write a 1-hour blog about their beautiful possibilities.

J.C. Casado for Teide Observatory, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. 6-second exposure on an 85mm lens.

By J.C. Casado for Teide Observatory, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. 6-second exposure on an 85mm lens. Taken November 21, 2013

This is what you and I missed.


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