This year, for Thanksgiving, we have more than a turkey and cranberry sauce to look forward to — we have Comet ISON which should reach perihelion and be visible with the naked eye on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28.
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Like eclipses, meteors and solar flares, comets have come under fire in the past as harbingers of doom. In 1997, the comet Hale-Bopp so affected a group of Star Trek fans that 38 of them, including their leader, Marshall Applewhite, drank an upscale version of the Jonestown Kool-aid in a mass suicide in order to send their souls to Hale-Bopp, the Mother Ship. Each one of them had a $5 bill and three quarters in their pocket for the interplanetary toll. Bummer if they arrived and the toll fee had gone up, like the Bay Bridge.
Halley’s Comet reappeared for hundreds of years before Edmund Halley discovered that it was the same comet coming around again every 74-79 years. In 141 A.D. it was blamed for the plague; in 1066 it was so associated with William the Conqueror conquering England — there is a depiction of it in the Bayeaux Tapestry. In the 1100s it was blamed for Genghis Kahn’s rampage against the Western world, and in 1456, it was given credit for causing the Fall of Constantinople.
Mark Twain was born in 1835 two weeks after Halley’s perihelion and died 75 years later during its perihelion, and he fully expected to do so. “I came in with the comet and I expect to leave with it,” he stated.
So what can we blame on ISON? Obviously the “hairy star” as the ancient Greeks described comets, affected Congress, causing a mass brain shutdown which in turn caused a full-on federal government shutdown. It wasn’t a total loss of brain power, however, because Congress retained just enough intelligence to make sure they were still being paid for doing nothing.
Huge wildfires in the West, including the Rim Fire, were blamed on climate change by some. Since torrential rains and resulting floods occurred in Colorado at the same time, the climate change theory might not work. Something other than climate change must have been at fault and superstitious folk might point to the Hairy One — ISON.
ISON is the only possible explanation for Miley Cyrus’ tongue, which is unable to stay in her mouth, and her butt, which has developed a twerk. Likewise the Kardashian marital break-up — any of them — all of them. ISON can be blamed for the computer glitches affecting the Affordable Health Care Act — either that or partisan sabotage.
Scientists don’t yet know whether ISON will be a dud or the biggest comet of the century — sort of like a presidential election. It all depends on how it survives its passage over the surface of the sun. It will be visible in the dawn sky looking east in the Northern Hemisphere and it has a greenish-blue color due to its icy gases of cyanogen and diatomic carbon.
No need to swallow protective “comet pills” or don gas masks to ward off ISON’s poisonous gases as people did in 1910 when Halley’s Comet appeared. ISON won’t come any closer to Earth than 40 million miles and, since it’s not a spaceship, just a big chunk of ice, it can’t change its course and dive bomb us.
So, gather your clan in the pre-dawn hours of Thanksgiving, root out the telescope and hot chocolate and have a viewing party. This could be a Thanksgiving to remember and if Aunt Ida’s green bean casserole is soggy and the turkey is overdone, you can always blame the Hairy One.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.