Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I did not see the comet.

But it wasn't for a lack of trying: up on the roof, at twilight, 20 minutes after sundown, spying through my binoculars 10 degrees up from the horizon, just above the very slim crescent moon. And... nothing. I was really looking forward to it, too.

Comet PANSTARRS was discovered a few years back, having been blasted out of the Oort cloud a few million years ago heading straight for earth, where it would pass our mostly harmless planet on my birthday, March 5th, and then round the sun on March 10th, which happens to be my dad's birthday. I took it as a personal blessing of the heavens, though it could just as well be a portent of the end times -as if the pope's resignation or Obama's sequester weren't portentous enough.

I did see Comet Hyakutake in 1996, standing on the shoulder of old Route 395 in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, somewhere between Bishop and Lone Pine. We stopped to pee on a tumbleweed, my writerly friends and I on the way to Mark's parents' Mammoth condo, where we would collectively write a screenplay entitled Goodbye World, which was about... well, you can guess. But we looked up and there it was amidst all the starry heavens, a fuzzy little dot and tail, and I found it utterly enchanting.

Anyway, I missed Panstarrs, my birthday comet. I guess I still have a chance later this week, but tonight was supposed to be the most luminous of viewing nights, and a marine layer has rolled in over the past few evenings, sending up a twilight haze that really depresses my new hobby of astronomical photography (as if I needed another hobby.) I was on a roll, too. I tagged, with my trusty Nikon DSLR, The Super Moon, the Annular Eclipse, and the Transit of Venus (with sunspots!) over the last 365. Wanted to add a comet in there. I had a great shot in mind, too, of the comet hovering above that crescent moon rising over the Oceanside pier at twilight, but with the marine haze, and then the unexpected "+3.5 brightness slowdown event" (whatever that is)... aww, hell. I'll just have to wait for Comet Lemmon in May. Or Comet Encke in October. Or Comet Ison in November -which some say may be so bright it will be visible in the blue daytime sky. We'll see.

So it's the Year of the Comets! Which is cool, if it weren't so darned portentous. Might want to spend the night in a metal shed, if it worries you. But it could be worse. We could be mars.