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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2609

Rest in Piece(s): Comet ISON declared dead and stargazers mourn the death of the romanticized snowball

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

There seems to be some truth in the old adage, ‘Never get too close to the strong’: physicists declared this week that Comet ISON, romantically named as the Comet of the Century, has died due its close encounter with the Sun, while leaving millions of star-gazing enthusiasts in a palpable state of gloom.

As someone, who cleaned up a pair of pretty powerful binoculars to scan the sky, I too join them in the collective gesture in a limited way – by programming for a web page how it succumbed to the inevitable, on a solemn note, which is as follows:


We all hoped – having been led to believe so – that the celestial guest would be visible in the sky over the Northern Hemisphere in the festive month of December. The excitement reached the peak on Thanksgiving Day, when Comet ISON was just about a million kilometres from the Sun.

In the absence of any material evidence of completing its elliptical path around the Sun, the physicists, however, were forced to hold their breath once the comet entered the most decisive phase – by switching on the nail-biting mode. When the scenario of doom and gloom slowly started gathering pace, the scientists compelled us to downgrade our hope to a mere aspiration, in a matter of hours. The aspiration then slowly turned into despair as the days went by, before the learned men eventually declared this week, it was all over for comet ISON.

“At this point it seems like there is nothing left,’ said Karl Battams of Naval Research Lab, at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco. Mr Battams then added: ‘Sorry, everyone, Comet ISON is dead. But its memory will live on.’

Before its ill-fated finale, Comet ISON could be seen on powerful telescopic screen like a happy sperm romping towards the egg during the blissfully-exhausting process of procreation, while vividly showing off the most talked-about feature of its anatomy – the tail.

This is comet ISON’s maiden voyage, according to Mr Battams, which as we now know, ended in tragedy. While classifying its final hours as ‘heartbreak’, Mr Battams said the Comet ISON had not hardened enough to withstand the radiation pressure and immense gravity of the Sun, as this was its first trip around the star.

That means, Comet ISON was supposed to make at least a few round trips around the Sun to in order get stronger, perhaps by the simple process of association or - as known in Homer Simpson’s realm - buddying, if it stood a fraction of a chance to survive in the presence of the giant.

Sadly, the fact of the matter remains that not only did physicists fail to predict the fate of Come ISON, but also equally got its size wrong. They now say it was probably smaller than the original estimates.

It implies the existence of many unknown factors which are yet to be discovered or quantified in astronomy.

In short, mistakes still take place in the realm of sciences as much as in the superstition of the ancients, for which the former came as the undisputed substitute.

Sir Edmond Halley predicted the reappearance of Halley’s Comet once in every 75/76 years in 1705, although its presence had been recorded by the Chinese and even Indians much before that – without knowing it was the same comet doing its long periodic rounds.

In 1680, Sir Isaac Newton saw a comet in the sky for a relatively long time before it suddenly disappeared. When it reappeared in 1681, Newton concluded that the Sun, in fact, was capable of exerting what he then called, a mysterious force, to bend the path of the comet on its approach to the star; he later named the force as gravity.

The fact that both Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Edmond Halley could derive a set of physical laws with extreme accuracy that stood the test of time, just by using some improvised equipment and limited knowledge, shows that the modern technology is not a match yet for the visions of geniuses of Newton’ calibre, despite its complementary role in space exploration in our time - and at a huge cost.

Neither the computer models nor the intense scanning of space by most powerful telescope could predict the correct path of Comet ISON on its approach to the Sun. Nor could they estimate its real size.

Blaming its unexpected demise on Sun’s gravity and radiation is as comical as demonizing Einstein for not starting a children story with ‘Once upon a space-time’, while glamorizing the familiar well-hackneyed beginning; because, we all knew both gravitation and radiation were always there! The scientists just got their calculations wrong.

- Asian Tribune -

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