Monday, October 29, 2007

World Series comet

The top story in last Friday's Boston Globe began: "There was brief confusion at Fenway Park last night. Under clearing October skies, a streaking Comet Holmes, and a Jackie Gleason moon, the Red Sox actually trailed the Colorado Rockies, 1-0, for three innings." Well, yes, I'll buy the Jackie Gleason moon, but a streaking Comet Holmes? Where did Mr. Shaughnessy come up with that?

I doubt if there were more than a few people in the stadium who would have known where to look for Comet Holmes, or would have recognized it if they saw it. On Wednesday, a faint telescopic object suddenly flared to naked-eye brightness in the constellation Perseus, which placed it in our skies all night long. Alas, the weather and personal circumstance didn't cooperate for me. It was last night before I had a chance to see Holmes. And there it was, like a new star in Perseus, not as bright as Mirfak, but rivaling Algol. In binocs, its cometness was plain -- a fuzzy blur, rather than the sharp pinprick of a star.

Not streaking. Drifting lazily through Perseus. And no tail. The tail of a comet always points away from the Sun, and Holmes is in the opposite part of the sky from the Sun -- rising as the Sun sets -- which means that if it has a tail it is hidden behind the comet.

Still, it's enough. Just knowing that the universe is full of surprises, that the empty dark can suddenly ignite. A faint smudge on the windowpane of night. And the chill that runs up the spine.

As I arrive on the campus this morning, a red-tailed hawk is perched on the apex of the library with a three-quarter moon. . "Praise this world to the Angel," says the poet Rilke. "Do not tell him the untellable...Show him some simple thing, refashioned by age after age, till it lives in our hands and eyes as a part of ourselves. Tell him things. He'll stand more astonished."