November 6, 2007

Please Keep Your Comets To Yourself

Filed under: Four Mile Beach waves gulls reflection clouds sand — geoff @ 2:22 pm

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Big Wave Wednesday. As I’ve mentioned before, when I see clouds in the early morning sky I hit Lighthouse Point and then shoot up the coast to Four Mile Beach. These shots are from one morning about three weeks ago when the waves were pumping-it was just a glorious way to start a mid-October day. Ah, to be middle-aged and living on the central coast.

Here’s a sky related story that I found interesting. In the past couple of weeks, a comet that was not visible to the average consumer has unexpectedly brightened and is now available to the unclothed eye. The comet is exploding and its coma, a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the sun, has grown to be bigger than the planet Jupiter. The comet lacks the tail usually associated with such celestial bodies but can be seen in the northern sky, in the constellation Perseus, as a fuzzy spot of light about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper. Of course, if you live in Santa Cruz, all you’ve seen in the past couple of nights is the constellation Fog.

Until October 23, the comet had been visible to modern astronomers only with a telescope, but that night it suddenly erupted and expanded. A similar burst in 1892 led the to the comet’s discovery. According to Paul Lewis, director of astronomy at the University of Tennessee, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime event to witness, along the lines of when the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smashed into Jupiter back in 1994. I felt the same way watching Boise State upset Oklahoma last year in the Fiesta Bowl.

Scientists speculate the comet has exploded because there are sinkholes in its nucleus, giving it a honeycomb-like structure. Maybe that’s where the bees have gone. The collapse exposed the comet ice to the sun, which transformed the ice into gas.

Lewis added, “What comets do when they are near the sun is very unpredictable. We expect to see a comet tail, but this is more like an explosion, and we are seeing the bubble of gas and dust as it expands away from the center of the blast. Who knew?

Experts aren’t sure how long the comet’s show will last, but estimate it could be weeks, if not months. Bottom line is I’ve never really been a comet fan, I’ve always preferred Ajax.

Speaking of comets, birthday wishes go out to Edmund Halley, the English astronomer who was born November 8, 1656 in London and who was a good friend of Isaac Newton, the inventor of the fig. In 1705 he used Newton’s new theory of gravitation to determine that the bright comets of 1531, 1607 and 1692 had almost the same orbits and that these were different appearances of the same comet. He then used his gravitational calculations to predict the return of the comet in 1758 and Patriots come from behind win over the Colts last Sunday.

Halley did not live to see his prediction tested because he died in 1742. But on Christmas night in 1758, the comet destined to bear Halley’s name reappeared in a spectacular vindication of his bold conjecture and of Newton’s gravitational theory. Tracing back in the historical records for bright comets, it was concluded that Halley’s comet had been observed periodically as far back as 240 B.C. The most recent return was 1986, and the next predicted appearance of Halley will be in 2061. Or about the same time Bush thinks we should exit Iraq.

So that’s it for today. Lots more early morning sessions from Four Mile coming up along with the usual sunrises, sunsets and crime scene photos. And if anyone is interested, I will be appearing live this Friday and Saturday at the Autumn Artisans Faire at the Aptos United Methodist Church. Photos and greeting cards will be available along with a discussion of the Golden State Warriors early season woes. Saturday is free and open to the public from 10-4, which means I won’t be playing basketball that morning. Email me for directions if you’re interested. Enjoy the swell at Four Mile.

1 Comment »

  1. Like your theory about the bees, am a Formula 409 man myself and was wondering what Hailey predicted for this weeks Giants/Cowboys matchup…

    Comment by brad — November 7, 2007 @ 3:41 pm

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