Green Comet Machholz - Hopefully, Without Cometeers
In his 1936 classic The Cometeers, science fiction Grandmaster Jack Williamson writes of a sinister green comet:
"Perhaps it's a comet." Still frowning, Bob Star swung back toward the observatory. "It looked like one - it was a short streak of that queer, misty green, instead of the point a star would show..."
Inside the chilly gloom of the observatory, Bob sat down at the telescope. Its mechanisms whirred softly, in swift response to his touch. The great barrel swung to search space with its photoelectric eyes, and the pale beam of the projector flashed across to the concave screen.
...He stepped up the electronic magnification. Vindemiatrix and the fainter stars slipped out of the field. The comet hung alone, and swiftly grew. Its shape was puzzling - a strangely perfect ellipsoid. A greenish football, he thought, kicked at the System out of the night of space - by what?
...Using ray filters and spectroscope, with the full power of the circuits, he strove to pierce that dull green veil, and failed."
(From Comet Machholz (right) moves across toward the Pleiades (left))
As it happens, you have the opportunity to step out your door this coming Friday, and observe a comet described by NASA as "glowing alien green" yourself. Here's how to see Comet Machholz:
Look 2 degrees to the right of the Pleiades. (If you live in the southern hemisphere, look to the left.) The tip of your pinkie finger, held at arms length is about 1 degree wide, so 2 degrees is two pinkies. The cloud resembles a faint and fuzzy star, barely visible to the unaided eye, but easy to see through binoculars.
With a diameter of at least 450,000 kilometers, the coma of this comet is at least three times wider than the planet Jupiter. Named after its discoverer, amateur Don Machholz, astronomers have been watching it since last August. This week is its closest approach - about 52 million kilometers. The cometary body itself is small; its two tails (the ion tail points up; the dust tail points down in the picture below) are what give it size.
(From Comet Machholz ion tail points up and dust tail points down)
The comet glows green because its coma contains cyanogen and diatomic carbon, both of which glow green when illuminated by sunlight.
And the peculiar ellipsoid shape seen in the novel? Twelve million miles long, it was a ship; its green surface was an impenetrable force barrier. Its masters were beings of light and mist. You'll need to read the novel to see what it contained, but here's a hint; the paths of the bodies in our solar system are ellipsoidal.
Thanks to Winchell Chung for the story suggestion. Get the latest updates on comet Machholz at Space.com.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/6/2005)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 1 )
Related News Stories -
SKYLON Space Plane Gets Boost
'They were more airplane than spaceship...'- Robert Heinlein, 1951.
Europe's Cheops To Look For Habitable Planets
'I was near enough it now to set my automatic astronomical instruments to searching it for a habitable planet.'- Edmond Hamilton, 1936.
SpaceX Dragon First Private Craft To Dock With ISS
'Why, the ship wasn't a proper deep-space craft at all.'- Robert Heinlein, 1941.
SpaceX Dragon To Land On Any Planet
A space craft should be able to 'land on its fins' and take off again, don't you think?
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Will You Upload Your Mind Anytime Soon?
And if so, how long will the copy last?
Students! NASA Wants To 3D Print Your Tool Design In Space!
'Mass-produced only in the orbiting factories...'
Amazing ARES Augmented Reality Sandbox
'First he showed him where the input and output of his brand-new kingdom were, and how to program wars...'
'3D Light Sculpture' Projected Directly Onto Retina
'...projects directly on the retina of the eye…'
3D Printer Vending Machine Dispenses Dreams
'Nanofax AG offers a technology that digitally reproduces objects, physically, at a distance.'
Why Not Nurse Grandma With A Robot?
'She's made of a combination of springs, levers, acoustic instruments...'
Flock Of Minisats Will Image The Earth
'We... dropped roughly a thousand eyes on Beta Hydri IV.'
Robert Heinlein, Your Self-Driving Car Is Almost Ready!
'Mary Risling settled back for a little nap...'
Should Robots Have Civil Rights?
'I've seen things... you people wouldn't believe...'
The Manned Maneuvering Unit Story
'Little spurts of red-orange flame from the reaction pistol marked his companion's trail...'
Scheherazade, An Open Story Generator
'How can you compete with an IBM heavy-duty logomatic analogue?'
Sample The In Vitro Meat Cookbook
'I grabbed two Syntho-Steaks out of the freezer...'
'Diamond Nanothreads' Now, Someday Space Elevators?
'It is a continuous pseudo-one dimensional diamond crystal'
Erased Memories In A Flash Of Light
'Someone, probably at a government military-sciences lab, erased his conscious memories...'
'Artificial Spleen' Cleans The Blood
'The workability of wholly mechanical organs... '
Raffia, The Google Streetview Camel
The old and the new, together.
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories