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 |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 1 )

Related News Stories - (" Spacecraft ")

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?

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

XM82 Personal Flamethrower Now In Development
'Skeletons in tatters. Burned by a flesh gun'

Graphene Cytobot - Cyborg Bacterial Spores May Help Astronauts
'[It] had not yet objected to being made over into a portion of an electronic system... '

Delightful Plen2 Mirror Robot - The Anti-Terminator
Time for fun, Will Robinson!

LiquiGlide Will Be Everywhere
'They poured the remnants of eggs out of their frictionless cups...'

US Customs Now Doing Facial Recognition At DC Airport
Are you who you say you are?

How Many Systems In That Galactic Empire Now?
'An Empire to twenty million stellar systems...'

Petman Robot Pushes Itself To The Limit
'There was the butler robot, hard at work, his copper face expressionless...'

Coleus LED 'Skylight' Dispenses Natural Sunlight Indoors
'How do they work it so that the sky is visible at every level of the city?'

UR3 Robot At Work On Copies Of Itself
'I don't mean that you should construct this ultra-microrobot with your own fingers, of course...'

3D Printing 'Terminator T-1000-Style'
Not quite 'a mimetic polyalloy...'

Bridge-MINDER Repair Robot
'The repair robots had started out on their rounds...'

Super Ball Bot Tensegrity Robot For Solar System Exploration
'Each leg in turn acted as a pivot around which the creature whirled its body...'

Norlin Shoe Drone Robot UAV In-Store Delivery Thing
'Robot-salesmen were everywhere, gesturing, pleading, shrilling.'

iSkin On-Body Touch Sensors
'Three rows of four colored dots appeared on the heel of my left hand.'

Britain To Build Spaceport, First In Europe
'The space-ports at the three great cities...'

MC10 Electronics Skin Stickers
'Every diaper... a fine copper wire…'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.