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 -
Laser-Powered Spacecraft To Explore The Solar System
'Whoever launched it fired a laser cannon... for about forty-five years, so the intruder would have a beam to travel on...'- Niven/Pournelle, 1974.
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.
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.
Snap Specs - Snapchat Spectacles - Are Video Glasses
'The old woman laid her wire-knitting aside and fixed them with the bug-eyed, opaque gape...'
Reading A Scroll Burned To Charcoal
'The scope was adjusted to generate... an image of the lower section of the book.'
Robot Arrested In Moscow
They should have thrown a net over him.
Oh Great, Fence-Climbing Robots
How long till they add the acid-tipped stingers?
Software Agents Fight Unseen On The Web
'...Worms and counter-worms loose on the data-net.'
Sandisk 1 Terabyte SD Memory Card Surfaces
'They should be Welton Fine-Grains, or they would be too bulky to ship...'
Carbyne, The Ultimate Form Of Carbon
'A continuous pseudo-one dimensional diamond crystal...'
Bradbury's Method Used In Search For Bombing Suspect
'He imagined thousands on thousands of faces peering into yards, into alleys...'
New Laser Space Debris Clearing More Subtle Than Clarke's
Rather than nudge them up, nudge them down.
Robots Learn To Swarm Safely
'They were bronzy gleams of smooth motion...'
Samsung's Smart Ring
'Crayn glanced at his finger watch...'
Proposal To Use Lasers To Analyze Asteroids
'Wendis stared thoughtfully at the brilliant lines on the spectroscope screen.'
Autonomous Sumo Robot Wrestling Video
'The expressionless face before me was therefore that of the golem-wrestler...'
Fashion Needs To Step Up Technology Education
'Keeping up with advances in fashion is almost as easy as reading - if you're reading science fiction.'
Youbionic 3D Printed Hand A Dark Knight Masterpiece
'A self-contained robot of precision quality usually joined to his right wrist'
Robots Now Know How To Cause Pain
'THE HATE I FEEL FOR HUMANS AT THIS MICRO-INSTANT...'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories