Did you catch the lunar eclipse a week ago? Nope, me either.
As usual, this celestial event had been billed as something we should stay up late to see – even though skywatchers conceded that it was a “minor” eclipse. It was just a penumbral eclipse, where the moon is only partially obscured by the outer shadow of the Earth – the penumbra – not a total eclipse, which might have been a bit more interesting.
A penumbral eclipse, according to experts, results in a subtle shading of the moon, which can be difficult to detect with the naked eye. Hardly the makings of a jaw-dropping galactic spectacle.
Ah, but there was more! The next night we could stare heavenward and, if we were lucky, catch a glimpse of green comet 45P.
The comet, we were told, would pass extremely close to the Earth – only 7.7 million miles away! It would appear as a hazy pinprick of green light just above the horizon traveling at about 57,000 mph. We were advised that this space phenomenon also would be hard to see without the help of a telescope or strong binoculars.
But if you missed it, don’t worry. Another green comet will be whizzing by in about five years.
The heavens no doubt have been the canvas for some pretty spectacular light shows over the eons. History records that some passing comets have sent people scurrying up to their rooftops to wait for the end of the world. That must have been impressive.
A clear sighting of the Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis – also would be a sight to behold. And I bet a night sky full of shooting stars viewed from a remote mountaintop in the South Pacific would be a great show.
But excuse me if I pass on most of the other heavenly hype. You know what I’m talking about: “This will be the last chance for anyone alive on Earth today to see the (fill in the blank) passing in the night sky. The last sighting was recorded in a stone carving on an Aztec temple. Archaeologists say the event was followed by the sacrifice of several dozen virgins. The best time for modern stargazers to catch sight of this heavenly marvel would be 3 a.m. EST.”
That’s another thing: Miraculous marvels occurring in the stratosphere are always inconvenient to watch.
I remember dutifully loading the car with lawn chairs a few years ago so we could join friends at some ungodly hour to watch a once-in-a-lifetime meteor shower guaranteed to be the most prolific, mind-blowing display of interstellar objects toppling from the sky in a long, long time.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to escape the lights of civilization so that the surroundings are dark enough to showcase a meteor shower. Even out in the country, it seems there’s a light every few feet.
After finally finding a semi-dark location, it was the same old thing. Sit in a chair. Look at the sky. Wait. Wait some more. Spot some tiny speck of light on the periphery of your vision. Wait. Keep waiting. Yawn. Wait a while more. Load up the car. Go back to bed.
I give up! I’m not falling for it anymore. I don’t care if I’ll be dead the next time this special comet or whatever other outer-space object returns.
In other words, don’t alert me unless a comet is hurtling toward Earth on a trajectory that puts it on a collision course with the planet, a gigantic glowing ball of molten rock, becoming ever more visible as it fulfills its destiny to destroy the world and life as we know it, no binoculars needed.
Now, that would be one to tell the grandkids about!
James Werrell is opinion page editor for The Herald.