Ask A. Brain – Cometology
Question: I understand we will be treated to a spectacular view of the comet ISON during November 2013. In preparation, I am building a small observatory atop my garage. (For building materials I’ve cannibalized my son’s tree fort and “borrowed” a bench seat from my neighbor’s Dodge Caravan. I plan to install a small microwave oven and will keep it well-stocked with Jolly Time Extra Buttery Popcorn®.) What sort of show can I expect?
My excitement is tempered a bit by what I hear from an Internet friend. He tells me that this comet is a harbinger of ill omen. He claims to have a pretty good idea about what will happen, but won’t tell me what he knows. He is pretty sure the government is monitoring his communications and doesn’t want to “raise any more red flags” (a jocular comment he once made in an online forum led to, he tells me, his late-night waterboarding at the hands of Dick Cheney). I do know he recently paid $600 to buy a World War II-vintage Quonset hut on Adak Island, Alaska and that he is provisioning it–one winning bid at a time–with past-expiration date energy bars purchased on eBay. Should I be concerned?
– Nolan Contendre / El Reno, OK
Answer: First of all, back-channel me the email address of your Internet friend. I can cut him a deal on some Bac-Os Bits®.
Your first question is an easy one. You can expect to draw the attention of Homeland Security or an angry pair of nesting barred owls–maybe both–while you sit shivering in your catbird seat feasting on a burnt popcorn and butter-like snack food concoction. Later, you will fall off a ladder, breaking various bones and waking the neighbors. It will be a pretty good show.
Just prior to that fateful missed step on the ladder, though, you are in for a treat. There is a small chance this comet will appear as brightly as the full moon. That is undoubtedly the exaggeration of an over-caffeinated graduate student, but you can read all about what the scientific types are saying about this event at the CISON’s website and Space.com (there were some pretty good links at NASA.gov, but the site has been down for more than a week for some reason).
The scientific types, of course, are pooh-poohing the comet’s significance vis-à-vis doom, gloom and the other more interesting angles to this story. Yes you should be concerned. Here’s why.
History is littered with well-known examples of the eerily accurate predictive nature of comets. Some examples with which you are surely familiar:
- Mark Twain himself said, basically, that rumors of his demise were just that–rumors–unless validated by the appearance of a comet. They were, in 1910, by Halley’s comet.
- A 1665 comet was almost certainly responsible for the Black Plague that killed 90 thousand people in London.
- In one Middle Ages example, many of the four-letter Anglo-Saxon words that we are so fond of today were uttered by Harold II and his men at the appearance of a comet. Sure enough, even then, William the Conqueror was on his way across the English Channel, leading to the Frenchification of the English throne and several years of Jerry Lewis film festivals in the annex at Westminster Abbey.
- Also in the Middle Ages, a comet with a red tail foreshadowed the death of King Robert Baratheon, the destructive civil war of the Seven Kingdoms, and the reappearance of fire-breathing dragons and the “Mother of Dragons,” Queen Daenerys Targaryen.
- “The Star of Bethlehem” was famously taken for an omen foretelling the birth of a king, the advent of a brand-new calendar and the founding of a bacon-friendly monotheistic-ish religion.
- Although we have no written record of it, it is almost certain that several of the more intelligent dinosaurs (if you saw Jurassic Park, you know that velociraptors were wicked smart) looked up at a comet about 65 million years ago and said, “Oh crap!” They were not wrong.
This is just a small sampling, but you get the idea. Believe me, I have run into less well-known examples as well. Just one should suffice. While several overreacting apocalyptismists predicted worldwide doom relating to 1997′s Hale-Bopp Comet, one more careful observer got it right. He claimed, based on his analysis of the spleen of a pig, that the comet would bring about “a great upheaval to shake the Roman empire to its foundations.” Behold and lo, in late September of that year an earthquake struck the Italian regions of Umbria and Marche, causing part of the Basilica of St. Francis at Assisi to collapse. Uncanny!
Can I say anything about this year’s ISON comet? You bet I can. I recently uncovered a relatively obscure prediction of Nostradamus which I believe sheds some light.
The original (Nostradamus wrote often in French, but sometimes in Latin as in on this tablet fragment excavated near a 16th century graffito that read “Nostradamus slept poorly here”):
conculcarent a tergo Mars portendat
stasis malum in civitate, quod lucet sapientia ita carentes
praecessi in valetudo egestas et ignominia
stepping from behind Mars portending
evil stasis in that shining city [so] bereft of wisdom
result[ing] in ill health, destitution and shame
It is well known that the word comet is Greek for “hairy star.” It does seem problematic that Nostradamus’ Latin uses the word for “son” and not “sun.” I myself wondered if this quatrain might have something to do with Jerry Garcia, but I have rejected the notion. It clearly alludes to an object in space and I think its identification with a comet is pretty clear. The odd Latin construct “ego machinis” can only be taken as a reference to iPhones, iPads and the like. This firmly establishes a link to our time and this comet.
Much of the rest of the prophecy is unclear to me–how might it relate to our current time? what stasis (gridlock?) in what city so bereft of wisdom?–But there is no ambiguity about its predicted effects: ill health, destitution and shame.
I don’t pretend to know the exact details. The prophecy could foretell anything from a comeback by Duran Duran to a world-wide shortage of bacon to a serious calamity such as foodborne radiation poisoning in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Perhaps the comet will be deflected by a previously-undetected chunk of cosmic matter and slam into the Rose Bowl. I don’t pretend to know the exact details, but yes, Mr Contendre, you should be very concerned indeed.
– A. Brain
- See Ask A. Brain – The Mayans, Santa Claus and Bacon where you will learn about my surplus Bac-Os Bits® and begin to suspect that I have an obsession with doomsday predictions. [^]
- In 1909, Twain said: “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’”[^]
- You probably didn’t even know Westminster Abbey has an annex, did you? Or that the Alamo has a basement. That’s some free information for you, Nolan. [^]
- This has been dismissed by so-called scholars as an “obvious forgery” and something “created by a juvenile using Google translate and carved into a cheap terra-cotta planter with a nail,” but I accept its authenticity based on a hunch. [^]
|Every week Once a month Occasionally, Mr Adelbert B. Brain answers one of your questions exclusively for Bachblog. He feigns expertise in classical Sanskrit, the novels of Albert Camus, the history of dentures and the Dr. Demento Show. He regrets that he has but one life to live in his country. Recently, he has made his home near an ammunition dump in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. In the 1980s, he lived for a brief time in a Quonset hut on Adak Island, Alaska.|