Three astronomical events will have taken place in the span of a week by the time next Tuesday rolls around.
Such a confluence in ages past would have certainly been reason for much trepidation, talk of the end of time, and other general displays of public ignorance usually reserved for the voting booth. All three events involve stars, although, technically, only one can claim the title.
Let’s start with the one true star, depending on your definition. Today marks the first day of spring and, right on cue, it feels like the dead of winter out there. It’s enough to make you want to rush outside with every aerosol can you can get your hands on in an attempt to jump start global warming.
At exactly 2:03 a.m. this morning, the sun, our very own star without which there would be no way of testing your theory that your mother-in-law is a vampire, crossed the equator making for one of two days in the year when day and night are of equal length.
The other day of equal daylight and darkness, of course, is the fall equinox. Then there is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, which usually falls on the day you have a dentist’s appointment, and the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, which is always on Oscar night.
So take heart. The north half of the Earth is slowly cozying up to the sun again.
And as the sun comes here (play that backward), the second event involving stars this week took place Tuesday with the release of the Beatles’ second double CD in less than a year in spite of the fact that one of the Fab Four has been dead now longer than Elvis has been working at that burger joint in Minnesota.
The Beatles Anthology Part II hit the shelves yesterday with a tune using the late John Lennon’s voice and piano work mixed with recent studio work by the three remaining Beatles. Now this is not a new concept, but it does disturb me a little. Natalie Cole recently had a hit singing a duet with her dad, Mr. Nat King, long after dad had retired, so to speak. The rock group Queen recorded an album using the voice of departed lead singer Freddie Mercury.
Where will this all end? It makes you wonder whether Elvis, in his later years and heavily under the influence of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, might have ever recorded Tammy Wynette’s trademark song “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” just on a lark.
If he did, we’d have a gold mine teaming him up posthumously with soon-to-be ex-son-in-law Michael Jackson.
The third astronomical event this week is the arrival of Comet Hyakutake, which is being touted as more spectacular than Comet Halley’s last visit but then so was watching milk curdle.
No one really knows what Hyakutake will look like since it only comes around every 10,000 years or so, and the last time it visited this neighborhood the people tended to hide in caves when it got dark so they missed the whole show.
Monday night, Hyakutake will be at its closest to Earth, about 10 million miles which, in astronomical terms, is like a 3-foot putt. There’s no danger of it hitting the Earth, although on March 31 a mile-wide asteroid named 2063 Bacchus will come within 6 million miles of the planet.
Hyakutake, if it lives up to its billing, should be visible to the naked eye or with binoculars. By this weekend, it should be near the Big and Little Dippers in the northern sky in the early evening.
So if you’re not inside listening to your new Beatles’ CDs and you can bundle up against the sudden onslaught of spring, go outside and take a look. Who knows where you’ll be the next time it comes around?
Marty Russell is senior reporter for the Daily Journal