Comet Chasing * Chocolate Charms

The children have a shared liking for Calvin  & Hobbes. The adorable pair have been the source of many hysterical giggles between the siblings in our home. In the son’s room, there is a cartoon clip of Calvin & Hobbes that seems to tickle both his whimsy and his innate rapture and curiosity of the universe we live in.

calvin-gif

If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I bet they would live a lot differently  ✨- Calvin & Hobbes

A few weeks ago, I was typing out an email with the ounces of concentration I could muster at the end of a 12 meeting day, and I wasn’t exactly thinking  about 💫 comets, stars, pulsars, neutron stars, black holes, and parallel universes, when the little fellow shot into the room bursting about comets. I turned around , and my face probably looked like some of the spreadsheets I was looking at, for the son gave me a pitying look that seemed to indicate, “What good is a day when you haven’t thought of these important things?”

I laughed at the incredulity on his face: Stars, superclusters, muons traveling the speed of light, quirky  quarks are all thriving right beside his world of super-powers for super-heroes, who are incidentally gifted with important sounding superpowers such as gamma-rays and electromagneto-muon-transporters and what-not. 

“Did you  know Halley’s comet is going to come again in 40 years?” said the son still bouncing and glowing from the stash of chocolate chips he has been chipping into while reading his little books on Physics.

img_8953

“Yep! Sounds about right. I was around your age when I saw Halley’s Comet. So once in 76 years means …” and I trailed off.

“What?! You’ve seen Halley’s comet? Aww…..so lucky!” said he, and I had to laugh at his yearning. I did remember the cold nights awaiting the turn at the telescope to catch a grainy sight of the Halley’s comet. I must say that the whole experience felt worth a lot more given the rapture with which he listened to the comet sighting. I seem to remember the hot chocolate provided to the young astronomers more than the telescope and the grainy image itself.

Maybe the universe really did hear his yearnings that day, for within a few weeks, another comet came our way: the Neowise 360 comet sighting was supposedly possible from where we lived. I was so happy for the little fellow. He could barely contain the excitement in his system when his father said at the lunch table that the comet would be visible at 4:30 a.m. He got up and ran upstairs to his room. We were exchanging quizzical glances at this when he tumbled downstairs and said, “Yes! I set the alarm for 4:30 – I cannot wait to see it!”

I had to admit; the young astronomer’s enthusiasm put us to shame. So, for the next few nights, we bundled up and comedically traipsed from location to location in the wee hours of the morning looking for a comet sighting. The clouds were there in one place, some low mountains in another, and then, finally, we managed to find a plain spot in which we caught a grainy sighting.

img_8934

Knowing that we caught a fleeting glimpse of something that is not going to come by to see us for another 6800 years is strangely moving. I have to tell you though, that similar to the Halley’s comet sighting, the hot chocolate after coming back, and the the long tail of wishes accompanying the comet sighting, definitely made the hustle worthwhile. 

That morning, the rest of the comet chasers had no problem falling back to sleep, but I did – the comet had kindled dreams of long ago: dreams born of comet chasing and chocolate charms; dreams woven with the magic of stardust 💫 and comet trails – bright, shiny, sparkling, path-breaking and aspirational.

Bill Watterson was absolutely right: People who spend time looking up at the night sky do live life differently!

 

How to watch a Lunar Eclipse

There was a lunar eclipse and a red moon a few weeks ago. The world watched the rare phenomenon and so did we. I remember seeing the Halley’s Comet about three decades ago, using the School telescope. The telescope was set up in our neighbor’s garden. There is a secret excitement and a strange lesson in mortality when looking at a comet that comes once in 75-76 years.  That, by itself, was sensational enough for us to brave the cold nights to see the comet. The newspapers had been our source of knowledge and I think the news on state television made a statement too, but that was all.  The rest of the buzz we created. I remember a lot of intent gazing and saying “Watdidocee?Isthatit?WOW!”

Now, I am tripping all over the internet over viewing pieces of it remnants : The Orionid Meteor Shower: Leftovers of Halley’s Comet

http://www.space.com/23219-orionids-meteor-shower.html?cmpid=514630_20151019_54178516&adbid=10153118312361466&adbpl=fb&adbpr=17610706465

I can’t but help compare and contrast how we would have viewed it today’s times. Just as spottily is my guess, though we would have the pleasure of seeing the recording taken by somebody immensely more skilled at these things than myself.

Take for instance our viewing of the recent red-moon and lunar eclipse episode:

We set about viewing the eclipse in our customary fashion. That is to say, we made a complete muck of things: hashed a pig or two in the duck pen and squashed a rat.

The husband stood at the kitchen island, with a serious and urgent expression on his face. The daughter strolled in and said, “Oh – he must be playing chess!”

The affronted husband puffed out his chest and told her not to say trivial things like that. “I am, in fact, checking out a very important scientific phenomena that we can see in the skies today. “

The daughter, suitably chastened, went near him and cried, “He is on Facebook!”

I laughed.

“Yes, but checking to see whether the lunar eclipse started, not, you know, just face-booking.” he finished somewhat lamely.

The toddler son, flying his toy plane, and attempting a lunar landing, then explained the lunar eclipse to us:  Moons can be red, blue or white (Is it American? No Everyone can see the moon when it is blue, red or white) and hide in the sun (Won’t it burn? No. Because Shadows are not hot.)

“So, why can’t you go out and check if the lunar eclipse started?” I asked. “After all, if people were saying so on Facebook, they must have done the same thing.”

This struck the children as sound logic, and they ran outside to see what was going on. They caught glimpses of a red moon and they charged in with the sensational news. The son ran into the house, taking his bass decibel levels to an excited high and the daughter came, tripping over her shoes as she took them off. I was, as is usual, in the evening, flopping about the kitchen looking efficient and determined. The urgent appeals from the whole family made me set dinner aside for the moment:

Just switch off the dinner. We can come back and eat.

Come fast. Now.

It takes a long time to cook. You are always cooking dinner.

I likes dinner.

They hustled me out of the house and we stood outside in a sort of anti-climax. The clouds, usually welcomed in the Bay area skies, were having a tough time figuring out why people were standing outside and grimacing at them like that. Hadn’t these very people been pandering for rain, and putting up mugshots of what clouds look like to make sure the populace did not forget? Now when the clouds did come and flit across the evening sky, there was animosity. Did they think moons brought rains? No. Clouds did. Very confusing for the cloud-body.

By now, of course, the husband had to take matters in his hand. He sprinted out to the street and then said we’d get a better view from the end of our street, so off we went leaving the door ajar. The husband, looking like an Admiral General in shorts,  was directing his troops to better viewing positions. The children dutifully ran after him. He turned to bellow out further instructions, only to find his faithful wife running in the opposite direction. It is enough to rattle any Admiral. One cannot determine strategic spots with the errant soldier retreating. He stopped and the children skidded into him and they all bellowed at the recalcitrant soldier.

lunar_eclipse_viewing
lunar_eclipse_viewing

The problem was, there had been a spate of robberies of late, and I was loathe to leaving the door open. So, I doubled back to lock up, while the rest of the family ran. Questions, explanations, eye-rolls and lectures on how-to-live-in-the-moment and not miss lunar eclipses were happening when the daughter yelled – ‘There! There is the moon.” The mutinous Admiral and the penitent trooper, both abandoned earthly worries for the moment and gazed sky-ward to see the moon disappear once again.

The husband tried to take a picture with the phone, “There are far better photographs that are going to be shared at the end of the eclipse, why bother now?”, I said, like it was going to make a difference.

Picture taken by us
Picture taken by us

We gazed again only to find a twig obstructing our view of the clouds. The husband charged homeward saying he’d bring us the car, so we could all pile in and get a clearer view. I tried telling him that a better view can only be had above the clouds, but he had gone. He ran and I ran after him with the house keys,  and we met each other mid-street (In case you thought the children missed this piece of action, they did not.  The toddler thought we were playing, and ran after me. The daughter, tasked with looking after her little brother, ran after him.)  Within minutes of this rhino-charge, the car came, with the husband panting in the driver seat and we jumped in and headed out to a open parking lot.

I don’t know whether you have observed children playing in the park. They run up and then they run down, they run left and they right. All with no apparent purpose. So do the child-like. After about 15 minutes of running this way and that, there was some heavy breathing, more useless photographs, and a state of dejection.

If aliens used this time to observe life on earth, I am afraid to say the news they carry back to their homing civilization cannot be a promising one. A lot of pointless running, needless pointing later, we decided to just head back home.

We entered our community when the clouds cleared again. Swearing loudly, off we leaped from the car, and charged out to see the eclipse. We saw a knot of our neighbors standing to view the eclipse too. They had, in their usual wise manner, skipped the drama and simply came out of their homes and raised their eyes.

This was the picture the internet showed us the next day:

Excellent pictures by people more skilled at Photography than us obviously!
Taken from here: Google Images for Lunar Eclipse

Sigh! For those of you trying to view the Orionid Meteor Shower – I wish you a peaceful viewing. Let me know how it goes.