Interstellar Snow Creates Storm in Scientific Circles
Everyday, for the past 4.5 billion years, thousands of giant interstellar snowballs bombard the Earth at the rate of thirty a second or twenty thousand a day. Encased in thin carbon crusts, they approach our electrically charged planet and the electrostatic stress causes them to break out of their carbon jackets— immediately flattening them into a cloud of water vapor.
It is these claims, put forth by Professor Miles O’Shaughnessy, Director of the Hapgood Observatory in Surrey, England that have fueled an intensely raging debate in the scientific community. “These findings revolutionize our understanding of the origins of life on this planet—” said O’Shaughnessy in a phone conversation. The major revelation here is that these small comets are responsible for funding the oceans supply of water, and subsequently the oxygen that made it possible for the atmosphere to support life forms.
A tall order for a recently discovered class of objects.
A million times smaller than their more famous counterparts— these icy visitors from the outer reaches of the solar system lack the necessary iron to make them glow brightly and produce ‘tails”. What they do have in common with larger comets is that they are mostly made out of water and consist of leftover debris from planetary formations. “The chemical ‘fingerprint’ of theses comets match the composition of our oceans,” states Khalil Firwhaz, a geophysicist on the research team at Hapgood.
Taken seriously, the startling and radical conclusion of it all this might be that we are star hybrids germinated on Earth. Needless to say the debate is in full throttle— as this theory revises everything we understand about ourselves and life on this planet.
In the eye of the storm, O’Shaughnessy is non-plussed— “A century ago, no one believed rocks could fall out of the sky. And before that, the Earth was the center of the Universe—and before that, it was flat…
We’re all going to have be a little less insulated in our thinking and allow the Universe to reveal itself to us.”
—Excerpted from the Science Times, Tuesday July 6 1998
A dark summer: a dark thundering rainworld. Tropical storms in the city, floodwatches… My thoughts and wishes burning atmospheric holes in this density of rain and darkness… fragile, blissful… incandescent—floating through rain-drenched worlds, pressing against the window outside the restaurant where you are— at the bar, a martini and beautiful bartender in place… Out here in the rain, I consist of dark swirling swatches of thirst… longing for touch: the world of touch tones— textures, brusque and wonderful, brushing against skin (my skin), activating physiognomies (mine, yours): rising temperatures; obscure digits — your fingers nudging mine; temporal lobe dislocations — lost weekends; weekend getaways; pulse racing, reading… the style section; appetite compressions, uneaten toast; an attractive woman enters the room— the taste of insecurity; metallic trace of anger forming in my blood; jealousy in mineral compounds, the acrid by-products of lust.
In the condensation from one state of being to another, the capacity for touch is relinquished in exchange for transparency and certain speeds. The speed of light; the speed of thought; the speed of ghosting. In the realm of the shades You Are Always Here—wherever the heart is…
Nevermind that we are relegated to icy fields of Tartarus, chained to the outer vestiges of darkest gloom: a million souls in spherical formations of cold dust far far and away. Yet we are here, among those we have departed from, occupied in ceaseless hauntings. It strikes me as ironic that in death I am none the wiser than in life. Still jealous, still wanting…
Here I am in the glowing thunderstorm—electric hiss and the lightning reveals everything: me in grainy darkness, face pressed to the window… A thunderclap and you look right through me—as if I wasn’t there. Those who are dead salute you my love. The thought that I am invisible induces more thirst, more seeking, more swirling compulsion. I am composed of dark thoughts emitting dark things, straying once more from orbit.
Rogue Planet X
To explain the constant bombardment of the Earth by small comets, we must consider that a large, dark (as yet undiscovered) planet, regularly passes through the outer part the Kuiper Belt (where small comets are thought to be located), The eccentric orbit of this dark planet is speculated to cross the comet belt once every 26 million years or so—hurling swarms of icy comets into the inner solar system and towards the Earth.
Alone in the dark, a young man paces the turrets. Occasionally he occupies himself with the enormous telescope: calibrating its lens—
Thirty feet below, the pastures are cool dark shapes, but soon the skies will light up in fiery array. It is the night of the Perseids.
Someone approaches, the young man is still: a shape, a form appears, a woman— Pauline. She hands him a steaming mug.
“I brought us some tea—”
“Thank you. I should light the lanterns—”
“No” she says, “I like the dark. It is beautiful—”
Clear and starry, even though it is the middle of summer, there is a slight chill—something to do with the altitude. They are on the tower of the castle that is Hapgood Observatory. In less than an hour the fields below will be peopled with stargazers with binoculars and blankets gazing upwards at the comet showers…
But not yet, and he is grateful for the dark, it doesn’t betray him. He begins a stilted conversation about the Oort cloud, then realizes that silence goes with the darkness, the romance of the unsaid…
Her husband is his mentor— the brilliant, passionate cartographer of astral bodies and their behaviors with farfetched theories about the origins of life—that have alienated him from most of the scientific community. Others see him as a visionary, a latter day Galileo. Amongst them, Khalil, who against the better judgment of colleagues and concerned parties who fostered high hopes for his career, joined the Professor’s research team. On the other hand it comes as no surprise to those who know him well; after all, Khalil is a romantic.
As is the Professor’s wife. She had parted with a certain cadre of celebrity to be with him. She was once a part of the smart set in 70’s Paris. Khalil remembers stumbling across a picture of her from the late sixties with Roland Barthes in the Evergreen Review—at the rising cusp of her chic and beauty. Another time while on a date, watching some retro nouvelle vague excess, there appeared a very young Pauline in a cameo. Or was it a Resnais film? The memories are mottled…
He can’t remember exactly when he fell in love with the astrophysicist’s wife.
She possesses a shorthand elegance that reminds him of his mother and her perpetual chic in the face of the mundane. When his father had moved them to London, she hated the dinginess of that gloomy town and insisted on the little touches, the flourishes…
Right till the bitter end, even the details of her suicide were exacted with finesse: the Molyneux dressing gown; jet black Boivin pearls offset by the musk vanilla hints of some Guerlain scent; nails manicured with deep burgundy finish. The notes (to her son, husband and a number of dear friends), written on creamy handcrafted stationery in her handsome Parisian script (straight the line of duty; curved, the line of beauty.) At her bedside, elegant china: the culprit demitasse with small traces of an accomplice—cocoa laced with arsenic…
As if following his train of thought, she inquires in French if he is from France originally—
He explains that his mother was half French and half Tunisian and had grown up in Paris. His father was from Egypt—
“Ah, my mother was also half Tunisian. We have this in common.”
Pluto To Be Demoted
Pluto might be about to lose its place in the solar system. Several motions have been made within the International Astrophysics Association to demote the planet. In short Pluto will be no longer considered so much as a planet but an asteroid: a Kuiper Belt object—a class of objects leftover from the formation of other planets.
Professor Miles O’Shaughnessy of the Hapgood Observatory in Surrey, England explains, “Beyond the outer planets is the Kuiper Belt, a disk of small icy worlds, and that easily includes Pluto which is made of ice, mostly.”
Pluto has always been a bit of a mystery to astronomers. When first discovered, it was thought to be the same size as the Earth; later astronomers discovered that it was only 1,413 miles wide—smaller than our moon. Something of a non-conformist, Pluto’s orbit has always appeared at best eccentric—with a tendency to rotate in the opposite direction of the other planets.
There is precedence to the demotion of planets. The asteroid Ceres was proclaimed a planet in 1901, then toppled after a year. Pluto, named for the Roman god of the underworld, has held office for over 70 years; it is hard to predict what the ramifications will be to the universe at large.
I can’t help myself. Suddenly I am here, next to you in the bar. Sensing the competition, the Bartender makes her move,
“Is that the Science Times?”
“Apparently Pluto is in danger of being demoted—”
“To what, an asteroid?”
“Exactly. I see you’re up on your planetary news—”
If it hadn’t occurred to you to go a-fishing, it does now: you fold the newspaper.
She smiles: sly girl,
“It makes sense doesn’t it? It’s just a hunk of ice—”
“Though, it’s a bit of a pain for all those astrologers who make their living off of this stuff—what happens to everyone’s charts now. Do we get refunds?”
“What do you do in your real life?”
“This is my real life—”
“Alright, in your dreams?”
“Why does everyone have to do something? Why can’t I just be a bartender?”
“That’s a very Zen approach—”
“What do you do?”
“Whatever I want. I’m retired.”
“Isn’t it a bit early in the game for that, what did you retire from?”
“I used to run a company.”
“Your own company?”
“Let me guess it was some sort of software company and you sold it and now they hire you as a consultant—”
“You’re very astute.”
She notices the empty martini glass— “Can I fix you another one”
“Waiting for someone?” Well?
“You’re a writer.”
“That doesn’t answer my question—”
“But it answers mine—”
I foresee a clever sassy comeback, but in nano seconds I have flashed myself into her consciousness. A jarring collision of thoughts stream through her—
“You used to be in here all the time with that sort of tall woman with the incredible hair—was that your girlfriend?”
“Was—is the operating word.”
“I wondered, she never comes in here anymore. She was extraordinary, all the boys in the back were smitten with her—”
“Nuar. Yes, she was beautiful—”
“And she’s not anymore?”
“She— She passed away last fall.”
It hurts to say it still, doesn’t it? For a moment, you listen to oxygen compounds rattling trade winds in your chest—
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. Was it an accident, was she sick?”
“No, no. She overdosed—”
Or did she? Is it just me, or do I hear that old chorus of accusers rise easily from their invisible recesses. Perhaps you do need that drink.
She stops when she sees something akin to pain register on your face,
“I’m sorry, I was just curious—”
“No one knows if it was intentional or an accident. She took Quaaludes for kicks, so maybe she took one many. At any rate she didn’t leave a note, but somehow I’m to blame for her actions. Apparently I drove her to it.”
She is alarmed for a second,
“Do you really believe that?”
“No. But other people do. And they persist.”
Some people come in and seat themselves at the bar. The bartender (whose sympathy you now have) touches you gently—
“Hey don’t go away, Let me deal with those guys. I’ll make you another one, okay?”
You nod mutely. Elsewhere a brass section of angry female voices is in full swing: a cloud of witnesses, saying terrible terrible things of you, to you. They file themselves along memory lines: look! It’s my sister Ferozah who slapped you at the hospital. Slapped and spat at you at the news of my demise (but you should have expected that, you slept with her once, when I was out of town and she was equally volatile in bed.)
Do you hear the ringing phone? No, not the neighboring cell phone—the phone ringing at perpetual midnight… Precisely when you won’t answer it—because you are preoccupied with something—or someone else. Or can’t be bothered. But the phone keeps ringing: just because you won’t answer it.
Who can it be now?
Is it some woman threatening to slash her wrists?
Is it your mother on the end?
Is it me?
Or anyone: crying and dying
The phone is ringing, and you won’t pick up.
Perhaps it protests too much.
The next morning, the call comes: your mother has killed herself—because she was lonely… (I know, because we’ve compared notes since.)
Ah, the recollections tumble one over the other, faster than a martini being shaken…
Newsflash! I peer into one of those memory emissions:
A therapy session, the psychoanalyst, a woman rises, leaves the room for a few minutes. You find her in the darkened hallway having a breakdown…
The inevitable has happened, transference: she is in love with you…
There has been much talk of centaurs and goat gods carrying off frightened nymphs and virgins. Your comment: women always have some sort of complaint…
She is silent. Then she says that is a cruel thing to say. For some reason it makes you think of your mother. You leave, stained by thoughts of coldness and cruelty…
You never see her again, your analyst. She is gone before your next session, a suicide…
Outside a sharp lash of lightning threatens my excursions. I brace myself for the thunder: the vibrations easily disperse the clusters of the dead: compiling our particle machinations into some universal recycling system…when it hits, I will scatter.
Give me a few moments to regroup. I’m not done torturing you.
Every .0001 seconds, Zeus hurls a million lightning bolts to Earth:
flashing feathers of a thunderbird,
a river of electric currents gushing through an ocean of air…
Awesome strokes of power—
in a sharp single crack, hotter than the surface of the sun
cooling in an instant.
The Dark Prince
Someone once told me that the death drive was the source of all glamour. She said this is what attracted women to me: I wear death like an accessory, a self-styled Prince of Darkness. She urged me to seek help, as I was destructive—a comet tail of tragedies lighting up and fizzling out behind me…
It’s ironic, as she was my shrink, and she told me all this in a suicide note—a suicide that probably had to do with more than unrequited love—all the same, the insinuation, that somehow I was responsible…
A dark presence appears in the forest glade, the young girls frolic, adorning themselves with bright garlands…
The bartender returns, brainy, slender—she could be interesting…
A fresh martini and the world distills into a muted swirlpool: an ambient bass line,
Stringing flowers in her hair, Persephone looks up: something has passed over the Sun—the sky is cloudless but the air is charged. Shadows enter the world…
The brainy girl is a feline engine—
“Sorry to bring that up. You alright?”
“I’m alright. Maybe we should start over. You’re a beautiful bartender—”
“That’s what happens after you’ve had a few.”
Something smart passes between us.
“So are you waiting for someone?”
Lightning flashes through the window and a thunderclap. The world is illuminated in brief seconds: a fleeting impression, then gone…
In the forest glade, Hades rises out of Hell and drags the child Persephone down, kicking and screaming till hoarse. All the flowers of her innocence trailing into sparks of withering flame as she descends into the Underworld…
On second glance, it is Lilya crossing the street, dark hair glistening with rain: tense, lost, wet — in love still, perhaps. The Bartender senses my shift in focus and leaves. There will be other times… Lilya peering into the window: she sees me—sense of a smile, then agitation…
The world darkens with her mother’s grief, but Persephone will taste the fruit of Hell. There she will assume position as the spectral and powerful Queen of the Dead.
She enters the bar; I can see the battle has been won already, the spoils divided and the conqueror triumphant in the streets, pomp, heraldry, and splendor
and then the chorus of harpies rising to accuse…
a wasp hissing in my ear,
O Death, be not Proud
When small comets strike at the moon, they kick up lunar dust and produce strange glows.
The skies are quiet for now—more animated are the glow pricks of light emerging in the fields below the castle. Clear in the heavens, thinks the French woman, the skies being her rival. Her husband divines the atomic weight of each star cluster, intimately grasps the radii of wandering novae, but his knowledge of her…
Well, he has knowledge of her, Miles with his arcane remote sensing of her feelings, his ability to intuit her moods—but always from afar and in such away that he had become the enigma between them. It was his genius she had succumbed to in the beginning; later in their relationship, she pursued her passions—each affair a fervent prayer to elicit his jealousy…
But Miles, his mind always too lofty for things of this world…
Here is the outline of a young man, eager and infatuated. Very like Miles, a similar gem cut of brilliance—but flawed. Depth of emotional feeling will cloud his path. He is risking much in his career by hitching his rising star to Mile’s singularities, his prismatic view of the cosmos—even if he is right, they are doomed, melting flying contraptions…
Her thoughts are interrupted when the young man asks her a question. She is caught unawares, her teaspoon drops.
They both bend to retrieve it— a brief collision tangle of bodies in the dark. By dint of gravitational capture: they kiss…
blissful instance stolen from eternity.
It is my birthday she thinks.
Standing in silence, in darkness, not very close but intimate enough.
Looking down, she sees her husband walking up the hill, back lit by stars, “There is Miles,” she murmurs.
Flashflood warnings are in effect until Midnight in the Nassau, Rockland and Dutchess Counties. Widespread flooding and scattered power outages reported throughout the metro area… 85 degrees going down to 74 later tonight. Showers expected till midnight.
Rain, lightning and thunder slash through the streets: I press against the restaurant window and scan the room. There he is at the bar, our eyes flicker a brief instant of—love, guilt, anger shaken and stirred proportions…
“I’m late, I know—”
“You’re all drenched”
“Give me a minute, I’ll go dry off—”
“You look amazing—”
“Go do what you have to do, I’ll get us a table—” without warning he kisses me.
I flee to the bathroom.
I catch my reflection in a fish tank near the restrooms. I’m beginning to look like her.
Seated, the waiter goes through the evening’s specials. I can barely read the menu,
“I’m not comfortable with this, it feels—”
“Like a betrayal?”
“Funny how that works.”
Yes, very funny. Two years earlier, I had been seeing Aleister for about a week, one evening we ran into my older, more beautiful, crazier, ultimately more exciting and worldly wise sister—Nuar. Mysteriously, I found myself alone at the end of the night. Over the coming weeks, the former beau and the older sister, made no secret of their great love affair—soon he was introduced to the family. I fought bitterly with Nuar—and the old family dynamic took precedence: Nuar, my mother’s preferred offspring, and thus the superior sibling, was justified in her conquest. On the other hand, I was the whiny little troublemaker—my father was no longer around to defend me. Everyone else told me to get over it. A lifetime of this and finally I’d had enough: I proceeded with the Great Estrangement. No one in my family heard from me for a year and a half. Then one September afternoon, I got the call: Nuar was in the emergency ward, a suicide attempt. By the time I arrived my mother was wailing over her lost daughter’s body. I felt sorry for her. For them.
But I digress. Aleister, the epitome of coolness studies my face, superbly at ease with the uncomfortable silence—
“Why am I here?”
“I wanted to see you. Why are you here?”
“Curiosity. Do you blame yourself?”
“Do you blame me?”
“Does it really matter what I think?”
“In a strange way it does—when Nuar died, I didn’t feel any guilt towards her—maybe it’s callous, but I felt it was a desperate attempt at manipulation. She was difficult to be with, very jealous, very competitive—”
“I’ve been thinking about you—a lot,”
“It’s called guilt.”
“She’s still around isn’t she? little ghost particles…”
“It’s true. She haunts me—”
“Of course, it’s a more effective means of keeping you on a leash—”
The waiter returns to take our order, I make my decision:
“I’m not hungry. I think I’m gonna leave—”
“Really? Have you satisfied your curiosity?”
“Yes. You’re not miserable enough. I was hoping I could come here and gloat—”
“How miserable should I be?”
“Enough to regret everything.”
“Not enough. You should want me back—”
“It’s stormy out there, wait. At least have a martini—”
Outside it’s a radical haze of lightning streaks, thunderbolts, wind, hail…an elemental revolt. Rightly so, today would have been Nuar’s birthday. I wonder if he knows that, if he would have cared…
Within the cityscapes, the light and magic of it all is stunted by interfering skyscrapers and brownstones—but elsewhere, in the wide open spaces there are bright round sparks, streamers and colored balls of magnetic storms… flat bright flares slake across the prairies Elsewhere there are visible comet showers, galactic debris, Perseids illuminating the dangers of that vast starry route one must traverse in outer space, as Phaethön did:
“…the horns of the Great Bull, the vicious arrows
Of the Haemonium Archers, the gaping jaw
of the infuriated Lion,
And the Scorpion’s lifted pike, it’s pincers
that grab from one side, while the Crab
rushes at you with its double crushers,
from the other.”
Yes Nuar, an entire galaxy of radioactive birthday candles at your disposal, imagine that! Make a wish—make a thousand wishes, hurl your desires across the firmament, let the world know! Anything! But by all means let us have peace; there are those of us amongst the living who could do without you.
Belgian geophysicist Alain Van Geert to British astrophysicist, Miles O’Shaughnessy,
“Do you really expect us to believe that the sea fell from the sky?”
To which O’Shaughnessy responds:
“Why not? You already imagine that it was belched out of volcanoes”
A lifetime of scanning the skies, Miles looks up and sees his wife and protégé high up on the castle turrets. Not much to see in this darkness, but the astrophysicist sees all. Nothing escapes him. Around him, in the fields, enthusiasts, amateurs and professionals alike set up telescopes, binoculars, picnic hampers, torches, lawn chairs, blankets… tonight the show of shows… star fire! Primordial urges, who can resist?
What if she leaves me?
He is not unaware of his wife’s cupidity. In fact in the past he welcomed it—those diversions created limitless time space devoted to telescopes and star dreaming in the fields: ponderations on the origins of the Universe…
All these years and he is still infatuated with the motion of cosmic clocks; star emissions; orbits…
Except she had never been in love with all those passers by, interns, poets, lecturers, visiting Surrey on some transitory business or the other…
They always left, but not her. But he sees all, he sees the wife and the protégé: their bodies invisibly entwined in some Gallic commonality—some joint tragedy that might bind them together irrevocably…
The tears that quietly stream down the astrophysicist’s face are unexpected. He recoils from thoughts of his wife and protégé, settling his mind on other things: meteors, Perseids, those fortunate cosmonauts of antiquity, those lucky devils who witnessed the mysteries of the Universe upfront, first hand: Ezekiel, Elijah, Gilgamesh, Icarus— Phaethön, who begged his father, Apollo the Sun god to let him ride his chariot across the starry firmament…
And the tragedy of that enterprise, not unlike current events in his own life: Phaethön’s sun-chariot rampage gone awry—leaving a scorched, blackened Earth in roaring shambles…
“…a whole day without the sun
But the burning world itself gives light.”
Noctilucent clouds—so called because they can only be perceived against a dark sky when illuminated by a setting sun —are quite strange and beautiful. Thin, wavy or banded—silver or bluish white they can be seen over the polar regions during the summer months. They form at an altitude of 55 miles, in the coldest parts of the upper atmosphere—the unexplored gauntlet known as the mesopause. No other clouds occur so high in the sky, These clouds require considerably more water vapor than can be expected at that altitude from ocean evaporation. While no one thoroughly understands why these clouds exist—except that they are composed of ice crystals formed around meteoric dust particles—the small comet theory provides an explanation.
©2006, 2013 onome ekeh