Charles Nevin: The Third Leader

Space balls

But comets introduce another dimension. These eternal, elliptical visitors have long been held to be harbingers of disaster (Halley's Comet popped up in 1066) and still stir an ancient unease not exactly dispelled by evidence that they contain the very beginnings of creation.

So it's not terribly surprising that crashing into one might be seen as pushing it a bit, especially when, for example, a leading scientist observes, "We used to be afraid of comets ... Now it is the comet's turn to be afraid."

You may have some sympathy, then, with the Russian astrologer who is suing Nasa because the crash "infringes upon her spiritual and life values, as well as the natural life of the cosmos, and will disrupt the natural balance of forces in the universe".

Or not. But don't look to me, as down here we don't really do advice, thank goodness.

I was struck, though, by the history of the name-lending discoverer of the invaded comet. Ernst Tempel (1821-1889) had a fittingly wandering career around Europe, and then, after discovering 21 comets, turned to religion before paralysis brought death. Worth pondering, I should have said. If we're still here, of course.

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