Obviously, here at Damned Connecticut we’re working on covering everything odd on the ground here in the Nutmeg State, but that doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally turn our eyes upward in search of the unusual. We’re always interested in local UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, the new politically correct term for UFOs) as well as other mysteries of the sky. It also means we enjoy looking beyond our own atmosphere for things that are a bit out of the ordinary (especially since I’m a little bit of an astronomy geek).
In case you hadn’t heard, 2009 is the official International Year of Astronomy, a “global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night-time sky, and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery.” This year was selected as it marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei first turning his telescope to the night skies to discover heavenly bodies (and probably a few earthly bodies through the open windows of Padua). Astronomists around the globe will be celebrating with special events throughout the year, although it seems as though space itself is helping out with a pair of unusual celestial events.
The first thing is the recent discovery of an unusual burst of light from the far side of universe, discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope, as seen in this image to the right (courtesy of NASA). Although it occurred two years ago, astronomers and physicists have been at a loss to explain exactly what it was (or is). It got brighter for 100 days then faded back into blackness over the next 100 days — a pattern which doesn’t fit a supernova. It has been speculated to be everything from the collapse of a carbon-rich start to the collision of a white dwarf and a black hole. The fiery demise of a fully operational Death Star that was destroyed by a bomb dropped down a ventilation shaft by a young Jedi? No one knows for sure as of yet, although there are astronomy geeks aplenty trying to figure it out.
The other less unusual — but no less spectacular event — is the upcoming pass of the year’s first major comet. Comet Lulin is on its way through the solar system toward Earth, scheduled to make its closest pass in about a month on Feb. 24. The thing that makes this comet somewhat odd is that it’s actually circling the sun in the direction opposite of the planets, which means it will come screeching past the Earth (astronomically speaking).
It currently can be seen with a telescope, and when it gets closer, you should be able to see it with binoculars. If we’re really lucky and you live in a fairly dark area, you may be able to see it without any sort of magnification — beholding a damned celestial event with your own eyes!