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Dec 2013

you who are the sons,
this is addressed to you.

you who are comets,
you who are not,
cannot believe, you are
but are nonetheless.

You who awake and say,
I, Son
be whom you must,
pretend not to be
the son of...

no matter how many
millions of miles must be
traveled till you are visible,
no matter how brief your life,
you are more than Ison,
your are yourself, part son,
but all man, unique.

set your own course,
if to the sun you must fly,
set the course you choose,
and we will call you by your
name true,
I, Comet.

Like Icarus, Comet Ison flew too close to the sun and perished. After passing near the solar surface on Thanksgiving Day, Ison vanished in a ghostly puff. Ice and dust proved no match for infernal heat. Next up is Comet Lovejoy, whose close encounter with the sun will take place on Christmas Day.

Here on the island of Nantucket, we know well the heartbreak of comets. In 1847, Maria Mitchell became world famous for discovering a comet from the rooftop of her family's home on this fleck of land 30 miles out to sea, the first comet ever found using a telescope. Mitchell's calculation of the comet's orbit showed that its trajectory would carry it away from the solar system, never to return. Within three months of its discovery, the comet had faded from view, beyond the light-gathering capabilities of even the most powerful telescopes. All that remains today is a memory.

According to Greek legend, when Icarus and his father, Daedalus, were imprisoned by King Minos on the island of Crete, Daedalus built wings of feathers and wax for their escape, cautioning Icarus not to fly too high because the sun would melt the wax. But Icarus was so overjoyed by his ability to soar and swoop like a bird that he forgot his father's warning. As he flew higher and higher, the feathers came loose and he fell to his death in the sea below.

Ison was once a prisoner too, held for billions of years in our solar system's dark netherworld, the Oort cloud, a place so remote it takes a beam of sunlight a year to arrive there. Freed by a sudden gust of gravity from a passing star, the comet began its exhilarating but ill-fated flight to the sun a few million years ago.
Nat Lipstadt
Written by
Nat Lipstadt  M/nyc
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