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Celestial puzzler By Richard Bechtold Austin Sales of microscopes trebled, Palomar swinging in its great and graceful arch, strange sights in the streets of American cities all these are being attributed to the projected appearance of the first major cornet in 60 years. A celestial happening, the Comet Kohoutek, named after Russian discovered the new light last February, may show up. In Trenton, Astralphilosopher Philip Merrill predicts that the comet will spread “new light” on New Jersey, Cleveland and the Snake delta, three areas of geopolitical interest where his nonsectarian group has its strongest following. Kohoutek is projected by most scientists to be “at least” six feet long, which might make it the brightest star in the firmament, if it ever appears. It will, if predictions are realized, cover half the sky, which is twelve feet at sundown and eleven and a half at sunup, a freaky astrophysical oddity which has puzzled scientists for centuries. This new cornet, coming as it does, after Christmas, seems certain to clear that up. Aristotle Comets have appeared before in history and the lore is rich. Who ever heard of poor lore? In 18 B.C. a comet appeared over Cincinnati and killed 19 people, the entire population at that time. The philosopher Aristotle observed that comets often have a long trailing thread of light behind them, which he christened “the tail.” In 44 A.D. the appearance of the Comet Whistle sparked the hordes of Attila in the sack of Rome. Whistle reappeared in 415 coinciding with a mysterious tooting and pounding in the heads of humanity. The jurist Garret Augustus Hobart \(before he became fondly of “comets and shit like that.” Comments on comets have been condensed in a slim volume which is used as a Bible by inmates of the Colorado Department of The EPA calculates that cars with air conditioners burn 9 to 20 percent more gas than \(of Ralph Nader’s Public Interest Research moratorium” begun with 1975 models would save 380 to 656 million gallons of gas theAfirst year. Di tlow then compares the industry claim that 2.7 billion gallons of gas could be saved annually by removing anti-pollution devices from all cars with his own estimate that 3.9 billion gallons could be saved by removing all car air conditioners. Which is more urgent, the need for clean air inside the car or outside it? The New Republic, Dec. 29, 1973. 18 The Texas Observer Corrections. A recent popular opinion cross section shows .79 percent with “no opinion” pointing to the wide spread of ignorance about comets. But perhaps the most mysterious phenomenon associated with the celestial pranksters occurred in 1910 with the appearance of Harry’s Comet. On March 12, at its apogee \(point closest to the sun in the sky that Franklin, Pennsylvania, up to that time a thriving industrial boomtown of near a million population, disappeared. In the following 48 hours 76 members of the Franklin Philharmonic, a noted orchestra on roadshow engagement in Toledo, were snubbed out without so much as a trace. Modern histories make no mention of Franklin which speaks to the totality of the devastation. Some historians will admit to the peculiarity in off-the-record conversations with reporters. In 1898 the Peerless Motor Company was formed. Physics There has been much speculation as to the material nature of comets, from the libertine 16th century Physicist Philip Zent’s formulation “anything with a tail” to modern analysts who insist that “not is comet is not.” In between, more moderate observers take a gentler view. Astronomer Philip Lynch of Los Angeles’ Pistello Observatory settles back into his naugahyde chiffonier and expresses a common position: “Comets are tricky. Comets are any color they want.” NASA Physicists Philip Dempsey and Philip Tegler disagree: “Comets are yellow, infrequently blue. That’s it, bucko.” Philip Pierce, head of Pierce Institute in Scottsdale, suggests that comets “are composed of chunks of matter no larger than a tractor” and that these chunks are surrounded by a white hot syrup of celestial ice which he describes as “about the viscosity of peanut butter, only white.” It tastes, Pierce adds, “like fried chicken.” Philip Fenner, truculent and diminutive shortstop of the famed British Research Team has spent years following comets across their celestial playground. His crack research team is ready with millions of dollars worth of equipment for Kohoutec, although he hasn’t spoken a word since 1942. Amid this honest play of divergent opinion, there is one thing that Dempsey, Tegler, Merrill, Lynch, and most other scientists would agree on Kohoutek’s appearance, if it occurs, will be the opportunity of a lifetime. Real putrid Perhaps the most disputed theory of all is propounded by an austere, reserved, thin metaphysicist from California, the maverick scientist Philip Smith. Smith, a sort of technocrat-cum-guru to the caterwauling young, has proposed that other scientists and news reports concerning Kohoutek have ignored the obvious “as usual” and overlooked the most significant aspect of the celestial foie gras. “Comets stink,” Smith said from his treeshaded home on the beach west of Oxnard, “and Kotik is very likely to be real putrid, the worst. Emerson had something to say on this. Kotik’s new, and we have no way of gauging comets, today, but it’s the newest and largest, and we can’t just close our eyes as we have for so long. They do stink and I don’t care if you all hate me.” The iconoclast’s viewpoint is not shared by many; Rotan and Mosle of MIT’s Oddlot Labs are among the few colleagues to take Smith’s warning seriously. “Phil and I suggest that Smith’s in the area of rightness, perhaps not entirely correct, but with some particle of the truth. He may overestimate the extent, but odor will be a significant factor.” Rotan and Mosle suggest incense or bacon-,burning during to more drastic measures, followed already by some of his more ardent young disciples, such as nasal surgery. Religious significance For many, Comet Kohoutek has taken on an extra dimension of meaning. In Vatican City rumors have been circulating for months about the bald-pated figure dashing through that city’s tiny alleys, pounding the bricks with a small hammer. In Baltimore, many persons have been moved to walk the streets on their heads. “The Lord is angry,” says Sectarian prelate Philip Paine. “He has sent this celestial freak as emblem of his anger. Many have come to us to learn the secret of head-walking, but most are not willing to make the sacrifice.” Paine, and his General Secretary Philip Webber, have appealed to the Baltimore City Council. The councilman thus far remain adamant in refusing soft streets. Celestial poseur Whether Baltimore’s City Council relents or millions of Americans yield to nasal amputation is left to fate and the next few weeks. We will soon know. The onrush of Comet Kohoutek is inexorable and rushing on, and according to reputable authorities it is likely to light the heavens as nothing before or since. The celestial poseur may appear near Orion or, as experts suspect, in the vicinity of the Pleiades the daughters of Atlas turned to stars in Greek mythology of which six are seeable with average eyes. The wisest attitude may well have been suggested by Phyllis Jackson and Philip Curtis, discovered at their chic Central Park hideaway, who commented, when asked about the greatest celestial pilgrim in our century, “Well, a celestial pilgrim’s better than nothing.” * 4 *