This column was originally published on December 13, 1985.
A Lutheran minister ever called "the thick smoke of human sins", a hypothesis that currently finds some support among researchers. They prefer to see comets like big dirty snowballs sucking behind gas and enchanted by gravity. And not from God but from the infinite Oort cloud, a giant shell far from the solar system where future comets spend eons silent desperation until they are disturbed by any celestial accident and called to compete against the sun and make men cry.
In addition to men no longer crying. Halley's Comet may have won the victory in 1
Science has thoroughly desacralized the universe. It's in the language. When in the final election, Walter Mondale warned against militarizing the "sky", the use seemed to be picturesque. After Neil Armstrong and George Lucas, what's up now is just "space". Heaven was a place for angels, gods, and portant messengers. The space is home to aliens, the power and now snowballs cross through emptiness.
Do not get me wrong. I do not point to the day of the crooks. Things are much better now. There are costs to demystify the universe and turn it into science – Carl Sagan's mix is among the heavier – but the profit is huge.
Halley, like the rest of space, is friendly now, tamed. This will probably be the first time in history that Halleys will be wondering everywhere for fear. Halley has turned into a party, a scientific romance.
Romance is in return. Halley returns, always exactly in time. After the current passport, it will travel 3 billion miles away from the ground and then turn to regain your children. It is the greatest reminder that an individual can look at nature's persistence. This because of its cycle: it returns about every 75 years, once in a lifetime.
The sun rises regularly too, but so often we can not help getting dulled to the beat. And what rhythm beyond that of the familiar year, are we really moving? Sunbreaks come every 11 years, and what laymen care? Economists come forever with "long waves" (50 years) and other supposed economic cycles. Even Freud's theory of neurosis was based on the concept of distant return, the return of the child to the mind of man. Such cycles can be most beneficial, called speculative.
Others are just too long. Istiden also gets back. Match it in your calendar. Halley's loneliness is made on a human scale. Its excitement is exactly a lifetime. Birth and death are perhaps the only events that match Halley's periodicity. And neither is it nearly as reliable. Birth and death come with regular irregularity (to borrow a term from cardiology). Halley is you can trust.
For example, we know absolutely nothing about how the world will be like in 2061. Apart from one thing. In the Incredible Year, a year whose many numbers have a different worldly appearance, Halley's light shines up the sky.
A price to disassemble the universe is that science, unlike religion, just asks how, not why. As for the purpose of things, science is quiet. But if science can not speak of meaning, it can talk about harmony. And Halleys is immediately a symbol and proof of deep harmony in the spheres.
The great writer of the harmony was Newton. And one of the earliest empirical demonstrations of his gravitational theories was provided by his friend Edmond Halley. Twenty-two years after the great comet from 1682, Halley declared his logic. He predicted his return in 1758. Halley died 17 years before he could be proven right. The comet's return was a feeling. That made Halley immortal. Faithful by nature, science testifies the comet forever to the man who did not discover it, but be the first to understand it.
This time there will be no feeling. Halleys will provide one of the worst tests ever. This may be its weakest perception of more than 2,000 years. What we will celebrate is then not the spectacle, but the idea.
Halleys is a monument to science, a spokesman for his new heavenly harmonies – and a mortality tank. It is immediately recurring and, for us individually, singular. This is my only Halley, and if you're old enough to read this without moving your lips, your last, I'm afraid.
Halley speaks specifically to me. When it comes to the sun, the midpoint of the trip, I will mark the midpoint of mine, or say the Metropolitan Life tables. Our perihelions match. Mark Twain was quite pleased that he came in with Halley and would go out with it. Ash to Ash, Oort to Oort. Hail Halley's.
Krauthammer wrote for Washington Post. He died Thursday at the age of 68.