Good Bye Comet ISON - An Obituary by Galileo Galilei
Dear Signor Weatherwax,
During the entire time the comet was visible I was confined by illness to my bed. There, I was often visited by friends. Discussions of the comet frequently occurred, during which I had occasion to voice some thoughts of mine which cast doubt upon the doctrines that prevailed at the time regarding the nature and future of this comet.
Your Excellency will note that it is the plight of the human being to be frequently deceived. Even I do not possess, I must confess, a perfect faculty of discrimination; I am more like the monkey that firmly believed he saw another monkey in a mirror, and the image seemed so real and alive to him that he discovered his error only after running behind the glass several times to catch the other monkey.
I ask Your Excellency: Have you ever been in some room with closed shutters and seen on the wall a reflection of sunlight coming through some tiny hole, and so far as vision could determine, it seemed to be a star no less bright than Venus?
When Your Excellency walks over a field into the sunlight, thousands of straws and pebbles that are smooth or moistened will reflect the sun in the aspect of the most brilliant stars. Your Excellency would need only to spit upon the ground and undoubtedly he would see the appearance of a natural star when you look from the point toward which the sun’s rays are reflected. What cloud, what smoke, what wood, what wall, what mountain, touched by the sun does not shine equally. Indeed, I have proved in my Starry Messenger that the earth itself shines more brightly than the moon.
But why should anyone speak of the comet as shining like a planet? I myself believe that the light of a comet may be so weak and its material so thin and rare that if anyone could get close enough to it he would completely lose it from view. Thus also, we see distant clouds as sharply bounded, but later from close by, they show no more than a misty shadowiness, so indefinitely bounded that a person entering within them will fail to distinguish their limits or to separate them from the surrounding air.
So it is with comets—they may be dissolved in a few days, and they are not of a circular and bounded shape, but confused and indistinct—indicating that their material is thinner and more tenuous than fog or smoke. In a word, a comet is more like a toy planet, than the real thing.
Having said all that, I do regret, Your Excellency, that the comet (for which you and your many minions) held out so much promise was never more than a mere image- a fleeting, ephemeral ghost in the night. By way of providing some comfort, however, let me leave you with a proposition that long experience has taught me about the status of mankind with regard to matters requiring thought: the less people know and understand upon them, the more positive they attempt to argue concerning them, while on the other hand to know and understand a multitude of things renders men cautious in passing judgment upon anything new.
I kiss your hands,
Chief Mathematician and Philosopher to the Grand Duke of Tuscany
Obituary written by Mark Thompson of OPT who has been channelling Galileo, spreading the joy and knowledge of astronomy for several years.