Unusually great amount of interest is being aroused by the arrival of comet 1973f, named after Dr. Lubos Kohoutek, a Czechoslovakian astronomer at Hamburg Observatory in Germany, who sighted the object on March 7 this year on photographs taken with the 32-inch Schmidt telescope. The faint fuzzy object was then in the direction of the constellation Hydra. Looking at earlier photographs of the same area he found it also on some that had been taken on January 28. It was the second comet he had found within eight days. (Sky and Telescope, August 1973, Harvard Observatory, Cambridge, Mass.) His earlier discovery, 1973e, found on February 28, has come and gone without any furore. 1973f, which promises to be rather conspicuous, will pass its perihelion on December 28 in a parabolic orbit with a roughly estimated period of some 80,000 years. Some scientists believe it may be hyperbolic, which would make it a one-time occurrence. With the vast number of alleged UFO sightings that have disturbed so many people during the past year, the clearly visible 1973f has been given perhaps undue publicity to avert possible panic.
In a monthly publication of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, Donald K. Yeomans writes:
At least one Chaldean school held the advanced opinion that comets were similar to planets except they spent most of their time far from the Earth. The Pythagoreans had a vague idea of comets returning to the Earth at fixed periods of time, but the theory that was to dominate history for over 2,000 years was expressed by Aristotle in the 4th Century B.C. . . .
In the 1st Century A.D., the Roman sage Seneca objected to the Aristotelian notion of comets and predicted that they would eventually be considered to move in accordance with natural law. -- Griffith Observer, December 1973, Los Angeles, Calif., pp. 2, 5
However, Aristotle won out and comets continued to be surrounded with an aura of superstition. The Christian church added them to the arsenal of divine vengeance and they came to be associated with disasters, wars, pestilence, and famine, which could be imputed to an offended deity. As late as the seventeenth century in Europe, professors of astronomy were required to take an oath not to teach that comets were obedient to natural law, but to imply that they were supernatural expressions of divine displeasure.
Each century brings four or five comets that are visible to the naked eye by day. Halley's comet with a period of 75-76 years has been sighted at every return since 467 B.C. The most frequent is Encke, with a period of 3.3 years. There are a hundred-odd short period comets, with an average revolution of about seven years, and about four times as many long period comets with revolutions of two hundred years or more. ("Comet Koboutek 1973-1974" by Robert D. Chapman, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. From Space Science and Technology Today (1:1), pp. 13, 8, 25-6.)
Scientists generally believe that a periodic comet passes its perihelion about one hundred times before disintegrating. Dr. Jan H. Oort of The Netherlands suggests the existence of a spherical shell of cometary material at the outer limits of the nebula from which our solar system is believed to have condensed, i.e., at about 150,000 times the earth's distance from the sun, and he proposes that gravitational tug from some star on a portion of the remaining nebular cloud may send a comet hurtling on its way. Or, a comet may come here from another solar system. It appears that most comets are affected also by non-gravitational forces.
The ancient sciences of astronomy and astrology (a science very different from the current notions that pass for astrology) held views that would bear examination. Though the language of traditional legends and myths seems quaint and unscientific to our ears, the processes of universal nature are suggestively indicated. The formation of a universe is described in most, if not all, ancient myths in language that is not too difficult to decipher, if we have some idea of the subject. The symbols used vary little, from the Japanese legend (Hamlet's Mill, by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, 1969, p. 383) wherein the divine parents stir the milky ocean with a jeweled spear to form a nebulous whirlpool in space where worlds will embody, to the Icelandic Eddas, wherein Mundilfore, the mighty lever or axis turns the great galactic wheel; or, again, the mill Grotte (growth, evolution) grinds out whatever matter is required, while the center of the millwheel forms a whirlpool in the waters of space. (Germansk Mitologi, by Viktor Rydberg, p. 133; English trans. pp. 397-8) We have only to look at a photograph taken by the giant telescopes to see how graphically this description fits the spirals formed by whirling galaxies. If the objection is made that the ancients lacked such telescopes, it is obvious that they had some means of knowing what they evidently knew. In Tibet, we find Fohat, offspring of the Boundless, himself the cosmic proto-electromagnetic force, setting worlds in motion:
He builds them in the likeness of older Wheels (Worlds), placing them on the imperishable centers. How does Fohat build them? He collects the fiery dust. . . . -- The Secret Doctrine, by H. P. Blavatsky, I, 144, 204
He sets in motion the wheels of cosmic dust that form around "laya-centers" where lie dormant the vitalizing principles of past systems until the reimbodying souls are ready to come once more into manifestation. These neutral centers are the "singular points" postulated by Sir James Jeans:
The type of conjecture which presents itself, somewhat insistently, is that the centers of the nebulae are of the nature of "singular points," at which matter is poured into our universe from some other, and entirely extraneous, spatial dimension, so that, to a denizen of our universe, they appear as points at which matter is continually created. -- Astronomy and Cosmogony, by Sir James Jeans, p. 352
Wise men of old held that consciousness is the basis of all life and that form, of whatever kind, is an expression of consciousness. The same thought is echoed in more recent years by Professors Jeans and Max Planck, both of whom regarded consciousness as fundamental, and matter as derived from consciousness. Ancient traditions hold that when a star dies, its inner being withdraws to the spiritual realms whence it had issued into manifestation, at which time its electromagnetic grip on the molecules of its radiant body is released, much as a human body begins to decay when the inner being has departed at death. The stellar components are then instantaneously scattered and we may see a nova outburst. When the energies of the solar (or planetary, or galactic) entity once more seek embodiment, the laya-center is reactivated. Fohat (or Thor, or Tzcatlipoca) sets the new center of life in churning motion, and the world-that-is-to-be sets out on its destined wanderings as a new comet. Nebulous at first, gradually assembling its own scattered atoms from their distant lodgments in space, it slowly condenses into a material globe and finds its ancient center, around which it settles into orbit for its next aeons-long existence.
During its cometary career such a wanderer of the skies leads a precarious existence for, like all seeds in nature's prodigal economy, most are unproductive. The "Fiery Dragon" must run the gauntlet of denser settled bodies that attract it hither and yon. In fact, the erratic motions of comets through space bear a more than superficial resemblance to the travels of mammal sperm in search of an egg, or a speck of pollen seeking a pistil. Only by the rarest co-incidence of many factors does one find its way to a ripe receptacle. The ancients, when referring to the "mundane egg" had such a picture of the birth of worlds.
Many perish, their mass disintegrating through stronger masses, and, when born within a system, chiefly within the insatiable stomachs of various Suns. Those which move slower and are propelled into an elliptic course are doomed to annihilation sooner or later. Others moving in parabolic curves generally escape destruction, owing to their velocity.
Compare this with the following statement from a standard textbook on astronomy today:
Because of their high mortality rates, periodic comets cannot have been periodic for long, but must originally have been comets of very long periods having nearly parabolic orbits. . . . Those occasional comets that are highly spectacular, . . . almost invariably have nearly parabolic orbits. -- Exploration of the Universe, by George Abell, 1964, p. 292
Comets Ensor (1906) and Westphal (1913) were both expected to furnish spectacular displays. Both grew rapidly as they approached the sun; both became increasingly diffuse, so that when they should have been close to perihelion, "they were nowhere to be seen. `3 Comet Biela (for which Dr. Kohoutek was searching when he found 1973f) had a period of 6.75 years. In 1846 it split into two separate complete comets, each with its nucleus and coma, and these two comets continued to travel in tandem, increasing the distance between them, for some twenty years, taking turns being brighter and dimmer. They were expected in 1866 but failed to appear and have not been seen again.
Dr. R. D. Chapman asks: "Why do we see comets at all? Should they all have disintegrated long ago? Especially, why do we have short period comets?" if, as ancient astronomers proposed, comets are worlds aborning, stellar or planetary beings gathering their substance and seeking their karmically right habitat, they will continue to be seen journeying through space to collect their material components and gradually settling into fixed orbits, each circling the hierarchic center to whose system it belongs. A large proportion will abort, swallowed by some (electrically) hungry sun, or disintegrate from the gravitational effects of sturdier bodies, while a few will become planets in some solar system, or suns circling the outer reaches of some galaxy. Nebulous and nonmaterial at first, they condense as they move up the ranks toward their overlord at the center of the system. The planets that are at home in our solar system increase in density as they approach the sun, the outermost of them, Saturn, being extremely tenuous. Neptune the astronomers of old knew well, but they regarded him as a "capture" -- much as an electron may be captured by an atomic nucleus to equilibrate its charge. Uranus, we are told, is a distant family member, not a sibling of the other planets. (The Esoteric Tradition, by G. de Purucker 1:190-2) According to the same source, Comets Encke, de Vico, and Biela are native to our solar system and, unless they are destroyed (as the last-named may now be), their elliptical orbits should gradually become more nearly circular as they settle down as "respectable infant-planets."
"All things contribute to all things" is an ancient maxim. A comet in its passage may have no direct physical effects on the planets whose orbits it traverses, and 1973f traverses them all as it comes within 13 million miles of the solar disc, yet even so tenuous an object is an expression of a life-force, an energic intruder drawn by its own quality of being into a momentary confrontation with the heart of our system. However slight and fleeting its contact with a universal organism, it must in some degree alter, contribute to or detract from the essential character of the whole. Its visibility makes this comet a more notable object than the invisible influences that permeate us at every moment, and its timing, which so nearly coincides with our winter solstice at perihelion of earth's orbit, may be indicative of our times, when many subtle influences seem to be coming into manifestation, most apparent in our human characteristics and social structures.
In the spaces that surround us and interpenetrate with our physical space, both visible and invisible energies are in constant flux. Worlds come and go, stars and planets come to birth, live through time-periods that our recording history is too brief to measure, associate through aeons in groups and clusters of their own kind. The "long-haired radicals," as H. P. Blavatsky nicknamed comets, pursue their erratic courses through the vastness of space, gathering the residue they left behind when their last period of physical activity came to an end in a glorious burst of some long-forgotten nova. The detritus that was diffused through space has been "ground on the mill of the gods" and reduced to basic formlessness, while the indwelling consciousness of the star of long ago was dwelling in its native spiritual spheres.
Astronomers study only the material objects so sparsely sprinkled through infinitude. They see entities at all stages of life, birth and death, and seek to grasp their meanings: they see the seeds of possible future worlds darting as comets through our ken; well-defined galaxies of stars pursuing their orderly paths in obedience to cosmic laws; novae and supernovae marking in bursts of splendor the departure of some lofty consciousness for unseen spaces beyond reach of instruments and senses; laya-centers where it appears matter is "being continually created," and black holes where it seems to be swallowed into nihil -- as the spaces, visible and invisible, interblend, contain and support the endless interchange of consciousness-energies throughout the "Fullness of the seeming Void."
(From Sunrise magazine, January 1974; copyright © 1974 Theosophical University Press)