image: Wikimedia commons (link).
I am a catastrophist: I believe that the existing evidence overwhelmingly supports theories which conclude that earth's geology was primarily shaped by one or more catastrophic events, rather than theories which posit that earth's geology as we see it today is the result of the same types of processes we see acting around us today, and that given enough time these "normal" processes could produce the geological features we see on our planet.
The question of whether our planet's features reveal evidence of catastrophe, or whether our planet's features were produced by "normal" processes acting in a "uniform" manner over eons and eons of time (the so-called "uniformitarian" category of theories, which arose in the eighteenth century among those who may have had ulterior motives for rejecting then-prevailing catastrophist thought), is important in its own right, of course.
But it is also important with regard to the mystery of humanity's ancient past.
Just as I believe the evidence overwhelmingly supports a catastrophist conclusion regarding the forces which shaped the features we find all around us on planet earth, in contrast to the "uniformitarian" explanations which have now become the dominant conventional position of most in academia, I believe that the evidence overwhelmingly supports a view of ancient human history which is radically different from the currently-accepted conventional narrative held by academia today.
For example, the ancient mysterious monuments found on the Giza plateau in Egypt (the Giza pyramids), the ruins of the Indus Valley civilization (in modern-day India), the Nazca lines (in modern-day Chile), the temples at the Angkor complex (in modern-day Cambodia), and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) are all located on a "great circle" -- indicating some kind of coordination which we cannot currently explain with the conventional paradigm of human history, as well as very precise and sophisticated ancient knowledge of the size and shape of our spherical earth.
There are many other ancient sites located along different great circles -- part of a body of evidence suggesting that the most mysterious monuments on our planet may all have been part of some kind of a vast worldwide grid, the purpose and design of which remains a mystery at this time.
The geological evidence of a catastrophe or catastrophes (which is generally rejected by the uniformitarian camp dominant in academia) may well be related to the mysteries of humanity's ancient past (which, judging by massive evidence which refutes the conventional academic view, was almost certainly very different from what we have been taught).
Comets may constitute an entire category of space-borne evidence of a tremendous catastrophe within our solar system long ages ago. Dr. Walt Brown, the originator of the hydroplate theory (a catastrophist theory involving a global flood, a theory which has tremendous amounts of evidence to support it, and which is the subject of numerous previous blog posts as well as my first book, The Mathisen Corollary), believes that numerous pieces of evidence indicate that comets are the modern remains of water which was violently ejected from earth at the start of the catastrophic flood event.
You can read about some of this evidence in numerous previous posts on comets, such as these "internal search" results for the word comet using the internal search window for this blog found in the upper-left portion of most desktop browsers, and you can read more about Dr. Brown's analysis of the evidence regarding the origin of comets in this chapter of the latest edition of his book, which he graciously makes available in its entirety online here (you can also order the physical version of the book here).
Right now is an exciting time, because a long-traveling spacefarer in the form of a long-period comet has entered the inner solar system and is streaking past the earth, close enough to be visible with the naked eye (although not very easily -- it is more easily visible with binoculars). It is Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), discovered by Terry Lovejoy of Australia last year. This comet has an orbital period estimated by conventional scientists as approximately 14,000 years, which means that if they are right, it hasn't passed this way since around 12,000 BC, and won't be back again until around the year AD 14,000.
There are some good reasons to suspect that the conventional estimates are somewhat flawed, which are discussed in this previous post about Comet ISON, which was based on Dr. Brown's discussion of Comet ISON in his book here. If Dr. Brown's theory is correct and the comets we see today are the remnants of a tremendous catastrophe which took place on earth thousands of years ago, it is possible that this is actually Q2's first return visit since that catastrophe took place.
Those discussions also note that, due to the presence of mass at the outer reaches of our solar system, which might act to pull comets back a bit more quickly than conventional scientists currently calculate using their models -- which means that it might be a little less than 14,000 years before C/2014 Q2 passes back this way again. Nevertheless, an error of a few hundred years in an estimated orbital period of 14,000 probably won't make much difference to those of us living today -- and so we should probably make every effort to observe this long-traveling visitor this time around.
Fortunately, C/2014 Q2 is not difficult to locate, if you know where to look. It's not anywhere near as dramatic as was Comet Hale-Bopp, which was enormous even to the naked eye and looked exactly the way a "classical" comet would be expected to look. Q2 is very difficult to see with the naked eye, but it can be seen as a dim glow or fuzz with the naked eye, and with binoculars it can be easily perceived as what to me appeared to be a faintly-glowing tiny cloud, or perhaps what might be described as a very tiny flashlight shining towards us from behind a kind of blue fog.
But, while Hale-Bopp is also a long-period comet, its orbital period is nowhere near as long as that of C/2014 Q2. Hale-Bopp is expected to return in AD 4385 -- long before the next return of Comet Q2 -- and it had probably circled through the inner solar system at least once previously, in the 23rd century BC (there is some evidence that the ancient Egyptians may have recorded that previous visit). And so, Comet Q2, while much less visually spectacular, should inspire its own awe in the viewer, as we contemplate an object which has traveled so far, for so long, and which has streaked in towards us close enough to see from the almost-incomprehensible distance of 1,156 astronomical units (Halley's comet, a short-period comet, only gets out to 35 astronomical units before coming back, and it is due again in AD 2061).
Right now the moon is in its waning phase, on its way to a new moon on January 20. The moon is rising fairly late in the night (after 11pm, and getting later each night). So it is an excellent time to go out and look for Comet C/2014 Q2.
Below, I will present a series of images that will help you locate the comet, if you haven't been able to do so already. With apologies to my southern hemisphere friends, these will be "northern hemisphere-centric."
First, head over to Sky & Telescope, where Alan McRobert has written an article containing two excellent star charts that show the path of the comet from one night to the next -- since we are now in January of 2015, you will want to use the second of the two charts (the very last chart at the very bottom of the article).
The arcing yellow line shows the comet's path from one night to the next, but you won't be able to actually see it moving -- look on the line for the little tick-marks indicating the comet's location by date, and find the mark indicating the current date to see where the comet should be along that curved line.
The images below should help get you "in the ballpark."
I went outside and laid down on my back on the ground, and looked up at the sky using binoculars. If you happen to own a reclining lawn chair, that might be slightly more comfortable, although lying on the ground at night and looking up at the stars is also rather nice.
If it is not cloudy or foggy (or full of light pollution from city lights), you should have no difficulty observing the breathtaking panorama of winter stars, including Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades. These will act as the pointers to direct us to the location of Comet C/2014 Q2.
The image below (from the excellent free open-source planetarium app Stellarium) shows the night sky as I observed it this evening, from a location that is about 35 North latitude, and looking to the south. You can clearly see Orion with his three belt stars, as well as Sirius in Canis Major to his lower left, inside the band of the Milky Way. To the right and up from Orion on the other side from Sirius, you can see the distinctive "V" of the Hyades, with orange-colored Aldebaran as their brightest star. Beyond the "V" of the Hyades you can see the gorgeous little cluster of the Pleiades. We will label these in a future slide, as we "zoom in" a little closer.
I would recommend using binoculars if you have access to some. While lying on the ground, try to observe the three belt-stars of Orion, without having to strain your neck at all (you should find that you can move the angle of the binoculars to "sweep" to different stars, without having to actually lift your head up off the ground or the reclining lounge chair).
Check your focus -- see if they are clear and distinct. If not use the wheel to dial them into focus.
Then head up to the Pleiades. You should be able to see them all very distinctly. They are stunningly beautiful. You may want to just stare at the Pleiades for hours. They are often called the "Seven Sisters," but there are many more than seven, as you will see if you look at them with binoculars. Ensure your focus is nice and clear on the Pleiades.
Below is the same screen-shot as that shown just above, but this time I have outlined a rectangle that includes the area we want to focus on in order to locate Comet Q2:
This red rectangle shows the section of the sky that includes the "main body" stars of the constellation Orion, along with the "V" of the Hyades, and (in the upper-right corner) the cluster of the Pleiades.
Below is the area within that red rectangle:
Can you find the constellation Orion, the "V" of the Hyades (with Aldebaran), and the tiny cluster of the Pleiades in the image above?
Below is the same image, with those three landmarks labeled for you:
You should be able to find all three of these major sky landmarks with your binoculars and have good enough focus to make out the individual stars of the Pleiades or the Hyades before you try to find Comet Q2.
To find Q2, I believe the best way is to draw a line from the bottom of the "V" of the Hyades to the next star down from the "V." In other words, envision the "V" as a capital letter-"Y" instead of a "V." There is a star, clearly visible with binoculars, that you can find if you follow a line that bisects the "V" of the Hyades and if you follow that line through the point at the bottom of the "V" on across space until you reach a star that "turns the V into a capital-Y." The diagram below shows how to find this star:
The arrow at the bottom of this letter "Y" is pointing right to the first star below the "point of the V" of the Hyades. This star is actually the star designated as lambda Tauri, sometimes known as the "Bull's chest." If you find it, you are well on your way to locating the comet.
Note, of course, that this will only work for the comet's location on the next couple of nights. As those charts from Star & Telescope illustrate, the comet's path continues to arc further to the north, at the top of the screenshots above, and so soon we will have to find a new "handrail" to get us in the vicinity of the comet's location.
However, right now this method should work very well to allow you to find Comet Q2.
The comet is currently "down and to the right" from lambda Tauri, roughly along the same axis as the "arrow" shown in the screenshot just above. I found that if I continued in the same direction as the line formed from the bottom of the "V" of the Hyades through lambda Tauri using my binoculars, lambda Tauri would disappear from the "circle" of view of the binoculars just as the comet came into view (with lambda Tauri disappearing to the "upper left" of the circle just as the comet appeared in the "lower right" of the circle).
Below, I have shown the "circle" of view as visible through my binoculars (10 x 24 with a 6 degree view). As I have tried to depict, if you continue down and to the right from lambda Tauri, you will get to a field that contains the comet just after lambda Tauri is no longer in the circle. The "dotted circle" would contain the comet:
As stated previously, the comet appeared to me as a kind of "glowing fog." It had a ghostly bluish color. It appears like an illuminated mist or haze, to me. I don't think you will mistake it for a star, if you have your binoculars in focus (use the Hyades or Pleiades to focus). The comet is currently at the location indicated by the red "X" below -- but remember that it will continue to travel north, and will be passing by the Pleiades on the 19th of January:
In the above image, you can see the "V" of the Hyades, then follow down the "Y" to the star lambda Tauri, and then continue moving the circular view of your binoculars a little further. You can see that the comet comes into the circle of the view as the star lambda Tauri is just outside the circle.
Finally, I have created one more image in which I have attempted to create the "bluish glow" of the comet. This isn't really what it looks like "in person" -- the comet itself is much more magical looking, as if someone or something were illuminating a cloud or a fog. It is faint, but it is kind of ghostly-looking, as if it were glowing. The image below is simply an attempt to give the impression, in order to help you know what to look for. It also won't be this big -- not much bigger, in fact, than lambda Tauri or some of the other stars you will see as you make your way over to the comet's location, but possessing a very slight cloud around it.
I hope that this discussion gives you the motivation to go locate Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), as well as the confidence to know that you can and will find it!
This long-traveling comet is awesome to contemplate: with a periodicity that approaches 14,000 years, it is like an ocean wave which crests only once every fourteen millennia, a drum that beats out a rhythm only once every one hundred forty centuries.
Additionally, it may be a messenger from an ancient catastrophe of incredible magnitude, a catastrophe that left scars across the face of our planet (and elsewhere in our solar system), and one that may be tied up with the mysterious ancient history of humanity.
I hope that you will be able to see it!