June 29, 2011 | Michael Goodspeed
For thousands of years, the appearance of a comet in the terrestrial skies has provoked deep anxiety and even collective hysteria in humans the world over. The reasons for this response are not entirely clear. Working with historical testimony, David Talbott and his colleagues have concluded that comet fears originated in a global experience of catastrophe and terror. Behind all of the regional traditions and stories is the memory of the "Great Comet," the mother of all comets. The memory traces to the origins of world mythology, according to Talbott, and is particularly vivid in the story of a cosmic serpent or dragon threatening to destroy the world. The most common ancient ideas attached to a comet were the death of kings, the fall of kingdoms, cosmic upheaval, and the end of the world.
It is well worth asking why this collective anxiety can be provoked with the first appearance of a mere wisp of gas in the heavens. The question is especially appropriate today because of the approach of the Comet Elenin, which is predicted to pass within about 0.233 AU of the Earth in October of this year. Speculations about Elenin range from a theoretical NASA coverup of an "extinction level event," to theories that the comet is actually the ever-elusive planet "Nibiru" of author Zecharia Sitchin's lore. (For a thoughtful meditation on the credibility of some of these theories, see the Subversify.com piece, "Is Google Censoring Nibiru?"). It should be noted here that the leading proponent of the electric universe, Wal Thornhill, has refrained from predicting specific behaviors of Elenin due to the number of unknowns. These unknowns (discussed below) include the Sun's activity, and the constituent material of the comet itself.
One can understand the frustration NASA likely feels when witnessing the carnival of theories surrounding space science news stories today. However, NASA must surely bear some of the responsibility for the evident mistrust and even anger so often expressed toward the agency. On the issue of comets NASA has never acknowledged the failures of the standard theory. We are still told that comets are "dirty snowballs" that formed billions of years ago in a theoretical "Oort cloud." The idea makes no sense and has been repeatedly falsified by the observed behaviors of comets. Silence on such matters is not helpful. When the institutions of science choose a path of denial on controversial matters, rightly or wrongly it can only fuel perceptions of secrecy and suppression.