Night visitor

NO one down at the town tennis courts has seen Halley's comet yet -- except one left-handed player who claims to have seen it twice, the first time in 1910. His statement about the comet caused some doubtful indignation, because it was first thought he claimed to have seen it three times, which in terms of years would take some doing. Such a boast was consistent with his character, however, since he tends to exaggerate, especially about past tennis games, including some with Don Budge in high school.

As it turned out, his claim was not about himself but an assertion that his five-year-old grandson will see Halley's three times. His theory is that after the year 2000, space travel will have become so sophisticated that the comet's path could be intercepted, by passenger spacecraft, on its opposite ellipse.

Whether or not people would take space trips of 50 or 100 million miles to get an extra look at a comet, the way they now drive 60 miles to Sea World or Busch Gardens, is a moot point. Especially when astronomers and learned stargazers continually describe it as a ``dirty little snowball.'' It is a sad fact that more and more people are thinking of this visiting phenomenon as a hunk of junk.

Halley's comet deserves better.

It is our hook on the universe. It is our Moby Dick, our Old Faithful, our ``man's best friend.'' It is our only loyal, ever-returning, friendly relative from out of the far reaches of the universe which drops by to say ``hello'' but never wears out its welcome.

Unlike other unfriendly asteroids and dirty hunks of ice, which crash into Earth with rude inebriation, Halley's flies by with friendly dignity, on astronomically frequent intervals, wagging its tail.

No one down at the town tennis courts has seen Halley's comet yet (with the possible exception of Lefty, the dubious raconteur), but before next spring arrives I hope everyone in the world will have seen it, smiled at it, and wished it well on its long, dark, probing orbit through time and space.

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