The Covid Comet?
In April 2020, Michael Mattiazzo was using the SWAN camera in space to track solar in wind. In the end, he got wind of something far more exciting - a new comet. Named after the instrument that discovered it, the Comet Swan has arrived at one of the most challenging times society has faced in the last hundred years. You could even go as far to call it The Covid Comet.
The Covid Comet's distinctive green head and blue-ish tail has been best seen from the southern hemisphere as it travels between Aquarius and Pisces but pre-dawn and just after sunset it has been seen in the North Western sky.
But does its appearance now warrant celebration, or fear? After all, comets have long been associated with the end of empires and the fall of kings. Could it be a harbinger of doom, or is it a celestial sign that the worst may now be over?
The story of comets in astrology can be traced back to ancient myths. One of these legends speaks of the daughters of one of the most famous of all the characters immortalised in the stars: Orion.
After the great hunter died, his wife brought up his daughters Menippe and Metioche. The Goddess Minerva taught them to weave and Venus gave them beauty. One year a plague broke out and the oracle of Apollo decreed that two sacrifices were needed.
Much to the sadness of their many admirers, the young maidens offered themselves and took their own lives with the sharp ends of their weaving shuttles. Pluto and his Queen, the rulers of the underworld, pitied these pious young girls whose lives had been so touched by tragedy, and made them into comets and meteorites.
Other myths involve the nymph Electra, who upon hearing of the sacking of Troy, tore out her hair, which became a comet. (If I have to go without a hairdresser under lockdown much longer, I may have to do the same thing!) Meanwhile the Chinese usually consider them bad luck and call them 'broom stars' - for sweeping away the messes we've made. So wherever you look, the ancients associate comets with tragedy - often in the guise of disease, plague and the fall of empires.
It all sounds quite worrying doesn't it? That's not surprising. One of things comets can do is raise the collective sense of fear in the world. They seem to permeate our subconscious and instil worry and doubt. Perhaps it's their surprising appearance as opposed to cyclical planetary movement? Whatever it is they seem to induce unsettling feelings in a lot of us and focus us on our own fragile mortality.
But it's not all of the story. Because comets aren't just about tragedy. They're also about metamorphosis, about innovation and the swift adaptation and adoption of technology. For every King, like Harold, whose reign Haley's comet seemed to cut short in 1066, there is a conquerer like William, for whom the same comet ushered in a new era of success. It's even thought that life on earth may only be possible thanks to the material brought here and created when comets collided with Earth.
So the appearance of a comet in this time of difficulty for humanity isn't exactly a surprise to those of us who study the sky for meaning. What it foretells however is something less predictable. Comets often signify periods of dramatic realignment of political and financial patterns, when the nature of trade is disrupted and changed in ways that barely seemed possible beforehand.
As the world becomes ever more conscious of how little money is worth when you're not able to move about freely to spend it, we may all start to adjust our priorities in this light. It compels us not to delay in taking opportunities while they are available. It also reminds us that, no matter how nice a house or comfortable our surroundings, without the people we love to enjoy them with, their novelty fades.
As we look to rebuild our economy and our society in the wake of this coronavirus, we must try not to lose sight of the changes we've made and continue to make under lockdown. That's remembering to put people first, ahead of material gain. It's about putting the roles in society that keep us safe and make life worth living at the top of the agenda. It's about using technology to save lives and strengthen relationships, rather than as a distraction that keeps us from engaging with each other.
The Covid Comet is not a harbinger of doom, or the sign of an unpalatable inevitability. It's an instruction to do things better, to get our priorities in order and to focus on how we can create a more just and empathetic world. It's appearance, just as Aquarius also receives Saturn for the first time in a generation, compels us to reimagine the rules by which society has organised and see how we can learn to create stronger, more stable foundations upon which to build.
As we start to tentatively emerge from lockdown and try to come to terms with the kind of life we'll be able to live in its immediate aftermath, we cannot forget the lessons that this experience has taught us. When the chips are down, people really do come together as one. When progressive ideas are needed and hard choices must be made, people are willing to step up and get to work.
None of us has been left untouched by this crisis. Many of us have lost people we care deeply about. And for those of us who remain and must find a way to carry on, the Covid Comet is a promise to each one us that we're tougher than we realise. But it's also the realisation that there are more caring people out there than it sometimes feels like. As the comet heads back out into deep space, and we on Earth head into the challenges that lie ahead, that's the message to keep in our hearts. And it's a mantra with which to build something bright and new.