We took the boat out just before dinner yesterday. Anytime, might be the last time, though it’s hard to imagine with all the warm sunshine filled days we’ve had this past week. Yet September is now over, and we are on borrowed time. A low pressure system is supposed to be limping into the region, and it made an initial presence, in the middle of last night, with thunderless lightning, for several hours around 2 a.m. I had been peeking through the shutter slats, every time I awakened, looking for cloud cover, and listening for waves, to see if the new weather system had arrived. To my surprise, I saw silent lightning at the southern end of the lake. Not the bright flash which happens when it’s nearby, but a pinkish-white light that glows and flutters between and around the clouds hanging low over the water. It was so beautiful, so magical, that I stayed awake to watch it come on and off for a long time. I lay on my side, in a nest of soft down pillows, with a direct view out the bottom of my south-facing window, and told myself to close my tired eyes, but I heard many chimes of the grandfather clock, before I eventually fell back into sleep, awakened for good, when a rumble of thunder finally came.
As I opened my computer to morning news, there was the story that Rosetta was dead. The NYTimes said, “Rosetta, the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, is dead, setting down in a final embrace with its companion of the past two years.”
In the Guardian, “Some space missions go out with a bang, others with a victorious return to Earth, but Rosetta’s final moment was marked simply by radio silence.”
USAToday, “After more than a decade of roaming tirelessly across the solar system, the comet-watching Rosetta spacecraft has gone to its eternal reward.”
I read the transcript of the final minutes, in which the engineers in Germany watched the green line zigzag across their screens, and then dwindle to a total stop. Some of them wiped tears from their eyes. Never before has a spacecraft tagged along next to a comet, at the edge of the solar system, so close to the sun. She took ten years to reach her duck-shaped comet, which formed four billion years ago, at the beginning of the solar system. A comet which contains all the ingredients that were available to form life on earth. Such an astonishing mission, thirty years in the making, in an era in which I can make a few keystrokes on my computer, and see the engineer with tears in his eyes, as he watches the flat line, and must say goodbye.
I checked into what time Rosetta made her slow descent into the side of the comet, her programmed self-sacrifice, and it coincided with the hours of the light show out my bedroom window. It was Magic, worth losing sleep over. Farewell September, farewell Rosetta.