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Soup of This Day #121: Comet Oh Damn It

January 14, 2012

Great Comet of 1882
The Great Comet of 1882. It was great. Lots of people saw it – Photo: Sir David Gill, 1882. Sir David Gill, may he rest in peace, is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

If the solar system was a game of baseball, Kreutz Sungrazers would be the pinch-runners. They are rock and roll comets, hurtling through the solar system, periodically skimming the Sun’s corona in a death-defying ride that sees them emerge as rocketing superstars or broken into pieces and scattered on the solar wind.

There the metaphor ends – Kreutz Sungrazers are so named because they are thought to all have derived from 1 comet – Called Kreutz, after the German astronomer, Heinrich Kreutz, who figured out that they were all related. This Kreutz super-comet was on an orbit that took it close to the Sun and it subsequently broke up into many smaller comets, all of which now have orbits that cause them to wheel tightly around our star.

Of late we had a spectacular show down here in the Southern Hemisphere from 1 such Kreutz Sungrazer – Comet Lovejoy, named for it’s discoverer, Terry Lovejoy from Tasmania.

That’s not made up.

Comet Lovejoy wasn’t meant to make it around the Sun. It went within 140,000km of the surface of the giant ball of hot plasma. That’s not much more than 1/3 of the distance between us and the Moon and it’s well inside the Sun’s corona, where temperatures can get up around 1m degrees Celsius. Imagine a basketball of ice attempting re-entry through our atmosphere and then somehow skipping out the other side.

In case you’re wondering if that is possible it’s worth noting that the Space Shuttle had heat-resistant tiles for a reason. Basketballs of ice have a snowball’s chance in hell. Literally.

Nonetheless Comet Lovejoy survived it’s ride through hell as this rather astonishing video of it fizzing through the corona, generated by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), testifies:

Who da comet?

In sporting terms, Comet Lovejoy surviving was the great upset of the Solar System year. It was nothing short of magical and that kind of miraculous activity can be summed up best by…

The FA Cup.

The Football Association Challenge Cup, to give it it’s full title, is the oldest football competition in the world, tracing it’s history back to 1871/72. It is a knock-out tournament with match-ups randomly drawn, home teams being the 1st out of the hat. There are no seedings and only in the early rounds are teams grouped geographically, as a concession to travel costs for the smaller clubs. There are 14 rounds in total, including 6 qualifying rounds and entry is open to members of the Premiership, the 3 divisions of the Football League and the 6 tiers that exist below the Football League. The 2011/2012 FA Cup started on the 20th of August 2011 with 763 teams.

The magic of The Cup is that any 1 of the very smallest teams can go on a dream run through to a big match with 1 of the game’s giants. Grazing the Sun if you like. In some circumstances they may even beat the bigger club, the equivalent of Comet Lovejoy’s survival of a barnstorming tour of the corona.

Giant-killings, as they are now colloquially known, are not uncommon and there have been some right memorable 1s to boot. Welsh minnows Wrexham beat Arsenal 2-1 in the 1992 Cup, despite being 91 places lower down the League table at the conclusion of the previous season. In fact Wrexham had finished dead last in the League, saved from relegation by a 2 year moratorium on teams going down. In spite of this they humiliated the Gunners, in part via a thunderbolt free-kick from 37 year old veteran, Mickey Thomas.

Yeah, he’s the guy who looks like a cross between Pauly Shaw and Bobcat Goldthwait. Nice free-kick though.

The 1992 FA Cup was eventually won by Liverpool FC, a club with a chequered history in the competition. It took them until 1965 to win their 1st FA Cup, 2-1 against Leeds. Their 2nd win was in 1974 as they handily beat Newcastle United 3-0 in Bill Shankly’s last game as manager of the club he loved.

Since then they have added 5 more: In 1986 Liverpool beat local rivals Everton 3-1 in a final my brother and I watched in a farmhouse east of Beverley, Western Australia. In 1989, in the shadow of the Hillsborough disaster, Liverpool again beat Everton, this time by 3 goals to 2 after extra time, with Liverpool’s Welsh striker Ian Rush scoring a double as he had done in 1986.

In 1992, as we mourned the loss of my Mum, Liverpool eased past 2nd tier Sunderland, with Ian Rush bagging another goal to go with 1 from Michael Thomas, who had denied Liverpool the League title in 1989 while playing for Arsenal. In 2001 the diminutive Liverpool goal-poacher Michael Owen stole the final from Arsenal with 2 goals after the Gunners had done enough to deserve victory. I watched that game with my bro at his house in South Perth.

Then in 2006, current captain Steven Gerrard scored an injury time belter to send the Reds to extra time and then penalties against West Ham. The game had finished 3 apiece but 3 to 1 on penalties and thus Liverpool had triumph number 7. I saw that game in Carnarvon, Western Australia, at the home of the goalkeeper of the team I played for. He happened to be a Liverpool fan and for some reason he was called ‘The Colonel’.

I don’t think he was an actual Colonel.

For all the success Liverpool have had some failures. Never have they defended their title as FA Cup champions and in 4 of 7 defences they have been knocked out at the 1st hurdle. None of these losses could have been as painful as their 1988 Final against Wimbledon. The Reds were almost un-backable against the ‘Crazy Gang’ and although they earned a penalty, John Aldridge’s subsequent miss and a Lawrie Sanchez goal ensured a 1-0 win to the unfancied Londoners.

I was shattered.

I bet Wimbledon fans were ecstatic though – It was 1 of the great FA Cup upsets of all time. As was Liverpool’s loss to Barnsley, 2-1 in the 5th Round of the 2008 Cup. That’s the Barnsley who were in the 2nd tier at the time but still rallied from a goal down to put Liverpool to the sword. At Anfield.

That hurt.

It could have been worse. In the previous round Liverpool had twice had to rally from a goal down against Havant and Waterlooville, a non-league side fighting it out 5 levels below the Merseysiders. That was at Anfield too and finished 5-2 to a Liverpool side who failed to see that as a warning ahead of the Barnsley stoush.

Liverpool’s 1996 Final against Manchester United was slightly more gut-wrenching, largely because the stakes were so high. At that time Longworth72 and brother didn’t own a tv, but lured by Liverpool’s presence in the final against hated opposition Longworth72 splashed the cash to hire a set for the week. Sadly the Fates were busy getting the omens right for something else that Saturday in 1996 as the Mancunians won 1-0 thanks to a scrappy late goal to Eric Cantona.

At least we got to watch tv for a week.

Last season Liverpool FC wasn’t defending their title, yet they were floored at the 1st jump and like in 1996 it was bloody United at fault. It was Kenny Dalglish’s 1st match back in charge of Liverpool after a 20 year break and he saw his Reds travel to Manchester United. The Merseysiders lost 1-0 but given that they were playing the eventual Premiership champions at Old Trafford it was seen as more of a positive than otherwise might have been the case.

This year, January 6th, in their 1st outing in the 2011/2012 FA Cup, Liverpool matched up against 3rd-tier Oldham. There was to be no giant-killing from Oldham and they were dispatched 5-1 by the Reds in front of the Anfield faithful. Albeit with off-field controversy to boot.

Kreutz Sungrazers are periodic comets – They come back on a regular basis. In a similar way Liverpool have drawn Manchester United in the next round of the FA Cup – squaring off against their arch-rivals at Anfield, Saturday January 28th.

To finish off this post I thought I’d chuck in another video of Comet Lovejoy – This time it’s a movie shot from the International Space Station (ISS):

It’s a pretty impressive view.

The Great Comet of 1882, pictured in this post’s title image, inspired similar awe for watchers as it trailed across the sky but it was not the only Kreutz Sungrazer of that year. Earlier in 1882 astronomers had gathered in Egypt to watch a solar eclipse. As the sun was blocked out and day temporarily turned to night observers noted an unknown comet streaking close to the sun. That comet, identified as a Kreutz Sungrazer, is known as the Eclipse Comet of 1882 because it was sighted only during the 1 minute and 50 seconds that the eclipse allowed.

That’s the perfect comet for this post – An FA Cup minnow requires a lot of luck to get noticed and even then it’s likely to get burnt in the process.

Comet Oh Damn It

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