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North by Northwest

Scientists this week assured us that an asteroid is headed towards the Earth and it is only a matter of time before it crashes into our planet. And it will land bang straight on Republic TV headquarters.

Okay, the second part will happen only if we are any lucky. But as far as the asteroid crash goes, a top astrophysicist has said it is only a question of when rather than if. So, I do not know about you, but hereafter whenever I step out of my house I am going to keep a wary eye for a big rogue asteroid falling from above so that at that precise moment I will be alert to take a last-minute selfie before it burns out the entire area.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Who am I kidding? When was the last time that anything predicted by any space scientist had come true? Or at any rate, whatever they may say has no real relevance to our day-to-day living. Every few months some astronomers will emerge, probably from binge drinking rum, and announce that they have stumbled on to new clinching evidence that establishes that our world, which was originally thought to be old by a few million years, is actually old by, well, several millions of years.

This, we in the media, will put it out in the front pages of our newspapers unmindful of the fact that the larger public has no real interest in any past that is beyond two or three weeks old, leave alone about things some millions of years back.

But in the case of asteroid smash, the astrophysicist has said that the Earth is no stranger to such an event. The last one occurred in 1908, a period of time that even non-scientists can tell you as one that none of us living now were even born. Also, the asteroid thudded into a corner of Siberia, which even today remains very remote and hardly accessible. This makes it clear that astronomers love making things up, and next to the MLM guys, they are the ones you should avoid running into.

The point is, if not coming up with new stuff to confirm the antiquity of our universe, astronomers will tell the world that a comet or some celestial body has been spotted very close to the Earth, and “it lies some 23 degree in the northwest direction alongside the Ursula Andress constellation” and will be visible to the naked eye from 12.20 to 3.40 a.m. The astronomers will add: The next time a comet of this size comes this close to the Earth, it will be some 820 years later. And a lot of enthusiastic people will set the alarm clock, wake up and look up and wonder…at the unlimited beauty of the universe and luminescence of  the comet? No, wonder which direction is northwest. And after looking around in random directions they will eventually spot the unmistakable illumination, in contradistinction to the surrounding darkness, a blazing red blob, which of course will turn out to be that of the next-door insomniac uncle lighting his cigarette on the terrace.

Talking of astro stuff falling and crashing from above, many of us in Tamil Nadu will recall the days of Skylab. Now, many of you may wonder what this Skylab is. But back in the late 70s, when the Skylab was everyday news, we also didn’t know what it was. But by all consensus now, it was one of those things that scientists, just to keep themselves amused, had sent up in space, and that thing was said to be on a free fall in this part of the earth. If one word could precisely describe this cataclysmic crisis that was facing the humanity, then it had to be: Fun.

Because, to tackle the Skylab crisis, the government of the day, had declared holiday for schools and colleges for days without end. And the government did not stop with this. Understanding the severity of the situation —– an enormous and heavy ball of harmful metal was about to land on their heads, the Indian government came up with the most scientifically reasoned response: It put the police force on alert. Yes, lathi-wielding policemen had taken position to encounter the huge object of fierce fire and a fearsome force over their heads.

I think this sensible strategy worked wonders; the Skylab eventually fell in a remote island (near Perth) where there was no presence of police.

So, for we all know, the asteroid crash may ultimately eventualise. Not to be caught unawares, I intend learning astrophysics and associated stuff. And I hope that right in the first lesson they explain which direction is northwest.


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