When I was 14, I paused Blue Lagoon for a moment and gathered with my family in a darkened corner of our Sydney garden to watch another heavenly body streak across the sky.

Hopefully this screengrab from the Port Douglas Eclipse Festival website explains all this a little

Like many other teen activities, anticipation was better than the actual event. Halley’s Comet didn’t streak. It didn’t even shoot. Obviously the hermitic fireball couldn’t see Brooke Shields from outer space.

Given their distance from our far-flung vantage point, awesome facts about cosmic objects often eclipse the actual sight of them, even if those awesome facts are impossible to grasp. Light years are like national debts – add a zero here or there and it makes little difference to our perception of them. Perhaps that’s where their fascination lies, in their incomprehensibility.

Twenty-five years ago in that Sydney garden, as we squinted at the heavens and wished we owned a telescope, my father informed me that if I was lucky enough to see the celestial stain again then I would live to be 90, because it wouldn’t be visible from Earth for another 75 years.

This seemed like a long time given he also informed me that, despite the comet’s apparent inertia, it was travelling at a smudge over 250,000 km/h – a speed I cannot conceptualise but which I’m confident is fast enough to earn it double demerit points on a public holiday.

In stark contrast to that distant display, next Wednesday’s total solar eclipse will be so much bigger, brighter and ‘closer’ that some suggest it will be too dangerous to observe. Bloody astronomy! It’s like hanging a painting with the missus – you never can quite get the position right.

Some experts have even warned that viewing the eclipse through special glasses could result in retina damage. But in a world where you might find the words “not to be used as a toothbrush” written on a drill, you could argue that we have an overabundance of caution and a scarcity of common sense.

If the price of a plane ticket to Cairns next week is any indication, thousands of stargazers are willing to risk their retinas. They will no doubt have Bruce Springsteen playing on their iPods as they brave the crack of dawn. “Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun, but mama, that’s where the fun is.”

And staring at the sun for a few second sounds less dangerous than some of the satellite events the eclipse has spawned. It’s well known that the cosmic calendar impacts human behaviour. When we catch ourselves behaving erratically we often blame a full moon.

This might explain Fooket, which sounds like something you would say after stubbing your toe or finding a parking ticket on your windshield but is in fact the world’s weirdest new sport, conceived in Far North Queensland despite being off the planet.

And I reckon spectators will need special viewing glasses to believe their eyes when they watch this game of AFL and cricket played on the same field at the same time. Organiser Greg McLean obviously has a sense of humour, which will probably come in handy at the Port Douglas Sport Complex on Saturday afternoon. I’m thinking of heading up there to check it out. Might take the car but lean out the window and ride a motorbike at the same time.

Despite sounding like a swear word, Fooket is fun for the whole family – as long as they have health insurance. Officially it’s not yet on the list of world’s weirdest sports, though it can’t be too long before it’s up there with the 400-year-old sport of Shin Kicking or the eccentric English practice of Ferret Legging, which seeks to find who can keep two angry ferrets down their trousers the longest.

Suddenly Fooket sounds rather highbrow.

And if it takes off and no one gets killed then hybrid sports could be the next big thing. The combinations are endless. I’d like to see motor racing crossed with tennis, diving crossed with water polo, weightlifting crossed with the high jump, darts crossed with Tom Waterhouse…

Between Fooket and the eclipse, whichever way you look at it, the coming week will be an eye-opener in the Far North.

Comments on this post at 8pm AEST

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10 comments

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    • PW says:

      05:47am | 09/11/12

      It’s one of the disappointments of my life that Halleys Comet 1986 was such a dud. I did see it though, although you needed someone to point it out. Apparently in 1910 it was as bright as a full moon. I’ve got precisely no chance of lasting until 2062 when it next visits. The 2027 solar eclipse in Sydney seems a much more realistic goal. I’ll be 72 then.

    • Mahhrat says:

      06:45am | 09/11/12

      I saw Halleys from my bed at the tender age of 11.  I remember setting my alarm but being awake regardless.

      I caught a movement across the Sydney night sky, and have been in love with what lies beyond this silly little planet ever since.

      Would I live on a spaceship?  Oh yeah, you betchya.

    • Gordon says:

      08:11am | 09/11/12

      Mahrat mate, comets don’t move at a speed you can see. If you saw something move it was a meteor. If you saw Halleys & got the astronmy bug from it good on you, but moving it wasn’t.

    • Blind Freddy says:

      08:57am | 09/11/12

      I’m with Gordon on this one.

      I was in Tassie and it wasn’t at all remarkable (a slightly blurry star) - everyone i knew was very disppointed - and we didn’t/don’t have the light pollution that Sydney did/do.

      That’s why childhood memories should be seasoned with lots of salt.

    • Gordon says:

      08:14am | 09/11/12

      Astronomical events get oversold as some sort of cross between new years eve fireworks and the 2nd coming. Then when it turns out to be, yknow, normal, everyone feels let down. I blame the media.

    • Upnorff says:

      08:22am | 09/11/12

      I saw Halleys from Central Australia one morning at 3am half a kms walk down the highway from a roadhouse in the April during its ‘don’t bother, it will be much more spectacular on its way back’ phase. No moon, no manmade lights - totally awesomely unbeleivable. The tail arced, straight up, over a quarter of the night sky making the milky way look insignificant. The most amazing natural thing I have ever seen.

    • CC says:

      09:07am | 09/11/12

      Clearly the author wasn’t thinking of clever name mash-ups when penning this.
      Fooket makes sense.  Footy+Cricket
      But what sir, are you going to call motor sport + tennis?  Formulaennis?  It just doesnt work..similarly water polo and diving, or weight lifting and high jump…you just can’t put these sports together because the names just dont work, surely thats logic?

    • sunny says:

      10:29am | 09/11/12

      Motor Sport Tennis. Brilliant!

      “That serve was only 453 km/hr Ken so it looks like Mark Webberpoussis has taken some of the speed off and given it a bit more spin instead”

    • sunny says:

      09:25am | 09/11/12

      “Ferret Legging, which seeks to find who can keep two angry ferrets down their trousers the longest.”

      The word ‘angry’ is redundant in that sentence. If I am a ferret trapped in your trousers, then it goes without saying that I am angry!

    • iansand says:

      09:50am | 09/11/12

      At least we know that none of the AFL players will get a cricketer out caught.

 

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