2202112 English Two Supplementary Reading/Unit 9
THE DREADED OMEN IN THE SKY
Comets meant fireworks in the heavens and disaster on earth
When they saw a comet in the sky, the ancients were stricken with dread. A ball of fire half the size of the moon, with a tail stretching across the sky, obviously boded no good for somebody. The skies were the home of capricious gods and such a disturbance in the heavens meant danger on earth.
Well into Christian times, comets were regarded as bad omens. In 1066 a comet was seen as William the Conqueror was preparing to invade England. Soon after, Harold, the Saxon king, was defeated by William and old heads nodded. It was only to be expected after such a portent.
Though their roles as harbingers of doom are now discounted by most people, scientists are still intrigued by comets. Like the planets and the earth, they are in orbit round the sun. However, many of them fly so far away into space that they are visible from earth only once or twice in a century, or even longer.
Although their composition is still a matter of conjecture, it is known that they are not solid like meteorites, but are composed of small, icy particles, and gases millions of times less dense than air.
Some scientists say that the head of a comet is like a dirty snowball. Others retort that, if so, it is the sort of snowball thrown by a very nasty boy, since the particles are made of rock coated by ice.
However, it seems to be agreed that comets are flimsy affairs that would not do much more than local damage in a collision with the earth.
The comet's long tail is believed to be composed of gas and dust forced out of the head by radiation from the sun.
A comet does not give out light, but reflects the light of the sun. It thus grows brighter as it approaches and fades as it hurtles away into space.
While there are some small comets that orbit the sun every two or three years, the only really bright one to be seen regularly is Halley"s Comet. Watching it in 1682, Edmond Halley, Britain"s Astronomer Royal, thought that this might be the same brilliant comet that had been recorded several times in the past. Checking with his records, he decided it was in fact appearing once every 76 years and was the same phenomenon that had preceded the Battle of Hastings.
Halley"s discovery has proved a boon for historians, who can now often pinpoint the date of events described by the ancients as preceded by an ominous comet.
In 1973 high hopes were raised by the appearance of a hitherto unknown cometónamed Kohoutek, after its discoverer, Czechoslovakian astronomer Lubos Kohoutek. It was expected to leave a fiery trail, and American astronauts orbiting the earth in the Skylab space laboratory stood by to take spectacular photographs.
But everyone was disappointed. According to Russian scientists a coating of cosmic dust prevented Kohoutek"s tail from forming for all the world to see.
Comprehension Check: Write answers to the following questions.
Vocabulary #1: Select the words from the box and write them under one of the eight words below which you think they are linked to in some way. Each of the eight words should have three entries beneath it.
wounded feeble rush headlong menacing surmise
inauspicious tumble signify beset insubstantial
slight blessing overcome piqued presage
plunge inauspicious speculation excited unpropitious
Stricken bode intrigued by conjecture
Flimsy hurtle boon ominous
Vocabulary #2: Match each of the following ten adjectives with their antonyms (or words which have opposite meanings) in the passage. The adjectives are written in the order in which they appear in the passage.
Example: good Passage: "comets were regarded as bad omens."
Vocabulary #3: Find each of the following phrases in the passage and notice how they are used. Then write a "translation" of them into simpler English.
Negatives: Rewrite the following sentences keeping the same sense but using negative forms. Be creative but remember to keep the original meaning.
Example: In past times comets were regarded as bad omens.
In past times comets did not exactly portend good fortune.
1. When they saw a comet in the sky, the ancients were stricken with dread.
2. Such a disturbance in the heavens meant danger on earth.
3.Some scientists say that the head of a comet is like a "dirty snowball".
4. Others retort that, if so, it is the sort of snowball thrown by a very nasty boy.
5. Comets are flimsy affairs.
6. Halley"s discovery has proved a boon for historians.
1. "The skies were the home of capricious gods and such a disturbance in the
heavens meant danger on earth."
What is the writer trying to imply here about the beliefs of ancient people?
2. For what other reasons do you think people believed comets were harbingers of doom? Why didn't they believe comets were harbingers of good fortune?
3. What does the writer imply are the attititudes of people to comets nowadays?
4. The passage describes William the Conqueror's invasion of England, which many believed was foretold by the appearance of a comet. What other kinds of events do you think were portended by comets?
5. The passage maintains that comets are "flimsy affairs that would not do much more than local damage in a collision with the earth." Why do you suppose, then, that in spite of being aware of this, scientists and many other people are fascinated by comets?