Scorpius, the scorpion, skitters low across the southwest this evening. Its brightest stars form a pattern that really does look like a scorpion, with the bright orange star Antares right in the middle.
A few years back, astronomers made an astonishing discovery in Scorpius. For the first time ever, they saw two stars merge to form a single star.
In 2008, astronomers saw a strange explosion in Scorpius that was about 10,000 light-years from Earth. The explosion was a nova. Most novae are blue, but this one was red. Not only do red novae differ in color from normal novae, but they’re also much brighter. Their cause had been a mystery.
By good luck, though, the nova in Scorpius happened to lie in a part of the sky that Polish astronomers were monitoring for planets and dark matter. As a result, the astronomers had observed the brightness of the object more than 1300 times before it became a nova.
The observations revealed that the star was a contact binary — two stars that orbited each other so closely that they actually touched. Over time, the stars moved closer together, orbiting each other faster and faster. Then, in 2008, the stars merged, creating an explosion — a red nova. It didn’t destroy the stars, though — it left behind a single star as a remnant.
Never before had astronomers seen such a remarkable metamorphosis. The discovery means that many red novae — and perhaps all of them — are born from the mergers of double stars.
Here’s what I wrote in response:
I don’t want to write about love. There are so many more interesting topics. I’d like to write about those brave men who climb trees with saws dangling from their belts: arborists and laborers who save huge Eucalyptus from falling over from the weight of their own great branches; I’d like to write about lumberjacks who know how to fell a tree without hurting the trees around it. I’d like to write about sitting at my kitchen table watching the fog roll in over the full moon, silver blue light, then shadow, then silver blue light. That glowing orb in the sky, circling our earth.
But instead, I’m going to write about the absurdity of love, of romantic love. Even though I know it’s an invention, a product of the days of the courtesan, and poetry, the split between the whore who gets paid for sex and the beloved who is courted with sensual but sexless romance.
Candied cherries and big, fat, pink roses and all that stuff. It’s familiar territory, because Hollywood picked it up as soon as there was celluloid. And look where we are now: people getting up at 3:00 a.m. to watch the fairytale royal wedding (a real prince and a real princess!). People making themselves crazy on Valentine’s Day and anniversaries. Level-headed women becoming bridezillas on “the big day” (The most important day of your life? What about your birth? Or the day you die? Or the five-year remission mark for cancer?).
We’re all in love with love.
Even my favorite Katherine Hepburn film, Summertime (1955), gives me a warm tingle just thinking about Venice and gardenias. Sure, Rossano Brazzi is gorgeous, and thankfully, there’s some indication of sex in the film, but really, it’s all about romance, and even I—cynic with a pen in his hand—eat it up every single time.
Of course, there’s the opposite of romantic love: gay, hedonistic sex. I know that one really well too. But even if I did drop 20 pounds and take off for Puerto Rico on a White Party Cruise with no more that three skimpy outfits, a bag of condoms, and a pocket full of Ecstasy, I know that once I climbed out of that pile of undulating, Techno-throbbing flesh, I’d still check my email to see if “he” had replied to my invitation to brunch (once I returned to the mainland wearing a cashmere sweater and expensive boots).
It’s lost on most of us—but I’ll speak for myself here—it’s lost on me—how really liking someone and having “good” sex with someone is supposed to be enough of a foundation for a loving, long-term relationship, if you never feel that soaring into the clouds kind of high. If the jasmine isn’t growing just for you, and the mustard flowers don’t look like a Van Gogh painting, if Madonna hasn’t written that latest, crazy love song for just me and Mr. Amazingly-Perfect Oh my God, I just want to rip his shirt off–-well, I just don’t know if it will satisfy me.
So much for the grounded, well-educated, well-groomed, responsible, mature, good-looking guy who asks me out to see a great foreign film and cooks a kick-ass lamb and couscous. He’s probably the best damn husband in the world, but stupid, stupid gullible me, I want a passionate lover. Weekends in the wine country, and Paris, and holding hands in Rome, and all that bullshit. I want exploding stars and butterfly kisses. I want a fucking ring and a series of sexts and flowers at the door and french kisses in public. I even want hand holding on the plane as it soars into the sky. That’s just how messed up I am.