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Jumpin' Jupiter! Can't the Planet Take a Joke?

July 28, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | Jim Washburn is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Orange County Edition. T. Jefferson Parker's column resumes in this spot next week. and

If you're reading this, I can only presume that we're all still here. I've been waiting this past week for a comet-blasted piece of Jupiter to come knock the Earth into a corner pocket. Call it wishful thinking.

Unless you are a) in a drooling coma; b) busy watching the endless O.J. Simpson "special reports" or c) someone who thinks there's an appreciable difference between a) and b), you've probably noticed that our tubbiest celestial neighbor has recently been getting slapped silly by a series of comet fragments.

There were a number of planetary possibilities I was mulling, wondering what effect it would have on Earth if Jupiter were destroyed. At the very least Sydney Omarr's job would get easier. At most, some glob of Jupiter would come our way and destroy us, which I suppose would also allow Omarr to slack off a bit. "Focus on still being dead," he might daily suggest to all astrological signs.

If Mars is the Angry Red Planet, Jupiter is the Problem Acne Planet, pocked with all manner of unsightly blotches, including a prominent one twice the size of Earth that scientists call the Red Spot, when Jupiter's out of hearing distance.

And now these comet fragments have been causing outbreaks even bigger than that, including one huge 9,600-mile-wide zit that has been oozing superheated gasses 1,300 miles into the ether. Were Jupiter not 480 million miles from Earth, we'd have a major space etiquette question on our hands.

Like, should we say something, and if so, what?

"Hey pal, thanks for sharing!"

"Sorry, I'm out of Stridex pads; would you like to use Canada instead?"

"Say, is that a spume of billions of tons of superheated gasses, or are you just glad to see me?"

Anyway, these fragments have been hitting the planet with impacts deemed greater than hundreds of times the combined force of all the world's nuclear weapons--and at a fraction of the cost!--prompting one scientist with a gift for understatement to remark, "We can be very glad that this comet was heading for Jupiter and not Earth." But what if one of these comet McNuggets missed Jupiter, and the gravitational pull of the planet--which maybe heard us guffawing at the Red Spot after all--spun it around so it was headed right for us ? What if one of Jupiter's 11 moons--which all seem to have names like Eo and Geo Metro--got knocked in our direction?

Not once have I heard a political candidate put forth a plan to deal with flaming terrors from outer space, though I'd like to think Ross Perot was working up to it in the last presidential campaign.

How would Earth defend itself? What if we got every armed person in the world, or at least Santa Ana, to shoot at the comet at the same time? Could we sue? If nothing else maybe some enterprising outfit could send a rocket to hang a big sign on it that says, "I'm going to Disneyland!" or perhaps one of those bumper stickers that reads "Bend over, I'll drive!"

But then, if we were about to become extinct, do you think the folks running things would tell you? They know you'd just blow off your job, loot the Liquor Barn, burn your condoms, cut off the roof of your car and spend your last hours on Earth letting your black Labrador steer down I-5 as you slurred the lyrics to "Roller Coaster of Love" at every passing car; wouldn't you? Our civic leaders know this, because they know they'd be doing the same thing, and they don't want competition.

It could be that a big hunk o' doom is still heading our way, what with 480 million miles to be traversed before it obliterates us. And why the hell not? There are times I'd sure be hard-pressed to justify our existence.

For example, what can one say of a species where the greatest solar system cataclysm in human history is taking place, and nearly all our collective attention is instead focused on the minutiae of a tabloid-esque murder case? And we're talking way minute minutiae here, such as the one network TV affiliate that solicited opinions on O.J. Simpson's character from a man whose sole qualification--no kidding--was that three years ago he had once sat on a couch next to victim Ronald Goldman as contestants on that highly-regarded TV show "Studs."

Here's a theory the Simpson defense hasn't put forth yet, though it's only a matter of time: Maybe the "international hero" was set up to provide a distraction from--that's right--the comet that's rushing to kill us all. Wouldn't it be a great, and irrefutable, bit of courtroom dramatics if attorney Robert Shapiro were to announce, "Ladies and gentlemen, defense Exhibit A!" right as a sputtering fireball the size of Alaska sliced through the Equator?

And not only would it be the end of the world, but we could watch it on TV.

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