If you haven’t heard the news, we have a green comet in our skies that hasn’t been around these parts in 50 millennia.
“And it’s something that could be visible, maybe with the naked eye, probably more so with binoculars or a telescope,” said Grant Tandy with the Worthy Hopservatory. “ And this is a really good opportunity to see it because the last time it was seen was about 50,000 years ago.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love comets. But as comets go, this one isn’t quite as significant as Halley’s Comet in the 1980s or, more recently, Neowise.
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What grabbed my attention about the story is the question “What would Central Oregon have looked like the last time this comet came through our skies?” For that, I ran to Central Oregon Community College to ask my geology professor buddy for a far more educated answer to that question than what I can give you.
“So 50,000 years ago, we had modern humans,” said Hal Wershow, COCC Associate Professor of Geology. “A great scientific debate is when humans first arrived in North America. And the simple answer is, we’re not sure. It’s unsettled. There’s lots of evidence in lots of different directions. So 50,000 years ago, probably not. Or at least we don’t have definitive evidence today.
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“The first thing you would have noticed, if somehow we could magically go back in a time machine and be here then, was that pretty much all you would have seen was snow and ice? The Central Oregon Cascades would have been mostly buried under a vast ice sheet. They would have looked like small little islands sticking up out of this vast sea of ice. Broken Top and North Sister actually might have looked even more impressive. Those little islands, they would have been taller and more robust. They hadn’t fully been carved apart by the glaciers at that point.”
Middle and South Sister would have been missing. And the geological feature that Central Oregon is most known for would have only been a gleam in Mother Nature’s eye.
“But then something like Mt. Bachelor didn’t exist. Every rock in Mount Bachelor is less than 18,000 years old,” Wershow said. “But a cool thing — you still could have stood on top of Pilot Butte and looked out and gotten the view.”
And what you saw would have been worth writing home about. Well, other than written language didn’t exist or paper or pencils for that matter.
“You would have seen all the really big, cool creatures from the Ice Age. There have been Columbian mammoths, 13-foot-tall at the top, which is way bigger than our largest elephants today, and 15- to 16-foot-long tusks coming out.
“There would have been dire wolves. There would have been giant ground sloths. It would have been a pretty amazing scene to hang out on the top of Pilot Butte and watch this action go on around us.”
According to Britannica, a dire wolf differed from gray wolves in that it was larger, had a more massive skull, a smaller brain and relatively light limbs.