Eyes On The Skies

July 15, 1994|By Patricia Horn | Patricia Horn,Sun Staff Writer

Two days until impact.

Will you be watching?

If the Nature Co.'s sales of telescopes are a good indication, lots of people will be scanning the skies when the Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashes into Jupiter tomorrow afternoon.

Since the Berkeley-based company began promoting the comet crash -- and its telescopes -- on June 1, sales of its telescopes have tripled, the company said.

"I think that it is a really exciting opportunity to take a look at Jupiter," said spokeswoman Stephanie W. McCoy. "We are really interested in encouraging the amateur astronomer."

They may be encouraged, and they may be watching, but they probably won't be seeing.

The comet will first land out of sight on the other side of Jupiter as it begins its weeklong crash.

Astronomers are quick to dismiss the idea that telescopes will actually help anyone see "an event never before seen," as another Nature Co. promotion says.

"Cute idea," said Paul D. Feldman, professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, about the promotions. He will be a member of the Hubble Telescope team this weekend. "I hope they aren't trying to sell telescopes," he said.

They are. And plenty more.

At the Nature Co.'s Inner Harbor store, where the telescope display sits under a purple dome displaying the night sky, signs hang from the ceiling promoting the comet and telescopes. Although local sales have remained steady, a number of people eyed the display yesterday with curiosity.

The Nature Co. comet display doesn't just stop with telescopes. It is also marketing T-shirts, a meteorite video and a book by David Levy, a co-discoverer of the comet.

But it's the telescopes that are causing a flap. "Even with the Nature Co.'s most basic telescope, you can see more of the heavens than Galileo ever could," another ad says. "And there has never been a better time to look up."

After various reports yesterday about the company's promotions and the realities of the uncooperative cosmos, the company moved to quell the controversy.

"No, I don't believe they [the ads] are misleading," Ms. McCoy of the Nature Co. said. ". . . We are not trying to sell the comet collision."

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