There has been no declaration, so we may as well make it official: You have now missed Halley's Comet. Irrevocably. However much you may distrust the pronouncements of astronomers on this subject, their latest bulletin cannot be denied -- the comet is gone from these latitudes. It is now rising too low and setting too early (or something like that) to be visible in the evening hours ever again during your lifetime. It will return briefly this spring, but only at an ungodly hour of the early morning. Unless you are up for this, or unless you are under 10, you have now blown your only chance.

We say this based on our own unscientifically conducted poll, which suggested that despite the Halley's Comet dolls, the Halley's Comet pillows, the Halley's Comet guidebooks and the Halley's Comet star maps published daily in the newspaper, not a single person in the metropolitan area actually got an eyeful. Many experts, however, persisted to the end in saying that this pass, though "disappointing," was nevertheless inspirational and historic.

We say hogwash, and we say it with the bitterness of the disillusioned believer. To those similarly made cynical, we offer this counsel: Don't blame yourself. Sure, maybe you could have planned further ahead. You could have hooked up with, say, the Northern Virginia Astronomical Society on one of its traipses to the outer wilderness "beyond the lightspill." You could have driven further out into that wilderness yourself, and stumbled more stubbornly through barren, treeless fields until you got to some place really dark. You could have, despite the undoubtedly sub-zero wind chill factor, forced your hand out of your mitten long enough to fix the focus on the binoculars. Had you done all that, you may think, you too would have seen Halley's Comet.

We say forget it -- and forget, too, all the stuff about Halley's demonstrating the harmony and stability of the universe, restoring our sense of order every 76 years with its clockwork fidelity. A visitor, heavenly or otherwise, that doesn't get any cozier than this cannot rightly be described as having made a visit. If you don't believe us, ask your friends, who didn't see it either.