Astronomy News During My Involuntary Sojourn

14 11 2017

Your Blogmeister’s Secret Hideout


As Norm told you, and I can certainly confirm, I spent eclipse day as close to the point of greatest extent as practically possible.  And it was my best single day in the time period between the “accident” and now.  Just like I was able to remember my uncle’s address and land line phone number before my own address and sail foam number, because the longest most deeply ingrained memories are the ones that came back first, even my damaged addled hobbled brain was zeroed in on eclipse day, precisely because I’ve known it was coming since I was 11 years old, I waited 29 years to see it, and I damned well wasn’t going to let a major concussion get in my way.  And yes, I fully intend on being around to do it all again in about the same place on the map in six and a half years.


The blockbuster news out of the astronomy world during my involuntary sojourn is that, for the first time, a collision between neutron stars was observed, and the consequences are being analyzed.  So rare is this kind of event and so anxious have been professional astronomers to see and analyze one that just about every research-grade telescope in the world was turned on it once it was figured out that one was happening.  One of the big discoveries was that we have now found a second energy and fusion source for heavy elements in the universe.  Before now, it was thought the only thing in the universe that could generate elements heavier than oxygen (atomic number 6) are the most massive of stars in their final stages of life and their explosion as supernovae.  Now we see that colliding neutron stars do the same thing, and in fact, they now think that almost all the naturally occurring gold (atomic number 79) in the universe comes from colliding neutron stars rather than exploding supernovae.  That means that you took yourself off the dating and sex market by putting a little bit of the trash from an ancient neutron star wreck around your finger.


Another big piece of news that’s a first in terms of human observation and confirmation is that for the first time, an interstellar object has been observed both in and passing through the Solar System, and in fact, pretty near Earth, coming as close as 60 times the distance to the Moon.  The object’s gangster name is A/2017 U1, and is either an extrasolar comet or asteroid, probably the latter, that got tossed out bag and baggage from the nest where it hatched, and dropped on by the Solar System, the Sun’s gravity forced it into a hyperbolic bend (e=1.19).  It seems to have come from the constellation Lyra, and thanks to Russian Solar interference, once it skedaddles out of our neck of the woods, it’ll be on its way to Pegasus.  Though because of proper motion and widely varying orbital periods and eccentricities that the various relatively nearby stars have around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and for the fact that A/2017 U1 isn’t moving that fast, 58,000 mph, or 0.0087% of the speed of light, about 60% faster than the pace of New Horizons between Jupiter and Pluto, the stars of Lyra were probably not there when A/2017 U1 was coming here from that vantage points, instead, other stars were there, and one of them was A/2017 U1’s cradle, and likewise, by the time it gets to the stars that now comprise Pegasus by our current vantage point and sky culture, they won’t be there, either, and there will be different stars there.  As luck would have it, this time of year, mid-November, in mid-northern latitudes, the “square” of Pegasus reaches its highest point in the sky about three hours after sunset, so if you’re out, take a look up and wave goodbye to A/2017 U1 and wish him farewell, happy trails to you, even though we’ll never meet again.  Though since it peaked at magnitude 21 from Earth’s vantage point, and will do nothing but get fainter, you’d need a very YUGE BIGLY telescope if you want to see it.


Yet another piece of news isn’t so profound, and more so is yet another example of the lazy way the mainstream media deal with astronomy news.  First off, Uranus has always been just above the naked eye visibility threshold, and was probably observed countless times by both ancient laymen and ancient astronomers, but they just mistook it for a faint star.  It wasn’t until the late eighteenth century that it was figured as a planet, and it was only because William Herschel looked at it with a telescope and discovered that its apparent size proportionally increased with higher magnifications, unlike stars, and then other contemporary astronomers figured its orbit as nearly circular and beyond Saturn, meaning (at the time) the seventh planet.  Second, even at its brightest, including during the current opposition, its magnitude peaks out at 5.7, which means you needed good eyes, good seeing, and dark skies just to have a chance to see a very faint dot. And we all know how rare truly dark skies are these days, in terms of the chances that a given random first world individual has to experience them. Another problem with the way this story was written is that it makes you think that October 19-20 was the only night possible to see Uranus with the naked eye. In reality, because Uranus is so far away from Earth, the ratio between as far away from Earth as it can possibly be to how close it could possibly be is only 1.213 (*), meaning it’s only close to half again brighter (**) at its closest than farthest, which in turn means that only 0.4 magnitude separates its brightest and dimmest possibilities (***). Since Uranus is hanging around the constellation Pisces (as viewed from Earth) around now (****), this means that Uranus is (barely) naked eye visible around now at any time when the constellation Pisces is visible after astronomical sunset but before astronomical sunrise. Which, at St. Louis’s latitude (38.6 N), is between late June and mid-February.  Of course, the stars of Pisces are pretty dim, which means that seeing Pisces itself will require the same thing as seeing the planet currently “in” Pisces, getting away from light pollution.


I have probably written in this space several times in the recent past that:  (1) By my 60th birthday, March 31, 2037, there will be legitimate scientific proof of at least some simple form of life on an extrasolar planet (a planet orbiting a star other than the sun), and (2) The crucially important minds in crucially important societies have pretty much forecasted the same thing and see the same thing coming, and therefore (3) TPTB are greasing our skids so that when the official announcement of what will be the biggest most profound news in the history of human civilization and science is made, it won’t come as such a shock.  Such skid-greasing includes a recent handful of curious dog whistle pronouncements from Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, as if to reconcile Christianity’s flagship institution and the idea of non-Earthly life as predication for the inevitable news.

This is more skid greasing.


Turns out the first evidence of exoplanets was gathered a hundred years ago, it’s just that the astronomers who gathered it didn’t know that it was evidence of one or more exoplanets.  They didn’t know what they had.  Which is the story of a lot of us, we don’t really know what we have.


Not an astronomy story, as such, but close enough for government work.

Note to those invested with political power in New England:

You can mess around with clocks all you want.  But there’s no cheating the Earth’s axial tilt, and there’s no cheating latitude, especially yours.  That’s the proximate causation of short days in December.  The daylight you “gain” in the afternoon by doing this is the daylight you would lose in the morning.  Which, in the hypothetical case of Boston, would mean sunrises as late as 8:14 AM.

By all mathematical rights, anything west of 67.5 degrees W should be in the Eastern Time Zone.  It’s just that the trend over time, including this proposal, is to nudge time zone boundaries westward, to sacrifice an hour of morning light for an hour of evening light.  Which as an aside is the whole purpose of daylight savings time to begin with.

Though I should say that if New England does wind up doing this, then problems like these out of Massachusetts won’t ever be a problem again.  (Hint:  Record births in UTC along with local time, so that this kind of thing isn’t a problem.)  This makes me think of one of those brain teasers/quasi-mysteries I was given in middle school and solved.  It involved someone stating that something happening at 2:30 AM on a specific date in early April of a what we were told was the same year we were in at the time.  On a hunch, looked the date up, and it was indeed the first Sunday in April, which was in those days the spring-forward day.  Which means that there was no 2:30 AM local time, (and the place where it happened observed DST, I looked that up just to make sure), which means the person’s account was impossible.


I had but then lost a URL about the formulation of the theory that was published during my involuntary sojourn, about the process in the extremely early post-Big Bang universe which meant that visible light first became “visible,” in the anthropomorphic sense, though the chances that there were any living beings that were able to see what is anthropomorphically considered “visible light” are extremely slim.  If any of you can find that story, put it in the comment box.


One more thing:  We made it, and we’re here, in spite of what the theoretical physicists say shouldn’t have happened.  Mystery wrapped in an enigma.


(*) – Uranus’s perihelion is 18.4 AU, and its aphelion is 20.1 AU, meaning that its closest possible approach to Earth is 18.4 minus 1, or 17.4 AU, presuming Earth-Uranus opposition happens at the same time as Uranus’s perihelion, whilst Uranus can be no further away than 21.1 AU, the 20.1 AU aphelion plus 1 AU, provided that happens at the same time as the Sun-Uranus conjunction as viewed from Earth.  21.1 divided by 17.4 is 1.213.

(**) – Law of inverse squares.  (21.1/17.4)^2 = 1.4705.

(***) – (100^0.2)^X=1.4705, X solves to 0.419.

(****) – Uranus has an 84-year solar orbit, which means it spends about seven years (84 divided by 12) in each Earth-apparent zodiacal constellation. That’s another thing I have to get out of the way – When we say that Uranus is “in” Pisces, or refer to the galaxy “in” Virgo, we don’t mean that Uranus itself is where the stars that constitute the Pisces constellation can be found, and we’re not saying that the galaxy is where the stars of the Virgo constellation are. Almost all naked eye visible stars are between four and 300 light years away, only an extremely tiny sliver of our own galaxy, and we look at objects that are both closer and farther through the lens of stars whose positions and asterisms in the Earthly sky seem to be in the relevant range of human lifetimes and civilizations’ lifetimes to be immutable and fixed, even though over an extremely long time, they too will change position. Uranus is far closer than the stars of Pisces, and a given galaxy “in” Virgo is way farther away than the stars of Virgo.



8 responses

15 11 2017

Turns out the interstellar vagabond has been given a new gangster name based on its extrasolar origins:


The letter “I” being indicative of an interstellar object, new IAU nomenclature.

There’s also talk about hurrying up and sending a beeping toilet bowl to this thing to do science, before it gets too far away, so that we can get some good science about a confirmed object that was born not in our solar system.

15 11 2017
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20 11 2017

More news about the interstellar vagabond, its shape, appearance. Also, it has been officially classified as an asteroid, not a comet.

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Anonymous Astronomy Professor

Here’s what you’re looking for for your Genesis 1:3 section.

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