Posts Tagged ‘astronomy’
Readers may feel a sense of relief now that the Mayan prophecy of doom in 2012 has gone unfulfilled– understandable… but maybe a bit premature. As this handy reference from The Economist illustrates…
…while most of the major prophecies on record are past their due dates (the Norse and Nostradamus were canny enough to refrain from specifying exact timings), one apocalyptic alert is still active… and sadly for humankind, it’s from an all-too-august source.
Possibly the greatest and most influential scientist in history, Isaac Newton was also a pious, albeit unorthodox, Christian. Early in his life, surrounded by the Plague, the Great Fires of London, and assorted other upheavals, Newton decided that the End Times were at hand. But while Newton realized promptly that he was premature, millennial pronouncements continued from others. So, in a 1704 manuscript (in which he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible) he estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. He explained: “This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.”
Now, “no earlier than 47 years from now” gives one some time to prepare.
But could it be that even Sir Isaac made mistakes? So argues David Flynn, author of Temple at the Center of Time: Newton’s Bible Codex Deciphered and the Year 2012. Flynn revisits Newton’s logic and his calculations, and “corrects” it to find that the threshold for total termination may be much nearer– indeed, this year– 2013… Read the story at WND.com, along with “Just the Facts: How Satan Takes ‘Legal Authority’ Over You” and “Obama Staged Sandy Hook Massacre.”
As we contain our credulity, we might send cosmic birthday greetings to Robert Woodrow Wilson; he was born on this date in 1936. An astronomer, Wilson and his Bell Labs partner, physicist Arno Penzias, discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) in 1964– a feat that earned them the Nobel Prize (in 1978), as CMB was a critical corroborator of the Big Bang Theory of the origin of the universe.
Nearly 40 years ago, a Hungarian architecture professor, Emo Rubik, created a puzzle to use with his design students- a puzzle with 43 quintillion possible combinations and one solution. Within five years, it had been played by over 20% of the world’s population, and has so far sold over 350 million units (not counting “unofficial” versions).
As we twist and turn, we might spare a thought for Ulugh Beg; he died on this date in 1449. Probably Mongolia’s greatest scientist, Beg was a Timurid ruler and sultan, a mathematician, and the greatest astronomer of his time. In his observatory in at Samarkand he discovered a number of errors in the computations of the 2nd-century Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy, whose figures were still being used; his star map (of 994 stars) was the first since Hipparchus’.
One could be forgiven for mistaking these structures for the set of science fiction epic staged on a planet light years from Earth. In fact, they are centuries-old scientific instruments, designed and used in Jantar Mantar (Jaipur), India, to explore the heavens. They were built by a great Maharaja in the early decades of the 18th century and they have been in continuous use since.
Read the full story and see more remarkable photos of the observatory at Kuriositas.
As we raise our eyes, we might send celestial birthday greetings to Mary Watson Whitney; she was born on this date in 1847. A protege of astronomer Maria Mitchell, Whitney followed her mentor as professor of astronomy at Vassar and as head of the Observatory there. A champion of scientific education for women, Whitney built Vassar’s astronomy program into one of the nation’s finest.
As a service to bewildered younger viewers of the recent Grammy Awards show, the History Channel and Twitter combined (under the auspices of Funny or Die) to produce the helpful documentary, Who is Paul McCartney?
As we say, “oh yeah (yeah yeah),” we might send heavenly birthday greetings to Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus; he was born on this date in 1473. Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres; published just before his death in 1543), with its heliocentric account of the solar system, is often regarded as the beginning both of modern astronomy and of the scientific revolution.
Of all discoveries and opinions, none may have exerted a greater effect on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus. The world had scarcely become known as round and complete in itself when it was asked to waive the tremendous privilege of being the center of the universe. Never, perhaps, was a greater demand made on mankind – for by this admission so many things vanished in mist and smoke! What became of our Eden, our world of innocence, piety and poetry; the testimony of the senses; the conviction of a poetic – religious faith? No wonder his contemporaries did not wish to let all this go and offered every possible resistance to a doctrine which in its converts authorized and demanded a freedom of view and greatness of thought so far unknown, indeed not even dreamed of.
From Foreign Policy, “Even Better Than the Real Thing: The 10 best fake Twitter feeds on global politics.”
The bizarro-world Dmitry Medvedev (in Russian)
“Governors need to have more children so that the country will have more successful young entrepreneurs.”
As we grab our laughs in 140-character hunks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1930 that news flew (by radio and cable) around the world that astronomer Clyde Tombaugh had discovered (what was then considered) the ninth planet in our solar system. The Lowell Observatory, Tombaugh’s site, had naming rights– and received over 1,000 recommendations. They finally settled on “Pluto,” the suggestion of an eleven-year-old school girl from Oxford, Venetia Burney, who proposed the name of the god of the underworld (as appropriate to such a cold, dark place) to her grandfather, Falconer Madan, Librarian at the Bodleian Library; Madan passed it on to Professor Herbert Hall Turner, who in turn cabled it to colleagues in the U.S. It was formally adopted on March 24… each member of the Observatory staff voted on a list of three finalists: Minerva (which was already the name of an asteroid), Cronus (which suffered for being the nominee of the unpopular astronomer Thomas Jefferson Jackson See), and Pluto. Pluto received every vote.
Clyde Tombaugh (source)
Venetia Burney (source)