Darkness must fall

For it’s always that way with the sacred value of life. We forget it as long as it belongs to us, and give it as little attention during the unconcerned hours of our life as we do the stars in the light of day. Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads.

~ Stefan Zweig

slip:4a1064.

Wow! Still, wow.

Almost fifty years after it was detected, the Wow! Signal continues to tantalize and defy explanation. […] In 2020, interest in this candidate [extra-terrestrial intelligence] signal was revitalized when Cabellaro identified a Sun-like star in the vicinity of the sky where the Wow! Signal was detected. If the analysis is correct, this famous signal may have come from a Sun-like star located 1,800 light-years away.

~ Matt Williams from, https://www.universetoday.com/156281/there-could-be-four-hostile-civilizations-in-the-milky-way/

More amazing is that actual progress continues to be made towards understanding the original signal’s origin. Fifty years ago, the area of the sky was known to contain a bunch of stars. Today? We know which of them have planets. …and which of those stars have a planet in the so-called habitable zone. The article is both a good introduction to the famous (among astronomy enthusiasts) signal and a good story about continued research.

And just ignore the article’s click–bait title, which comes from a tangential discussion about whether we should only listen for extraterrestrial intelligence or actually try to contact ET.

ɕ

Scale

Under one square metre of undisturbed ground in the Earth’s mid-latitudes there might live several hundred thousand small animals. Roughly 90% of the species to which they belong have yet to be named. One gram of this soil – less than a teaspoonful – contains around a kilometre of fungal filaments.

~ George Monbiot from, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/07/secret-world-beneath-our-feet-mind-blowing-key-to-planets-future

There’s mind–boggling complexity in the microscopic realm.

Here’s a quick zoom towards the macroscopic: If you imagine the Earth the size of a peppercorn, then the moon would be a pin-head about 2.5″ inches away. At this scale, the sun is an 8″ ball, sitting 14 yards from the peppercorn Earth. How far away, at this same scale, is the next closest star? It’s thousands of miles at this scale to the Centauri star system (a 4 year trip at the speed of light.) How far is it across our just-average-sized Milky Way galaxy? …and how many stars are here, with our cozy Sol? …and how far to the next galaxy? …how many galaxies? Frankly, I’m confident there’s other life—even other intelligent life—out there. But, will we ever meet each other across such vast gulfs of emptiness?

ɕ

Titan

Titan is like Earth with its rivers, lakes, and seas filled by rain, but as stated, this is liquid methane and ethane as opposed to liquid water on Earth. Like Earth, Titan also has sand dunes, but they are made of hydrocarbons instead of silicate-based substances. Also, much like Earth, Titan is known for having a seasonal liquid transport cycle, also known as the water cycle on Earth, linking atmosphere, land, and oceans.

~ Laurence Tognetti from, https://www.universetoday.com/155659/titan-is-an-alien-world-but-surprisingly-familiar/

Back in the 1980s I read a lot of science fiction weaving epic tales and describing alien landscapes. These days, I continue to read things which are weaving epic, and describing alien—but they are no longer fiction.

ɕ

Foucault’s Pendulum

Over on the Astronomy Stack Exchange site, (obviously I follow the “new questions” feed in my RSS reader,) someone asked if it was possible, without knowing the date, to determine one’s latitude only by observing the sun. These are the sorts of random questions that grab me by the lapels and shake me until an idea falls out.

So my first thought was: Well if you’re in the arctic or antarctic polar circles you could get a good idea… when you don’t see the sun for a few days. Also, COLD. But that feels like cheating and doesn’t give a specific value. Which left me with this vague feeling that it would take me several months of observations. I could measure the highest position of the sun over the passing days and months and figure out what season I was in…

…wait, actually, I should be able to use knowledge of the Coriolis Force—our old friend that makes water circle drains different in the northern and southern hemispheres, and is the reason that computers [people who compute] were first tasked with complex trigonometry problems when early artillery missed its targets because ballistics “appear” to curve to do this mysterious force because actually the ground rotates . . . where was I?

Coriolis Force, right. But wait! I don’t need the sun at all! All I need is a Foucault Pendulum and some trigonometry… Here I went to Wikipedia and looked it up—which saved me the I’m-afraid-to-actually-try-it hours of trying to derive it in spherical trig… anyway. A Foucault Pendulum exhibits rotation of the plane of the pendulum’s swing. Museums have these multi-story pendulums where the hanging weight knocks over little dominos as it rotates around. Cut to the chase: You only need to be able to estimate the sine function, and enough hours to measure the rotation rate of the swing-plane and you have it all; northern versus southern hemisphere and latitude.

ɕ

Steve is not an aurora

This means that STEVE is not likely to be caused by the same mechanism as an aurora, and is therefore an entirely new type of optical phenomenon – which the team refer to as “skyglow”.

~ Matt Williams from, https://www.universetoday.com/139809/that-new-kind-of-aurora-called-steve-turns-out-it-isnt-an-aurora-at-all/

Aside: “Steve” started as in-joke reference by some dedicated Aurora photographers. It was later backronymed.

I particular love this type of discovery. Looking at the shape of the visual phenomenon—it’s a straight-ish thin streak—I bet this is realated to certain types of mythologies and stories…

ɕ

First habitable exoplanet

http://phys.org/news/2014-04-potentially-habitable-earth-sized-planet-liquid.html

The first Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of another star has been confirmed by observations with both the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Gemini Observatory. The initial discovery, made by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, is one of a handful of smaller planets found by Kepler and verified using large ground-based telescopes. It also confirms that Earth-sized planets do exist in the habitable zone of other stars.

Mark you calendar: April 17, 2014. First confirmation of the existence of a HABITABLE planet… Temperature, gravity, rocky (like the Earth)… A. HABITABLE. PLANET. I got chills reading this.

ɕ