Dec 02 2008
Here’s something I don’t get. Every so often in the news, we hear about some event having to do with astronomy. Tonight Venus, Jupiter, and the moon and all in close proximity to each other. Apparently, the shape of the promximity is forming some kind of frowny face. Three observations:
- Doesn’t it seems like these events happen all the time? The news story always says something like, “This is the first time a lunar eclipse will happen for the next 82 years.” But then 12 weeks later, it seems like the same event is happening again.
- What mortal human can actually understand the significance of the event? The story might say, “This is the first time Haley’s Comet will pass within 1,000,000 miles of the earth at a 45 degree angle for the next 18,000 years.” First of all, who is coming up with all these numbers? I want to meet them. Second of all, these numbers are not put into context when the story then tells us, “That distance is equal to 14 billion quarters laid end to end and stacked 20 feet deep over the width of a city block.” No, USA Today, your little diagram of this doesn’t help me understand it. It just makes me impressed with whoever makes those charts which confuses me into THINKING I understand it.
- Why do we then go around the rest of the day telling everyone we know about some event we don’t understand? For the remaining waking hours of our day, we make it a point to tell everyone we know this event we’re 1. not really that interested in and 2. don’t really understand with all the enthusiasm of someone who’s just won the lotto. “Oh bro…bro…did you hear about the aurora borealis tonight? Oh, dude. They’re saying that all cats – and a certain breed of dogs – are going to lay down and be paralyzed for the whole thing because there is like 8.2 x 10^12 electrical particles per cubic foot of air space and that’s 62% more than normal which overwhelms the immune system of certain animals.” And then the obligatory, faux-amazed response: “Dude, no way. That’s crazy.”
For all the fun here, there’s a serious side to the story that the article above underscores. It says that an event similar to this one may have been what the Star of Bethlehem was all about when Jesus was born – that a number of celestial bodies appeared so close together in the sky that they looked like one mega-star. I think that’s cool.
So break out the telescope (who besides an 8-year old still has one?) — (double parenthetical comment: sorry to anyone over 8 who still has one)! History is being made tonight. Kind of.