Ancient scientists helping modern scientists

Ashur5Contrary to the stereotypes about ancient and medieval knowledge and totally contradicting Mark Twain’s depiction in Connecticut Yankee of King Arthur’s court panicking over an eclipse, the scientists of yore were keen observers of the heavens.  They kept meticulous records of things like eclipses and analyzed them mathematically.  
Now astronomers from 2016 A.D. are using data recorded by the Babylonians in 136 B.C. to determine that the earth’s rate of rotation has slowed down.  They are also making use of astronomical observations from ancient and medieval Greece, China, and the Middle East.  (Maybe some of them were the Wise Men!)This is a good example of how knowledge builds and information is connected, not only in the present but across time. [Read more…]

Two more planets in our Solar System?

Pluto has been demoted from its planet status, though some dispute that.  But astronomers have found evidence that there may be two actual planets beyond Pluto.

If they are definitively discovered, what should we call them?  The names should be classical to fit with the others.  I say name one Athena, after the goddess of wisdom, since wisdom is also elusive and hard to detect.  And let’s  name the other one Pluto, so that we’ll once again have a planet named Pluto. [Read more…]

The missing light crisis

We blogged about how new evidence is casting doubt on the existence of the universe.  Scientists have also discovered a massive discrepancy between the amount of light that we can detect and the amount of light produced by galaxies and quasars.  The two are off by a factor of some 400%.   Put another way, 80% of the light in the universe is missing.  This is being called the “missing light crisis.” [Read more…]

Like a diamond in the sky

Astronomers have discovered a white dwarf star–basically, the burnt-out remnant of a star–that basically consists of crystallized carbon.  In other words, diamond.  It’s a diamond the size of the earth.  “Twinkle, twinkle little star. . . .” [Read more…]

A near miss

On February 15, an asteroid of the size that struck this planet in the past, knocking out that forest in Siberia and making Meteor Crater in Arizona, will pass not only between the earth and the moon but between the earth and the orbit of some of our satellites. [Read more…]

Transit of Venus

A rare event will take place today, something that won’t happen again this century:  Venus will cross over the face of the Sun.

After Tuesday evening we sink into history’s pages, having witnessed a rare astronomical event: the Transit of Venus across the sun. This won’t repeat for 105 years.

Look to the west Tuesday evening, June 5, Venus begins to cross the sun at 6:04 p.m. EDT Tuesday evening, as a notch in the sun. By 6:22 p.m., from our perspective, Venus becomes a black dot moving across the solar disc.

On this transit, it’s a 6-hour, 40-minute trek for our neighboring, interior planet – and because the sun sets – we only see a few hours of this cosmic memory.

Venus transits occur in pairs, eight years apart, alternating between 105.5 years and 121.5 years apart. Tuesday’s transit is paired with the crossing that last occurred in June, 2004.

Here are the several preceding (and present) pairings, as documented by astronomer Roy Bishop, in the Observer’s Handbook 2012:

* 1631/1639 (each in December)

* 1761/1769 (June);

* 1874/1882 (December);

* none in the 20th century;

* 2004/2012 (June).

Looking ahead, the next pair won’t occur until Dec. 11, 2117 and Dec. 8, 2125.

For many cities in the eastern U.S., including Washington, the transit starts at 6:04 p.m. on Tuesday. The central and western time zones can see more of the transit, while Hawaii can see the whole event.

via Transit of Venus 2012: the last trip across the sun for 105 years – Capital Weather Gang – The Washington Post.

Don’t look at it with your bare eyes or you might burn your optic nerve.  You can watch it here.

I would add that when this happened in 1769, Captain James Cook was sent from England to the Western Hemisphere to study this event.  That voyage led to the “discovery” of Australia.  Capt. Cook would go on to “discover” Hawaii and Alaska.  (The quotation marks mean that I know that human beings already lived in these places, but Capt. Cook was the first European to find them and to open them up for colonization.)