Archive for the ‘astronomy’ Category

Moonrise Over the Juan de Fuca

May 17, 2013

Moonrise

2012 Transit of Venus

June 5, 2012



Video streaming by Ustream

One of many live webcasts of this evening’s momentous transit of Venus. You can find more viewing options at NASA’s special transit site.

Notes Towards a Short Story Inspired by Lovecraft

May 6, 2012

Malevolent forms.

The dark ichor of shapeless shadows.

Fiendish pulsating polyps.

Mean beasts with myriad eyes and twisted, horn-like fangs. Hellspawn that befouled the earth before time itself.

Giddy with forbidden knowledge, of names too horrible to speak aloud, of dark designs and glyphs recalling rites of monstrous immoral bestial doom and the shapes of things best not know by men.

Venomous and dripping, possessed with a menacing hunger, these forms were carried by their mind-mad masters across the stars, from galaxies still unknown, to the caves beneath the still bubbling seas of eons past. And there they grew…

Beings of incomprehensible size and shape, unburdened by the known laws of life, the mere sight of which would surely guarantee instant and irreversible gibbering madness — insanity without cure.

Black Book of the Skull. Greek; only known surviving copy at Dwayne University in Amoston, Kansas. Latin; incomplete. English copy by Crowley published by Starry Wisdom press in the 1920s.

Black Tome of Alsophocus. Written by wizard Alsophocus of Erongill. Latin extant? Miskatonic.

Book of Iod. Discusses Iod, the Shining Hunter, Vervados, and a being, Zuchequon. Gnostic influence?

L’Histoire des Planetes. Tome written in 1792 by Laurent de Longnez. May be a translation of a 17th century work, Die Geschichte des Planeten by Eberhard Ketzer. Describes the cacophonous “music of the spheres”.

Necrolatry. “Worship of the Dead”. Book written by Ivor Gorstadt, published in 1702 in Leipzig. Extant copy at Miskatonic?

Dome

March 9, 2012

Sundials!

June 2, 2011

“We do not know when men first began to use instruments which were at all similar to modern sundials. A stone fragment in a Berlin museum is thought to be the earliest known sundial, dating from about 1500 B.C. The Bible mentions what some authorities take to have been a sundial (although the meaning is by no means certain) in the days of Ahaz, king of Judah some 700 years before Christ. About a century later the Greek philosopher and astronomer Anaximander of Miletus is said to have introduced the sundial into Greece. Herodotus, who lived in Asia Minor and Greece about 450 B.C., tells us that ‘It was from the Babylonians that the Greeks learned about the pole, the gnomon and the twelve parts of the day’; and sundials had become so common in Rome by 200 B.C. that the comic dramatist Plautus condemned in verse ‘the wretch who first…set a sundial in the market place to chop my day into pieces.’ Vitruvius, a contemporary of Julius Caesar, bemoaned the fact that he could not invent new types of sundials, since the field was already exhausted. He lists a dozen or more types, giving the names of their inventors. We do not know anything about the appearance of many of these early dials, and cannot guess the degree of their accuracy.

Many medieval English churches carry what appear to be crude sundials cut or scratched directly into the stone of their walls. These appear to have been used primarily to note the times of the prayers. One of these dials, at Kirkdale in Yorkshire, carries an inscription in Old English which reads in part, ‘This is the day’s sun-marker at every tide.’ This will be understood only if we realize that the Saxons divided the day not into hours, but into ‘tides’ — from which we still get such words as ‘noontide’ and ‘eventide.’

Sometime and somewhere — no one knows when and where — it was discovered that the shadow cast by a slanting object might be a more accurate timekeeper that the shadow cast by a vertical one. If, in fact, the shadow-casting object was parallel to the earth’s axis, the direction of its shadow at any given hour of the day was constant regardless of the season of the year. It has been suggested that this discovery occurred in the first century A.D., but be that as it may, men had now discovered the system which remained the principal basis for time-telling for nearly thirteen centuries. In fact, sundials remained in use long after the invention of the clock, since early clocks were erratic and needed frequent correction by the sundial. Our frontispiece reproduces an old print showing three gentleman waiting to set their watches when the sun dial shows that the moment of noon has arrived, and many a New England housewife paced her morning’s chores with the movement of the shadows across the kitchen floor. While men have used many other means of telling time — sandglasses, waterclocks, candles and graduated oil lamps (or else relied on the crowing of cocks and other natural phenomena), nevertheless for at least ten and perhaps twenty centuries the sundial was the major timekeeping device used by man.”

Albert E. Waugh, Sundials: Their Theory and Construction (New York: Dover, 1973), 3-5.

In Praise of Idleness

January 11, 2011

Ah, idleness. What would we do without you? Probably all sorts of stuff. This is a brief ode to the concept I penned many moons ago (note the innocent reference to “the laptop computer”, a novelty when I wrote this…), and recently rediscovered. Like the irony that I’m too busy right now to blog at all; in this case, I’m making an exception…

Idleness

Once the privilege of the aristocracy, leisure and idleness are now within everyone’s grasp, yet to all appearances, people seem to work harder and more diligently every year. The laptop computer, the cellular phone and the freeway force workers to move through life like gears in the machine, never resting, always within reach and ready for operation. What, pray tell, is the grease that keeps this engine from overheating, or Heaven forbid, seizing up entirely? The answer is plain — Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson and Grant. Money. Cash. The colder and harder the better. But for what? The poorest hovel in the Modern west is equipped with conveniences and, dare I say, luxuries, that only a few generations ago would have seemed like magic. Machinery has long since replaced physical labor in the accomplishment of menial tasks, and yet there continue to be more flesh and blood gears out there than ever before, often fulfilling a role that only leaves them a hollow, stressed-out shell at the end of the line, no more clear on the concept than a newborn babe.

Well, I say “Woah, baby.” Take a load off, relax, take comfort you’re not a serf bonded to the land, forced to toil from dusk till dawn. Heck, even the hardy, downtrodden peasant of yesteryear had it better than us in some ways, for he knew when it was time to let nature take its course, and reap the harvest he’d sown, enjoying its fruits while the world took a little break, to “chill”, so to speak. We continue to work at petty, covetous tasks even as nature’s fury roars right outside our sparkling metallic skyscrapers, defying her to send us all to hell with her fury.

And she’s mad, let me tell you. A woman scorned, she’s only beginning to let her ire be known. Like a great Leviathan, or to use Shelley’s term, a Demogorgon, she is slow to stir, but once awakened, has us all in her grasp. And yet we continue along our busy, self-important way, ants as the storm clouds gather, oblivious to the impending doom. It was swept clean before, it can be again.

Why not, instead of spending our time, live it. To have the luxury to even contemplate the curiosities of existence, our origins in the great fiery balls of flame which glow back at us from the beginning of time, brothers and sisters every one of them. And when the wind stirs — nature’s song, a little reminder that we’re alive and part of something greater — they wink at us, as if knowingly. Tragic to waste this majesty fighting to own and acquire silly, insignificant, infinitesimally small pieces of it — and only for a time — for we all return to dust and the stars in the end.

Idleness is within everyone’s grasp, easier than picking that perfect gift for someone you hardly know, or serving a purpose that strips you bare, leaving nothing but bitterness, regret, ignorance and fear. So, end the rat-race, walk out of doors on an evening when “she” is showing kindness, and be. Humans never had a greater purpose, and with all that our world has brought, and all it will ever bring, we never will. So abandon it, for that is a fire which burns in all of us we must learn, if ever we can, to conquer. And yet even my words are infected with the disease, and so I end them.

Aarhus University Professors Unearth Tycho Brahe’s Tomb!

November 16, 2010

Could be a line out of one of the best horror stories ever written, but it’s just some good solid science. Or something of the sort. You be the judge!

By way of Boing Boing, of all places? Though the biography that they link to is a cribbed version of Arthur Koestler. Still, you gotta love the eccentric approach to the history of science

The Perfect Crime…Solved

November 15, 2010

“The perfect crime is that of an unconditional realization of the world by the actualization of all data, the transformation of all our acts and all events into pure information: in short, the final solution, the resolution of the world ahead of time by the cloning of reality and the extermination of the real by its double.

This is precisely the theme of Arthur C. Clarke‘s short story ‘The Nine Billion Names of God‘. A community of Tibetan monks have for centuries devoted themselves to transcribing these nine billion names of God, and once they have accomplished this the purpose of the world will be achieved, and it will come to an end. The task is a tiresome one and the weary monks call in technicians from IBM, whose computers do the job in a few months. In a sense, the history of the world is completed in real time by the workings of virtual technology. Unfortunately, this also means the disappearance of the world in real time. For suddenly, the promise of the end is fulfilled and, as they walk back down into the valley, the technicians, who did not really believe in the prophecy, are aghast to see the stars going out one by one.”

Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime, trans. Chris Turner (London: Verso, 2008 [1996]), 27.


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