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bear by san

March 2017

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bear by san

flashes seen on Mars

Just got back from a trip out to the desert with kit_kindred for the purposes of Mars Viewing, as the light pollution here in Vegas is slightly worse than you might, as a non-desert-dweller, imagine. Viewing conditions were not the best (wispy clouds, massive amounts of atmospheric dust) but we did get some good looks through the binoculars and with the naked eye.

No detail visible, but very bright and very colorful yellow-orange glow, standing out nicely over the city glow. (We didn't go that far out.) We also saw Orion, Casseiopeia, the Pleiades, the new moon in the old moon's arms (just rising) and two shooting stars.

It led me to thinking about Tycho Brahe, and his sister Sophia, and their amazing relationship with Mars. The twenty years of impeccable data they generated--without optical instruments (our three-pound, fifty-year-old birder's binoculars far outstripping anything Brahe had access to), with only armillary spheres and quadrants and so forth--which later led Brahe's student Kepler to his amazing discoveries about what orbited what. Brahe's usually remembered these days for opposing Copernicus' view of a heliocentric system: what's forgotten in this modern day is that the experimental data then available (of which the best and most meticulous was Brahe's) proved Copernicus' theories wrong.

As, in fact, they were: Copernicus was still trapped in the medieval ideology of spheres and vaults in heaven, immutable and unchangeable, and he was searching for a solution involving perfect solids and perfect spheres.

Meanwhile, Brahe's early work, involving the observance of a comet and a nova--Die Stella Nova, first of that name--had proven the crystal-sphere theory flawed. Brahe's disapproval of the Copernican model was not, as is often taught today, based on Brahe's refusal to release medieval ideology, but the fact that Copernicus' theories contradicted observed data, confirmed by some rather ingenious experiments. In other words, Brahe was operating on what we moderns would refer to as the scientific method, and Copernicus was not.

Brahe's Mars data, bequeathed to Kepler after Brahe's untimely death, led Kepler to his proof that the heliocentric theory had been correct after all, although not in the Copernican model. Brahe's data, his revelation about the nova and the comet that proved the mutability of heaven, and his insistence that the universe did not mock that data; Copernicus' heliocentric model--heavily modified to conform to Brahe's data; and Kepler's painstaking mathematics--some thousand pages of hand-figured calculations:

The modern era. The light of reason. The dawn of science and all her gifts and all her terrors.

And we owe it all to a man and a woman, brother and sister, hunched over an inadequate quadrant on a cold balcony in a colder country for twenty years of their lives four hundred years ago.

And to Mars, and his bizarre, beautiful, Copernically inexplicable retrograde motion against the constant pattern of the stars.

For a moment, in that desert, it was the sixteenth century, and I rather felt the urge to lean over and jostle the elbows of Tyge and Sophie so they could turn and see what it was I saw.

And then a car drove past with its headlights on, and we came home, over the mountain to Las Vegas, spread out like an enormous lurid irridescent tattoo across the belly of the desert and the night.

And that's why I write science fiction. Dammit.

Comments

Unsung sisters of astronomers

Sitting there in the cold, staring into the dark, making the calculations: doing the work and getting little or no credit; Sophia Brahe, Caroline Herschel... does anyone know of any others?

Though I recently read an article about Herschel that suggested that she thought joining William in England to housekeep and help him in his work was infinitely preferable to being the spinster aunt in her other brother's household in Hanover. What were Sophia Brahe's alternatives?

Re: Unsung sisters of astronomers

Sophia married twice--widowed first at a young age and then remarrying much later to a man that Tyge disapproved of, perhaps chiefly because he kept her from Tyge's side, although he was also a gambler and the other one a wastrel.

She was an alchemist, a chemist, and an astronomer, and her brother said of her that her mind was as fine as any man's; she worked with him at Uraniborg, the observatory they built off the coast of Copenhagen.

Here's a transaltion of some notes Tyge wrote about his Sophie: I find them tremendously touching.

http://www.landskrona.se/kultur/tychobrahe02/sis.html

But the Brahes had money: they were of the nobility, which one presumes helps with odd hobbies, and things were always a little better for women in the Norse countries, I think: there's that antique tradition of Viking warrior women, seeresses, and heads-of-household.

Tyge, however, seems to have had odd ideas about women: he also married a commoner--Kirstine whose last name escapes me at the moment--or rather lived with her in sin for twenty or thirty years and I think it was eight children, as they never could get their marriage solemnized due to the difference in rank and their families' disapproval.

I find it very sad that Sophie is barely remembered at all, and Tyge remembered as a glutton and a fool who opposed the march of progress, things which are patently untrue.

Re: Unsung sisters of astronomers

This is so interesting - I never knew all this about Sophia and have the strong impression that Arthur Koestler hardly, if all, mentioned her in The Sleepwalkers, which is where I derived most of my information on Brahe. (And why would I not be surprised about this??)

I'm not sure whether it's Nordic tradition or the aristocracy thing - having recently encountered the extremely persuasive view that 'Nordic' or 'Scandinavian' elides huge national differences (in the particular case I'm thinking of, that everything defined as 'Scandinavian' was being subsumed to 'Swedish highly centralised statist system').

Re: Unsung sisters of astronomers

(And why would I not be surprised about this??)

Oddly enough, I got interested in Brahe from the brief and very unflattering biography of him on Carl Sagan's television show Cosmos (there I go dating myself again) which mentioned Sophie not at all. At some point, I got the idea that I would write a short story about Brahe, which is when I discovered Sophie, being the researchmonster I am.

Apparently she's remembered in Denmark and that's about it.

You're absolutely right about the "Scandinavian" blanket being a bit broadcast, and the national differences only seem to grow greater the further back you do.

I haven't read Koestler's book, but I'm adding it to my Amazon wish list right now *g*

Re: Unsung sisters of astronomers

I haven't read Koestler's book, but I'm adding it to my Amazon wish list right now

It's years since I read it but I remember being enthralled by it when I first did. What a pity that Koestler was so unadmirable a character as a human being.

Re: Unsung sisters of astronomers

The only historical personages who I have liked *better* as people after researching them so far are Brahe and Marlowe. And I suspect it's not coincidental that both were apparently the victims of masive smear campaigns. *g*
And that's why I write science fiction. Dammit.

And I don't, but I write other things out of the same awe. That was a beautifully written entry and an inspiration. Thank you.
*blush*

But yeah, that's why many of us do it, I think. That sense of the numinous.... and the way it makes you want to tell stories.

Amazing.
And that's why I write science fiction. Dammit.

I thought you wrote gay porn!

I'm not a slashfic writer, but I play one on the internet. *g*

Well, one of my current protagonists is queer and gets laid a bunch, but I'm not sure five or six not particularly explicit sex scenes in a 1200-page book are enough to satisfy the porn afficionados.

Darn, lost another audience segment. :-P

Two Worlds Collide

The other day I remembered that Tyge and James I met for a chat.

Sometimes it just surprises me that certain historical characters lived *in* the world -- their stories always focus on *them*, especially with the scientists, and somehow they no longer belong in their age. I can't help but think that for every great scientist or author or artist there is at least one unsung and forgotten hero or heroine they relied on or were inspired by. Or that the interaction with their own world and time shaped their thoughts and so was important.

No man is an island.

And small isolated island communities seldom seem to do more than survive. If they do there's no one knows so they're not remembered for it :o).

::stops pondering and wanders off to poke lemurs::

Re: Two Worlds Collide

Makes sense--Anne was Danish, after all, and Tyge's patronage was through, um King Nicholas, I think? Her brother? Oh, I probably have all that wrong, I'm too lazy to look it up.

But anyway, the connections are there.

And 16th century Europe was a very small world.

Hmm. Which means, incidentally, if you wanted to use the theory that one of Marlowe's spying assignments was in the court of James I/VI, you could do a little riff with him and Tyge out drinking and duelling in Edinburgh.

Which has some potential. *g*
Damn, that was lovely. Thank you.

I'm not sure you're dating yourself overly by mentioning Cosmos, for all that it seemed adjective-heavy and fact-light to me even then, it did a lot to both confirm me in my interest in some kinds of Cool Stuff, and, in retrospect, communicate the Coolness of said Stuff to my father in ways which made my life at least a little easier.

Cosmos--

You're very welcome *g*

*nod* Yeah, if nothing else, Sagan's enthusiasm made all the difference in the world. Between him and Asimov's lay-science books (I think I must have memorized The Universe), they got me pretty seriously hooked.
Wow. Wow. I want to read the science fiction you write.

awwwwwwwwww

*g*

Well, there are some links here:

www.elizabethbear.com/works.html

But everything up there is fantasy, now that I think about it.

My story forthcoming in On Spec is SF, though, although it's satirical.