August 24th, 2003

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.
  • Current Music
    Ferron - Higher Wisdom
bear by san

Call it pillage or call it plunder: We ain't stealing. We're just taking back.

"Yo ho ho and a bottle of suds
It's a pirate's life we choose
No we don't want a bucket of blood--
Just a cup is all we can use!"

--Jimmy Buffett, Take It Back


I hereby nominate this song as the unofficial theme of the Genre Pirates. In fact, I think we should pick a day at Torcon and all wear eyepatches. Jer, run up the Jolly Roger!
  • Current Music
    Jimmy Buffett - Take It Back
bear by san

(no subject)

Wordcount: 1512
Reason for stopping: end of scene

War of words at the breakfast table. Huzzah! Very weird to write, because there were places where I really felt the energy was flowing and others where I was having a hell of a time keeping track of the conversation. Perhaps I need alcohol. Or sleep. Or both.

My CD burner decided to work today, so I made a CD for my mom and a couple of mixes for the road trip. Also one for tanaise and one for JJA.

Since I really did not feel like writing today, I'm pretty happy with the quality and quantity of my turnout.

And damn it, listening to Rufus Wainwright makes me utterly crave Harry Nilssom.
  • Current Music
    Big Country--The Red Fox / Sting--1,000 Years