Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cosmic Coincidence?

So last Monday, y'all got drunk and celebrated the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, right? (OK, maybe not the drunken part). But how many of you knew that the moon landing occurred 25 years to the day after the unsuccessful assassination and coup attempt against Adolf Hitler, carried out by some of his senior officers? There was even a movie made about it last year, but I don't think I'll be seeing it -- I'm not sure I could suppress my gag reflex at seeing that much of Tom "I love Scientology" Cruise.

Now the second part of this coincidence is that, exactly 25 years after the moon landing (well, plus or minus a couple of days, because it didn't happen all at once), Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacted on Jupiter. On that occasion, I could almost persuade myself that I could make out a black blemish on the planet's face through my 4.25-inch Newtonian and the July heat shimmer. Or I may have been hallucinating: my keenest memory of that event is trying to stand very still and steady at the eyepiece, on a hot humid night, while feeling about a million pin-pricks in my legs as every mosquito for miles around attacked the only human in Kanata insane enough to be outside at 4am.

As a postscript we got a repeat performance this year: just one day before the 40th anniversary of Apollo (and therefore the 15th anniversary of SL9), something else biggish hit Jupiter.

What does this all mean? Absolutely nothing, except for the human tendency to see patterns (mostly by tossing out all the data that doesn't fit) where there aren't any.

Monday, July 20, 2009

One Small Step....

If I've done this right, this post will appear at 20 July at 20:17 UTC -- 40 years to the moment from when a manned spacecraft from Earth first touched down on the surface of another world.

I was 12 years old and my family was on vacation, camping at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, right up by the continental divide. We had been into town for something -- I don't recall what, maybe a restaurant dinner; I don't even recall which town -- and on our return in the evening, stopped at a little country store to pick up whatever. I stayed in the car while my parents went inside.

A few moments later my Dad re-emerged, beckoning frantically at me to come inside. In the store, I found a crowd of people gathered around a dutch door at the back that gave into the owner's living quarters. The upper half was open, and everyone was watching a small black-and-white TV perched on the kitchen counter. On that screen was Neil Armstrong taking his first few steps on the moon. Not that I could see much: by the time the low-bandwidth lunar signal had been received, converted to broadcast format (by pointing a TV camera at the slow-scan monitor in Mission Control!), been broadcast by the networks, filtered through the local weather (as I recall it was raining, maybe even thundering) and made its way to the rabbit ears of this little receiver way up in the Rockies, all that was left was a bunch of monochrome blobs that moved every so often.

Back at camp, I fell asleep in our tent trailer that night listening to the radio coverage. Before turning in I made a last visit to the washroom. At our altitude it was pretty cold for July; but the weather had cleared and the sky was crystal clear as only a high mountain sky, far from any city, can be. The moon was full and dazzlingly bright in my memory.

And a 12 year old boy looked up and realized: that's not just a light in the sky. It's a world -- and there is a man walking on it!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Way Cool....

This image, from the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter, of the Apollo 14 landing site, in which you can see the LM, an instrument package, and the footpath where the astronauts walked:

This and more NRO Apollo images here.

I wish there were more of those.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Winnie the Pooh

Mike links to Trish relating the story of the origin of Winnie-the-Pooh. While the bear was named after the city of Winnipeg, he (she?) actually came from White River, Ontario, which we passed through a few years back, in the course of circumnavigating Lake Superior. In the Museum there stands this wood carving of Winnipeg the bear and his owner, Lt. Harry Colebourn:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Crackergate in Canada

So, according to news reports (eg here and here), Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper has created a "scandal" by not properly taking communion at a Catholic funeral.

Monsignor Brian Henneberry, vicar general and chancellor in the Diocese of Saint John, says that if Harper accepted the host but did not consume it, "It's worse than a faux pas, it's a scandal from the Catholic point of view."

Amazingly, this puts me in the position of defending Stephen Harper (yikes). But here's the thing: It is not up to Harper, even if he is Prime Minister, to be cognizant of the church rules for a church of which he is not a member - it is the height of arrogance for the Roman Catholic Church to have such an expectation. If the holy body of their Lord Jesus Christ was improperly handled, it is entirely the fault of the priests for not providing proper instruction (not to mention the fact that presumably they should have known that Harper was not a Catholic, so they should not have given him the wafer in the first place).

[I am not, and never have been a Catholic, but I have been to a few Catholic masses, where, in preparation for Communion, the priest provides instructions indicating that the elements are only to be consumed by members of the Catholic Church, and inviting those who are ineligible to partake of the elements to fold their hands and receive a blessing from the priest instead. If the priest did not provide such instructions in this case, they have no one to blame but themselves.]