Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Once in six lifetimes every day.

I remember when I was in elementary school, and I heard on the radio that the solar eclipse that was about to happen was the last one that would be visible in the Northern Hemisphere for some impossible number of years. This was very depressing to me since our family hadn't had a chance to go to the planetarium to buy some of those glasses that you use to watch an eclipse. I was forced to do that thing where you punch a hole in a sheet of paper and let the hole act as a sort of lens to project an image of the sun onto another surface. This was not very satisfying, but the alternative was to watch it with my naked eyes and burn blind spots into my retina.

We also had a book about Halley's Comet, and I think it was called Halley's Comet And You. (A quick internet search reveals that the book has probably been out of print for twenty years. I can't find mention of it ever existing.) It told me that Halley's Comet will not be visible again until I am in my seventies. I hope I don't fall asleep early that night, because I will be about 150 years old by the time I have another chance to see it. (It also told me the circumference of the comet's orbit, as measured in hot dogs placed end-to-end.)

Halley's Comet and You included a picture of this tapestry, which depicts an appearance of Halley's Comet.
"Wow! Someone better go tell Harold about this."

Luckily, comets seem to be more abundant than I was led to believe by Halley's Comet and You. Two visible comets (Hyukatake and Hale-Bopp) appeared in 1996. Suddenly the universe was lousy with them! I got up in the middle of the night a few time to look at Hyukatake. Hale-Bopp was cool too, but not as impressive. It should have waited another century or so.

Then there was that comet that ran into Jupiter with the force of some huge number of atomic bombs. I'm not sure what that means for a gas giant -- shouldn't it just sort of pass through?
(Edit: Ari tells me that all gas giants have a rocky core. They think so anyway.)

Now I just found out today that there will be a transit of Venus (a very very partial eclipse of the sun by the planet Venus) next year, and the next one won't occur for 104 more years. There is no way I will remember to look for it by then!

Here is what I'm getting at: These things are all incredibly rare events. At the same time, it seems that for astronomers, incredibly rare events happen all the time. I wonder how many once-in-lifetime spectacles I have missed in my life already. Not to worry; there will probably be another soon.

Friday, September 30, 2011


16 or so "bandit signs", and one dead tree in Utah's West Desert near Callao.
We hung them with string.
If I could change one thing about this, it would be to have the backdrop be more desolate -- the West Desert in July is far too verdant for the message this tree displays.

Forgive me as I wax pretentious...

The name Prometheus (after the Greek Titan and meaning "forethought" or "foresight") refers to the tree's elevated position on a hill at the foot of the Deep Creek mountains, giving it perspective over the world, but which also exposes it to the elements the way the original Prometheus was chained to a stone and exposed to ravenous vultures. The tree is dead, but is still standing and decaying slowly making it timeless much like the Titan's own immortality. This tree also is experiencing the parasitic growth of consumerism and greed, as seen by the appearance of polyp-like bandit signs offering consumers opportunities for cheap television or to get rich quick, and as such has foresight into what will eventually befall this as-yet unspoiled desert valley.

The name Prometheus originally occurred to me because it is also the name of a bristlecone pine which was cut down in 1964 for research purposes and then discovered to have been the world's oldest living organism.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Substitue Memories

I used to work as a substitute teacher sometimes. My favorite thing that would happen is when the teacher would leave a Bill Nye video for us to watch. My other favorite thing was when some gloomy-looking teen would wander into the room and say: "Awww, Shit. We got a sub." Then later say "Ugh. Are you a cool sub?"

I enjoyed few things more than slowly shaking my head in response. In case you don't speak Adolescent Pidgin, the question really means: Can I do whatever the hell I want?

Another nice surprise was when K-12 kids would think I was the coolest person ever. Some would even write me letters or draw me pictures.


Dear A____,

Thank you for your nice letter. I'm glad you liked my jokes. My favorite food is curry. My favorite cake is chocolate with chocolate. My favorite candy is dark chocolate with hot pepper. My favorite pet is also a dog.

I hope you have a good day,
Mr. Brooks