Still making the best of the lockdown: trolling through old writing, purging much, digitizing a little, basically eliminating reams of stuff. Deathless prose it isn’t. First attempts at morphing from an engineer (classical-Roman-right brain) to a writer (romantic-Greek-left brain). (Note: right brain/left brain is pretty flaky science, but you know what I mean.)

Starting in 1987, for a decade, I wrote a self-syndicated astronomy column dubbed StarWatch. And here it all is, word-processed on an original (January 24, 1984) Mac, with what we used to call a “program” back then, MacWrite. Saved to 400K floppies. Printed out in dot matrix. Heart, be still.

Some of what I wrote then still resonates. Some excerpts:

  • The area of Mars is about the same as the land area of Earth.
  • NASA said they could go to Mars for $400 billion. (At the very first “Mars Conference,” the president of the Mars Society, Bob Zubrin, claimed he could do it for $40 billion, by synthesizing rocket fuel on Mars. Another Marsophile (and personal hero) Chris McKay (of NASA Ames) interjected, “Another order of magnitude and we’ve got it!”)
  • As the sun synthesizes hydrogen into helium (nature’s fusion reaction), it emits as much energy in a second as 13 million times the annual energy consumption of the US.
  • Iron has the most stable nucleus of any element, meaning that the synthesis of heavier elements—copper, nickel, silver, gold, etc.—can only occur during the few cataclysmic minutes during the supernova death of a star.
  • Light from Antares, the bright orange star in Scorpius (low in the south in summer), left the star when Columbus was rediscovering America.
  • …while light from the farthest naked-eye object, the Andromeda galaxy (M31), left while our ancestors were first figuring out stone tools, 2.5 million years ago.
  • The sun appears to pass through 13 constellations each year: 12 are the familiar zodiac, while the 13th, Ophiuchus, is skipped. If you were born in early December, you could claim your sun-sign as Ophiuchus. (Of course, everything has gotten out of whack since the Chaldeans codified astronomy. The sun was firmly in Leo when I was born September 6.)
  • “I could more easily believe that two Yankee professors would lie than that stones would fall from heaven,” scoffed Thomas Jefferson in 1807. Meteorites regularly do fall, of course. One — probably from Mars — killed a dog in Nakhla, Egypt on June 28, 1911.

The notorious Allan Hills (Antarctica) meteorite that some researchers claimed, in 1996, to harbor evidence of fossilized life on Mars. Some still do. (NASA)

  • Vulcan, Roman god of fire, gave us: the word “volcano”; vulcanized rubber (by the addition of sulfur); Mr. Spock; and the answer to, “Why does the elliptical orbit of Mercury swing (precess) around the sun?” (French astronomer Urbain Leverrier wrongly invoked a new planet, Vulcan, in orbit between Mercury and the sun. The actual answer was Einstein’s General Relativity.)
  • The flags of Pakistan, Tunisia and Mauritania impossibly show a star between the horns of a crescent moon.

The flag of Pakistan has a star located in the shadowed part of the moon.

  • Listen carefully to the very end of the 1973 Pink Floyd LP (!) and you’ll learn, “There is no dark side of the moon.”

In 2005, Clare Torry (voice on The Great Gig in the Sky) finally received songwriting credits and more than the £30 she got in 1973 for her contribution. (Easy Star/Creative Commons)