Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.


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Around 9pm on 9 February 1913, the Great Meteor Procession. For several minutes a series of meteors streaked across the sky from Canada to the South Atlantic, crossing the US northeast. Unfortunately it was cloudy in the US northeast that night. So most of the witnesses were in Canada or on Atlantic ships. There have been other meteor processions in recorded history, so an unusual but not unique event. Most of us will never see one. It’s believed that this was a decent sized chunk of rock hitting Earth’s atmosphere at an angular sweet spot so to speak. A nice low angle so it slowly entered the atmosphere over thousands of miles and disintegrated as it descended. Some even could hear thunder like sounds as they passed, which due to the speed of sound shouldn’t have been possible. A topic for another day.

Sadly this was before the era of modern satellites and cameras, so all we have are eye witness accounts, such as the painting above. Some people got really excited obviously, but radio broadcasts were decades away, so no widespread anything. Most people would have been unaware of the procession until days or weeks afterwards. And while science can’t definitively explain the procession, there isn’t anything scientifically puzzling about it. Except for one thing. A small number of witnesses reported a second smaller meteor procession in the same location about 5 hours later. The Earth moves a long way through space in five hours, and it makes no sense that this second event was part of the first procession. Yet another procession in the same location as the first hours later would be astronomically unlikely. Say like flipping a coin and having it land on its edge twice in a row.

A FRB that repeats has been found, deepening the mystery of FRBs. discovered in 2007, FRBs, Fast Radio Bursts are incredibly powerful bursts of radio energy detected from across the Universe. Very few have been detected to date, their rarity and non repeating nature makes them tricky to study. Now we have one that goes through a regular cycle every sixteen days. So, woohoo, easier to study! And, crap, the best theories about FRBs posit they were created by cataclysmic events such as colliding stars. Back to the drawing board. Two quick notes, some sloppy reporting says this latest FRB is near Earth. It’s half a freaking billion light years away, so it’s near Earth only in a cosmic sense. Worse, some clickbait reporting implies the radio bursts are directed at Earth, implying the possibility of aliens. No, they are no more directed at us that if one sees a car a dozen miles away at night on a winding road occasionally brighten because the headlights were briefly pointed in your direction. And there is zero scientific speculation that FRBs are artificial. Unexplained doesn’t mean aliens did it.

Well, comet 2I/Borisov is not getting as much press as I expected. Probably because it’s not doing anything that can be spun as “I’m not saying it was aliens, but it’s aliens.” Comet Borisov is the second known interstellar object humans have observed passing through the Solar System, the first being asteroid like Oumuamua in 2017. Oumuamua had some odd characteristics never seen in an asteroid before, though nothing to indicate it was artificial. Borisov falls within the typical range of Solar System comets, the only thing out of the ordinary about it so far is its orbit. Which clearly places it as an interstellar interloper, it will pass through the Solar System once, never to return.

Alas, even though scientists spotted Borisov coming, unlike Oumuamua which was spotted only after it was on its way back into interstellar space, getting a probe to Borisov would be even more difficult than intercepting Oumuamua. So probes to either are highly unlikely at this point. Hopefully a future interstellar visitor will be spotted early enough and in a favorable trajectory, so that it could be visited by a probe. Being able to examine an interstellar object up close would be an astronomer’s dream, since it’s unlikely humans will be launching interstellar probes anytime soon. It’s safe to say that plans are being drawn up for just this sort of interception.

NASA is now planning to return humans to the Moon by 2024. In fact they plan to send the first woman to the Moon as well. In the early seventies, when only men were sent into orbit, it was still a man’s world in ways that are likely surprising to young people today. I’m glad NASA is returning to the Moon, hopefully there will be no tragedies because of the rush to get there while a certain politician is still in office. Trump is all about funding science if it will stroke his need for accomplishments, other science, he doesn’t want to know. So much more making America great again when it comes to science.

Sigh. Hope everyone is having a good week. Shares and comments appreciated.

Copyright © 2020 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Painting of the Great Meteor Procession of 1913 as seen from Toronto, Canada. Credit: Gustav Hahn. Public Domain under Canadian Copyright Law.)

Written by unitedcats

February 12, 2020 at 1:50 pm

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