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Thoughts on the eclipse

This past Monday I witnessed, as expected, a total eclipse of the Sun.

I didn’t even have to travel—I watched from a chair on my front lawn.  The town I live in (Sylva, NC) was in the path of the totality.  The weather was perfect, and I was lucky enough to witness a literally once-in-a-lifetime event.

Here’s a picture taken by a friend and fellow physicist, Dr. Louis Keiner of Coastal Carolina University:

louis eclipse.jpg

So what did I learn?

  • The world around me wasn’t as dark as I expected. Turn’s out, there not much difference between normal sunshine and a 50%-covered sunshine.  Both are blindingly bright.  You couldn’t even really tell anything was changing until maybe 15 minutes before totality happened.  Eventually things did get darker, and it happened very fast.  Right at totality it looked like sundown, and sunrise. Simultaneously.  It was glowing purple in the east, and glowing purple in the west.

 

  • It was smaller than you’d think. Most people don’t realize how small the Sun and/or Moon look in the sky.  To get an idea, hold your hand at arm’s length.  Look at the fingernail on your pinky finger.  That’s how big the Sun and Moon are in the sky: they subtend that much angle, and only that much.  Don’t believe me?  Try it next full moon.  Movies and TV shows vastly exaggerate how big the Sun and Moon appear.

 

  • As totality approached, the light got strange.   Normally, at dusk, the light fades away into reds and oranges.  But not this time: the light diminished, getting dimmer and dimmer, but stayed a warm yellow.  If you didn’t know an eclipse was approaching you might think instead some weird weather event was about to happen.

 

  • The totality was weird. It looked like a portal to Mordor had opened up, a gate to Hell, an angry black hole in the sky, a dimensional rift into another plane.  Imagine a perfectly round black hole of nothingness surrounded by tendrils of electric blue-white flames.  It didn’t look real.  It looked like fake CGI in the sky.  It looked exactly like Dr. Keiner’s picture, above.

 

  • I didn’t feel anything but awe. I didn’t feel connected to the universe, or to science, or to humanity, or to history.  The only emotion I felt was holy fucking shit.

 

  • The hype was worth it. It was incredible.  If you ever have a chance to see a total solar eclipse, jump at the opportunity.  You won’t be disappointed.  Unless, of course, it rains, which happened to some people I know.  Oops.  I guess, if it rains, there’s always this:

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(Lyrics by Pink Floyd, centered and in italics)

On the day of the eclipse, I will see the dark side of the moon.  And it won’t look like anything at all.

Of course there is no “dark side” of the moon, not really.  The moon is in synchronous rotation with the Earth; the same side of the moon is always facing the Earth, no matter where the sun is.  There is no “light side” or “dark side” since all of the moon gets sunlight equally over the course of its orbit.

There is only a side we can see, and a side we cannot see.

eclipse.jpg

On the day of the eclipse I will see the same side of the moon that I always see.  And it will be dark.  Darker than any black I’ve ever experienced.

Breathe, breathe in the air. 
Don’t be afraid to care.
Leave but don’t leave me.
Look around and choose your own ground. 

I’ll need to choose my ground carefully.  I need a good view of the sun at around 2:36 in the afternoon.  I’m just North of 35 degrees latitude, so the sun will be south by southwest.  And the sunlight will gradually leave.

Don’t leave me.

Long you live and high you fly 
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be.

Will I cry?

Will I smile?

Will the air be charged with expectation?  Will the thousands of people gathered here that day be excited, or bored, or both?  I cannot touch the sun.  But I can see the sun.  And seeing an eclipse may mark my life, like a bookmark in a sprawling novel.  Or maybe not.

Please smile.

Please cry.

Run, rabbit run.
Dig that hole, forget the sun,
And when at last the work is done
Don’t sit down it’s time to dig another one.

Don’t dig a hole: come out into the sun.  For the sun is going away—and soon you’ll be digging holes all over again.


For long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
And balanced on the biggest wave
You race towards an early grave.

I’m not likely to see such a spectacle ever again.

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.

I’m tired of the sunshine.  I want to see the sun blotted out.  I’m 49 years old, but in my own mind I’m 29, and it’s not 10 years that have got behind me, but 20.  What will I see, when the light fades away?  Finally, finally, the moon and sun line up, I hear the starting gun, and the race of the rest of my life is on.

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

Fuck that.  If I’m shorter of breath, it’s because I’m winded from the exhilarating ride.

Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time. 
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines 
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way 
The time is gone, the song is over, 
Thought I’d something more to say.

What is the point of this essay?  Do I even have a point?  At least I have more than half a page—I’ve several pages of scribbled lines.  I should be working or heading home.

Home, home again. 
I like to be here when I can. 
When I come home cold and tired 
It’s good to warm my bones beside the fire.

I hear that the temperature may drop by as much as 28 degrees Fahrenheit during the eclipse.  No nuclear fire to warm the bones, you see.

Far away across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spells.

I suspect the flat-Earthers are pissed at this whole eclipse thing.  Using simple physics equations, based on Newton’s law of gravitation among other things, we can predict eclipses hundreds of years into the future.  (Beyond that, things get chaotic.)  But what can flat-Earthers predict?  Squat.  They have no unifying theory…only a claim (the flat Earth!) and dozens of ad hoc assertions to support their shitty claim.  They are faithful, like the anti-vaxxers, like the anti-climate change folks, the anti-science morons, and they’re all on their knees, praying, worshipping magic and woo while the real scientists continue bringing Stone Age hominids into the 21st century.

Us, and them 
And after all we’re only ordinary men. 

Fuck them.  Fuck the anti-science crowd.

Black and blue
And who knows which is which and who is who.
Up and down.
But in the end it’s only round and round.

The world will go black.  The sky may be indigo.  Twilight, in the afternoon, for a minute and a half.  Black, and blue, and thousands of strangers around me.

The lunatic is on the grass. 
The lunatic is on the grass.
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.
Got to keep the loonies on the path. 

I think I’ll bring a lawn chair to watch the eclipse.  Put it somewhere on the grass in the middle of campus.  Maybe I’ll put the chair up on that hill, if there’s room.

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon 
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

That’s it!  I’ll be looking at the dark side, the side I always see, and it won’t look like anything except everything.  A shared experience.  Thousands of people, friends, strangers, students, faculty, people I know and people I’ll never know, all looking heavenward, seeing heaven or seeing just the universe, it doesn’t matter, sharing an experience of having a constant in their lives (the sun) disappearing for a minute and a half, reminding us that we are on a planet, a smallish planet, hurtling through space at 60,000 mph, and only through a quirk of fate is our satellite the right size to just barely blot out the light—

You don’t know the power of the dark side.

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear 
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

I’m planning on playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon just before totality.  I’d like to time it so that when the words “the sun is eclipsed by the moon” ring out, the totality begins.

All that you touch 
All that you see 
All that you taste 
All you feel. 
All that you love 
All that you hate 
All you distrust 
All you save. 
All that you give 
All that you deal 
All that you buy, 
beg, borrow or steal. 
All you create 
All you destroy 
All that you do 
All that you say. 
All that you eat 
And everyone you meet 
All that you slight 
And everyone you fight. 
All that is now 
All that is gone 
All that’s to come 
and everything under the sun is in tune 
but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Here’s a meme stolen borrowed from a young-Earth creationist:

tennis ball.jpg

First of all, why are so many creationists these days becoming flat-Earthers?

But secondly, does this meme even make sense to you?  I can understand (sort of) the confusion that a spinning tennis ball might bring: water is flung off the ball, rather easily, so why isn’t ocean water flung off the earth?  That’s a valid physics question.  But what in the name of Odin does this have to do with gravity?

Let’s do the physics.  Suppose there’s 0.25 kg of water on the ball to begin with (corresponding to roughly ½ cup).  The radius of a tennis ball is about 6.0 cm = 0.06 m.  The rotation rate of a served tennis ball is typically around 2200 rpm = 230 rad/s.  Therefore the linear velocity on the ball’s surface is v = ωr = 230 (0.06) = 13.8 m/s.  So the force needed to keep the water on the ball (i.e. to make it move in a circle contrary to Newton’s 1st Law) is F = mv2/r = 0.25 (13.8)2 / 0.06 = 794 N, which is about 178 pounds of force.  It’s not surprising the water is flung off: what force is there that could possibly do the trick?  The water would have to be “stuck” to the ball with a force of at least 794 N in order to stay in place.  (Gravity won’t do: the force of gravity between ½ cup of water and a tennis ball is easily found to be 2.7 x 10–10 N, which is basically zero.)

OK, so what about water on the Earth?  The Earth is spinning, too.  Shouldn’t any water on the Earth’s surface be flung off?

Suppose I have half a cup of water on my desk.  Its mass is the same as in the previous example, but the radius of its motion is much bigger: 6,370,000 m, the radius of the Earth.  (I’m assuming for simplicity’s sake that I’m at the equator.)  Now, the half cup of water’s rotation rate is 1 revolution every 24 hours, or a rotational velocity of ω = 7.27 x 10–5 rad/s.  Even though this is pretty small, we still get a fairly large v = ωr = 463 m/s.  That’s your (linear) velocity at the equator, and it’s pretty big.  So far, it still seems plausible that water might be flung off.

But wait:  how much force is needed to prevent this?  Well, F = mv2/r = 0.25 (463)2 / 6,370,000 = 0.008 N, corresponding to the weight of less than a gram of mass.  Therefore, to not be flung off the Earth, a half cup of water needs only 0.008 N of force to be held in place.  Even without gravity, a tiny dab of scotch tape would be sufficient.  But there is gravity.  And in fact, gravity supplies a force of F = mg = .25 (9.8) = 2.45 N, or more than half a pound.

Seeing water flung off a tennis ball, it’s natural to wonder why water doesn’t get flung off a spinning Earth.  After all, we’re all moving pretty darn fast on this ride.  But the Earth’s radius is huge, so the force of gravity is more than adequate to keep things in place.  The fact that water is not flung off doesn’t mean gravity is a hoax, it means gravity is doing its fucking job.  The cure for this flat Earth bullshit is to take a basic physics class.

You fucking morons.

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Image resultLeBron James will sign with the Golden State Warriors, “sources” hinted at Tuesday.

“This will be a new chapter in the legend that is my life,” James is alleged to have maybe said.  He announced his intentions in an unsubstantiated tweet at 12:02 AM Tuesday, just minutes after his Cleveland Cavaliers fell to the Warriors in the NBA finals.

The tweet said, “Joining the bandwagon!  I need another ring!!!”

James is expected to sign a one-year, $177 million dollar contract.  When asked if Golden State could possibly afford such an amount, James shrugged and said, “Maybe they’ll cut Patrick McCaw or something.”

James said he was switching teams for “personal growth” reasons:  “I need to go in a new direction,” James wrote in an alleged email to someone.  “I need an opportunity to expand my horizons.  And the only way for me to grow as a human being is to have another giant ring on my finger.  Three just isn’t enough.”

James thanked Cleveland in an off-hand way.  “I’m glad to have played here in Toledo, um, I mean, Cleveland.  Or wherever it is that I am.  But I’d love to move to Golden State…that’s in Wyoming, right?”

James will join Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, who already play for the Warriors, along with Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Isaiah Thomas, and James Harden, who are all expected to sign with the Warriors soon.

“We all need rings,” James said.  “That’s the only thing that’s important.”

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Here’s another Oulipo poem for you.  Can you determine its unusual construction?

Come eat!

There is hay.

Net says, “red dice”;

Dude hesitate, kills mate.

He pagan, I paid.

Without sin, leer to read!

Image result for tower of babel

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Here’s a new kind of art.  The artist (me?) writes a set of instructions for the reader to follow.  Then, to “experience” the art, the reader has to follow the instructions explicitly.  No fair cheating: you can’t really appreciate the artist’s “vision” unless you go all-in and do whatever the instructions say.

I hereby stipulate a few house rules.  I won’t ask anyone to do anything illegal (don’t want any lawsuits, here!).  I’ll also never ask you to harm yourself or others.  Finally, I will try to make these “poems” within reach of the average person…most can be experienced without any undo tribulations.

So here goes:

In Springtime

  1. Before dawn, hike by yourself to a suitable place to watch the sunrise.
  2. About five minutes before the sun crests the horizon, begin listening to Siegfried’s Funeral Music from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung.
  3. Listen to the music in its entirety.
  4. Count how many wild flowers you pass on the hike back home.

Image result for sunrise mountains

Adversity

  1. Wait for a moderately rainy day.
  2. Stand outside in the rain for ten minutes.
  3. Come back inside, change into dry clothes, and have a glass of pomegranate juice.
  4. Slap yourself gently across the face, and laugh, as I am laughing now.

Image result for rainy day

On Nature

  1. With pencil and paper, compose a haiku on the theme of nature’s beauty.
  2. Burn the haiku with flame drawn from a wooden match.
  3. With pencil and paper, compose a haiku on the theme of nature’s indifference.

Image result for chinese painting

The Human Condition

  1. At the grocery store, try to spend exactly five dollars, including tax, on things you don’t really need.
  2. At the register, note how many cents away from five dollars you were.
  3. Multiply this number by 100. For example, if you paid $4.83, you were $0.17 off, so multiplied by 100 this becomes $17.00.
  4. Go online and donate this amount to a charity of your choice.
  5. Enjoy your approximately five dollars’ worth of junk.

Image result for dali tuna fishing

Unrequited Love

  1. Go outside and wait until you see and can identify a wild bird.
  2. Go to Wikipedia and learn something new about this kind of bird—something you didn’t know before.
  3. Share this newfound knowledge with someone you love.
  4. Also share this quote: “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.”
  5. Refrain from explaining yourself.

Image result for cedar waxwing

Wake Up

  1. Play a musical instrument for five minutes. If you don’t play a musical instrument, then sing a song instead.
  2. Stop playing or singing, even if the music isn’t over.
  3. The music’s over.
  4. Crack you knuckles and close your eyes.
  5. Think of this: there are as many stars in the universe, as grains of sand on Earth.
  6. Open your eyes.
  7. Now open your eyes.

Image result for milky way galaxy

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Let’s watch a clip from the movie Superman II, which I saw in the theater in 1980:

Great acting, right?

From the time (Δt) that the kid is in the air, we can determine how high Niagara Falls (ostensibly) is.  I get Δt = 27 s, so the height of Niagara Falls is given by

H = ½ a Δt2 = ½ (9.8) 272 = 3572 m.

Wow!  That’s big…more than 3.5 km.  That’s over two miles high!

(It’s actually higher than this, if we notice that Superman didn’t even catch the kid at the very bottom.)

In point of fact Niagara Falls is 51 m high.  Only half a football field.  In the real world, it would take the kid (neglecting air resistance) all of 3.2 seconds to hit the rocks below.  Superman has no time to change his costume; Lois has no time to scream for help.  3.2 seconds, then splat.

Let’s ponder the magnitude of the error the filmmakers made here.

MOVIE: 3572 m

REALITY: 51 m

This is a 7000% error.  That has to be some sort of record.

To put it into perspective, it would be like listing Shaquille O’Neal’s height as 165 yards, instead of 7’1″.  This is fun!  In the world of Superman II, Oslo has a population of 43 million, Gone With the Wind has a running time of almost 12 days, the moon is almost as massive as the Earth, and the average cat weighs 630 lbs.

The movie supposedly grossed $190,000,000.  We now know, however, that (given the 7000% inflation trend in Superman II) the move only grossed $2,700,000.

This makes Superman II the greatest flop of all time.  For some reason, though, when I saw it around my 12th birthday, I liked it.  Maybe that’s because it was really my 840th birthday?

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