Monday, April 13, 2015

our singular satellite



Some years ago I read a story about a man who was trying to sell a movie idea proposing that if you wanted to meet real aliens all you had to do was to go to a part of the world where a full eclipse of the sun was about to occur and look around for odd creatures. Perhaps there'd be one or two peculiar beings wearing long coats and breathing apparatus or you might notice some strange sealed vehicles. You see the idea the man had was that solar eclipses seen from Earth may be one of the wonders of the universe and there could very well be tourists from distant places who come to witness them.

Have you ever wondered how marvelous total eclipses are?


It is a very strange quirk of fate indeed that the disc of the Moon should seem, from an Earthly perspective, to be exactly the same size as the Sun. While we take it for granted that the two main bodies seen in Earth's skies look the same size, it is actually something of a miracle. Most people are fully aware that the Moon is tiny compared to the Sun but that it is much, much closer to us causing them to appear equal in size. To be precise the Moon is 400 times smaller than the star at the center of our solar system, yet it is also just one 400th of the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

The odds against this optical illusion happening at all are simply huge - but how bizarre that both values are the same, perfectly round number. Isaac Asimov once described this perfect visual alignment as being:

"The most unlikely coincidence imaginable".


Even more amazing is the fact the Moon also manages to very precisely imitate the perceived annual movements of the Sun each month. The full Moon is at its highest and brightest at midwinter, mirroring the Sun at midsummer and at lowest and weakest at midsummer when the Sun is at its highest and brightest.

Life is strange. I'll check outside again to see if there's an alien waiting for the moon to rise. Maybe the snow will be gone.

32 comments:

  1. Plus, it's a cool word: Syzygy.......

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  2. When I saw the words "singular satellite," I immediately thought of the moon. And, the eclipse. Then among other things, the moon's ability to influence our ocean tides. Then, Bonnie Tyler singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart." (See: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x21do2_bonnie-tyler-total-eclipse-of-the-h_music)

    You see how a Bear's wind manders when first out of hibernation? Can be a bit difficult — for me, and others.

    Blessings and Bear hugs,susan! Regards to Crow (who I trust got an excellent view of the eclipse).

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    1. Nice song, Rob. Yes, there are a few who think the moon's tidal effect might go further than the seas.

      I hope you're enjoying your first days out. Crow sends regards and the news he did enjoy the eclipse.

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  3. The moon inspires a lot of musings, as do eclipses. I like to imagine myself living thousands of years ago and feel the wonder and fears, especially of eclipses, and all the mysteries of this world.

    You still have snow!?! Oh dear, dear. Sending you spring!

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    1. I like to imagine such things too, Marja-Leena. I have a feeling much of what was felt was sheer awe and reverence. What could have happened to us as a species since then?

      Yes, we do still have quite a lot of snow. Hopefully, it will be gone by May :)

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  4. I hate to point this out, but the distance of the Moon from the Earth is steadily increasing. At one time it was closer and was thus larger than the apparent size of the sun. At some point in the future there will be noticeable annular eclipses. Today's total eclipses are therefore a step on a journey. That is not say that we do not live in a time of uniqueness vis-a-vis the sun/moon, and their beauty must be enjoyed while they may be seen.

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    1. Hi Tom. Yes, I know it's gradually heading away from Earth, but I wonder where it started from?

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    2. I believe there was a report issued recently that indicated some of the material in the moon is not of Earth origin. If true, it supposes that there maybe something in the idea that the moon was formed from, or is otherwise related to, some other body in the rest of the solar system, pulled out of orbit and which collided with the Earth. This does not answer your your query as to its origin, but hopefully one day your query will be answered.

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    3. "Hi Tom. Yes, I know it's gradually heading away from Earth, but I wonder where it started from?"

      Eh... A bit closer.

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    4. It seems nobody knows for sure where the moon started from, but there are a number of fascinating theories. It's also very big compared to the other moons in the solar system and has been slowing down earth's rotation continually. Is it possible our day was once only 2 or 3 hours long? Will we eventually have 50 hour days and, if so, how will that affect our weekends?

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    5. I suggest you have no need to worry about these prospects too much Susan, interesting though they are. If you don't understand why not I'd prefer not to be the first person to explain.

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    6. You mean I don't have to worry about the Sun turning into a red giant in 5bn years or what to do when the Universe's clock rewinds? That's a great relief.

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    7. But you still worry about it, sometimes. Don't you?

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    8. Anyway when the universe's clock rewinds clearly all you need to do is start running backwards and growing younger everyday, although worrying about when you will shrivel up and be stuffed traumaticall into a waiting womb... There's always something to spoil the day. What will happen on the toilet and at the dining table might not be too much fun either (but perhaps I have misunderstood how it will all work).

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    9. I think I'll leave ruminations about the distant future to whatever intelligent species follows after we're long gone.. likely some distant relation to Crow. As he said one recent evening (after imbibing a significant quantity of Remy Martin): "The Big Bang and the Big Crunch may prove to be just another figment of man's inadequate imagination and tendency to dogma."

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    10. Ah yes, my friend Aileen did refer rather dismissively to the start and end of our dimensions as The Pointless Pop and The Final Fart... which made me feel rather diminished.

      (Sorry about the changing personna.... just depends who I am logged in as, being a multidemensional chap).

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    11. One thing our more exotic friends are good for is keeping our feet on the ground no matter where our heads are pointed :)

      Interdimensional or multidimensional, I always seem to recognize you.

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  5. Very tired here. Just left a comment that may need approval first. I just cannot tell. Suffice to say that I enjoyed this post and am thinking of you!

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    1. Sorry you lost what you wrote before, Lydia. I have no blocks on comments.

      Glad you liked this and I hope you're well and happy :)

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  6. Eclipses are, indeed, sources of joy, wonder and awe. Enjoying your posts. So sorry about your lingering snow, hiding spring beneath.

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    1. I've seen several eclipses of the moon (which are also very cool) but only one of the sun once (which I had to look at on a piece of paper).

      I'm glad to know you come by, Martha. Spring is definitely late here this year.

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  7. The ones that look much as we do are among us (although often dressed slightly strangely).

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    1. You mean 1970s lounge suits? Nothing strange about that.

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  8. My friend Aileen the Alien reports that she always nips down for a total eclipse, but just as it goes very very dark, so nobody notices.

    She aint stoopid.

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    1. It's generally wise to avoid the limelight.

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  9. Hi Susan
    Fancy that! Yes it’s simply amazing isn’t it the degree of symmetry that exists and who knows maybe planet earth, in its early fiery beginning stole one moon which once was temporary attached to Venus? But I also think it’s amazing to note it’s only because of the earth’s orbital axis tilt of 23.50 degrees around the sun that makes possible the Northern and Southern hemisphere light patterns. The silvery moon's axis tilt is only 1.5 degrees, hence it has more or less constant unchanging sunshine or shadows by region.
    Here is my attempt to compose a little poem to celebrate your interest in the singular satellite and all related interesting matters that are commented upon.

    Form, of mystery, light spread out from sing-ul-ar-ity
    A form, continues, with each breath, symbol of our life as yet
    So, let us know no more, that we may know the splendour
    Of the light filled, ONE agenda
    Form of ONE, itself to know
    Form of two, a desire of ONE
    Form of memory, and the ONE it knows
    The ONE true Light of Love
    Best wishes

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    1. Thanks so much for your truly beautiful poem, Lindsay. Reading it brought a smile to my lips and a great sense of peace to my heart.

      Those facts about the moon you mention are just a few of some very amazing coincidences that allow for life on Earth. One by one none of them are so very surprising but taken all together they are quite extraordinary. The VanAllen Belt protects us from solar radiation; our atmosphere is just the right density to maintain the presence of liquid, solid and gaseous water necessary to life; the tectonic processes recycle minerals and nutrients; Jupiter is just the right distance to sweep most possible impactors away from Earth. It's all quite wondrous, isn't it?

      All best wishes

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  10. Ah. It's to good to visit here. It is always an irritation to me when the weather will not permit the viewing of heavenly activities. That and sleep.

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    1. It's always good to see you too. I think people should be made to lie in the grass and look at the sky for at least half an hour every day. Talk about a good way of gaining perspective, eh?

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  11. its amazing to watch the eclipse, it was a bit cloudy here but got a good look inbetween clouds as it was windy too.

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    1. I'm really glad you got to see it, Claire. A rare treat.

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