Sun-&-Planet Gears



Sun-&-Planet Gears

Take a reflecting telescope
And point it anywhere up in the sky
And what do you see with your all-seeing eye ?
Cogs and drums and springs and rope,
And the ticking of ellipsoid gears,
By distance squared, by lighted years.

But can you find between the lights
The constant-heavens’ clockwork soul
That’s somewhere in the blackest hole ?
We all are squinting through the sights –
From omega to omicron,
We seek the great automaton.

Alas, as mirrors have got clearer,
So the wheels we saw have blurred
As though the constant tick has slurred.
And just as we were getting nearer,
We misplaced our guiding stars
Amongst the lost canals of Mars.



Welcome Proxima b

proxima b
Proxima Centauri b by Ricardo Ramirez & James Jenkins


Welcome Proxima b

I heard you’d moved into the neighbourhood –
So welcome to the Spiral Arm !
The stars are getting occupied – that’s good.
It stops the gas clouds doing harm.
We’re pretty much a quiet street
Without a noisy supernova –
Just a place for middle-stars to shine.
And if your life-forms get beneath your feet,
Then send them over –
I’m sure they’d simply love to meet with mine !

Have you any moons about the place,
To give a sense of scale ?
I’ve just the one, but that’s alright.
The darkside lacks a little grace,
The seas are rather pale –
But hey, it still looks heavenly at night.
So call me on the long-wave radio,
I’m always in.
I hope that ours is not too loud,
We tend to make a din.
And you are such a quiet thing,
I’d barely know you’re there at all,
So close and yet so small…

So welcome to the Local Zone,
The garden of the Milky Way –
Welcome home, and long to stay !
So glad to find a fellow stone
With whom to play, a friendly face –
It’s good to know I’m not alone
In all this empty space.



Genesis – Chapter 1, Version 2

The Pillers of Creation by NASA


Genesis – Chapter 1, Version 2

In the Beginning there came forth the bursting,
With ev’rything rushing from ev’rything else
And which is still pushing on all things today,
Though no-one can feel this occur.

Then came the clouds that would slowly grow bigger
By drawing in other clouds, adding their bulk,
And the bigger they got, so the stronger they drew –
For all things attract and concur.

Then the clouds shrank, but not in their weight,
Till they’re thicker than stone and they’re thicker than gold –
Their centres grew hotter and started to burn,
And that is how stars were begun.

And in with the stars came there light and came heat,
And those parts of clouds still left over became
The planets that circle them, round and around.
And thus, although later, our Sun.

A ball of great fire, a sibling to stars,
But much, so much closer – with planets with moons
All smaller by far than the Sun at their centre.
And each, not a disc, but a ball.

And the third planet out – why, here lies the Earth !
In its earliest days, so another young planet
Collided, and flung out much debris and rock,
And the Moon was thus formed from it all.

The Earth was still hot, with no water upon –
But one day it started to rain, and to rain,
And to rain, until leaving its surface entire
Now covered by one endless tide.

And the seafloor was cracking up, carving out plates –
Floating around on the runny, deep rock,
Barging around, bringing quakes and volcanoes –
So slow, yet relentless their slide.

This caused for the granite to well from beneath –
Far tougher than seabed, this new kind of rock
Would form up the heart of the massive landmasses
That rose on up out of the sea.

Life in that ocean was also beginning –
So tiny and simple, and so it remained.
But ev’ry new offspring was just slightly diff’rent
And ev’ry slight diff’rence was key.

The better did better, the lesser did less,
The better spawned greater, and so did their young.
So slowly life changed into myriad forms.
Then life got much bigger and complex.

For came there a time when these tiny lone beings
Did better by working together, by losing
Their selfhood – to building a single large creature.
And some gave up budding, for sex.

Some became plants, who could not move themselves –
And some became animals – these ones, they could.
So many animals, so many strategies –
Hard shells and soft shells and backbones and more.

Shellfish were rampant, they’re moment had come.
Many would die out, they did not survive,
While others still thrive – and small is the diff’rence.
They filled all the sea from the waves to the floor

The first on the land were the plants on the beaches,
Spreading thence over the virgin terrain,
And bugs were soon following, creeping and flying,
As coal was creating from dead tree and fern.

The fish had grown out of a wormlike beginning.
Some pulled themselves out of the water with fins,
At first only briefly, then longer and longer,
Until came the time when they didn’t return.

Unlike the insects, these creatures grew larger,
And larger, and larger, and ever more so.
But when the Earth changed, they could not survive it –
Except for the birds, who flew on.

Now came to prominence more fish-descendants,
Who bore their young live and who nursed them with milk –
They filled up the landscape the giants had quitted,
But stones still remain of those gone.

Some were the monkeys, who lived in the trees,
And some had grown larger, and some had come down,
And walked on their hind-legs, and upright, and tall –
These were the humans.  So now you all know.

And all this had taken so many years, many.
More than a thousandfold thousand of lifetimes.
And still it continues today, and tomorrow –
And so days will come, then, and so days will go.

But all that I tell you is not the whole tale.
Parts have been left out that need to be told
Parts to be sought out, to draw back the veil
And parts yet to happen, that wait to unfold.



Eleven Degrees



Eleven Degrees

The 49th Parallel marks out the border
That runs between Washington State and BC –
And up on the 60, in similar order,
There’s Yukon above and below it’s BC.
British Columbia, British Columbia,
More of a pigeon and less of a dove.
As woody as Hampshire, as hilly as Cumbria,
It’s very well named, is British Columbia

Across the Atlantic, Britannia’s beached –
There’s Jersey just north of the 49th line,
And up on the 60, the Shetlands are reached –
The latitude fifties, they’re yours and they’re mine.
British Columbia, British Columbia,
Just as far north – indeed, just as far south –
From Caithness to Cornwall, from Cardiff to Cumbria,
Ev’rything fits inside British Columbia.



The Dark is Shining

time lapse photo of stars on night
Photo by Jakub Novacek on

The Dark is Shining

The sun does not rotate about us,
Yet it always looks that way –
And even when we have the proof,
Our eyes persist with their untruth.
And solid rock, we learn, is suss –
It’s full of holes between the play
Of atoms, widely spaced – so small,
It’s mostly nothing there at all.

Science, sometimes, isn’t what’s observed –
Especially when it’s tiny or immense.
Science shouldn’t be so damned absurd,
And have such little truck with common sense.
Science doesn’t think, of course, on whether it gets heard,
It doesn’t even know it gives offence.
But Science sometimes doesn’t act
The way good Science should –
Like when the certain’s inexact,
And just beyond what’s understood.

But never get to thinking that we always must defy –
Such easy routes to knowledge are the scamjobs of the loafer –
They lazily are citing the above to justify
Their finding spare dimensions down the backside of the sofa.
“If my theories don’t make sense,
It’s cos I’m smart and you are dense.”
More like, I think, the answers lurk
In flailing, stabbing theories cos your sums won’t bloody work.

We cannot use the unknown as a wand
To fill the gaps that loom
Between the atoms and their neighbour’s bond.
These gods are just as empty as the vacuum
They are trying to replace –
We cannot summon laws from empty space.

But once again, we must recall,
That Science doesn’t hold a view –
It simply is, that’s all.
And if we don’t like where it leads us to,
Whose fault is that ?
The Universe is flat, or else a ball ?
One day we’ll know, one day we’ll see
What’s there already, always there,
But doesn’t even care for you and me.

So Science, gorgeous Science, thrusting Science –
Never let us go !
For you shall not deter with Quantum,
All your challenges, we want ’em.
Long you taunt us with defiance
Yet one day, we’ll know –
The random chance that engineers
The cam upon the cosmic gears,
And how your unseen matter matters more than it appears.
A universe of precious things
Revolves, vibrates, adheres –
And quarks may yet be full of pulsing strings
On which you softly play and play the music of the spheres.

Equant & Deferent

A reproduction of a 1300s razor by Tod Cutler

Equant & Deferent

The ancient Greeks were pretty clever,
Worked out that the Earth was round
From shadows cast by poles at noon
And by the earth upon the Moon,
And how the sky was put together
Just from watching from the ground,
And some who guessed a central Sun
About which all the planets run.

But then along came Aristotle,
Then along came Ptolemy –
And they alone would set the tone
Till their mistakes were set in stone.
The hand is dead, but still can throttle,
Piously and solemnly,
Of any thought that might get out –
So hush the whisper, choke the doubt.

But still, but still,
The more we looked, the more we saw –
The though the heavens mostly draw
Upon the Ptolemaic law,
They sometimes would exert their will
That rubbed enquiring watchers raw.

You see, the ancient Greeks well knew
That crystal dome and ev’ry gem
That all the night, without a rest,
Would wheel above from East to West.
And like the stars, the planets, too –
Though slower, losing ground on them.
Except…well, that’s where trouble lies,
With yearly yet unruly skies.

Because they each would switch their motion,
With the stars, and overtaking !
Week by week, the Greeks would trace
The way the planets dance and race.
So Ptolemy proposed a notion,
Saved the universe from breaking –
Sure it was all fudge and spin,
But epicyles for the win !

But here’s the thing –
For all its complex shells and reels,
For all its windmills within wheels,
It somehow kinda always deals
With accurate positioning,
As though the sums would guide their heels.

So if the Greeks were badly off,
Well, spare that scoff – they did their best
With nothing but a pair of eyes
To theorise what they can’t test.
But did they ever pinch their gaze
And mutter at the tangled ways
In which the heavens spend their days ?
Did even Ptolemy have doubt
And long to hack the deadwood out ?

The Romans, though they changed the names
(So Krios now Aries, and Ares now Mars),
They kept the skies just as before,
For fourteen hundred years or more.
And though the planets’ little games
Were thought as written in the stars –
A monk proposed a new appraiser,
Slashing bunkum with his razor.

Simple answers, they’re what matter !
Less is more than meets the eye –
If two proposals have to fight,
The simplest one is often right.
And all those epicycles clatter
With a clean, efficient sky –
Forget the Church and ancient stuff,
Copernicus has had enough !

And yet, and yet,
Despite his perfect circles round
His central sun, we quickly found
Like Ptolemy’s, they ran aground,
Till Kepler and ellipses met –
And suddenly, the maths was sound.

Truth be told, Copernicus
Had little proof on which to base
His unbound Earth and steadfast Sun –
In faith alone, his planets spun.
But still the world must turn, and thus,
Young Galileo took his place –
Perhaps with fewer facts than hope,
But this time with a telescope.

And in the eyepiece, clear as night,
The moons of Jupiter were seen –
As though the planet gave them birth –
And not in orbit round the Earth !
And better yet, the startling sight
Of Venus phasing inbetween
A smaller full and larger new –
And then the revolution flew !

So here’s the thing –
With claims of modern matter dark,
And energy with unseen spark –
Has it the proof of string and quark ?
Or do they chase around a ring
To make the model fit the mark ?

And like Copernicus, they could be right,
Despite a lack of evidence.
Or like old Ptolemy, they could be wrong,
Yet strong in their defence –
His theory held up, truth to tell,
In matching observations well –
But oh, it was a complex hell !
So scientists, and heaven-gazers,
Never lose your sharpest razors !


H-R original
Henry Russell’s first published plot from 1913.  (It was later discovered that Ejnar Hertzsprung has published something similar in 1911, hence the shared credit.)



Doctor Hertzsprung, Doctor Russell,
Why is your diagram such a tussle ?
Why is you axis the wrong way round,
Higher to lower, bluer to redder ?
Does it reveal some secret profound,
Hotter to cooler, younger to deader ?
Your sweeping main sequence is mirrored about,
Your plots may be right, but your graph’s up the spout.



Actually, I’m being a little unfair here.  The original plot was absolute magnitude (aka luminosity) on the y-axis, and the peak wavelength of light on the x (or ‘spectral type’).  Since high-energy blue light has many more waves in the same distance as lower-energy red light, so the length between peaks in red light is longer, and thus a higher number.  (Incidentally, Omicron2 Eriadne B was the first white dwarf discovered in 1910.)

When it was later realised that the wavelengths directly related to surface tempurature, the latter was substituted, but now the numbers were going down instead of up, and nobody bothered to flip it.  But thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to rustle up the following:



H-R Diagram - corrected