Halloween falls as the clocks fall back, When once more twelve is the mid of the night – The dark comes early, and properly black, For who’s afraid when the twilight’s bright ? Gloom and confusion become our friends To let the pumpkins glow so clear. Halloween falls when Summertime ends, When once more Winter’s the heart of the year.
So once again the world continues its Great War cosplay of tinkering with the time to appease a couple of farmers and the zombie lurch of tradition.
Do I believe in aliens ? Statistic’ly, I should. There’s far too many worlds out there, There’s galaxy enough to share. There surely must be aliens To make the Drake come good, But when we look to get a sight We’re blinded by the speed of light.
The sky is full of aliens, Because the sky’s immense – And yet, for all we seek those boys, We lose their voices in the noise. No, not a shred of aliens To make our odds make sense – We chase their ghost, we haunt their wraith, Yet all we have is maths and faith.
Hold this poem at arm’s length, And peer right through its O’s. Even the ones in lower case Contain an awful lot of space – But just how large is small , do you suppose ? Good try, but a little under-strength – Your guess is a tenth of a tenth of a tenth.
Within that ringlet, give or take, Between the billion nitrogens, Are photons – streaming on a breeze From fifty thousand galaxies, Upon a thoughtful mind or friendly lens – As through the page, within its wake, The universe is on the make.
The stars only show up When we open up our eyes, With our pupils set on f-2 To maximise the skies. With focus to infinity To catch the light-years light And fast-films for retinas To turn the blackness bright. Our long-exposure eyelids Are timed to lift their veil – Thirty seconds is enough, Or else the stars will trail. And then our nerves develop it With not a blur nor wrinkle – It’s just a little grainy As the pinpoints gently twinkle.
Bellatrix – a blue-ish pixel, Fairly bright, as bright stars go. Drifting lonely through Orion – Closer than her neighbours, though. That means she must be smaller – And she’s just too small to go off pop – Strange that seven solar-masses Makes her baby of the crop. Was she born, like many of her cohorts, In Orion’s cloud ? Maybe not – perhaps adopted, Hanging with the big boys’ crowd. But they’ll grow tall and all be gone one day, While she’s a quieter kind – She may turn red, but end up white, Forever left behind.
If we take a look at the vital statistics (according to Wikipedia, and I’ve rounded them off a bit) of the eight brightest stars in Orion, they are (by descending declination):
Meissa – (rhymes with ‘nicer’) – a double star: A is ≈28 solar masses, B is ≈10 solar masses.
Betelgeuse – (‘BEETLE-juice’. Yes, that’s right, that’s precisely how most people say it, because how can we not !) – ≈16-19 solar masses, depending on how far away he is, which is surprisingly hard to determine. (Surprisingly, according to the OED this name has only been in use in English since 1796.)
Bellatrix – (‘BELL-a-tricks’, just as you’d expect) – there seems to be some confusion as apparently Bellatrix is older that a star of her mass should be (7-8 solar masses) without having evolved into a giant, and it has been suggested that she is infact twins – a spectroscopic binary of two smaller, longer-lived stars, which would presumably make her Bellatrices ?
Mintaka – (‘MINN-tacka’) – a multiple-star system, but we’ll only worry about the two most massive: Aa1 is ≈24, while Ab is ≈22.
Alnilam – (‘AL-nillam’) – a whopping 40-44 solar masses.
Alnitak – (‘AL-nittack’) – again a multiple, Aa is ≈33, Ab a mere 14 or so.
Rigel – (either ‘RYE-gull’ or ‘RYE-jull’) – and now we come to the brightest of the lot (from our perspective) and another collective, with the main component being ≈21. (This name first recorded in English in 1594 – no, I don’t know what the locals called it before then either.)
Saiph – (‘SAFE’) – and finally, a ≈15 tiddler to round us off.
Of these, all bar Betelgeuse are hot blue stars, but anything of a similar mass (so 20-ish or less) will presumably follow suit and swell up in the next few million years before exploding in a blaze of glory and leaving behind a neutron star. The fate of the heavyweights is less clear – they’ll certainly go super, but may never turn red, and some if not all of these will simply implode into a black hole denying us the spectacular brightening. Anything over ≈8 solar masses is thought to end as a Type II (though future bouts of mass-loss complicate things), with Bellatrix thought to be just too short to ride that particular rollercoaster.
Astronomers love hydrogen, And hydrogen alone – The primal, elemental gas, That lights up the unknown. They’re not so keen on helium, But tolerate it yet – But hydrogen’s their number one, As airy as things get !
Astronomers hate lithium, As dense and overweight, And ev’rything beyond it is Too scarce to even rate. They label them as ‘metals’, As a grey and seething mass – Yes, even carbon, even sulphur, Even chlorine gas.
Astronomers know metaloids Have properties each shares, But magnets and electron soups Are no concern of theirs, And dabbling in impurities Requires them to atone – For ’stronomers love hydrogen, And hydrogen alone.
Ravens are birds of the North – From Greenland to Mexico, Skye to Morocco, In India, China, and Asia Minor – Above the equator, but never below. Bird of the forest and bird of the desert, Of mountains and towers, Kamchatka to Fargo – Bird of mythology, bird of the present, From Draco to Leo, but not on the Argo. Perhaps, like the sailors of old, They fly by the Pole Star, second-to-none – Or maybe they just like the cold, Their feathers too black for the tropical Sun.
The clocks have changed, the dark has grown, The evenings have started early – Even as I leave the office, Day has gone and night is surly. Gloomy hordes of wrapped-up figures Cram onto my flood-lit train – It’s come at once, this blackening, As Winter leaps out once again. Trudging home from the lonely station, Beneath the unexpected stars That just last week were veiled in dusk, I see Orion’s back – and is that Mars ? It’ll only last a few days, this, Till early nights are nothing strange – It’s just the sudden shift, that’s all, When the dark has grown and the clocks have changed.
Well, here we are, my friend, and welcome to Volume Two. Not the book I promised, alas, but this will have to do. I hope the climb was not too taxing, hope it’s clement weather – It’s best of all at suns-set, when all four go down together. If you’ll excuse an in-joke, then this very situation Is a little like that final message God left his creation.
I’m afraid I’ve got some very bad news, But maybe you’ve guessed – seen through my ruse: We’re dying, you and I. Maybe you guessed. Here ends our bloody pointless noble quest. Those knobbly leaves that saved us – well, they saved us for a while – It seems they hold a toxin that has gathered in our bile.
Look, I know, I could go back and let you know With footnotes, perhaps. But then, where would you go ? So I’ve lied to you instead. A sin of omission, I guess, but you still end dead. But if I had, you’d have starved all the quicker – This way, I gave you a hope, a flicker, One which I shared at the time. Now I know better, and fully accept my crime To not let on that we are cursed – Of all the choices, this one seems least worst.
Either way, we’re never going home. But hey, how many can get to roam Across this glorious galaxy, Across such worlds and moons as we ? And so much life ! Such gorgeous beings – It has been fun, all our sight-seeings. For us, the galaxy displays her best – And if we’re cursed, then surely too we’re blessed !
So, the journal once more takes its place To aid the next poor refugee in space, So terrified and all alone, A long long way from home. And they shall read this letter, too – So after all my words, please add a few words of your own. Perhaps there are some here already, under mine, From voyagers before your time, who spared a thought to share a line In many voices: calm, betrayed or manic. To all of you now facing death, I urge you with my final breath: