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 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.
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 !
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:
So when you turn to pray in the facing-Mecca way
Do you use the Great Circles or the Rhumbs ?
Cos both have got it wrong, for the route that’s shortest-long,
Shall be diving through the mantel as she comes.
I heard about it on the wires –
From out the noise, a brand new spark
That’s causing quite a buzz, it seems,
With those who dare to cross the streams –
The stars are not atomic fires,
They claim, and matter isn’t dark !
Instead, across all empty space
Electrostatic charges race…
The stars are merely filaments
Amid a galaxy of bulbs,
The cosmic pulse, at super-C,
Will form electro-gravity.
Now, many physicists resent
This theory, and the place it holds –
But then, how can they fail to see
The holes in relativity ?
I heard the crackle in the air,
And tuned my head and felt the spike –
For all that maths and physics bore,
I saw at once the metaphor !
The Universe and I must share
In cells and galaxies alike
Electrons – tiny, yet so large –
So much potential in their charge !
Just in time for the first image of a black hole, I learned about a theory of space that denies their existence (also referred to as Plasma Cosmology). As I understand it, it basically posits that (though I’m sure I’m butchering this):
the reason no definitive evidence of black holes or dark matter exists is because they don’t actually exist,
that over 99% of matter in the universe in in a state of plasma, which readily conducts electricity,
that the lack of matter to hold the galaxies together is due to electricity itself amplifying gravity,
And that stars are not nuclear furnaces but more akin to the elements in lightbulbs, that is the places where the Universe’s electric field ‘discharge’.
But like I say, I’m sure I’ve got that mostly wrong. And I make no claims to its accuracy. What attracted me to it was simply its poetic possibilities.
Of course he’s not a planet !
That shouldn’t be disputable.
That shouldn’t make him any less the beautiful,
That shouldn’t make him any less –
His surface is so mutable,
And not the long-expected pockered granite
Of our Earth-restricted guess –
But plains and ridges run instead,
In shades of red,
Across which canyons slice.
And we were right about the ice,
But not the mountains that it forms !
Mountains that could melt away,
Except he never warms at all –
His crystal peaks that should reflect the sun’s weak glow,
Except they’re covered by the nitrogen that falls as snow.
Dwarf perhaps is too pejorative,
But then, if you’ll forgive, he’s not the same,
And after all, it’s just a name.
There is no magic line
Where we can suddenly define
The class of planets from the dwarfs at just below his size –
To let him cling to planet-hood,
But sorry, Eris, all you other guys are just a might too small.
It’s hardly wise to be so arbit’ry in what should get the planet’s call –
It also shows that gravity is quite misunderstood:
For lack of mass is why he swings
In tilted rings around the sun,
And why he’s kept at bay by Neptune’s sway,
In the long, long run:
So no, he’s not a planet, he’s a diff’rent kind of thing –
We know because we’ve seen him: he’s the cosmic Kuiper king.