Friday, 30 June 2017

Signs and Portents, Asteroids And Omens

Today is Asteroid Day, so yay for strange lumps of rocky debris hurtling through space , occasionally appearing as shooting stars and leaving trails of omens and wonder in their wake !

An asteroid that appeared on St Andrews day 1300

Coincidentally, today is also the hundred year anniversary of the Tunguska incident, when a mysterious something exploded in the air above Tunguska, an isolated part of Russia, with the force of many megatons in 1907- it was an explosion that birthed a myriad of conspiracy theories, and continues to do so to this day.
Tongue in cheek advice from bygone days...

We are no longer so superstitious regarding the meaning behind shooting stars, yet there is still an almost primal fear of complete annilhation, such as the sudden event of another death-dealing comet.
Not really something to worry about - most comets are known and tracked.
It's just the ones we haven't seen yet that cause the most worry...

This article is a good 'primer' on comets etc, but please be aware that it dates from 2006 - there is another piece in this blog which is outdated, but then so are most predictions - as I am only too aware, when I spent the millenial new year in a deep bunker, and don't even ask about 2012*...

 The idea of impending apocalypse is buried deep in the human psyche.
It is marked in a symbolic way with the passing of the seasons, and the fire ceremonies which aim to bring light into the growing darkness...

Up Helly Aa marks the end of Yule      

In the lore of comets, we have fire from the sky.
Luckily we have an early warning system in place which is pretty accurate - well, better than anything the dinosaurs had.
Our knowledge of asteroids has increased hugely - in 1868, there were one hundred asteroids identified ; today, there are half a million.

In days of old, we had signs and portents. 
According to Ptolemy, comets signified wars , hot weather, and unusual disturbances.

With our recent achievement of landing on a comet and monitoring it for some time, the sky-born fireballs (once referred to as the flowers of the skies) have lost some of their superstitious allure.
Personally, I'm still in awe - the timeless journeys of these things can encompass the very beginnings of the universe, and the thought of where they'd travelled is enough to make me feel small and insignificant-
I still 'wish upon a star' occasionally; the old tradition that dates back to ancient Greece, and the belief that the gods would occasionally gaze down towards the Earth, out of boredom.
Whilst doing so, they would accidentally knock a few stars out of the sky, and as the stars were considered the souls of ancestors, to wish upon a star was to invite good luck.

The Hoba stone , Namibia

Possibly one of the greatest shooting stars to actually land on Earth, was the Hoba stone.
It is the largest meteorite in the world.
Weighing 60 tons, and flat on both sides, it skimmed the Earths atmosphere before blazing its way to the surface, where it now rests in Grootfontein, Namibia.
There is no evidence of a crater, and it is estimated to have fallen within the last 80,000 years -  it's also believed that it entered the atmosphere at a relatively sedate 720 mph.

Comets and meteors are different things, but I love both; although my observations of the Perseids and other meteor showers have been sadly tempered by city living with street lights casting a sodium glare and limiting the visible stars.
Deep sigh
On the plus side, it means that I am agog with wonder whenever I find myself in the countryside, gazing up at the all - encompassing blanket of stars.
I am forever grateful for this world we live in - as a youngster, I could only gaze in awe at the distant stars, and wonder about those tiny pinpricks of light.
Now I can click on live streams from the Curiosity Rover on Mars, or marvel at high definition images from so many worlds and moons in our solar system
I'm both humbled and amazed by this.
To think that such things once seemed so far away...
Sometimes I think we have become blasé about so many things.

This missive has been subject to the usual gremlins, but here it is, albeit in a shortened form than was originally planned.
I am publishing it now, and will add to it over the weekend-
however you intend to spend Asteroid Day, have a great one !


* I'm joking - but they only have to be right once...

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