In the June 2005 issue of Physics Today there is an article by Lee Smolin with the provocative (or evocative) title, Why No ‘New Einstein’? That year marked the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein‘s annus mirabilis (year of wonders), in which the 26-year-old Swiss patent examiner submitted and had published revolutionary papers on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and matter-energy equivalence in a prominent German physics journal, Annalen der Physik. These papers were so important that they completely changed the course of physics and led to great opportunities for Einstein to further develop his career as a physicist.
Here are some excerpts from Smolin’s article.
“Many of Einstein’s contemporaries testified that he was not unusually talented mathematically. Instead, what enabled him to make such tremendous advances was a driving need to understand the logic of nature, tied to a breathtaking creativity and a fierce intellectual independence.”
“Perhaps a lesson might be learned from the fact that this one person, who was initially unable to find an academic job, did more to advance physics than most of the rest of us [physicists] put together have since.”
“It follows that new Einsteins are unlikely to be easily characterized in terms of research programs that have been well explored for decades. Instead, a new Einstein will be developing his or her own research program that, by definition, will be one that no senior person works on.”
“Are our universities, institutes, and foundations doing all they can to identify and promote individuals who have the creativity and intellectual independence that characterize those who contribute most to physics? I say that they are not.”
“People with the uncanny ability to ask new questions or recognize unexamined assumptions, or who are able to take ideas from one field and apply them to another, are often at a disadvantage when the goal is to hire the best person in a given well-established area.”
“It is easy to write many papers when you continue to apply well-understood techniques. People who develop their own ideas have to work harder for each result, because they are simultaneously developing new ideas and the techniques to explore them. Hence they often publish fewer papers, and their papers are cited less frequently than those that contribute to something hundreds of people are doing.”
Sergei Prokofiev was truly one of the most remarkable composers of the 20th century. His signature disjunct melodies and quirky, perky compositional style is so interesting and unique that his music is instantly recognizable, even today. When critics complain that the wellspring of current musical idioms has become exhausted or derivative, along comes a composer like Prokofiev who surprises everyone and does something completely different. That is why I believe that even within established musical forms it is possible to invent something completely new and exciting—it just doesn’t happen very often.
Regrettably, no English-language documentary about the life and music of Prokofiev has ever been produced. While we wait for someone to do that, perhaps Robert Greenberg might add another excellent installment to his “Great Masters” series for The Great Courses by profiling Sergei Prokofiev in eight 30-minute episodes as he did for Shostakovich, Brahms, and others.
Sergei Prokofiev composed his last completed work, the Symphony No. 7, between December 1951 and July 1952 at the age of 60-61. Its first public performance in Moscow on October 11, 1952 would be the last public performance Prokofiev would attend. He died less than five months later.
Dmitri Shostakovich attended the premiere, and quickly sent a letter of congratulations to Prokofiev, “I wish you at least another hundred years to live and create. Listening to such works as your Seventh Symphony makes it much easier and more joyful to live.” Shostakovich would attend Prokofiev’s funeral in March 1953.
The most inspired recording I have ever heard of Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony is by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra with Andrew Litton conducting. Even though I was already familiar with this work, listening to this performance was like hearing the work for the first time. This interpretation is intimate and compelling.
The last years of Prokofiev’s life were difficult ones. His health was deteriorating and Stalin’s terrible regime was a constant threat and source of anxiety. Official disapproval had led to a life of poverty for Prokofiev.
With that as a backdrop, Prokofiev was eager that his new symphony would be well received by the authorities as well as the public, hoping that it would earn him a First Class Stalin Prize—he needed the money. But like Shostakovich, Prokofiev took his symphonies seriously, pouring his heart and soul into them while cleverly embedding what he wanted to say musically in a way that would elude the authorities with their limited musical sophistication and intelligence.
Prokofiev even wrote two endings for the symphony. The “real” ending and a contrived ending to please the authorities and help him win the prize. (He did not win the hoped for Stalin Prize, but he was posthumously awarded the Lenin Prize for this symphony in 1957.)
Prokofiev told his friend, the young cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, “Slava, you will live much longer than me, and you must take care that this new ending never exists after me.” As Andrew Huth writes in the liner notes, “Both versions of the ending are included on this disc so that listeners can judge the very different effect each makes.” Track 9 is the final movement of Symphony No. 7 played again with the alternative ending that Prokofiev wrote to please the authorities.
Edmund Weiss (1837-1917) and many astronomers since have called asteroids “vermin of the sky”, but on October 4, 1957 another “species” of sky vermin made its debut: artificial satellites. In the process of video recording stars for possible asteroid occultations, I frequently see satellites passing through my 17 × 11 arcminute field of view.
I’ve put together a video montage of satellites I serendipitously recorded during the first half of 2020. Many of the satellites move across the field as “dashes” because of the longer integration times I need to use for some of my asteroid occultation work. A table of these events is shown below the video. The range is the distance between observer and satellite at the time of observation. North is up and east is to the left.
Interestingly, three of the above satellites (7,9,18) are in retrograde orbits, that is their orbital inclination is > 90˚ and their east-west component of motion is towards the west instead of the east. However, I was surprised to find that two of the prograde orbiting satellites (5,6) appear to be orbiting retrograde! Both have orbital inclinations close to 90˚ (82.6˚ and 87.5˚, respectively), and both were in the western sky at northern declinations at the time of observation. But another satellite (8) with an orbital inclination of 82.5˚ at a southern declination in the southern sky at the time of observation exhibited the expected “barely” prograde motion. I suspect the ~0.5 km/s rotation of the Earth towards the east might have something to do with this “apparent retrograde” motion, but I was unable to find any reference that describes this situation.
Satellite #12 has an interesting story. It is the Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) used to launch USA-48 (Magnum), a classified DoD payload, from the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-33).
In addition to these 18 satellites, I observed 7 geosynchronous satellites, shown below.
This non-operational Soviet communications satellite is a “tumbler”, meaning its changing orientation causes variation in its brightness, as shown below.
This non-operational communications satellite is also a tumbler, as seen in this light curve from a portion of the video.
There were four satellites I was unable to identify, shown in the video below. They were either classified satellites or, more likely, small pieces of space debris that only government agencies or contractors are keeping track of.
Occasionally, I record other phenomena of interest. Meteors during this period are described here, and you will find a couple of other curiosities below.
References Hughes, D. W. & Marsden, B. G. 2007, J. Astron. Hist. Heritage, 10, 21
Obviously, this is going to be easier to do in a small community, and most likely one that is economically depressed.
What’s in it for them? What would the motivating factors be?
A commitment from X number of people that they would move to the community provided the community agrees to 1-3 above being done. Options for new residents would be to either purchase or rent an existing home/apartment/RV space/etc., or to build the same but land would have to be available.
The new residents would commit to working with the existing residents and businesses to improve the community and provide new opportunities, ensuring that this is a win-win situation for both existing and new residents.
The new residents would commit to doing some or all of the things outlined in the Mirador Astronomy Village specifications document, or something like it.
The influx of new residents and tourism will benefit all in the community, both economically and socially.
Does anyone know of a rural community that might be interested in putting their town “on the map” as an astronomy-friendly community for residents and visitors?
A few quotes come to mind when considering the current hyperpartisan and politically polarized environment in the United States.
“The beatings will continue until morale improves.” – Anonymous
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” – H. G. Wells
One thing is for sure. The systemic problems in our political system will remain firmly in place no matter who wins the election.
I want to live in a place where we can work together, despite our differences, to make real progress towards the following goals:
Free or inexpensive basic healthcare not tied to one’s employer
Free or inexpensive post-secondary education
Affordable housing and tiny house villages for the homeless
Universal Basic Income (UBI)
An economy based on building things that last and are able to be repaired or recycled, rather than rapidly consumed and thrown away
Currency that is neither artificially scarce nor debt-based, and that takes into account everything of value to society
Public policy based on a humanistic worldview where decisions are guided by facts not faith, science not religion
A gradual reduction in the world’s population through the only humane way available—having fewer children
Tight restrictions on gun ownership and training requirements for those who do own guns
Binding and enforceable international laws
A stronger and more effective United Nations
A completely decentralized power grid powered by renewable energy sources, primarily solar and wind
Substantially scale back on the use of fossil fuels
A strong public transportation system, including high-speed passenger rail
I’m sure those of you of a similar persuasion could add many more items to this list, but you get the idea which “side” I am on. (Hint: It is not the side that has most of the guns.)
There are many people who want these things. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could live someplace where we could work towards these goals without our every effort being blocked?
We have built a lifestyle that is economically and ecologically unsustainable. We are fast running out of time and options. Smart people address problems before they get to be crises.
What are our options, besides a slow, miserable, and probably violent descent into dystopia (i.e. life’s a bitch and then you die)?
Divide the U.S. into autonomous enclaves
Leave the U.S. (if anyone will have us)
Form or join an intentional community where people with similar goals and beliefs can demonstrate to the wider world a better way to live, a better way to govern
1 and 3 are similar, but 3 would be on a much smaller scale—no more than about 150 people. Small is beautiful.
A few years ago, at a friend’s recommendation, I watched a movie based on a brilliant idea but crudely executed (and I do mean crudely): Idiocracy. It seems we are already well on the way to the dystopian existence portrayed in that 2006 movie. Though Idiocracy is brilliant satire, I would love to see a remake that is more discerning and family friendly so it can reach a wider audience.
There’s a great divide in my life, too. On the one hand, I want to finally live far away from city lights during my retirement years in an astronomy-friendly intentional community that has no dusk-to-dawn lighting. But on the other hand, I would love to live in a politically progressive city with a first-rate symphony orchestra and a vibrant classical music scene. Observational astronomy and classical music are my two biggest interests, but their venues are mutually incompatible.
Challenges, large and small.
Imagine there’s no heaven It’s easy if you try No hell below us Above us, only sky
Imagine all the people Livin’ for today Ah
Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion, too
Imagine all the people Livin’ life in peace You
You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people Sharing all the world You
You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will live as one
On this date 140 years ago, American physician and prominent amateur astronomer Henry Draper (1837-1882) made the first successful photograph of the Great Nebula in Orion, now usually referred to as the Orion Nebula. He used an 11-inch telescope (an Alvan Clark refractor!) and an exposure time of 50 minutes for the black and white photograph.
Draper continued to improve his technique, and a year and a half later he obtained a 137-minute exposure showing much more detail.
It really is amazing how image recording technology has improved over the past century and a half! At its best, film-based photography had a quantum efficiency of only about 2%, which means that only 2 out of every 100 photons of light impinging on the photographic medium is actually recorded. The rest is reflected or absorbed. The human eye—when well dark adapted—has a quantum efficiency of 15% or better, easily besting photography. Why, then, do photographs of deep sky objects show so much more detail than what can be seen through the eyepiece? The explanation is that the human eye can integrate photons and hold an image for only about 0.1 second. Film, on the other hand, can hold an image much longer. Even with reciprocity failure, photographic media like film can collect photons for minutes or even hours, giving them a big advantage over the human eye. But charge-coupled devices (CCDs) are a considerable improvement over older technologies since they typically have a quantum efficiency of 70% up to 90% or more. The CCD has truly revolutionized both professional and amateur astronomy in recent decades.
Fifty years ago this day, the Soviet Union’s Luna 16 robotic probe made a night landing in the Sea of Fertility. It drilled nearly 14 inches into the lunar regolith, collected 3.6 ounces of soil, and delivered its precious cargo to Earth four days later.
The astronauts on Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 between 1969 and 1972 brought back a total of 840 lbs of moon rocks and soil. Each successive Apollo mission brought back a larger amount of lunar material.
The Soviets brought back a total of 0.7 lbs of lunar soil through their robotic sample return missions Luna 16 (1970), Luna 20 (1972), and Luna 24 (1976).
So, excluding lunar meteorites that have befallen the Earth, a total of 840.7 lbs of lunar material has been brought to research laboratories here on Earth.
After a hiatus of over 44 years, China plans to launch two lunar sample return missions, Chang’e 5 in November 2020 and Chang’e 6 in 2023 or 2024. Chang’e 5 is expected to return at least 4.4 lbs of lunar material from nearly 7 ft. below the surface at its landing site in the Mons Rümker region of Oceanus Procellarum.
Chang’e is the Chinese goddess of the Moon, and is pronounced chong-EE.
Recently, I wrote about the extraordinary orchestral music of 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999). In that piece, I lauded a collection of Rodrigo’s orchestral work, all conducted by the esteemed Mexican conductor Enrique Bátiz with three different orchestras. Today, I would like to share with you the best and most complete recordings of Rodrigo’s piano music, a two-disc set by Gregory Allen and Anton Nel (two piano and piano four hands works).
I wish other music CDs had as much detail about each of the pieces as the enclosed booklet by Gregory Allen and Linton Powell has, nicely indexed by CD track in the margins of the narrative. They write: “The present recordings represent the first complete collection of Rodrigo’s original piano music for two and four hands, omitting only a few transcriptions and lost early works.” In a footnote, they detail the works that are excluded. I am familiar with only one of these, the Cinco piezas del siglo XVI of 1937, which is worth seeking out.
At the end of the documentary Shadows and Light, made when Rodrigo was 90, there is a spellbinding performance of Zarabanda lejana (Distant Sarabande) of 1926. I’m pretty sure the recording they used was the one on these discs. The tempo and sensitivity of this performance is perfect. I have another recording that seems rushed by comparison, and it ruins the mood.
Here we have 2 hours and 33 minutes of delightful piano music composed by Joaquín Rodrigo, sure to increase your appreciation for this great 20th-century composer. Of course, I have a number of favorites.
Zarabanda lejana (Distant Sarabande)
Cinco piezas infantiles (Five children’s pieces), for two pianos
Sonatina para dos Muñecas (Sonatina for two Puppets), for piano four hands
Gran Marcha de los Subsecretarios (Grand March of the Subsecretaries), for piano four hands
Atardecer (Dusk), for piano four hands
À l’ombre de Torre Bermeja (In the Shadow of the Crimson Tower)
Plegaria de la Infanta de Castilla (Prayer of the Princess of Castile), from Cuatro piezas para piano
If you need any more convincing that this recording is a “must have”, here are words written by Joaquín Rodrigo himself.
“Gregory Allen’s recording of my works for piano is excellent. His magnificent technique and his authentically fine interpretation satisfy me completely.”
During the first half of 2020, I serendipitously captured a whopping nine meteors on my telescope’s 17 x 11 arcminute video field of view while observing potential asteroid occultation events. I used the method described in There’s a Meteor in My Image to determine the radiant for each meteor. Here they are.
The International Meteor Organization (IMO) identifies the antihelion source as “a large, roughly oval area of about 30˚ in right ascension and 15˚ in declination, centered about 12˚ east of the solar opposition point on the ecliptic, hence its name. It is not a true shower at all, but is rather a region of sky in which a number of variably, if weakly, active minor showers have their radiants.”
A sporadic meteor is any meteor that does not come from a known radiant.
Meteors enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed between 10 and 70 km/s, and burn up at an altitude of about 80 km. For a sight line perpendicular to the meteor’s path, the angular velocity should range between 7˚ and 41˚ per second. This means a meteor should cross the 17′ x 11′ field of my video camera in 0.03 seconds or less. Field traversal will take longer than this the closer the meteor is to its radiant or anti-radiant point.
The lowest stable altitude a satellite can orbit is about 200 km, where it will have an orbital velocity on the order of 8 km/s. This is slower than the slowest meteors. For a sight line perpendicular to the satellite’s path, the maximum angular velocity a satellite should have is about 2˚ per second.
Given these admittedly BOTEC calculations, one could reasonably conclude that if the object traverses the field in a single frame, it is probably a meteor. If not (and it is not an airplane), it is a satellite.
The object in the 8 May 2020 video does appear to be moving slow enough to be a satellite, but because it is traveling much faster than satellites usually do it must be orbiting quite low, close to re-entry. I was not able to identify the satellite, which is often the case for the fastest-moving satellites. My camera is sensitive enough to pick up tiny pieces of space debris orbiting at low altitude, and though these objects are no doubt catalogued by military organizations, they do not generally show up in the publicly-available orbital element datasets for satellites.
This one’s unusual in that there are two distinct “flare-ups” along the path. It is reasonably good match to the antihelion radiant for 12 May 2020, and though I have seen meteors experiencing outbursts along their paths, a more likely explanation for this event is that it is low altitude satellite with two “sun glint” events. What do you think?
I was surprised to record so many meteors during the first half of 2020, as there is generally much less meteor activity between January and June than there is between July and December.
The Mirador specifications document located in our Files section and here gives a lot of detail about our vision for an astronomy-friendly residential community and astronomy resort & learning center. But before any of this can be developed, we need to have land.
The next step for Mirador is to create a legal entity that can raise money for a land purchase.
Some challenges we face:
Mirador could be located in Arizona, New Mexico, or West Texas. We don’t want to limit our land search to one state, but incorporating in the state where land will be purchased is less complicated.
We need an attorney who is familiar with Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas law, but especially with real estate law and corporate law.
Does anyone know an attorney who is interested in astronomy, might want to become involved with this project, and might be willing to do some pro bono work?
Does anyone know a fundraising professional who is interested in astronomy and might want to become involved with this project?
Our most immediate need is to find an attorney to help us create the legal entity that will be necessary to raise money for a land purchase. This legal entity will exist for one and only one purpose: to purchase land for Mirador Astronomy Village.
Here is what we currently envision for the land-purchase legal entity. Would appreciate your thoughts before we submit this to a prospective attorney.
Issuance of Shares
1 share = $1000
No limit on the number of shares that can be purchased
Initial shares and additional shares can be purchased at any time
Hold the money in an FDIC-insured interest-bearing account
Value of shares remains unchanged except for interest accrued
Shareholders can return shares and remove their investment (plus interest) at any time up through the point of the shareholders voting in favor of making an offer on a property but before an offer is actually made
1 share = 1 vote
Funds can only be used to purchase a property for Mirador Astronomy Village; any leftover funds will be returned to the shareholders proportional to the number of shares they own.
If there are insufficient funds to purchase the property without financing, the shareholders will not be a party to that financing arrangement.
It is possible we may acquire land that is “partially donated”, that is the land owner may agree to sell us the land for the amount of funds we have raised to date.
Shareholders will be known as Community Founders.
After the property is purchased, the monetary value of the shares goes to $0.
Benefits for shareholders after the property is purchased will include free RV, camping, and astronomy access to the property as soon as it is acquired; after development, no-additional-cost benefits such as free access to astronomy programs will be offered.
Benefits will be proportional to the number of shares owned.
If Mirador Astronomy Village isn’t established on the property within five years, the property will be sold and the proceeds returned to the shareholders in proportion to the number of shares they own.
Some Reasons Why I Want to Live in a Dark-Sky Community
Posted 13 July 2020
I drove 20 miles round-trip early Saturday morning to view Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) for the first time. It is beautiful! Easily visible to the unaided eye and spectacular in binoculars. And now, in the more convenient evening sky!
I had to trespass onto private land (as I often do) because we are not allowed to be in any of our state parks here in Wisconsin during the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. (unless you are a paid camper at a campsite).
One of my motivations for living in a dark-sky community is having a great view of a comet like C/2020 F3 literally right outside my door night after night. The same goes for watching meteors. The visibility of comets and meteors are severely impacted by light pollution—both the general urban skyglow but also nearby lights. Along with just about every other aspect of observational astronomy.
All my adult life I have spent significant time and energy educating (and becoming educated myself) about light pollution, environmentally-friendly lighting, and, of course, astronomy. There have been small victories, yes, but overall I feel my contributions have been a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Living in a “regular community” (as I have all my life), there is always the trepidation with every new neighbor or lighting technology change that your view of the night sky will be degraded even further than it already has, and there is not a darned thing you can do about it if the perpetrator (be it a neighbor or the city) chooses to marginalize you and your kindly-presented concerns. Heck, this can even be a problem living in a rural area. When I had my Outdoor Lighting Associates, Inc. business in Iowa from 1994-2005, I can’t count the many times I got a call from a distressed rural resident that had a new neighbor who decided to light up their place like Las Vegas.
Sure, a lighting ordinance would help a lot, but in most cities and towns these days they’ll look at you like you’re from Mars if you try to make enacting one a priority.
There are many advantages to living in a small community, but where I live now (population 4,700) there is no community will nor interest in reigning in bad lighting or in protecting the night sky. However, in 1999 I was deeply involved with writing a lighting ordinance and getting it approved in Ames, Iowa, a university town of 50,000 (at the time). Being a well-educated university town had a lot to do with our success there. Those were kinder, gentler times then, too.
Lighting at Mirador
I’d like to take this opportunity to explain more about the outdoor lighting aspects of an “astronomy-friendly” community. Indoor lighting would have no restrictions except the amount of light shining outdoors at night would need to be controlled with some sort of window covering.
Ideally, an astronomy-friendly community would not allow any dusk-to-dawn lighting. Why have a light shining all night long when most of the night no one will be making use of its illumination? Modern light sources such as LEDs, occupancy sensors, and control electronics have advanced to the point (both in terms of technology and affordability) that dusk-to-dawn lighting is no longer needed, at least not in the kind of small community we are talking about here. I would like Mirador Astronomy Village to be an ongoing demonstration project for the wider world showing a better way to do outdoor lighting. By “better” I mean lighting that provides needed illumination where and when it is needed without adversely affecting the nighttime environment, including our view of the night sky. By “better” I also mean using passive reflective or light-colored materials where possible to reduce the need for—or brightness of—outdoor lighting.
There’s a lot to be said in favor of using “personal lighting devices”, also known as flashlights, when walking about at night.
The permanent outdoor lighting that is installed should be properly shielded and directed so that only what needs to be illuminated is illuminated, thus eliminating glare, light trespass, and direct uplight. The right amount of light for the intended task should be used, never more than is needed.
We certainly will need to be mindful of anyone visiting or living in our community with vision limitations. This is most likely going to be an issue in the areas open to the public at night. Observational astronomers, as a general rule, have learned to see better at low illumination levels through familiarity and experience, but the same is not true for the general public. Accommodations will need to be made with this in mind, and I would expect the public areas to have more illumination.
Getting this project off the ground has been challenging in the midst of a pandemic. There is at least one of several things you can do right now to help this project along.
Post a comment here!
Join the Dark-Sky-Communities discussion group at https://dark-sky-communities.groups.io/g/main. There are several subscription options for your convenience, and even if you subscribe to receive individual emails, the traffic on this moderated group is light and focused specifically on astronomy-friendly residential communities.