Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Song

Gol drat, this was a good album.

90th anniversary of the "Relativity Eclipse"

90 years ago today, Arthur Stanley Eddington viewed "the eclipse that proved Relativity."
Eddington photographed the Hyades during the eclipse, then compared these photos to the ones he had taken of the Hyades the night before.

Einstein was right, of course.

Space is flexible and warped (sorry, Newton) and the light passing near massive objects bends due to gravity. And that gravity actually shifts the positions of the smaller objects when they near something massive.

Of course, you can't SEE objects near massive bodies, because massive bodies are very, very bright. (Except for black holes, right. But this was 1919.) Eddington had an idea which now seems obvious. Observe objects near the Sun during a total eclipse, and you'll know whether their positions are shifted by the Sun's gravity. Conveniently, the calendar showed there would be a solar eclipse on May 29th.

There you have it.

Above: The proof

Press reaction was extraordinary. Almost immediately, the word "Einstein" became a synonym for "genius" and remains one to this day.

Big ups to Eddington for getting the eclipse idea, and for organizing the expeditions to both Brazil and West Africa to get the photos.

Below: "Suckas."

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I started this yesterday and ended up getting distracted by an aircraft emergency probably something shiny. Therefore...

Today is Yesterday was Paul Desmond Scully-Power's birthday.
Besides having a cool surname that pays unintentional homage to The X-Files, Scully-Power was party to a pretty heated diplomatic incident.

Scully-Power was a crew member aboard Challenger for STS-41G.
STS-41G was memorable for a couple of reasons. First, it was the very first time that astronauts had taken an IMAX camera aboard the shuttle to film. (The Dream is Alive was released the following year. I might have seen it once or twice. Or thrice.)

But here's something you might not know.

On 10 October 1984, the Evil Empire (the one not created by George Lucas), enraged after seeing this Wendy's commercial*

flipped its hair, stomped its feet, and fired a "warning shot" at Challenger from the Terra-3 laser complex, which caused onboard systems to fail and caused temporary blindness in the crew.
Fortunately, the problems either fixed themselves or were easily repaired.

As you can imagine, this resulted in a fairly substantial diplomatic protest.

The laser bit didn't make the movie. However, if they had put it in, I'll wager The Dream is Alive would have grossed 18 kajillion bucks and solved NASA's funding problems for a hundred years.
If the crew of Challenger had fired back, we'd be driving flying cars on Saturn by now.


Monday, May 25, 2009