Einstein’s Waves: New Views

Einstein’s theories gave scientists good reasons for thinking gravitational waves exist. A century later, instruments detected the elusive radiation.

Three American scientists won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for work that led to the discovery.

Observatories in America and Italy have detected three more gravitational wave signals. What they learned wasn’t quite what they expected.

Patriotism, Within Reason

I would have read about this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, no matter who they picked.

But seeing American scientists given the award lets me enjoy patriotic feelings. Within reason.

I like being an American, for the most part. It gives me a particular focus, and helps me see the world through my culture’s filter. That makes understanding what folks around me say and do a bit easier.

I also like being a Catholic.

That lets me enjoy being an American and remember that we live in a big world: without unreasoning fear or arrogance. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 19341942, 22382243)

“…Citizens must cultivate a generous and loyal spirit of patriotism, but without being narrow-minded. This means that they will always direct their attention to the good of the whole human family, united by the different ties which bind together races, people and nations….”
(“Gaudium et spes,” Blessed Pope Paul VI (December 7, 1965))

Fiery Eyes

It’s been about two dozen centuries since Empedocles thought Aphrodite made human eyes from the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Giving Aphrodite credit for our eyes made sense, given his culture’s assumptions.

We’ve learned a bit since then.

Most of us, anyway. Some folks seem dedicated to the belief that God gets offended when we study God’s creation. Particularly if we learn something that doesn’t fit their assumptions. I figure God gave us brains, and I’ll get back to that.

Maybe they haven’t quite shaken off the idea that intruding on nature offends ‘the spirits.’ I can’t know what happens in another person’s mind, so that’s speculation. Fallout from 19th century English politics doesn’t, I think, help. (October 28, 2016; July 15, 2016)

Empedocles said we can see because fire shone from our eyes. Humans don’t have particularly good night vision, so that couldn’t be the whole answer.

He figured vision depended on interaction between fire from our eyes and fire from other sources, like the sun. That made sense, given what folks knew in his day. Plato’s view of vision was on pretty much the same page.

Euclid saw problems with the ‘fire’ model, but wasn’t nearly as influential.

The paper trail for Euclid’s personal life starts more than eight centuries after his death. We don’t even know when or where he was born. We probably wouldn’t know anything about him, if folks hadn’t made a point of keeping records of his work.

Euclid thought about light and vision, applying math to the ideas. His “Ὀπτικά,” “Optics,” deals mostly with geometric aspects of light. He realized that sight had physical and psychological aspects, but that wasn’t his focus.

Euclid did, however, think that beams from our eyes probably weren’t how vision works. We see stars right away when we open our eyes at night. He figured that wasn’t consistent with the ‘fire’ model. He was right about that.

Ptolemy and Galen thought Empedocles and Plato were right about sight. It wasn’t until about a thousand years back that European scholars started wondering if maybe there’s another explanation.1

New Ideas

A Latin translation of Ibn al-Haytham’s “Kitab al-Manazir,” “Book of Optics,” helped.

So, I think, did work by folks like Saints Albertus Magnus and Hildegard of Bingen. They weren’t, strictly speaking, scientists. But they helped get today’s science started.

Albertus Magnus helped make Aristotle’s ideas available to European scholars. I see no problem with that.

Aristotle is a pretty good role model for folks who see thinking as a good idea.2

Some European scholars got overly-enthusiastic over their favorite philosopher.

Thinking someone is top in their field is okay. Within reason. Forgetting who’s in charge isn’t.

One of the topics being discussed was whether we were on the only world.

It was a reasonable question at the time. The telescope was still a few centuries in their future.

Aristotle’s fans said that other worlds couldn’t exist: because Aristotle said so.

I’ve mentioned Proposition 27/219 of 1277 before. It’s no longer in effect, but the principle still holds.

God decides how reality works. We don’t. (Psalms 115:3; Catechism, 268)

The ‘God or Aristotle’ question came up again, a few centuries later. Folks like Copernicus and Galileo were taking a fresh look at astronomical assumptions. European politics of the day were more volatile than usual.

I figure any new ideas would have given some folks fits. (April 28, 2017; March 24, 2017)

Tensions between northern and southern European powers gave us the Reformation, Thirty Years’ War, and Enlightenment.

I think we’ll be cleaning up the mess for centuries. The good news is that we’ve made significant progress, and that’s another topic. (August 20, 2017; November 6, 2016; October 30, 2016)

Where was I? Physics, Aphrodite, assumptions. Right.

Waves? Particles? Both?

Folks were rethinking Aristotelian physics in the early 1600s.

One of the questions was how light works. Some said waves were a good model. Others said light acts like particles.

Huygens, Boyle, and others said ‘waves.’

Others, including Gassendi and Newton, said ‘particles.’

I appreciate Gassendi’s efforts to steer between skepticism and knee-jerk dedication to dogma. His efforts to merge Epicurean atomism with his views of Christianity probably made more sense at the time.3

About the ‘waves or particle’ question, we’re pretty sure the ‘wave’ and ‘particle’ folks were both right. Sort of.

Quantum mechanics makes sense, so far. Light acts like particles and waves. Subatomic particles act like waves and particles.

I’m quite sure we haven’t found a complete explanation for how reality works. But we’ve found a few more pieces of the puzzle.

Isaac Newton published “Opticks” in 1704. His argument for a corpuscular theory of light was a good-enough match with observations.

But it didn’t account for diffraction. Newton suggested that an aethereal medium caused that effect. Newton had earned a considerable reputation and his optical theories were reasonable. The scientific consensus was that Newton’s corpuscular theory was right.

Scientists kept studying light. That’s how science works. Accepting a theory means testing it: not tabling the question. It’s how we keep learning more about this universe.

If the corpuscular theory and luminiferous aether models described how light works, better tech and more precise data would match them, or at least come close.

That wasn’t happening. Scientists were increasingly convinced that they needed a model other than Newton’s aether.

Michelson Interferometers, 1887-2017

Albert A. Michelson started improving interferometer tech in the 1880s.

Research sparked by the 1887 Michelson-Morley experiment eventually showed that luminiferous aether isn’t there.4

We’ve used the same tech quite a bit since then. Scientists and technicians have been using Michelson interferometers for spectroscopy, testing optical equipment, and measuring stars.

But the Michelson-Morley experiment was probably that interferometer design’s most famous use.

Until now.

The LIGO and VIRGO detectors are Michelson interferometers. They measure gravity waves instead of light.

Newton’s law of universal gravitation is still “true” in the sense that it is a very good approximation for large masses and low velocities. We still use Newtonian physics when dealing with planetary orbits and navigation the Solar System.

Newton offered some tentative ideas about why gravity works the way it does. He thought we didn’t know enough at the time to be sure.

Oliver Heaviside said maybe gravity acts like waves. That was 1893.

Henri Poincaré and Albert Einstein both added math to discussions of gravitational waves in the early 1900s.5 I’ll let historians who haven’t been born yet sort out how much each of them helped solve that particular puzzle.

Gravitational waves kept making sense as scientists analyzed more data. We’re pretty sure they’re a good way to describe the phenomenon. I’d be astounded and a bit disappointed if they’re the full answer, though.

Gravitational waves are analogous to the electromagnetic waves we call “light.”

That started me thinking about where ‘gravity astronomy’ may be going.

We could probably make ‘gravity telescopes,’ giving us images formed by gravity waves. Eventually. Maybe.

Saying that we’re not close to building something like that is a massive understatement. Just detecting them is impressive today. So is telling where their source is.

Getting a general bearing on incoming gravitational waves is possible because they travel at speed of light. We’re pretty sure about that. That seems to be as fast as anything can go through spacetime.

With at least one, probably two, exceptions.

The last I heard, quantum entanglement is either instantaneous or significantly faster than light. Physicists don’t know why. Not yet.

My guess is that the phenomenon, however it works, doesn’t show that Einstein’s theories aren’t true. Just that the universe has a new set of puzzles for us to solve.6

1. Nobel Prize in Physics, 2017: LIGO Scientists

(From AFP/CALTECH/EPA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Weiss (L) takes half the prize; Barish (C) and Thorne (R) share the other half”
(BBC News))

Einstein’s waves win Nobel Prize in physics
Paul Rincon, Jonathan Amos, BBC News (October 3, 2017)

The 2017 Nobel prize in physics has been awarded to three US scientists for the detection of gravitational waves.

“Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish will share the nine million kronor (£831,000) prize.

The ripples were predicted by Albert Einstein and are a fundamental consequence of his General Theory of Relativity.

The winners are members of the Ligo-Virgo observatories, which were responsible for the breakthrough….”

I’m a little surprised about this Nobel Prize. It’s good news, of course, for the three scientists and their outfits: Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology. It’s nice to see Americans get recognized, too.

What’s surprising is that it’s awarded so soon after the first detection. Nobel Prize in Physics rules say that achievements must be “tested by time.”

Early 2016 to 2017’s autumn isn’t much time. The Nobel Prize press release explains that the award recognizes personal work going back several decades.7

I talked about gravitational waves a few months back. (March 24, 2017)

They’re wrinkles in spacetime. Scientists figured they might exist, starting in the late 1800s.

Technology developed during the 20th century let scientists start designing instruments that could detect gravitational waves. That started about a half-century back. By the 1980s we had prototypes.

First Observation

(From Umptanum, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(The LIGO Washington State detector’s north arm.)

The first LIGO observatory operated from 2002 to 2010. It detected no gravitational waves.

No detection might mean that gravitational waves didn’t exist. Or maybe they existed but didn’t act as scientists thought they would.

Scientists figured no detection probably meant that their first-generation technology wasn’t sensitive enough.

That, I think, isn’t refusing to believe evidence.

Scientists have been unreasonably stubborn, Priestley apparently ignored his era’s chemical science. It didn’t prove his phlogiston theory.8

Assuming that their first efforts detected no gravity waves was acknowledging that LIGO technology can be improved. That’s how I see it.

As it turns out, they were right. Gravitational waves are there.

Gravitational waves from merging black holes passed by Earth on September 14, 2015.

The LIGO detectors in Washington State and Louisiana, operating in engineering mode, detected them. Scientists with LIGO and Virgo analyzed the 0.2-second ‘chirp,’ publishing their results February 11, 2016.

This may not be the single most important experimental confirmation in the last half-century. CERN scientists observed W and Z bosons in 1973, for example.

It’s important, too. Ranking experimental results for different phenomena can be more than a bit subjective.9

But detecting gravitational waves is very important for physicists and astronomers.

They’ll let us ‘look’ at this universe when it was very young. It was opaque for about the first 380,000 years.

That’s when it cooled enough for photons to travel any significant distance.

The cosmic microwave background is the the oldest electromagnetic radiation we’ve observed: or can observe.

Gravitational waves don’t interact with matter the same way as electromagnetic waves. The early universe should have been transparent to gravitational waves in those very early years.

We’re hoping to learn a great deal about that era by observing gravitational waves.

2. EGO: Fourth Gravity Wave Detection

(From Virgo Collaboration, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The VIRGO detector in Italy has helped narrow the search on the sky”
(BBC News))

Gravitational wave hunters bag fourth black-hole detection
Pallab Ghosh, BBC News (September 27, 2017)

Scientists have detected another burst of gravitational waves coming from the merger of two black holes.

“The collision occurred nearly 2 billion years ago, but it was so far away that its shockwave has only just reached us.

“This is the fourth confirmed detection made by an international team investigating Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

“Sheila Rowan of Glasgow University, UK, said the team was now on the threshold of a new understanding of black holes….”

I don’t know who got the Virgo Collaboration started, or why they picked that name. They use VIRGO as an acronym sometimes. I haven’t learned what it stands for.

In my language, it could mean Very Intelligent Researchers’ Gravity Observatory. But I think that’s unlikely. Very unlikely.

Whoever got the ball rolling, the project officially started when French and Italian researchers at CERN and INFN gave it their approval in the 1990s.

Folks started building EGO, the European Gravitational Observatory, in 1996. It’s near Pisa. Construction was finished in 2003.

Scientists and technicians had the first VIRGO detector ready in 2000. They stopped using it in 2011. They’d detected no gravitational waves.

That’s pretty much what they expected. Their first-generation detector wasn’t particularly sensitive. I gather that it was mainly a proof of concept device, with detection as a possible but unlikely bonus.

Their tech behaved the way they hoped, so the European scientists got to work on more sensitive detectors.10

Folks with LIGO and Virgo kept working on their own projects, and cooperating. This wasn’t a replay of the infamous bone wars. (May 5, 2017)

Finding Nothing Means Something

(From LIGO Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Where astronomers looked for gravitational wave event GW170814.)

LIGO observatories in Washington State and Louisiana are about 3,002 kilometers apart. That’s 1,865 miles. At speed of light, a gravity wave would take up to ten milliseconds to travel between them. It’s not a long time, but long enough to detect.

Add the Virgo observatory in Italy, and we’ve got three observation points for GW170814. That’s enough to get a bearing on where waves come from.

Not a particularly precise bearing, though. Scientists narrowed down GW170814’s location to somewhere in a region of Earth’s sky the size of 300 full moons.

The recent gravitational wave detection is Virgo’s first. That’s a big deal for the Virgo Collaboration.

It’s also important because astronomers got a bearing on the wave’s source fast enough to follow up with optical telescopes.

It’s a big search area. But several observatories were on the job, and we’re getting better at catching transient phenomena.11

Astronomers figured they might spot something. They didn’t.

Again, not observing something doesn’t mean that something isn’t there.

In this case, not spotting electromagnetic radiation from a gravitational wave source may mean that the merger of two black holes pulled in everything near them.

Many theoretical models for how black holes merge say that’s what happens.

Having the Virgo observatory’s observations and LIGO’s made measuring polarization of GW170814’s gravitational waves possible. That’s another “first.”

It’s a Start

We now have four more observations of gravitational waves than we did in early 2015. It’s a good start, but just a start.

Detecting gravitational waves confirms that they exist, and that at least part of the math describing them reflects reality.

Gathering data, testing predictions, is an important part of the scientific method.

When some of the data isn’t quite what we expected, part of a scientist’s job is figuring out why it doesn’t match.

Gravitational waves observed so far are a pretty good match to what scientists expected from black hole mergers. There’s an odd pattern emerging, though.

All four collisions apparently involved black hole pairs where both were about the same mass. Getting pretty close matches four times in a row is odd. The pairs are a bit more massive than expected, too.

Four is a small sample. More observations will almost certainly answer some questions: and, I think, raise many more.

So will data from gravitational wave observatories in Japan and India.12

God Gave Us Brains

I really do not believe that God gets offended when we use our brains.

I think God sustains this universe. I also think that humans are rational creatures. We don’t consistently use our brains. That’s because we have free will. (Catechism, 300311, 1704, 17301731)

Sometimes we make really bad decisions.

I suspect part of the problem is that using emotions as a guide, following whatever impulse bobs up from our brain’s background processes, is easier than thinking.

We’re basically good, but got off to a really bad start.

And that’s yet another topic. (March 5, 2017)

Euclid, Alcubierre, and Beyond

Many scientists say Miguel Alcubierre’s math makes sense.

The Alcubierre metric is a Lorentzian manifold — a way of describing space mathematically.

It’s the sort of thing Euclid did: plus what some of my civilization’s best minds have been adding to the mix since then.

Discussions have shifted from whether the Alcubierre equations make sense, to how they relate to the rest of observed reality. Also how we can use them.

Data from the White-Juday warp-field interferometer tests may be inconclusive. I think that’s partly because we’re in a very new field.13

My guess is that we’re centuries from flight testing a warp drive. It’s not the science so much as the engineering. And that’s yet again another topic.

Euclid, Newton, Einstein, and still learning:

1 Studying this universe, the early years:

2 Getting up to speed:

3 Waves, particles; and gravity:

4 Maybe not particles:

5 Revisiting gravity:

6 A few questions answered, and lots more questions:

7 Nobel Prize in Physics:

8 Defending phlogiston:

9 Physics, mostly:

10 European cooperation in science:

11 Observing ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ events:

12 Gravitational wave observatories in India and Japan:

13 Very theoretical, but serious, physics:

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Death in Las Vegas, and Life

My plans for today did not include writing about mass murder on the Las Vegas Strip and rush hour panic in Wimbledon.

Instead of trying to ignore what is now international headline news, I decided to look for whatever useful facts might be filtering through.

I’ll share what I found, along with what I think about the events.

How I feel about them is — sad, for what happened in Nevada. No words can console folks who lost family and friends there. I won’t try.

The Wimbledon panic? I’m not entirely sure what I feel about that.

Route 91 Harvest: Death at a Music Festival

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Area around Route 91 Harvest’s Sunday evening performance.)

Jason Aldean and his group were performing at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival last night.

He was singing “When She Says Baby” at about 10:08 p.m. local time. That’s when folks at the outdoor concert started dying.

A few minutes later, dozens were dead or dying. Hundreds were injured. The person who killed them was dead, too.

He had been in a room on the 32nd floor of a luxury resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada.

What I’ve read in the news strongly suggests that the person whose actions resulted in those deaths intended to do so. Assuming that he had a motive seems reasonable. Thinking that his motive, whatever it was, made sense — is not reasonable. Not at all.

Less than a day later, we’re seeing the predictable aftereffects of mass murder.

Running Toward Danger

Details vary each time, but it’s pretty much the same mix: emotional meltdown, crass opportunism, public duty, and folks helping others. (June 4, 2017)

I prefer remembering that some folks at the concert ran toward the dead and injured, helping as best they could. It’s noteworthy; but not, I think, all that unusual.

My hope is that many folks will continue to respond as others have: with compassion and good sense. Given what’s happened in places like Manchester and London, I think it is a reasonable hope.

There’s also the usual hysteria and opportunism. This isn’t a perfect world.

A few politicos and journalists are at least implying that mass murders happen because we don’t all do what they want.

A media executive wrote that at least some of the dead at the music festival deserved no sympathy because they had the ‘wrong’ political views.

Making the statement in a way that could be traced to its source seems profoundly unwise. The executive is apparently looking for another position now.

I don’t doubt that the ‘no sympathy’ person was sincere. I have seen similar remarks about ‘those people’ expressed on social media.

Who ‘those people’ are depends on who’s writing. My interests being what they are, I see the occasional rabid conservative and wacky liberal. Or wacky conservative and rapid liberal. I’m quite sure they don’t represent everyone with such views.

News services are reporting the usual mix of reactions and opinions, with a sprinkling of facts. A few, happily, are sharing details of what folks who are not mass murderers or their victims do in situations like this.

“…People started to scream as bullets sprayed into a crowd of thousands of attendees at the three-day Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas.

“Some people started to scatter and search for cover.

“But some people stayed behind — or even made their way to the chaotic and deadly scene — to help the victims of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history….”
(Lindsey Bever, Wesley Lowery; Inspired Life; Washington Post (October 2, 2017))

“…Let’s focus instead on the many lives that ended on the Strip, and on the hundreds of people who tried their best to help one another as bullets and blood flew….

“…The strangers shielding one another from shrapnel, the locals guiding refugees in shorts and blue jeans to escape routes, the man gamely transporting a wounded victim by wheelbarrow….”
(Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune (October 2, 2017))

“…Concert-goer Mike McGarry told Reuters he lay on top of his children when the shots rang out.

“‘They’re 20, I’m 53. I lived a good life,’ he said….”
(James Cook, BBC News (October 2, 2017))

What happened in Wimbledon was: different.

Wimbledon: Timing is Important

(From @cyclingbetting, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Some passengers forced open the doors of train”
(BBC News))

Wimbledon station commuters flee train in ‘Bible’ panic
(October 2, 2017)

“…It happened outside Wimbledon station in south-west London at 08:30 BST as a man apparently began reading lines aloud from the Bible.

“Commuters became scared when the man also began saying ‘death is not the end’, a passenger said.

Rail power lines were cut as passengers ‘self-evacuated’, police said….”

The good news here is that nobody died. Apparently nobody was hurt. Under the circumstances, that’s quite good news. The commuter train’s unscheduled stop, during rush hour, could have ended badly.

As it is, the worst damage seems to be a 12 hour disruption of rail service. I’m not surprised it took so long.

A train stopping where it normally wouldn’t might be an issue by itself. I figure folks in charge also wanted to make sure the incident really was a simple misunderstanding, before going back to normal operations.

Nobody had been arrested the last time I checked BBC News. My guess is that the perpetrator didn’t expect the reaction he got. Why he was reading aloud is a good question.

That line, “death is not the end,” might be from someone’s Bible. It’s not in mine. Not those exact words.

It reminds me a bit of Wisdom 3:13 and 1 Corinthians 15:3649. Also what Carly Simon, Fr. Bede Jarrett, William Penn, and Rossiter W. Raymond said about death and horizons. (October 9, 2016)

The fellow’s choice of venue for a Scripture reading seems — odd. It’s not something I’d have done. Not that I’ve always been particularly unobtrusive while in public.

I’ve done a few daft things in my day. Quite a few, actually. ‘Quiet and reserved’ probably aren’t how many remember me.

But I think I might have had the good sense not to spout scripture about death and ending in a crowded commuter train. During rush hour. In a city that’s endured terrorist attacks recently. Attacks, plural.

The most recent was happily non-lethal, but was less than three weeks ago. On public transportation. (BBC News (September 15, 2017)

Monday rush hour was not a good time for uplifting quotes about death.

Human Life and Death

Deliberately ending innocent human lives is a bad idea. Deliberately ending not-so-innocent human lives isn’t a particularly good idea, either.

I see human life as sacred: all human life. That’s one reason why suicide is a really bad idea. My life — and everyone else’s — is a gift from God. I have no authority to end my own life. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 22582317)

I’ve discussed murder, suicide and capital punishment before. (January 11, 2017; October 14, 2016)

Briefly, human life is sacred: so killing an innocent person is wrong. The divine image is in each of us. It’s there no matter who we are, who our ancestors are, or what we’ve done. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 357, 361, 369370, 1700, 1730, 22682269, 1929, 22732274, 22762279)

I decide what I do with my life and the lives of those around me. So does everyone. What we do is up to each of us: for good or ill. (Catechism, 17011709, 2258)

My life is precious. So is yours. That’s why either of us defending our lives, using the least force necessary, is okay: even if that action results in the attacker’s death. (Catechism, 22632267)

That’s not even close to killing someone because I think maybe he’ll hurt someone else, eventually.

Using Good Judgment — Not Being Judgmental

I see suicide as a really bad idea.

If I acted on the occasional suicidal impulse I experience — that’s another topic — my options after that would be very limited.

I’d be, in effect, going directly to my particular judgment — after murdering myself. No time to reconsider and repent, no time for anything. Knowing what I do, that kind of trouble I don’t need. (Catechism, 10211022, 22802283)

However, I won’t heap abuse on the retired accountant who killed those folks and then himself.

I sure won’t say that he is roasting in everlasting hellfire. I won’t say that about anyone who committed suicide. It’s one rule I have little to no trouble following.

“We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”
(Catechism, 2283)

What he did was a very bad idea. What happens to him now isn’t up to me. Considering my imperfect record, telling God how someone else should be judged would not be prudent. (Matthew 6:1415, 7:15)

And that’s yet another topic.

News, views, and background:

How I see:

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I think that God knows everything, including what I’ll do for the rest of my life.

I also think I have free will, deciding what I do for the rest of my life.

I’m not, however, emulating the White Queen.

“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one CAN’T believe impossible things.’

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There goes the shawl again!'”
(“Through the Looking-Glass,” Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll, via Project Gutenberg)

I can’t say exactly how God sees reality, any more than I could explain the Trinity’s operational details.

God isn’t merely big, old, and strong. God is infinite, eternal and the Almighty. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 202, 230)

I’m not. Not even close.

I can’t fully explain God. No human can.

But I can know a little about God, and this is a good thing. (Catechism, 3138)

Ezekiel 1:26 describes God as “a figure that looked like a human being.” A couple thousand years later, Michelangelo gave us another anthropomorphic image of the Almighty.

I don’t have a problem with Sacred Scripture’s imagery, since I don’t expect the Bible to reflect my culture’s viewpoint. It’d be downright odd if it did, and that’s another topic.

Like I said, how I end up fitting into God’s reality is up to me. I’m not there yet, so I don’t have that information. God does, but it’s not because the Creator either predicts the future or decides what I think. Here’s where it gets interesting.


One of the more lucid discussions of God and human understanding is in, of all things, a comedy starring George Burns. (November 13, 2016)

“I don’t like to brag, but if I appeared to you just as God—how I really am, what I really am—, your mind couldn’t grasp it.”
(God, in “Oh, God!” (1977) via Wikiquote)

But like I said, understanding what I can is a good idea.

I think God knows exactly what I’ll be doing and that I have free will.

The “up” side is that I can decide whether or not I want to spend eternity with God. If I have any sense, I’ll opt for “with.” But it’s my choice. (Catechism, 10211037)

There’s more to it, and that’s yet another topic.

I’ll sometimes imagine God in anthropomorphic terms. But I accept that God not merely a big, strong, smart human.

God is beyond this universe. God is also “here,” no matter where or when “here” is. God is present at all times, past, present and future; and in every place that was, is, or will be. (Catechism, 300)

That’s good news or bad news, depending on whether I’m seeking God, or trying to hide.

“Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?”
(Psalms 139:7)

I don’t know what my ‘in or out’ decision will be, because I’m not dead yet. God knows. God isn’t predicting the future or controlling my decisions. God knows because God is there “now.” From God’s viewpoint. (Catechism, 599600, 10211050)

Holy Willie and the Tax Collector

One dictionary defines predestination as the belief “that God has foreordained all things, especially that God has elected certain souls to eternal salvation.”

I don’t know how many folks really believe it: that God picks winners and losers.

I suppose it could help folks like Holy Willie feel good about themselves.

On the other hand, the good role model in Luke 18:914 is the tax collector. The Pharisee, not so much.

Feeling hopeless isn’t a good idea, either. It’s a very bad idea, actually. Part of my job is avoiding both despair and presumption: despondency or confidence beyond the call of reason. (Catechism, 2091)

I’m supposed to know and love God, just like everyone else. (Catechism, Prologue)

I hope that I’ll be in that “great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue” — but I’m getting ahead of myself. (Revelation 7:9; Catechism, 27, 788; “Lumen Gentium,” Paul VI (November 21, 1964))

Acting Like Faith Matters

God knows every decision I make, throughout my life, no matter where I am.

God knows what I will do because God is already there: and not limited by time and space, as I am. For God, “all moments of time are present in their immediacy.” (Catechism, 600)

In that sense, I am “predestined” to be in either Heaven or Hell: but the choice is mine.

What I do about my faith is important, too. Believing that Jesus is the Son of God isn’t enough: not by itself.

“So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
“Indeed someone might say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
“You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.”
(James 2:1719)

Faith, believing in God, is fine: but it’s useless if I don’t act as if God matters. (Catechism, 18141816)

And that’s yet again another topic.

More of my take on faith that makes sense:

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Planet 9, Maybe; Nibiru, No

The world didn’t end last Saturday. That’s nothing new, and neither is another fizzled End Times prediction.

I’ll be talking about how a current End Times prediction affected someone whose name is the same as the wannabe prophet’s; but is an entertainer, not a doomsayer.

I’ll also take a look at the continuing, and serious, search for Planet 9; predictions involving close encounters of the cometary kind; and what we’re learning about the outer Solar System.

Opinions Matter, Sometimes

Whether public opinion affects scientific research depends on how you look at it.

Opinion polls, referendums, acts of Congress, and Supreme Court decisions won’t change how the universe works.

A real-world equivalent of Danae’s “petition to end science tyranny” wouldn’t change Newton’s law of gravity. But it might affect someone’s research budget.

I’d like to think that most American adults are better-informed than the 9th graders who signed a ‘ban dihydrogen monoxide‘ petition.

On the other hand, a National Science Foundation survey’s results showed that just over half of Americans think astrology is “not at all scientific.”

The good news, as I see it, is that over half of us may be paying attention.

It may also mean that more Americans are taking astrology seriously these days. Or maybe the poll wasn’t accurate, or something else.

Some academics figured it was something else: that many Americans didn’t realize that astrology isn’t astronomy. (Jim Lindgren, Washington Post (February 18, 2014))

They could be right. I’ll get back to that.

I suppose getting upset that a government agency spent money on an opinion poll is an option. That makes about as much sense to me as ranting about ignorance, low educational standards, or something else I don’t like.

As it is, I don’t see a problem with government agencies doing opinion polls.

Not in a country where folks at my end of the citizenry have at least an indirect influence on national decisions.

Even if we don’t decide how taxes get collected and spent, how we vote indirectly affects the decision-makers. Officials trying to learn something about folks ‘out there’ makes sense. (December 23, 2016; December 16, 2016)

Astronomy isn’t Astrology

(From NASA, used w/o permission.)
(Northern lights over Canada, seen from the ISS September 15, 2017.)

My guess is that some Catholics believe science is bad because they understand our faith, but aren’t familiar with science or history.

Astrology, along palm reading and other divination efforts, is a bad idea. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2116)

Curiosity isn’t bad. Wondering how things work, learning about the universe, is part of being human. If we’re paying attention, we’ll see order and beauty; which points toward God. (Catechism, 3132, 3536, 301, 303306, 311, 319, 1704, 22932296)

Trying to get occult ‘secrets’ or power from unauthorized spiritual sources? That’s a bad idea partly because it’s stepping on God’s authority. (Catechism, 21152117)

Besides, astrology as a predictive method is pretty much useless. That’s something we started learning around the 1700s. (August 11, 2017; June 23, 2017)

What happens in the sky does affect what happens on Earth, but not the way we thought. Not even close to what astrology said, and that’s another topic. (February 17, 2017; January 8, 2017)

Magic and Mentalists

My version of English uses the same word for sleight of hand and the breathtakingly imprudent deal dramatized in Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus.”

I can imagine someone shunning stage magic because they think it’s Satanic.

No matter how silly I thought their fear is, I wouldn’t try dragging them to a David Copperfield show.

Maybe they’ve got personal reasons for that fear: reasonable or not.

Taking Matthew 5:29’s advice is a good idea, at least metaphorically.

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.”
(Matthew 5:29)

Giving up something that’s normally okay can make sense.

I cut my drinking down to virtually zero because that’s ‘moderate’ for me. But I don’t feel that the only ‘real’ Christians are teetotalers. (July 10, 2016)

Getting back to “magic,” I enjoy watching card tricks and other stage magic.

It doesn’t bother me, since I understand that it’s essentially an application of physical skills and applied psychology.

Houdini’s famous escapes are a related form of entertainment. His efforts to debunk spiritualists may be less famous, and that’s yet another topic. Or nearly so.1

I’ll be talking about a British mentalist and an American — something else — in a bit.

Entertainers who are mentalists give the impression that they’re reading minds and otherwise employing supernatural powers.

As long as folks realize that it’s entertainment, I don’t see a problem with it.

When someone uses the same skills to convince others that they’re mediums or psychics? That’s a problem.

It’s not that I think such things don’t work.

I figure it’s usually someone with flexible ethics, or overly active imaginations and little sense. It’d be pretty far from “living in truth” either way. (Catechism, 24652470)

Then there’s Saul’s world-class lapse in judgment, breaking his own law against necromancy and divination.

That interview is in 1 Samuel 28:419.

Even assuming that the woman in Endor used only ordinary methods, Saul was breaking his own rules. He really should have known better.

1. Nibiru? Don’t Blame the Brit

(From Planet X News, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(David Meade, American conspiracy theorist and “Christian numerologist.”)

David Meade death threats in end-of-world trolling
Ciaran Dunbar, BBC News (September 25, 2017)

Having the same name as a man who predicted the world would end on Saturday – last Saturday – has caused County Down mentalist David Meade no end of grief – even five death threats.

“American conspiracy theorist David Meade claimed that Planet Nibiru would collide with Earth on 23 September.

“David Meade, from Rathfriland, County Down, has been forced to dissociate himself from the claims.

“Newspapers have incorrectly linked the claim to him on social media….”

David Meade, the British entertainer, wants to clear up this misunderstanding. He also seems quite confident that the world will not end next month.

This “HEARD THE WORLD IS ENDING?” poster was on the British Mr. Meade’s Twitter account, starting Sunday. His refund offer is repeated on his website.2

“…’…when people were arriving on my site they were seeing things like “mentalist”, “mind reader”.

“‘That probably sounds like the sort of person that would predict the end of the world,’ he confessed.

“‘The last two weeks have been extraordinary and actually it’s verging on worrying this morning.’…

“…’Sixty percent of my work is in the United States, it is deeply worrying to think that this nonsense could be there online and could affect my business,’ he said.

“He has now received five death threats but said that he is not taking the threats seriously….”
(Ciaran Dunbar, BBC News)

I think “nonsense” is a good description of the American Mr. Meade’s contribution to my country’s chatter.

Nonsense can be entertaining, like Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” poem.

Even that sort of nonsense stops being fun, I suspect, when it becomes completely random. Noam Chomsky’s Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, is a famous example.

Maybe “famous” isn’t the best word. Statisticians and literature buffs who study grammatically correct semantic nonsense know about it, though.

David Meade — the American doomsayer — may be keeping his options open. Reading between the lines of a Toronto Sun piece, I suspect he’ll say that he expected whatever has happened when he wants more publicity. Or maybe he really believes his story.

Odd Notions

One reason I read BBC News is that they’re generally pretty good at separating fact from opinion. (September 1, 2017)

“…He describes himself as a ‘Christian numerologist’, whose apocalyptic theory is based on a ‘numeric code’ he said he found in the Bible….

“…Mainstream Christian groups have dismissed his theories and have denied that Christians believed them….

“…He said Nasa discovered Planet X in the 1980s and that preparations for it striking – or closely passing – Earth were well under way in both the US and in Russia.”
(Ciaran Dunbar, BBC News)

I’m not sure which “mainstream Christian groups” Ciaran Dunbar asked about this week’s featured conspiracy theorist.

I probably wouldn’t say that Christians don’t believe such nonsense. But as a Catholic living in America, I’m not sure how “mainstream” I am.

I’ve also known Christians with very odd notions. ‘Doomsayer’ Meade’s weird mix of numerology and Bible trivia reminds me of wannabe prophets of my youth.

I assume they were as Christian as they claimed. I’m certain that they were as wildly wrong as today’s End Times prognosticators.

About ‘Doomsayer’ Meade and numerology, maybe he honestly thinks he found his code in the Bible. But sincerity doesn’t guarantee accuracy.

Folks have associated numbers with non-numeric symbolism for a very long time. I think it’s interesting, and pretty much in the same category as astrology.3

Numbers meaning something is “Biblical” — in the sense that books like Revelation use numbers a lot. That doesn’t make numerology “Biblical.” I’ll get back to that.

Akkadian Crossings

The American Meade added extra touches to America’s End Times Bible prophecy routine, like Nibiru.

He didn’t make up Nibiru, though.

My culture is developing a rich folklore about that imaginary planet.

The name comes from an Akkadian word meaning “crossing” or “point of transition,” like river crossings or ferry boats.

Babylonian astronomers used the same word for “equinox” and equinox-related astronomical objects.

Fast-forward a few millennia.

A Russian author started saying that space aliens from the planet Nibiru founded Sumerian civilization.

A Wisconsin woman says she’d been in touch with them, or maybe other aliens. Her story is that they’re warning us that Nibiru will get too close to Earth pretty soon.

Details, including when the cataclysm is predicted, have varied. The Russian author says the doomsday stuff wasn’t his idea, which is likely enough. He was more into the ‘ancient astronaut’ thing.4

None of which has much to do with being Christian. But like I said, I’ve known Christians with odd notions.

2. Charting the Outer Worlds

(From Caltech/Robert Hurt, via Sky and Telescope, used w/o permission.)
(The Solar System’s six most distant known objects, and where “Planet 9” may be.)

New Wrinkles in the Search for ‘Planet X’
Kelly Beatty, Sky and Telescope (June 21, 2017)

Are astronomers being misled by the quirky alignment of orbits that they’re finding in the distant Kuiper Belt?

“Even as the count of known planets around other stars continues to climb, a small group of observational astronomers and dynamicists are fixated on something much closer to home: tantalizing clues that a super-Earth-size planet lurks undiscovered somewhere beyond the Kuiper Belt in our own solar system.

“Some have dubbed it ‘Planet X,’ others ‘Planet 9,’ and right now observing teams are using some of the world’s largest telescopes in a race to track it down. One big problem is that they’re not sure where to look — or if it even exists….”

This “Planet X” or “Planet 9” isn’t Nibiru.

This is a hypothetical large planet in the outer Solar System. Scientists aren’t certain that it’s there, but they have math that says it could be.

Again, Nibiru is an Akkadian word for “crossing.” It’s been applied to something in 20th-century folklore and mythology.

If we find “Planet 9,” maybe we’ll give it the Nibiru moniker. There’d be a certain entertainment value in that. But since “Nibiru” isn’t the name of an ancient mythology’s deity, it wouldn’t fit our cultural precedents.

I’ll get back to our search for “Planet 9,” after a little background on planets we’ve known about for millennia and names.

We can see five Solar planets from the one we live on. That was enough to get us started with serious study of the universe.

The objects we call planets, plus Earth’s sun and moon, were the Seven Luminaries.

What set those seven objects apart is that they move around in our sky. Fast enough for us to notice, anyway.

The “fixed” stars shift position, too, which we’d probably have noticed if an average human lifespan was several powers of ten longer than it is.

Folks have been tracking relationships between lunar months and Earth’s solar year off and on for at least 10,000 years. We stopped using the Warren Field calendar about four millennia back.

Mesopotamian specialists were tracking objects in the sky by that time.

Their work eventually led to current Western astronomy.

Ancient Romans named planets after their deities, or maybe vice versa.

They probably picked up the habit from the Greeks and Babylonians. Europeans adopted the Roman custom, and we’re still likely to give new planets names from someone’s mythology.

We assigned symbolic values to planets, too. European alchemists associated the sun with gold, the moon with silver, and so on through Jupiter and Saturn: tin and lead for those two. Astrologers did pretty much the same thing.5


Then we started developing better observing tech and analytic tools.

Hans Lippershey developed the first telescope we know of in 1608.

Galileo repurposed the Dutch perspective glass for astronomical observation, along with quite a few other folks. (June 2, 2017)

Who ‘invented’ statistics and when it happened depends partly on how you use the term. We’ve been recording and organizing data for millennia, mostly for inventories and censuses. Or should that be censi?

The word goes back to 1749, when Gottfried Achenwall took Latin and Italian words, getting Statistik:”science of the state.”

Other sorts of numeric analysis came at other times. Probability theory goes back at least to Al-Kindi’s cryptography work and frequency analysis in the 800s.

Gerolamo Cardano, Pierre de Fermat and Blaise Pascal’s letters to each other discussed how to divvy up winnings after an interrupted gambling session. Christiaan Huygens tied that work together in his 1657 “On Reasoning in Games of Chance” treatise.

Jacob Bernoulli and Abraham de Moivre expanded probability theory’s math in the early 1700s. A great many other folks did more work, giving us the current statistical toolkit.

That sort of thing helped us realize that astrology didn’t work the way we felt it did, and I said that earlier.6


I suppose Saturn could have been the outermost object in the Solar System.

But it’s not.

We can see Uranus in Earth’s sky.

Folks who first noticed Uranus didn’t think of it as a planet, most likely because it’s so dim and slow-moving.

Hipparchos recorded seeing Uranus in 128 BC. Probably. Something with about the right brightness and position is in his star catalog.

Ptolemy used the Hipparchos catalog in his “Almagest.” The Almagest described a universe of nested spheres with Earth in the center. That model was a close-enough match to observations for quite a while. (December 2, 2016)

John Flamsteed spotted Uranus six times or more in 1690. He cataloged it as 34 Tauri. Pierre Charles Le Monnier observed and recorded it too, at least a dozen times, between 1750 and 1769.

Sir William Herschel used his town house garden in Bath, Somerset, for sky-watching. We didn’t have street lighting then, so astronomers could work in their back yards.

He recorded a “Nebulous star or perhaps a comet” near ζ Tauri in 1781. It had moved slightly when he looked again, a few days later, so he reported it as a comet. His report left the possibility that it was a planet open.

Uranus had completed almost a full orbit by 1847. Astronomers had been tracking its position. They noticed that it wasn’t moving according to Newton’s law of gravitation.

There were various possible explanations. Maybe Newton’s law of gravitation didn’t work the way they expected. That didn’t seem likely, since it had been standing up to other observations for about a century.

Another, more likely, explanation was that gravity from something big and previously-unknown was farther out.

Who worked out the math first, showing where that ‘planet X’ should be, depends on who’s talking. The Royal Society gave Urbain Le Verrier credit.

More Observations, and Still Looking

Johann Gottfried Galle observed and identified Neptune in 1846.

This was a big deal, since it was the first time astronomers had used math to figure out where something was — and found it.

Galle arguably discovered Neptune, since he correctly identified it. But he wasn’t the first to see the planet.

The U.S. Naval Observatory’s Sears C. Walker, looking through historical records, found more recorded observations.

Jérôme Lalande saw it in 1795.

John Herschel spotted the planet in 1830. He thought it was a star. Galileo had done the same thing in 1612 and 1613.

The records Walker found, particularly those made by Lalande’s staff, helped pin down Neptune’s orbit. Like Uranus, the orbit followed Newton’s law of gravitation: but not quite.

There was probably something else out there.

Something big enough to affect Neptune’s orbit.

We knew roughly where to look; which quite a few astronomers did, staring in 1909.

Percival Lowell’s survey caught two faint images of Pluto in 1915, but he didn’t recognize what they were.

The Lowell Observatory eventually resumed his work. The director gave a new guy, Clyde Tombaugh, the job of finding “Planet X.”

Tombaugh’s job was looking at pairs of photos, one after the other, in a blink comparator. In 1930, after a great many blinks, he found what might be a moving object on photographic plates made January 23 and 29 of that year.

More observations gave enough data for Lowell Observatory to announce their discovery of another planet. That was in March of 1930.7

An eleven-year-old schoolgirl’s name for the object, Pluto, became official a few months later. The Disney character got the same name in 1931.

The New Horizons probe left Earth in 2006, passed Pluto in 2015. It is currently heading for Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69.

Scientists are still analyzing data sent back from New Horizons’s Pluto flyby. We’re calling Pluto a dwarf planet, and are finding more like it in the Kuiper belt.

Analysis of the known outer Solar System bodies shows that some of the orbits aren’t nearly as random as they might be.

There might be another big planet out there. Or maybe not. But we’ve learned a bit about probability in the last few centuries, and the math checks out pretty well.

If Planet 9/Planet X is out there, it’ll be a planet. A big one.

Planet 9, 2016 Analysis

(From Scott Sheppard/Carnegie Institution of Washington, via Sky and Telescope, used w/o permission.)
(Orbits of some outer Solar System objects, and proposed orbit of Planet 9. It’s called Planet X in this 2016 chart.)

Orbital Path Podcast: In Search of Planet 9
Michelle Thaller, podcast, Sky and Telescope (November 28, 2016)

Astronomers are debating the existence of ‘Planet 9,’ a big planet beyond the orbits of Pluto and Neptune. Dr. Michelle Thaller talks with planetary scientists Scott Shepard and Mike Brown about if and when we’ll discover it.

“One of my favorite topics of the last decade has been the amazing richness and diversity of planets in our galaxy; planets around other stars, that is. The first planet outside our solar system was found a little over 20 years ago, and today we have over 3,400 confirmed exoplanets.

“Closer to home, we have bragged that we have now visited all the planets of our solar system. But have we? It often surprises people that we may have a long way to go before our own solar system is fully explored, or even discovered….”

My guess is that we’ll still be charting objects in the outer Solar System long after interstellar probes begin visiting nearby stars.8

By then we’ll probably have about as good an idea of what we’ll find as oceanographers do today, while mapping and exploring Earth’s ocean floor.

We’ve got a pretty good start already. Ernst Öpik said that long-period comets could come from a cloud orbiting in the Solar System’s borderlands. That was in 1932.

Jan Oort raised the same idea in 1950, and the “Oort cloud” name caught on.

We still haven’t found the Oort cloud’s outer fringe. It may merge into similar ‘clouds’ around our stellar neighbors. Or maybe not.

We’re getting a much better picture of the cloud’s inner regions. The last I heard, definitions for the Kuiper belt and scattered disc overlap. They’re both an assortment of very cold minor planets.

The Kuiper belt is roughly doughnut-shaped. So is the scattered disk, except those orbits go even farther away from the ecliptic.

They’re like the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Except stuff there is mostly rock and metal. What we’re finding in the Oort cloud is almost certainly stuff that’d melt or boil this far in; like methane, ammonia and water.

Who’s in Charge?

I like living in an era when quite a bit of the science I learned in high school is outdated.

But let’s say I didn’t, and would feel better if we’d known everything there is to know when Sumu-abum was running Babylon.

My preferences wouldn’t change reality.

Since I’m a Christian and a Catholic, I think God’s God and I’m not.

I’m quite happy with the arrangement. (November 18, 2016)

“Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done.”
(Psalms 115:3)

How I see the Bible, science, and what we’ve learned in the last two dozen or so centuries, may not be “Biblical” by creation science standards.

That’s hardly surprising. Fundamentalists cooked up their alternative to the real thing in the 1960s. Their notion of “Biblical” isn’t mine. (March 31, 2017)

Some Catholics seem as fervently dedicated to Ussher’s assumptions as their Calvinist counterparts. I’m not sure why.

I figure what the Church said in 1277 still makes sense. If someone disagrees with God about how the universe works, God wins the argument. (December 16, 2016)

“Imminent” for Two Millennia

I don’t know who made the first fizzled prediction of when Jesus would come back. We’ve been having false alarms for about two millennia now.

My favorite, in terms of being imaginative, is Swedenborg’s. (August 13, 2017)

I see a funny side to America’s perennial End Times prognostication.

But I also realize that some folks actually believe them. Maybe it’s the same set who jump on allegedly-scientific portents of doom, maybe not. (April 9, 2017)

I’m a Christian, so I believe what Jesus said. He’ll be back. I’m a Catholic, so I realize that Jesus didn’t know the timetable and that we should be ready whenever it is. (Matthew 24:3644, Matthew 25:13, Mark 13:3237)

Christ’s second coming has been “imminent” for two millennia now. It will come when it does, then we see what’s next. (Catechism, 673, 10381041)

That’s good enough for me.


I could take cherry-picked verses from the Bible, add a heaping helping of pop science, stir thoroughly and present the result as “Biblical.”

I won’t. Partly because I think it’d be profoundly pointless at best. Mostly because I take Sacred Scripture, the Bible, very seriously. (Catechism, 101133)

I also think using our brains, learning about this wonder-filled universe, is a good idea. (Catechism, 35, 50, 159, 22922296)

Folks can and have taken bits from the Bible and warped them around assorted assumptions. Revelation gives them a rich “Biblical” starting point.

“…it abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism, which at best appears unusual to the modern reader….”
(Revelation, Introduction, NAB)

Again, I take the Bible very seriously. Folks who apply their own assumptions to what they find, not so much. The effect they occasionally have on others can be a serious matter, and that’s yet again another topic.

Comets, Space Vampires, and the News

Prophets of doom with scientific-sounding signs and portents aren’t as old as their faith-based brethren. I figure that’s partly because science as we know it is fairly new.

Science news reported cyanogen in Halley’s comet before its 1910 appearance.

Camille Flammarion may or may not have actually said the cyanogen “would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet.”

That claim appeared in another sort of news.

Whether he said it or not, folks selling gas masks did a booming business until we didn’t all die. (January 27, 2017)

We went through pretty much the same thing in the mid-1800s. The Great Comet of 1556 was supposed to come back and wreak chaos and destruction upon a helpless Earth. It didn’t show up. (December 11, 2016)

Halley’s comet did come back, in the mid-1980s, accompanied by a movie about space vampires.

It’s been a while since “Nemesis,” the “death star,” made the rounds through journalism’s imaginative regions. The highly-hypothetical star arguably launched Sailor Moon’s second story arc, and that’s still another topic.9

More about faith and using our brains:

1 Fun and nonsense:

2 David Meade, speaker and entertainer:

3 Sincerely-held beliefs:

4 Recent weirdness and a video game:

5 Astronomy’s first few millennia, briefly:

6 Science, math, and silliness:

7 (Re-)discoveries:

8 Solar borderlands:

9 Comets, a movie, and cartoons:

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