Tag: Saturn

Day 1000: How It Ends

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Inside this cubicle the air is thick as honey, with asphyxiating flecks of the mundane bracing against the irrefutable promise of a golden weekend. Outside these pin-cushion partitions – and indeed inside as well – every tiny molecule in the universe is saying its goodbyes to its neighbors and preparing to splash into the unknown permutations of a distant someday. My fingers hammer at these tiny plastic letters, fully ignorant of what’s to come.

Or are they? The hallowed fingers of esteemed science – no doubt similar in size and shape to my own, only tasked with a far more specific purpose – have combed back the hair of the observable now and picked at the scalp-nits of projection. The fields of astronomy, physics, mathematics, and a cabinet full of –ologies have given us a map of what’s to come. A timeline of time’s last hurrah.

And the best part? If any of these predictions are wrong, every record of them will likely be destroyed before anyone finds out. That’s my kind of science.

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Within 10,000 years, human genetic variation will no longer be regionalized. This won’t mean we’ll all look the same – the blonde gene will still speckle crowds and set up offensive jokes, but it will be distributed equally worldwide. This forecasted panmixia is far more optimistic than astrophysicist Brandon Carter’s Doomsday Argument, which places our present at roughly the halfway point of humankind’s civilized journey, and projects a 95% likelihood that we’ll be wholly extinct in 10,000 years.

If global warming hasn’t already soaked us into a Kevin Costner-esque hellscape by then, we may also be facing the melting of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which will raise the sea levels by 3 or 4 meters above wherever it will be once we lose the rest of the polar ice caps, which should happen long before then.

Long term forecast: buy a big-ass boat. Read more…

Day 866: Blessed Be This House Of Poop

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People often ask me whether or not I worry about running out of interesting topics before this thousand days is up. My response is always the same. “Of course not,” I tell them. “I haven’t yet written about toilet gods.”

Well, today I throw caution at the swirling fan and cash in on one of our species’ most notably bizarre predilections: assigning a higher power to the place where we poop.

Modern religions have spent too long on the proverbial fence, blindly adhering to its monotheistic principles and paying no mind to our spiritual doody needs. There is no patron saint of having eaten too many spicy enchiladas last night, nor am I aware of any Hebrew or Muslim prayer to combat lactose intolerance. We must look to the faiths of the ancients for this.

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In old-timey Japan, bodily waste wasn’t buried underground and forgotten. It would be collected and spread around the fields, acting as a fertilizer and completing that grand circle of life that most of us would rather not think about. For this reason, the kawaya kami (toilet god) was a god of fertility. Not the fun kind of fertility that we usually (but not always) reserve for another room in the house, but the food/crop sort of fertility. Sometimes family members would sit in front of the toilet and eat a bowl of rice in order to appease the god.

The other big plus in praying to kawaya kami was for protection. Collecting fertilizer material from toilet basins was dirty work, but also a bit on the dangerous side. There was the risk of tumbling into the muck and drowning, which is probably the worst way to die this side of inhaling next to Ann Coulter. Kawaya kami – if properly appeased by your consumption of malodorous rice – can save you from such a fetid fate. Read more…

Day 696: Here is Ceres

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If you haven’t read the article or seen the t-shirt, you’re probably nevertheless aware that our ninth planet, Pluto, was demoted in 2006 to the meager status of dwarf planet, a lower classification that for whatever reason enraged pockets of the populace. I suspect a chunk of that outrage had to do with one of our ingrained snippets of knowledge – the names of our solar system’s planets – that we remember from elementary school being altered. It’s fundamental, like the names of our Canadian provinces (which has changed) or the five senses (though actually there are several others).

But amid all this weird hype over a remote ice-rock and whether it still gets invited to the same imaginary shindigs as Saturn or Venus, we forgot to celebrate little Ceres. Ceres was also tossed into the dwarf planet class along with Pluto and three others, but for Ceres it was a promotion. Where once she was just a passenger amid the rush-hour gridlock of the asteroid belt, now she reigned supreme.

And as much as we all have Pluto’s name etched in our brains as the last fuelling post before the great black expanse of deep space, we know almost nothing about Ceres. And her secrets might be among the most interesting in our little corner of the cosmos.

Ceres

Much like the grainy footage of Bigfoot, this is all we’ve got of Ceres: a blur, courtesy of the Hubble Telescope. We know surprisingly little about this chunk of rock, though NASA is aiming to change that when the Dawn spacecraft pays Ceres a visit early in 2015. Ceres was discovered due to math, which means that I’ll be covering this portion of the story using the most vague and non-researched terms possible. Read more…

Day 534: Dancing ‘Til You Drop Dead

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Boogie Fever. Rockin’ Pneumonia. The Boogie-Woogie Flu. So many dances, so many accompanying ailments.

But that’s all the stuff of fiction, right? Silly little catchphrases developed in order to make a new dance (and its accompanying record) sound so appealing it’s downright infectious. We all know this is just a gimmick. And one which hasn’t been employed since the days of disco – what if some savvy song craftsman had penned the Lambada Lupus, the Macarena Macular Degeneration or Gagnam-Gangrene?

But I’m not interested in phony dance diseases, not when there’s the real thing to write about. Once upon a time, back when the Black Plague had recently and mercifully subsided into the annals of history, the world caught a little case of actual boogie fever. And it may have claimed the lives of thousands.

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It was a warm July day in 1518. The town of Strasbourg, located in the Alsace region of France – you know, that region Germany always takes over first whenever they invade – was quiet and tranquil. People often journeyed there to check out the Strasbourg Cathedral, the tallest building in the world. On that July day, they would have had another reason to drop by. Read more…

Day 459: Remembering Your Astrological Symbols

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So you want to learn more about astrology. Maybe you’re seeking answers and guidance from the stars, or perhaps you’re just looking to fleece a few bucks off the gullible suckers who think they can find answers and guidance in the stars. No matter – you’re going to need to learn the skill of identifying astronomical symbols.

These little pictographs were used to represent various thingies in the sky, beginning back in the days of the Greek papyri from the late classical era. The standard symbols have been used ever since, from the Byzantine era up through modern times, as a means for astronomers and astrologers to keep track of all those chunks of rock and gases that flicker and fly through the cosmos.

Here’s a handy guide to remembering which symbols are which. Because astrology appears far more mystical and cool when you’re reading unintelligible symbols instead of actual words. Read more…