Monday, July 28, 2008
OBSERVING OUR ORB
Five hundred years after reason showed faith that the earth is not the axis and purpose of the universe, in denial of a god’s special gift to his special creations, even astronomers still say the “moon rises” and the “sun sets.” Before civilization began thinking for its citizens, peasants could easily have grasped the alternative way to perceive the apparent passing of heavenly bodies in daily review as, not the worship of the nest god made for humans, but the result of living on a huge merry-go-round watching a vaster, much less concerned universe going about its own business. Even before the church’s official dominotion it wouldn’t be hard to assume a terracentric perspective just from its immense relative stability compared to its fleeting inhabitants and swirling skies.
While living in my first tipi I developed a daily habit of greeting the end of the day facing west on the edge of a cliff over Lake Travis, sipping a bowl of nature’s finest and eventually recognizing what at first felt like a breeze at my back each time the sun was covered by the horizon. I’ve come to see that as the same sort of relativistic error as saying, “sunset.” What I was experiencing was my back penetrating the edge of Earth’s cooler shadow dwelling in sol’s lee awaiting the turbulent mixture with the freshly sun baked atmosphere that accompanies the land on the rotisserie as we rode into it at the speed of eight-hundred and ninety-seven miles per hour here at thirty degrees north latitude. This continuous quenching of hot air following Earth’s rotation into the night side at speeds of up to a thousand and thirty-six miles per hour at the equator is the prime generator of our weather patterns, condensing clouds back into the puddles and lakes they’d evaporated from in a twenty-four hour breathing cycle.
I quite enjoy employing the geometry I acquired during the engineering education phase of my lifelong endeavor to satisfy my curiosity in appreciating that even the sphere of Earth, with its surface’s diminishing distance from the rotational axis as one goes from the equator toward the poles, does this weather brewing at a corresponding latitudinal variation of suddenness in the system that forms anything from mild zephyrs to hurricanes out of thin air along the way. Trigonometry allows me to calculate how far away the curvature that blocks the sun before and after its appearance may be by adding a six foot tall person to the radius of the Earth for the hypotenuse of a triangle whose sides are that radius and the line of sight along a tangent to the surface, showing that in a vast desert or at sea the horizon is a mere three and a half miles away.
And this is just about the shape and rotation of our celestial nest without mentioning the profound effect that the twenty-three and a half degree angle our rotational axis makes with the ecliptic. Just calling Earth’s orbit plane the ecliptic leads one to realize that, without the plane of the moon’s orbit around the earth being five degrees against it, we would have alternating solar and lunar eclipses every two weeks. Earth’s axis, while slightly wobbly, essentially points to the same place in space requiring the assignment of new stars the role of Polaris over millennia as the whole of the universe shifts outside our galaxy and we within it. This regularity of polar direction leads to a regular change of season as the north and south poles take turns pointing toward Sol for their summers and prolonged daylight and nightdark in latitudes within the Arctic and Antarctic Circles when the horizon blocks the sun, or cannot, for many successive rotations. Between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn there is nowhere the sun does not strike directly due to the alternation between twenty-three and a half degrees above and below the equator from the axis tilt, leaving the other eighty-seven percent of Earth to take what they can get.
This post is an outpouring of thoughts accumulated over a lifetime and brought to the surface in the past few years of extended periods of pondering it all while just sitting a gawkin’ and a grokkin’. It came to a head with a post by Bean Sprouts on establishing a mnemonic to remember moon phases where I commented, “I find it depressing that you think people are that stupid,” to which depression 12 other commentors added. I suppose, like the sunlight’s distribution due to the tilt of the axis, eighty seven percent of humanity never receives enlightenment directly through their own perceptions and must rely on faith in the slanted certainty of authority about that which they believe they cannot know for themselves. They might as well join Jim Carrey in the Truman Show for all the care they have for the reality of nature having anything to do with their "real world" … you know, the created one.