Archive for the ‘calendar’ Category

Meditation on the origin of life

2009/09/27

In the Cosmic Calendar, the Origin of Life falls somewhere around now.* About three and a half billion years ago, the great abundance of life on Earth began, probably with a single replicating molecule – a precursor to DNA. Every living organism today, from the tiniest bacterium to the largest whale, descends in an unbroken line from that tiny bundle of atoms.

Today, I invite you to consider this:

We still reproduce as single-celled organisms.

Every act of human reproduction involves one cell from each parent. A single cell. For all our wondrous complexity, our bountiful organs and tissues, our towering intellects and tender thoughts … for all that, we still have to humble ourselves to the level of our distant, millions-of-generations-past ancestors in order to participate in that most ancient, most definitive act of life: reproduction.**

Footnotes:

* In fact, the details of this event, including its exact date, are difficult to pin down. The Wikipedia article on abiogenesis gives possible dates ranging from 4.2 billion years ago (bya) to 2.4 bya – that is, 11 September to 29 October. However, today falls somewhere in the middle of the range, just over 3.5 bya. The fact that 28 September is also my daughter’s birthday makes me even more prone to contemplating life’s origins today.

** Not all multi-cellular organisms are so constrained. Many plants do a significant part of their reproduction by sending out shoots or otherwise cloning themselves, rather than going through the whole one-cell business. Who’s superior now, eh?

Talk Like a Pirate Day

2009/09/16

Talk Like a Pirate Day is almost upon us. Marrrk your calendar: September 19, this Saturrrday. Arrr you ready for it? Thanks to that old salty dog, the Fiendly Arrrtheist, for makin’ me awarrre of this. Arrr.

(What do ya say, me mateys? Be I ready for Talk Like a Pirate Day?)

Cosmic Calendar: Solar System forms

2009/08/31

That season is upon us again.

I’m talking, of course, of the busiest months in the Cosmic Calendar. For those who don’t know what the Cosmic Calendar is, please see my earlier posts on the topic (starting here).

I’ve added a list of upcoming Cosmic Calendar events to the (increasingly busy) sidebar on the right.

Today (4.6 billion years ago), the Solar System begins to form. In a day or two, the Earth will have formed (4.5 billion years ago). I apologize for not having more to say right now – this kind of snuck up on me, and I still have limited Internet access outside of work. Check out last year’s post for a little more background on today’s anniversary.

(Also see last year’s post on Earth’s birthday. If anyone has any insight into the bizarre claim made in the comments, please let me know. It still baffles me. I don’t know if I could have responded more constructively.)

Invisible writer turns 200.

2009/03/24

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of someone whose writing system has helped millions of people … but none of them have seen it.

Louis was born on the 4th of January, 1809. He was a gifted child, learning to play the cello and the organ at a young age.

Between the ages of 12 and 15, he invented a revolutionary new writing system. Loosely based on a clever “night-writing” code he learned from a soldier who visited his special school in Paris, the writing system won official recognition in 1854, two years after his death. Today it is widely recognized (though not widely studied) and bears Louis’s surname, Braille.

In honour of Louis, I’m leaving images out of this entry. Just on the off chance that a blind person reads this post with a Braille reader. Check out the Wikipedia entries on Louis and his alphabet for plenty of images.

And why not send a card to someone you know using his alphabet?

Happy 200, Louis!

Periodic anniversary

2009/03/06

It is once again the anniversary of the Periodic Table of the Elements. It was first introduced to the world on this day in 1869, in a presentation to the Russian Chemical Society by Chemist Dimitri Mendeleev.

I write this with a sleeping baby in one arm, so it’ll be brief.

First, a quiz for you – a fun activity for Periodic Table Day. Feel free to give your answers and other thoughts in the comments on this post.

  1. What was periodic about Mendeleev’s table?
  2. What was the reason (discovered much later) for that periodicity?
  3. How are the elements ordered in the table?
  4. Where does hydrogen belong – on the left or on the right? Why?
  5. What predictions did the original table suggest? Have they been confirmed?
  6. Does the Periodic Table depict a fact or a theory? Explain.

Okay, now a bit of periodic fun.

Earth birthday

2008/09/01

Another Cosmic Calendar event already!

Only the day after the Solar System begins to form, our own humble planet comes into being.

(Remember, because we are compressing the entire history of the cosmos into one year, each day represents 37.4 million years.*)

I apologize for not having more to say just now – I am still in PhD write-up mode.

References used:
[1] Wikipedia, as usual.
[2] Talk Origins page on dating the age of the Earth

* For those who have followed this series from the beginning, you might remember that I claimed before the each day is 41 million years. I am now calling it 37.4 million. What gives? The earlier figure was based on a 15 billion-year-old universe. I have since learned that the consensus is for a slightly younger universe, at 13.7 billion years. Remember, this is a calendar based on what we know, and so when what we know changes, so does the calendar. If anyone else wants to fact-check my figures and calculations, please let me know.

Solar System forms

2008/08/31

For those of you who enjoyed the Cosmic Calendar posts in December (here and here), I must apologize for the dearth of them so far this year. Not much happens before December, but I did miss announcing the formation of the Milky Way galaxy back on April 6th (10.1 billion years ago).


Some time about 4.6 billion years ago, our solar system began forming from a large cloud of dust and gas. In the Cosmic Calendar, that corresponds to today. So … happy Solar System Day, everybody!

Next up … birth of the Earth.

References used:
[1] The Wikipedia article on the Formation and evolution of the Solar System reports the cloud from which it formed starting to collapse about 4.6 billion years ago. That’s also where I got the pretty picture, which is a public-domain depiction courtesy of NASA.
[2] The Natural History Museum reports an age of 4.5 billion years – slightly different (two days later in the Cosmic calendar). As the formation of the solar system probably took some time, any specific moment chosen as its “formation date” (birthday?) will be somewhat arbitrary.


Periodic Table’s 139th birthday

2008/03/06

Just wanted to point you to a milestone in science that you can mark today – the 139th anniversary of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table of the Elements. Thanks to the Skepchicks for the heads-up (and cool links – look in the comments too). Try Wikipedia (as always) for even more info and links.

Oldest Milky Way star

2008/01/11

Only 500 million years after the Big Bang, a star was born that would later be part of globular cluster NGC 6397, 7200 light years from Earth, which contains of around 400 000 stars. This star, perhaps not the oldest in the galaxy, is the oldest one so far observed in the Milky Way galaxy: about 13.2 billion years old. That’s January 14th for those following the Cosmic Calendar. Celebrate the birth of this early-starting star, HE 1523-0901, by getting up just after dawn on Monday.

Note that the galaxy itself didn’t start to form from these early stars (and various other bits and bobs) until between 6.5 and 10.1 billion years ago – no earlier than April 6th in our Cosmic Calendar.

I would like to appeal to any experts or students in astrophysics or cosmic evolution to help me populate this sparse end of the Cosmic Calendar with interesting events in the early universe. For now, I’m digging up the occasional tidbit from Wikipedia with my own meagre understanding of the cosmos – a more systematic set of dates would be very welcome.

Flowers and the end of the year

2007/12/29

Around 125 million years ago – December 29 on the Cosmic Calendar – the oldest flowering plant fossils currently dated were alive and blooming. Perhaps you can celebrate by giving a flowering plant to a loved one. This is not difficult, as only a few of the commonly-known plants are non-flowering.

Flowering plants include not only flowers themselves; they also include most trees, and even virtually microscopic plants.

Heck, you could even whip up a nice winter broth from nothing but flowering plants and water (seasoned with other flowering plants). Remember, we all depend on flowering plants for our survival (they constitute most of the photosynthetic base of the planetary food cycle).

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I will be occupied for a few days now, and am unlikely to blog until several days into 2008. So here’s a summary of the major events in the Cosmic Calendar over the next few days.

I apologize for the lack of links to my source material. I’m a little ill, and not up to hunting them all down. New Year’s Resolution #1: Be more organized with the Cosmic Calendar announcements next year.

  • 30 December (tomorrow): A moment of silence at 10:00 might be an appropriate way to mark the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
  • 31 December, 10:30 pm (2.5 million years ago): Ancestors of humans appeared. This is the genus Homo, not Homo sapiens yet. Start working on your posture.
  • 31 December, 11:46 pm (420 thousand years ago): Domestication of fire. Light a thin candle (420 thousand years passes quickly in the Cosmic Calendar).
  • 31 December, 11:52 pm (250 thousand years ago): Birth of Homo sapiens. Find some other humans and welcome them to the planet.
  • 31 December, 11:59:40 pm (10 thousand years ago): Earliest farming. Phone a farmer and give thanks for the food you eat.
  • 31 December, 11:59:50 pm (4500 years ago): Pyramids built. That’s right, you have less than ten seconds to embarrass your friends with your “Walk like and Egyptian” tribute to these great symbols of superstition and slavery.
  • 31 December, 11:59:59 pm (500 years ago): Astronomer Nick Copernicus and others mark the dawn of science, a new stage on our path to understanding our real place in the universe, which will eventually culminate in the global adoption of the Cosmic Calendar as an annual cycle of reality-based festivities.
  • 31 December, 11:59:59.9998 pm: Last year’s New Year’s Eve, at which you were woefully unaware of the Cosmic Calendar. Spend the last 2 milliseconds of the year thanking your good fortune for finding it in time for this year’s festivities.
  • 1 January: The Big Bang! We get to start all over again, some 15 billion years ago.

See you all next year.


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