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                                                                                     JOURNAL #225

                                                                                    January 15, 2017

        

          Politics has always owned the media, but not to the level we see today. Consequently it's easy to miss some of the scientific stories that have been developing. Last week researchers announced they have found a way to stop the ageing process. Anyone in good health today has a good chance to make it into the next century. Well, okay. Kidding. Sorry about that.

          But there've been some astronomical stories that are of interest. We've learned, for example, that the Moon is much older than we'd thought. Somewhere between 40 million and 140 million years more than we'd been told. That sounds like a lot, but it is easy to miss when  the lunar age had already been set at more than 4 billion years. When you get up into that range, a few million more or less doesn't sound like a big deal. But it came as a surprise. And if you're wondering how we found out, we did it by analyzing zircons, which are moonrocks.

          Also, we can look forward this year to a total solar eclipse. It will happen August 21, and the USA will be the primary stage. According to Space.com, totality will track southeast from Oregon to South Carolina along a path roughly 70 miles wide. The rest of the country will have a partial view.

          If you decide to watch, keep in mind that looking directly at the sun can permanently damage your eyes. And you need something more effective than sunglasses. One source of information: http://www.astronomy.com/observing/get-to-know-the-night-sky/2006/12/observing-the-bright-stuff

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          The third story leaves zircons and eclipses drifting into the shadows. At the height of the Roman Empire, two stars were circling each other and gradually closing in. Somewhere around 220 A.D. they merged. Or collided.  It caused a fairly large explosion which we'll get to see because the light hasn't gotten here yet. It'll be visible to the naked eye in 2022.

          Our telescopes are still watching the two stars approach each other. The system designator is KIC9832227.

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          Harlan Ellison was once asked, "Where do you get those crazy ideas?" He famously replied, "In Sheboygan." It's a question SF writers hear all the time. Sheboygan, of course, is a metaphor for the world around us. Story ideas come from all directions. KIC9832227 seems particularly appealing. Just change the situation slightly. An astronomer at the Lowell Observatory discovers that a star is coming in our direction and will either collide with the sun, or do a near miss and scatter the planets. Imagine how the media, and the world, would react to that kind of news.

          But no star coming directly at us would avoid being seen at a considerable distance. At worst, from the moment we spotted it, it would require at least 3000 years to get here. More likely 15,000 or 20,000.  So how would we react to the news that the solar system was going to be destroyed in, say, the year 12,017 A.D.? Probably much the same we did when we found out the sun will expand in 5 billion years and take out the Earth. It's somebody else's problem.

          Consequently it's hard to see how to provide any tension for the story, despite the potential power of the set-up. But I can announce that I have a title: "Kick the Can."