I woke up at a little after midnight last night and went outside to stretch my legs. I looked up, and wouldn’t you know it, the Moon was out. Its about 1/2 right now, nothing unusual… accept that I noticed the Moon has an odd angle to it. Why odd? Odd because I’ve never seen any reference to the angle of the Moon’s crescent at different times of the year.
I thought back to the story of how Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, etc. figured out that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, and eventually deducted to a relatively high degree of accuracy the motions of the Earth, Moon and planets about the Sun. Eventually some of these motions were reasoned out a little further and made more sense of by Sir Isaac Newton through his physical laws and the initial theories of gravity.
That seems a lot of work to me. Hugely a lot of work considering that measuring the movements of the planets is not very easy as they are very small to look at from here and it takes a huge amount of time to register them with much accuracy as you have to wait through several years of accurate observations to finally start getting a picture of what’s going on up there. Lucky for Kepler, Tycho Brahe – drunk though he may have been – financed a huge catalogue of accurate observations. Whew! Kepler spent what I now feel was an inordinate amount of time working out the heliocentric calculations necessary to explain mathematically that things travel in an elipse around the Sun and our observations of other planets get skewed since we’re moving around it too.
This brings me back to the moon. We’ve been taking observations of the moon ever since the lunar religions took hold, and maybe before. Who knows. Its thousands of years anyway, and there are numerous monuments all over the world that mark the Moon’s passage very accurately. The Moon’s cycle is very short, you can observe the Moon rise and set in the same 24-hour period, and its close enough to not only mark where and when it passes, but exactly what it looks like, including the angle of the glow. In fact, the angle of the Moon’s glow is what caught my attention last night… that angle being precisely perpendicular to the Sun at all times. Isn’t that obvious? It strikes me as the most easily observable hint of where the Sun is in relation to us, and for some reason that was overlooked for thousands of years. Improbably overlooked, I should say.
To see how obvious it is, I pointed at the center of the Moon, then drew my finger along a line from the center, through the center of the shine, all the way down to the balcony ledge I was standing beside. I thought about it for a bit, and it all made perfect sense why the moon was at such an angle last night. Instead of going straight up or down, my finger went down at an angle to the north. Its summer now in Okinawa, and I reckon that with no other devices or foreknowledge I could guess with relative accuracy the latitude of Okinawa just by making such rough calculations as pointing from the Moon’s center to the edge of my balcony (it being perfectly plumb) every few nights at certain times throughout a year.
So now my point: This is such an obvious process and the hint is so glaringly present that I am shocked now that the story everyone learns about the human discovery of the way our solar system is ordered is built around such a difficult and indirect process as planetary observations. It seems like this is more the story of humans ignoring the present and obvious as opposed to taking fresh looks at the observable world around them.
Weird. Almost disturbing in a way. What other staggeringly important and obvious shorcuts in observational sciences are we tuning out today I wonder? I suppose its as Eric Raymond and Richard Stallman always maintain, “The solution to any problem is obvious to someone.” So the solution, as in open-source software development is to expose as many problems to as many sets of eyes as possible and then coordinate an effort? Pheh… anyway, I’m getting out of the scope I wanted to write within.
Sorry to bore the folks who come here to read only about internatinal bickering, war, and social upheaval.