Thursday, April 7, 2016

History: The Year is 1761

I've uploaded year 1761 to the TSP Wiki...

Here are some one liners...

Mason and Dixon and the Race to Measure the Solar System -- Mason and Dixon were involved in the measurement of the Solar System before they won fame in measuring the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The Search for Pi and Pluto -- Pi is proven to be an irrational number. The same fellow also coins the word albedo, meaning "whiteness". I talk about the variable whiteness of Pluto.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star Spangled Banner! -- The tune to this famous lullaby is published this year. The lyrics won't be written for decades. The Star Spangled Banner also used an old tune with new lyrics.

Mason and Dixon and the Race to Measure the Solar System

Edward Halley's dead hand has set in motion the greatest scientific project of two centuries. It is nothing less than the measurement of the solar system by timing Venus as it passes across the face of the Sun. They will have a chance this year and another in 8 years. After that, it will be more than 100 years before they can try again. In 1716 when Halley proposed this project, he knew these observations would be made by scientists who had not yet been born and that it would require multi-national cooperation to make the observations and then compare the data or it would all be for nothing. But he didn't count on the Seven Year's War. Mason and Dixon are British scientists who will one day mark the border line between Pennsylvania and Maryland, but right now they are ducking musket balls as they make their way to Sumatra to collect their data. French forces have attacked their ship, causing them to divert to the Cape of Good Hope. Is everyone insane? No. The scientists believe that their measurements will provide a method for determining longitude without a need for John Harrison's new-fangled marine watch and thus the SCIENTISTS will collect the prize money ahead of that knuckle-dragging philistine... uh... I mean... in the hope to further the interests of navigation, science and all of mankind. [1] [2] [3] [4]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
This project was spear-headed by the French, and carried out by scientists across the world. Obviously the French military didn't get the memo. I mentioned Mason and Dixon because they were British like Halley and most people have heard their names. The exact time that Venus starts and ends its transition varies depending on one's position on the Earth. Comparing the variations in time allowed scientists to triangulate the distance from the Earth to the Sun which is called an Astronomical Unit or AU. The relative distances from the Sun to the planets were already known, but there was no scale to the map. They didn't know if 1 AU equaled a million miles or a billion. (An AU is around 93 million miles.) Once they had an exact measurement to the Sun, all the other measurements fell into place. They also noticed that Venus has an atmosphere. I recommend Andrea Wulf's book "Chasing Venus" for a detailed account of the effort. It is a fascinating story. One astronomer was almost killed by natives. They thought he was a magician. [5] [6]

The Search for Pi and Pluto

The Swiss scientist and mathematician, John Heinrich Lambert, has shown that the exact value of pi is an irrational number... That means an exact decimal value can never be calculated. To demonstrate his conclusion, he changes the way that the number is represented, turning the formula into a series of stacked calculations of division called a "continued fraction". (I can't describe it better than that, but it becomes obvious after a few iterations. That is, it becomes obvious to Lambert. I still haven't had my coffee.) Lambert also publishes a work on photometrics this year. That is the measurement of light. In particular he will introduce the word "albedo" (al-BEE-doe) which is the measurement of the "whiteness" of an object or its general reflective quality. [7] [8]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
This idea of the "whiteness" of an object has fascinated scientists observing Pluto because however "white" a planet may be, it probably should not change too much over time unless lava is flowing or something is growing over the surface. Neither of those seemed reasonable for Pluto. Pluto was getting "whiter" as it moved further from the Sun! Scientists finally realized that Pluto has an atmosphere and that it "snows" methane as it gets colder. Methane "snow" is what makes the surface whiter at times. As its orbit brings Pluto closer to the Sun, the "snow" melts and we see the darker surface of the planet once again. It is a cycle that renews the reflective quality of Pluto. [9] [10] [11]

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star Spangled Banner!

The lyrics are not written yet, but the music for this tune is published this year. It won't jump to the top of the music charts until Mozart uses it in one of his compositions 20 years from now. The same tune will be used for the Alphabet Song and Baa, Baa Black Sheep. [12] [13]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
This idea of putting new lyrics to old songs has a long tradition. In particular, the Star Spangled Banner comes with original lyrics but uses a song from a British gentleman's club. Actually, the men singing this song were considered gentlemen, but the song itself was a drinking song, meant to promote the love of music, women and good wine. [14] [15]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1761, Wikipedia.

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