Friday, July 14, 2017

July 14, 2017--The Big Dipper

"Six bypasses? Stan had six bypasses." Ed was incredulous and so was I. "I thought they could only do two. One for each valve."

"I thought so too," I said, "But his wife Sally said they did six."

"So that's two more to worry about," Ed said.

"I agree. If it was up to me it would be good if they could do only two. There'd be less to be anxious about. Worrying about things that can go wrong is not my favorite thing. In fact, best for me would be if they couldn't do any."

Rona chimed in, "You both are such babies. You should be thankful for modern medicine. You'd both be dead already if it weren't for that."

"I like the living-longer part," I said, "But not what you have to do to live longer."

"Can we please change the subject," Ed said. "I can take a pass on all the medical talk."

"Me too," I said. Rona rolled her eyes and announced she was going to the bathroom.

"So let's talk about something else," Ed suggested.

"That's all right with me," I said.

"What's your pleasure?"

"Let's stay in the science realm as distinct from the medical."

"Shoot," Ed said. By then Rona was back.

"For some reason," I said, "I've been thinking about the Big Dipper."

"What?" Rona said. She resumed her eye rolling.

"I've been reading a little about cosmology." I said, "And just got The Day We Found the Universe, which is the story of Edwin Hubble's discovery of the size of the universe. I can't wait to get to it."

"Sounds boring to me," Rona said.

I ignored that. "While waiting for it to arrive from the bookseller, for some reason I got to thinking about the night sky. It's so vivid here. With the Big Dipper right overhead, on some nights it feels as if it's within reach."

"The sky here, with relatively little light pollution, can be amazing," Ed said. "Winters you can even see the Aurora Borealis. But what's with your obsession about the Big Dipper?"

"It's not quite an obsession," I said, "But since I know almost nothing about astronomy it's the only constellation I know. My father used to point out some others like Aries, Latin for lamb; Gemini, for twins; Leo, of course the lion; and Orion, the Greek hunter who is depicted as holding aloft the severed head of a lion. But I never was able to see them. The images, I mean. The Big Dipper is another matter. It really looks like a dipper whereas Aries to me doesn't look like a lamb."

"That's it?" Ed said.

"Almost," I said, "I'm thinking about the seven stars that make up the Dipper. I'm using the term 'star' loosely since I don't know if the stars are actually stars.

"Huh?" Ed said, "You're losing me."

"He lost me years ago," Rona said blowing me a kiss. I knew she was just into giving me a little grief.

"I mean, are they stars, are they nebulae, are they very distant solar systems that to us with the naked eye look like single sources of light?"

"I have no idea," Ed said. I knew I was trying his patience. "I guess it's something you can look up on Wiki." He checked his watch, "I gotta go. I need to go to work again today. We're very busy."

"I'll let you know what I find," I promised.

Back at the house I did some Googling.

First, all seven Big Dipper "stars" are in fact stars. And each star has a name. Also, the BD is a part of a larger constellation, Ursa Major, which in Latin means "the greater she-bear."

Then, it's connected to another dipper-like configuration of stars called the Little Dipper, also made up of seven stars.

And I noted, Merak and Dubhu, the two stars that form the outer edge of the cup of the Big Dipper are also known as Pointer Stars since, if you drew a line through them, they point to Polaris, the seemingly stationary North Star.

Enough, I thought. I can't wait to tell Ed. Rona on the other hand . . .

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