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This is one of my favorite poems by the ancient Greek poet Sappho. She was a master of packing a lot into a very tiny lyric — which is good since, tragically, only 200 scraps of her verse survive. This one is magnificent. In a mere eight lines, she paints the melancholy of middle age onto the canvas of the night sky.

There’s something else about this poem, though: Its astronomical specificity!

Sappho talks about the Pleiades, a cluster of extremely bright stars near Taurus. What’s more, Sappho mentions two interesting facts:

  • she watches the Pleaides go down, sinking beneath the horizon. …


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Back in 2006, Don Anderson snapped this picture of an amazing cloud formation. He uploaded it the web site of the “Cloud Appreciation Society”, a deliciously-named organization founded 2004.

But it turns out that Anderson wasn’t alone. Other members of the Society were discovering, all around the world, this same formation — where the clouds cut deep, jagged valleys across the sky, producing a freaky, end-of-the-world look. …


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I read Carlo Rovelli’s book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, a layperson’s description of the big breakthroughs in modern physics. It’s a blast, but one throwaway comment really struck me.

Rovelli is discussing Einstein’s 1900 paper about photons and light. He quotes what Einstein wrote …

It seems to me that the observations associated with blackbody radiation, flourescence, the production of cathode rays by ultraviolet light, and other related phenomena connected with the emission or transformation of light are more readily understood if one assumes that the energy of light is discontinuously distributed in space.

Then Rovelli makes a nifty point…

About

Clive Thompson

Journalist for Wired, NYT mag. Musician. Writing a book about “how programmers think”. (Coders: Ping me about it!) www.clivethompson.net, email is clive@ there.

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