Ghost Knowledge: Leaf Tea and Astral Jell-o

Some delights of autumn leaves: the stained-glass cathedral light they filter through the trees, the shusss-and crackle of a walk through those already fallen, their earthy perfume rising from the ground after a rain.

Another delight is the ghost images left behind; shadowy impressions of their former selves imprinted for a time on wet sidewalks.  The alchemy of rain, infusing, distilling and releasing the tannin held in the leaves, makes a kind of leaf tea which stains the walkways with these brown and gray shadows.  It’s as if the leaves are so reluctant to, well, leave, that they impress upon the autumn walks a kind of photo-memory, a soft, diffuse shade of their former existence. They are gone, but still here. Ghost leaves.

Something else gone but still here –

A couple of days after my birthday this past August, the ripples from the collision of two neutron stars somewhere in the cosmos reached our tiny corner of the universe.  The actual collision happened 100 million years ago. But it wasn’t until August that we felt the tremor and, 11 hours later saw the result – the first time observers on earth actually got to see the collision of neutron stars. I won’t begin to try to explain it all, so there’s a fuller explanation and some very cool videos here.  By the way, EarthSkyNews is a great daily dose of fun and understandable science in your inbox.  You should subscribe.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have some excited and conflicted feelings about this.

On the one hand, I am pleased that yet again the late great A. E’s theories are proven right; that the gravitational waves from a collision of two huge, super-dense astral bodies could shake the universe like a bowl of gelatin. He actually never thought this theory could be proven because the tremor would be so small, we could never build a machine sensitive enough to detect the waves. Maybe this is one of the very few times he was ever wrong about anything. See my post about the first time this theory was proven – just two years ago.

And I am impressed and proud that humans are actually discovering more and more about how we all came to be and how our universe works.

On the other hand, the thought of the universe, with me in it, shaking like a bowl of jell-o is a bit unsettling: on a par with the fact that our moon is moving away from us at the rate of 1.6 inches each year.  As a result, the earth’s rotation is slowly slowing down. Worrisome, no?

We’ve got a few million (or was it billion?) years before we have to worry about that, though.

These incomprehensible space science things really fascinate me — and blow my mind.  I don’t know how scientists wrap their minds around black holes, dark matter, the space-time continuum, quarks, leptons, infinity … Sort of like the White Queen believing “six impossible things before breakfast.”

An eminent local scientist once explained dark matter to me (and a group of others), and I actually thought I understood it — for about 45 seconds — but couldn’t sustain the knowledge.

Still, the memory of once (maybe) understanding such a complex and ephemeral concept persists. Ghost knowledge.

Ghost leaves I can understand.  The universe – not so much. But I’m glad someone’s working on it and I’m content to be amazed.

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