Archive for December, 2010

Coincidence? You be the judge

December 28, 2010

The S.F. Chronicle’s marquee columnist, Jon Carroll, once wrote that the fact that his little finger perfectly fit his nostril seemed somehow indicative of some general, all-encompassing order of things.  Or maybe that was Schopenhauer.  In any case, the end of the year is nigh, which always brings me to brief thoughts of my three favorite coincidences.  With the last two, you do sort of wonder if there might be some Stanley Kubrickesque larger celestial force yanking our strings, but the first is just a curio.  Here they are.

Coincidence:  A lot of people are deeply grateful when we pass the winter solstice and the sun begins setting later each day.  If you are one of them, and like to keep track of the sunset’s progress into ever later time, it’s this easy:  starting on January 1, and for about six weeks, the sun sets one minute later each day on average, and since it happens to set just around 5:00 PM on December 32, that means that on most days, the numerical day of the year is also the number of minutes past 5 that the sun rises. For example, January 15 = sunset 5:15.  The numbers begin diverging around mid-February, but it’s a fairly cool little curiosity when you’re making bar talk.

Coincidence:  The moon revolves at precisely the same rate that it orbits the earth, which is why for ever and ever only one side of it has faced the earth.  What are the odds?  Actually, I heard an astronomer on a talk show say they’re not, ironically, that astronomical, but still: if you wanted to provoke an earthbound species into undertaking space travel, a good start would be to drive them nuts with curiosity about the other side of that damn nighttime smiley face.

Coincidence:  More moon stuff.  Specifically, it is exactly the right size, or distance, or both, so that when there is a solar eclipse (a fairly extraordinary thing in itself, requiring as it does the precise intersections of several celestial bodies) it just exactly blocks out the sun, by which I mean not just most of the sun, and not just completely obliterating it  the sun, but matching the sun in diameter so neatly that you’d think a high school astronomy teacher had rigged it, just to depict the solar flares.  I can imagine some kind of astrophysical phenomenon that might cause a moon’s rotation to coordinate with its orbit, but this seems uncannily unlikely.

Then again, how many of our galaxy’s several billion solar systems have I actually visited, eh?  Right: fewer than four.  Never mind.