More, there is more

Readers on Svalbard, or in the Faroe Islands, will be enjoying a total eclipse of the Sun this morning, on its path of totality sweeping towards the North Pole. (Need I provide you with the usual warning against looking at it directly?) It is “upsized” with a supermoon, happily enough (the moon is at perigee). With the Earth’s magnetic field reverberating from the coronal mass ejection that hit us on Tuesday, we have all these gorgeous auroras to go with that, some showing even in broad daylight. And as today is also the vernal equinox, we have ingredients enough for what the poets who inhabit our weather channels call a “Freaky Friday.”

Meanwhile our galaxy would seem to have expanded considerably, courtesy of some woman in China. She is the brilliant astronomer Yan Xu, and by a collation of observations she and her “team” seem to have established once and for all that the Monoceros Ring — floating 15 kpc off the fingertips of what we took for our Milky Way’s outermost arm — is actually a continuation of the spiral. (A “kpc” is a kiloparsec, equal to about 19 quadrillion miles, and not “Kentucky poached chicken” as one might think.)

You see, what we didn’t know until the day before yesterday is that the spiral arms of our galaxy — weird enough already for their wobblesome braiding habits in response to who-knows-what dark invisible gravitational forces — are corrugated. The mass of stars rise up and drop down in these helical waves from our galactic centre; and from our own position, part way up one wave, the next wave was blocking our view outward, and from all directions tending to omit much of the stellar flotsam in the troughs. Careful analysis now lets us see through the blockage. There’s more stars down there in the dips, as well as up and over the extra wave, and thus our galaxy turns out to be so decidedly more populous. Add another hundred billion stars, easy. Hell, add two hundred billion. Give them Obamacare.

And there could be another ring or two beyond the “new” one. And the dwarf galaxies or star-clusters glimpsed off farther still, that must exert their own shepherding influence as they stream round or even through our starry stir-pot — riding like errant comet-balls above and below the galactic ecliptic — may not be or do what we think. They had anyway turned out to be fewer than they should have been in theory.

Verily, the whole architectonic must be reviewed in light of this insolent failure on the part of the cosmos to act in accordance with human expectation.

More, there is more! … But we are already approaching the limit of my ability to translate astrophysical mumbo-jumbo into reckless and inaccurate layman’s terms. Suffice to say, if gentle reader was taught that our Sun is about two-thirds of the way out from galactic ground zero, he must now adjust his whole life to the fact that we are only half-way out, if that. For the Milky Way is rather like the Greater Parkdale Area. Every time you look the suburbs have spread, and there’s more condominiums downtown. The commutes must be getting horrendous.

True, none of this quite makes the threshold of breaking news on the Drudge Report. But we must take the long view. We must work harder to fill the world with our news, instead of their news. Idleness must compete with industry: we will need tremendous energy to win this fight.