Friday, March 31, 2017

To be Sirius for a minute

One of the joys of my day job are the random people who walk in and tell me wonderous tales of what they get up to. One such person, for confidentiality issues we’ll call him Jimmy, is a big burley bloke, as rough as they come. If you met him on a dark night you’d probably cross the road. He always has a great story to tell about why he’s in to see me.
                                                     The dot of pollution over Glasgow is the men
                                                   in my house leaving the bloody lights on all the time.
This time he had tripped over the guy rope of his tent while projectile vomiting, trousers round his knees in a forest in the middle of nowhere. He was at one of the few locations in Britain with  zero light pollution ( always deep in a forest and very remote for obvious reasons)  and he was tracking the paths of two comets that have names like mathematical equations.
                                                               An easy comet to remember
After star gazing to about 4 in the morning, he’d gone back to the tent for a bit of sleep only to be woken about an hour later with his stomach objecting to the sandwiches his loving wife had made him, hence the swift exit from the tent, while trying to get dressed.

So being curious/nosey/ a bit stupid  I asked him what the very bright thing in the night sky was. One of them is Venus of course and the other one is Sirius or whatever the plural of Sirius is as they are A and B that appear together with the naked eye (I think).

                                                      A true superstar
He then went on to tell me that Sirius is a big threat to Earth if it ever decides to go supernova. So the first thing we would notice is that Venus will be the only bright body in the night sky and then we will know that our days on Earth are limited.
We will be about 5 months from being vaporized in an instant. The sun, the moon, everything will be blown to bits and we will know its coming and not be able to do a damn thing about it.
Which immediately sparked off two things in my mind. One thing was the quote from Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy ‘you might think it’s a long way down the road to the Chemists but that’s nothing compared to space’. (So we are only seeing the light from Sirius 6 months after it has left the surface of that star, that boggles my tiny mind).

The other thing that comes to mind is the film that I can’t remember the name of. Directed by the Canadian director I can’t remember the name of. But they know the end of the world is coming. Somebody makes a big dinner.  I think someone sleeps with Genevieve Bujold. And David Cronenberg makes an appearance. Is it Last Night? They all sing guantanamera at one point.

I asked the patient what he would do with his 6 months pre evaporation timescale – while I was thinking 'well there is no point in meeting the deadline for the next bloody book is there'. He said he had a list of people he would kill and he would kill them so that they would know he had killed them. ( He is a Glaswegian!!)  He added that if I didn’t take my elbow off his buttock I would be making a sudden appearance on his top ten. But what would you do? It puts what I call s**te in to perspective. A supernova going up like that knows no boundaries we are all going to get it, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, president,  no exceptions. Our sun will be taken out in an instant as it is a squash ball compared to the space hopper of the Sirius
As you know I treat this blog as a fun thing to do in my week so I’m not keen to look up things to see if they are right - it's just my thoughts on the matter. And if I can quote Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy again 'I would far rather be happy than be right.' But I did look up Sirius B just to see what it is up to and I came across an article about the Dogon Tribe of Mali, West Africa who are believed to be of Egyptian descent. Their folklore about the stars goes back 5000 years, their oral tradition is that Sirius has a companion star which is invisible to the human eye and the companion has a 50 year orbit round the visible star and you might think fair enough.
Except that a powerful telescope proved it to be true in the early 1970s. So how on earth ( or in space ) have that tribe known about it for the last 5000 years.
Answers on a postcard please...
( April the first is tomorrow, I think ).

Caro ( in a galaxy far, far away...) 31st March 2017


  1. Actually Sirius is 8.6 light-years from Earth (it takes light 8.6 years to reach us, as opposed to the about 8 minutes it takes light from OUR star to reach us). What your astronomer friend may have been referring to is the time between when the LIGHT goes out until the shockwave reaches us. The LIGHT would be travelling at the speed of light, naturally, but the shockwave (of particles) would be travelling slighly more slowly, hence the few months delay. A fascinating (to me) article about the closest supernova candidate is at:
    Other sources I looked at all agree that Sirius isn't serious, not at all a likely candidate to go supernova, due to the distance between the two co-orbiting stars in the system. If they were much much closer, THEN we'd be in trouble. Well... anyone living on the earth in some millions of years.

    1. Well that's what I get for paying more attention to his buttock than to what he was saying. Just reassure me EvKa, at no point do I have to join hands with my fellow man and sing Guantanamera? If so, I would be willing the arrival of the shockwave...

    2. I'd much rather join hands and sing Guantanamera than put my hands on a strange man's buttock...

  2. Fascinating information about the Dogons. All I know about them is that they make beautiful doors!

    1. I was looking around at their artwork and carvings, pretty impressive.

  3. AHH, the FCC was right! Allowing Sirius and its co-orbiter XM to merge threatens to end life on our planet. But I always thought it would come as retribution from some civilized planet for their combined radio waves streaming Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the like into its part of the intergalactic ether. As for Dogons, kissing Genevieve Bujold, and over-reactions to elbows on butts, I'll save that for further contemplation once the lights go out.

    1. Just content yourself Jeff with the knowledge that no matter how big, how daft, how can still be vapourised!

  4. The Dogon legend seems too accurate to be coincidence. I know my imperical research professor would tell me that chance can and does work that way. I have many personal experiences of super improbable occurrences. But I still want to believe that they had a way of knowing that somehow got lost.

    1. I hesitate to rain on anyone's parade, but the Dogon story has MANY skeptics, and most of the evidence for it comes from just a one or two sources, both of which had suspicious motives. One better articles about it is at:
      Another one is at: