Maddenation

The globe

Mom and I were on the deck enjoying the nice weather and doing crossword puzzles when a group of crows started a ruckus in the trees overhead. What’s going on? we thought. Then I thought of all those naturalists down through the ages who have asked the same question. Some of them have spent long hours observing and listening to the sounds of crows, trying to explain them. I then immediately thought of all the other scientists and observers down through history who have made sense of the world around us; eventually leading to explanations and mysteries far beyond the imagination of ancient people (or maybe not). Then I thought of Stonehenge and other ancient astrological sites, where early civilizations documented their knowledge of the heavens. Mom seemed to be interested in this discussion as I commented that, even though the earth was thought to be the center of the Universe, the ancients were well aware of the changes in the orbits of the sun, the moon, and the planets.

“Like now,” I said, “The sun is much higher in the sky than it is in the winter.”

“Is that so?” said mom, as she asked me, in her practical way, to remind her to look next winter.

I then launched into an explanation of the seasons and the tilt of the earth that causes the changes. Mom continued to ask probing questions until I thought it would be helpful to draw some diagrams in the blank areas of the paper. After a while, pleased that mom had stayed interested in this impromptu lesson, I went up to our bedroom to retrieve the old globe from atop our bookcases.

Everyone should have a globe. There sits the earth, properly oriented relative to the sun and the solar system, all the continents in their place, relative sizes undistorted by Mercator projections, the oceans dominating the surface, the country names having changed by all the wars and political strife that ocurred since it’s publication. What lessons you can teach! What historical perspective it engenders! What geographical and geological discussions it can enhance! What simple cosmological wonders it elucidates!

I went to work showing mom how the angle of the sun’s rays was much more vertical during the summers months. This lead to the geometrical designations of the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and the arctic and antarctic circles. That’s why Ireland had so much more daylight than we’re used to. Which lead to a discussion of weather, and how it’s much more complicated than mere latitude and longitude, and how the Gulf Current keeps Ireland and England warmer than they should be.

We quickly moved on to finding Uruguay and noticing that it’s almost as far south of the equator as we are north of it. But they don’t get snow! And they are quite a bit farther east! How easy it is to see this on the globe.

Some countries no longer exist. Is Zaire still there? What about Chad? We know what happened to Czechoslovakia. I looked for the publication date of the globe but couldn’t find it. How unfortunate. Maybe newer globes have them?

If you’re going to be on Jeopardy, you’d better study the globe. Yes, the kings and queens of Europe, the operas of the Itallian masters, and basic math and chemistry are important; but study the globe, noting the names and sizes and shapes and capitals and positions of the countries of today and yesterday. If you can remember this, you’re sure to score some points.

It was getting hot and we needed to slip inside to cool down. Before we did, I noticed that it was about 1 PM, noon standard time. I placed the globe on the deck in the sun. Next to it, I stuck a pen vertically in the crack between the deck boards. How cool! The shadow of the pen indicated that the angle of the sun roughly matched the angle of the globe. Proof that it all fit together! Alas, I was wrong and this was just a fortuitous event (and how often have we humans been fooled by Mother Nature?). The tilt of the earth is about 23 degrees off vertical. The latitude of our house is a bout 41 degrees. Correctly determined, the angle of the sun at noon on the summer solstice (6/22) should be about 18 degrees (41-23). It’s now the end of July, and maybe it wasn’t exactly noon, so the sun was undoubtedly lower in the sky (higher angle off vertical). So the angle of the sun looked close to 23 degrees. Oh well, I’ve been fooled before.

DadObservations07/30/05 0 comments

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