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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Job Outsourced to...Mars

Saw this in this morning's paper:

Mars will be unusually bright this Christmas Eve and the moon will be shining full — a development that might make Santa Claus rethink his need for Rudolph's red nose.

That idea, from Miami Space Transit Planetarium director Jack Horkheimer, made us wonder if retooling a certain reindeer song is the best way to explain it to the kids...

Go to the link for the "retooling". Essentially, it's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" re-written so that Santa uses Mars instead, and Rudolph gets the night off. As Niles said, it sounds like the author, AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein, has been hitting the eggnog a bit hard. But we both liked the ending:

Then all the reindeer teased him.
And they shouted out with glee:
"Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
Outsourced to astronomy."

Check out this wicked cool Flash animation of Mars's position relative to the Earth and Sun. Hit the fast forward. Zoooom! Note the box in the upper left where it shows Mars's (relative) appearance in a telescope. In late August of 2003, in the closest approach in 60,000 years, Mars nearly filled the gray circle. The Christmas Eve approach will not be nearly as spectacular.

(Actually, the closest approach was on Dec. 18, but Mars will be brightest on Dec. 24. The increase in brightness between the two dates, however, will not be noticeable.)

Which brings us back to doe. I mean, Rudolph (who is not a doe, as far as we know). Wasn't Santa's point that Rudolph's glowing nose would penetrate the "foggy Christmas Eve", thus allowing Santa to see where he was going? How's Mars going to do that? In fact, if Santa uses Mars as a guide instead of Rudolph, he's going to be heading straight to...Mars.

And then he'll conquer it.

(Horkheimer should know better, even if he is no longer the memorable "Star Hustler" but instead a common "Star Gazer." Turns out that too many little moppets searching for him on the internet wound up at quite a different "Hustler". Now that's educational.)