To do this week: look at the night sky, and enjoy the Perseid meteor shower
No matter where on Earth you're reading this blog post, you should be able to look up into the night sky this week and see some beautiful meteor action:
According to the best estimates, in 2010 the Earth is predicted to cut through the densest part of the Perseid stream sometime around 8:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Thursday. The best window of opportunity to see the shower will be the late-night hours of Wednesday on through the first light of dawn on the morning of Thursday, and then again during the late-night hours of Aug. 12 into the predawn hours of Aug. 13. The Moon, whose bright light almost totally wrecked last year's shower, will have zero impact this year; unlike last year when it was just a few days past full, this year it will be new on Monday, Aug. 9, meaning that there will be absolutely no interference from it at all.Yeah, seriously: thanks for not screwing up the party this year, Moon.
Related: I did not know this, but the annual event is also known as "Tears of St. Lawrence," commemorating the "fiery tears" of a Christian martyr who was tortured by Romans and literally cooked to death on an iron stove in 258 A.D.:
The Judge had Lawrence burned alive on a gridiron. Why the Aug. 10 meteors should be named St. Lawrence's "tears," it is hard to say. For he was most brave in the midst of his torment. He is said to have exclaimed: "I am roasted enough on this side; turn me over and eat."That grotesque history snippet from this article from TIME.... published in 1926.
Addendum: Boing Boing reader "Eck" says,
There's a longstanding theory that although Lawrence was martyred, the lore of his being cooked alive stems from a simple scribal error. The Latin for "he suffered" is "passus est"; drop one letter by mistake and you have "assus est" (he was roasted). (Link)
I hadn't know this before, but the theory was evidently first propounded by Pio Franchi de Cavalieri in "S[an] Lorenzo e il supplicio della graticola," Roemische Quartalschrift t[ome] XIV (1900). That, at least, is what Analecta Bollandia tomus XVIII has to say:
M[onsieur] P[io] F[ranchi] s'arrete a peine, et il a raison, a l'hypothese qui reduirait l'explication a une question de paleographie: on aurait lu assus est pour passus est. (Link, at 453.)