Frame of Reference - Index

I Physical Properties

Primus Stele

Heavens - Universe

1) Universe may be our most creative invention, or so it would seem in historical terms. Man has retold countless stories about the stars and celestial origins of Man from as far back as memory and archaeology can trace. Astronomy, the scientific approach to the study of Universe, and Astrology, the arcane science of human destiny, are estranged sisters that inhabit our social conscience and bicker in many areas of human intellectual endeavor. These sisters dress one in science, one in myth and religion; one in medicine, one in naturopathy; one in chemistry, one in alchemy; one in democracy, one in monarchy; one in Atheism, one in belief.

"In every primitive community, studied by trustworthy and competent observers, there have been found two clearly distinguishable domains, the Sacred and the Profane; in other words, the domain of Magic and Religion and that of Science." (Bronislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion, 1948)

2) Astrology describes the influence of the 'heavenly bodies' upon the ordinary affairs of Man and upon human character. It pretends to be a mathematical science and purports to explain the effects of 'Solar Currents' on living things on Earth, especially on human life. The initial successes of Astronomy were used to serve the myths of Astrologers.


The mysteries of Universe are open for all to wonder and speculate. There is more to nature than what meets the eye. (Secundus Stele: Earth, verse 22)

Claudius Ptolemy living in Alexandria, Egypt (about AD 90-168) is often given credit for formulating the exposition of Astrology based on the then presumed nature of stars and planets. The Almagest depended on Earth at rest with the stars being part of a great sphere rotating around. Over the years the errors of his observations have been corrected but the essence of his method remains inviolate: "...for it is not possible that particular forms of events should be declared by any person, however scientific, since the understanding conceives the idea of some sensible event and not its particular form. It is, therefore, necessary for him who practices therein to adopt inference. They only who are inspired by the Deity can predict particulars." (Ptolemy) So even Astrology has its limitations.

Astrologers have the compiled records of ages upon which to base their predictions, correlating the vibrations and movement of the stars and planets to positive and negative influences on individuals and governments. It is, however, left to the individual to take the teachings and be inspired, to put into practice their own life plan. It is a tempting fallacy to grasp for answers where there are none, a pschycological tendency perhaps, and it may be proof that Man has an instinct to try to understand Universe.

3) Astrology is the older sister to Astronomy, since it began even before Earth was the presumed center of the unknown Universe, 'geocentric,' with the heavenly bodies rotating around Earth. As it turns out, changing the story, so Earth orbits Sun and all the other details of our multi-dimensional Universe, matters very little to the ancient or modern art of Astrology. The teachings and predictions seem to be immune to the facts of nature, and these likewise are irrelevant to the continuation of Astrology. Astronomy has long since discarded the mystical connection to its sibling in an increasingly more complex attempt to measure, predict and describe the movement and substance of the stars and all the greater and lesser structures science has discovered. Astronomy was a science before scientific methods were developed and led the way to objectivity with the highest early achievements of accuracy. Later Astronomy uses the highest standards for precision in the culture of science, this following thousands of years after the beginnings of Astrology.


Sun worship no longer makes sense -- in the same way there is no need to invent a personal god. (Nonus Stele: Myths, verse 35)

4) One sister gives us navigation, constellations and time; one gives us birth signs, celestial calculus and fortune telling. The same set of facts, the same reality, is viewed by people from very different perspectives and used and interpreted to satisfy very different agenda, century after century, even today. This same kind of dialectic, the patient expert and the anxious, glib amateur, exists in many pursuits for knowledge that affect human well-being. Those who are irresistibly drawn to Astrology have the methods of that arcane science, much like a religion, to explain their lives and find meaning in their everyday activities. For the rest of us, and of most significance to Atheists, we are, not unhappily, left to our own devices to identify the path our lives will follow.

5)

COMING HOME

Last night I chased Sun from Cincinnati.
The longest Sunset in the history of Astronomy.
Useful that time thinking of you.
A melody, Solemn, Sacred music created this sentiment.
Why? Music forces my recollection of the mystery we share.
Blessed is our silence in front of this tabernacle, Universe of stars.
Rejoice too in the august hymn that unites our breasts.
Let no distance between us be so great that a song
can't unite our hearts. (IJ, 1995)

6) So what about the truth? Which sister should we believe? Was there really a Big Bang when all matter imploded with such force that it almost simultaneously exploded? Possibly 15 billion years later the remnants of that explosion have traveled away from some undetermined center forming nebulae, aggregating, spinning, forming galaxies, stars, planets, moons, asteroids and comets etc. Or, did many of these 'bangs' occur? Does Universe just exist forever with new Galaxies forming from nebulae, new matter forming in suns and collapsing into black holes then exploding, sending substance out to begin new star systems? Can we, with our limited intelligence, accept the infinite nature of Universe, which means it just keeps going? The known Universe certainly 'keeps getting bigger' as larger and more specialized telescopes bring to our attention fainter signals from beyond the previously visible frontier. Beyond the one hundred billion visible galaxies lies what? more galaxies certainly!

Even though there are many questions unresolved relating to the details of the Big Bang, most astronomers accept this concept. For example, work continues on calculating the precise rate Universe is expanding, the fact that it does expand is well established. The curvature of space is probably impossible to visualize, but this conclusion, the result of Einstein's relativity, is among the most accurate theories of physics. It results in the conclusion that Universe is finite yet unbounded: One can travel indefinitely, conceptually, in any direction without reaching an edge. Thus in the most popular model, space appears flat 'locally,' and on a gigantic scale -- larger than the observable Universe -- cosmic geometry is curved.

7) One popular myth of creation is expressed succinctly in the Qur'an (Koran):

"Surah VII: verse 54. Lo! your Lord is Allah Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days, then mounted He the Throne. He covereth the night with the day, which is in haste to follow it, and hath made the sun and the moon and the stars subservient by His command. His verily is all creation and commandment. Blessed be Allah, the Lord of the Worlds!

"Surah II: verse 117. The Originator of the heavens and the earth! When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is."

This is essentially the same tradition as the Jewish Torah and the Christian religions using the Old Testament as their authority. Most of these traditions are still going strong as beliefs in spite of the intrusion of facts (as with Astrology) that might be contradictory to the timetable established by Western religions.

8) Not only does Man react to his environment, he perceives the stars and the expanse of Universe 'out there' according to a complex discrimination based on his knowledge. Thus we filter what we see based on who we are. The formative processes of astronomy and earlier, astrology, coincided with the development of meaning with Man using verbal symbols, creating language, telling His legends initially by memory then with writing. With each new stage of development He compared the present events of His life with His family history and inherited superstitions. Man treats what is 'out there' as part of His culture as much as what surrounds Him on Earth. Further, He makes a rational reconstruction for the purpose of making sense out of this mystery, thus the birth of myths. This new understanding of what He sees becomes the formulary for what He says, and for what is significant in His life.

This is how religions develop as part of the phenomenology about Universe, as a way for humans to make sense of the unknown and put it into language. It is not a fallacy to make up theories, it is a fallacy, however, to accept these as fact before they are thoroughly tested. It is a fallacy to be closed to new theories that fit the facts even better.

9) The poet John Milton (Paradise Lost: Book VII, published 1667) describes the motivation man has for learning about Universe "to magnifie his works, the more we know." Yet there is a caution from the wise Adam, "Knowledge is as food, and needs no less Her Temperance over Appetite,..." In his epic poem he merges the Greek tradition of Chaos with the Christian tradition of a single God that created Heaven and Earth--for the Greeks Gaea and Uranus respectively.

Speaking to Adam:

"...But since thou hast voutsaf't
Gently for our instruction to impart
Things above Earthly thought, which yet concernd
Our knowing, as to highest wisdom seemd,
Deign to descend now lower, and relate
What may no less perhaps availe us known,
How first began this Heav'n which we behold
Distant so high, with moving Fires adornd
Innumerable, and this which yeelds or fills
All space, the ambient Aire wide interfus'd
Imbracing round this florid Earth, what cause
Mov'd the Creator in his holy Rest
Through all Eternitie so late to build
In Chaos, and the work begun, how soon
Absolv'd, if unforbid thou maist unfould
What wee, not to explore the secrets aske
Of his Eternal Empire, but the more
To magnifie his works, the more we know."
Adam responding:
"...though to recount Almightie works
What words or tongue of Seraph can suffice,
Or heart of man suffice to comprehend?
Yet what thou canst attain, which best may serve
To glorifie the Maker, and inferr
Thee also happier,
shall not be withheld
Thy hearing, such Commission from above
I have receav'd, to answer thy desire
Of knowledge within bounds; beyond abstain
To ask, nor let thine own inventions hope
Things not reveal'd, which th' invisible King,
Onely Omniscient, hath supprest in Night,
To none communicable in Earth or Heaven:
Anough is left besides to search and know.
But Knowledge is as food, and needs no less
Her Temperance over Appetite, to know
In measure what the mind may well contain,
Oppresses else with Surfet, and soon turns
Wisdom to Folly, as Nourishment to Winde."
For the origin of Universe to be described with such artistry it makes his anti-intellectual suggestion almost attractive, certainly it was for many people:
"...On heav'nly ground they stood, and from the shore
They view'd the vast immeasurable Abyss
Outrageous as a Sea, dark, wasteful, wilde,
Up from the bottom turn'd by furious windes
And surging waves, as Mountains to assault
Heav'ns highth, and with the Center mix the Pole.
Silence, ye troubl'd waves, and thou Deep, peace,
Said then th' Omnific Word, your discord end:
Nor staid, but on the Wings of Cherubim
Uplifted, in Paternal Glorie rode
Farr into Chaos, and the World unborn;
For Chaos heard his voice: him all his Traine
Follow'd in bright procession to behold
Creation, and the wonders of his might.
Then staid the fervid Wheeles, and in his hand
He took the golden Compasses, prepar'd
In Gods Eternal store, to circumscribe
This Universe, and all created things:
One foot he center'd, and the other turn'd
Round through the vast profunditie obscure,
And said, thus farr extend, thus farr thy bounds,
This be thy just Circumference, O World.
Thus God the Heav'n created, thus the Earth,
Matter unform'd and void:..."
The stated goal to "inferr thee also happier..." is certainly worthwhile and follows the purpose of Frame of Reference, but what do we lose by not asking more questions?

10) Milton's prescient warning: "nor let thine own inventions hope things not reveal'd" has not been heeded in modern times, and so we are threatened by our own superior technology including thermonuclear bombs, the "Folly" of the great "Winde." Let this sadness and inescapable fear make us bow our heads humbly and give due respect to the often veiled Wisdom of the ancients. (see Quintus Stele: Homo sapiens, verse 30)

11) Some of the earliest and most accurate teachings about Universe come from India. The hymn of Creation from the RgVeda, explained in the Upanishads in the Hindu tradition, shows Universe as evolving out of One.

"But the One is not a god, the first principle, that one, 'tad ekam,' is uncharacterisable. It is without qualities or attributes, even negative ones. To apply to it any description is to limit and bind that which is limitless and boundless. 'That one breathed breathless. There was nothing else.' It is not a dead abstraction but indescribable perfection of being. [Something akin to infinity.] Before creation all this was darkness shrouded in darkness, an impenetrable void or abyss of waters, until through the power of 'tapas,' or the fervor of austerity, the One evolved into determinate self-conscious being. He becomes a creator by self-limitation. [Sounds like the implosion of the Big Bang.] Nothing outside himself can limit him. He only can limit himself. He does not depend on anything other than himself for his manifestation [gravity that makes suns?]. This power of actualization is given the name of 'maya' in later Vedanta, for the manifestation does not disturb the unity and integrity of the One." (S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanisads, 1994)

Atheism does not need to be anti-religion, but "pro-life" and an affirmation of culture at its best. (Undecimus Stele: Atheism, verse 14)

12) It is not hard to imagine being asleep without dreaming, then waking and knowing that the conscious mind existed, resting, during that sleep. The Upanishads rely on this imagery in order to bridge the gap between nonsense and saying something meaningful about the creation of Universe. The desired result of this study is to make one feel humble, again, before the "uncharacterizable" which seems to be the best response to the concept of an infinite Universe.

Just like the voids between the nucleus of atoms and the electron shell, there is a rhythm to the concentration of matter both on the atomic scale and on a universal scale. There is a lot of structure in Universe, not uniform distribution of galaxies. When astronomers look at areas as large as millions of light-years, they see gaps, clusters and eddies of galaxies. There are galaxies of many different sizes, clusters of galaxies, superclusters and enormous "bubble walls" surrounding low density voids that expand 300 million light-years wide. Just as suns are formed by the accumulation of clouds of matter, other structures and patterns are formed, as sand dunes are formed along the ocean beach. The Local Group, which contains Milky Way, is located toward the outer limits of the Virgo Supercluster. This structure follows laws of chaos, like weather, like waves on a sandy beach, so it's not a question of if there will be structure in nature, but what pattern that structure will take -- it's not a question of chance, just probabilities.

13) Atheists don't have the convenient luxury of listening to the voice of a god or having a personal revelation coming from the Heavens to learn about both Universe and their role in it. Although none of the information from such an alleged source has ever revealed specific information useful to furthering scientific knowledge, it would be a tremendous advantage to have your own personal source of revelations. (This makes me a peculiar kind of Atheist, one that wishes there were a god.) The information that has been obtained, presumably, and recorded as scripture, is no better than that obtainable from a normally intelligent person of the epoch. In any case, the study of Universe, looking for its origins and characteristics, is basically irrelevant to the decisions we have to make on Earth, in society and in our families.

Astronomy is not about disproving a super-natural god, it is about learning natural facts about Universe. If we can learn the lesson of humility because of our ignorance, that is an important lesson Frame of Reference can teach. Even with this humility, it is wise to keep your 'tongue in your cheek' for those special moments when a lighter treatment is warranted. If we are equipped with a healthy dose of humility, a sense of appreciation and wonder (and humor), we will look around the world with equanimity and compassion rather than conceit or fear. Some people call this spirituality, but more on that distinction later. We will be open to learn more as knowledge expands and we will honor the best parts of our heritage including whatever religion we might have cast off. Be like the ancient sailor who, when embarking on a voyage into the unknown, takes with him his lute, language, lust for life and fond memories of his former friends (heritage) and little more.

14) But before we leave Universe there is more work to be done by examining its constituent parts. There are a few meaningful, practical lessons in the Great Beyond.

Heaven arms with love those it would not see destroyed. (Lao Tzu)


Moon is no longer a god and neither is any other part of Universe so we are on our own; that increases our potential. (Quartus Stele: Chemistry, verse 25)


15) Moon, the nearest object to Earth with an average distance of 238,859 miles away (has a variance of 31,247 miles in a slightly elliptical orbit) has been regarded with affection by countless generations of Man. It has been the source of lore and its influence has spread all over Earth to cause tides, tales and even time. It cycles around Earth showing the same face (it exposes 59% of its surface because of our different angles of observation) in 27 days, 7 hours, 43 minutes, and 7 seconds (sidereal revolution). Each day Moon 'rises' about 50 minutes later than on the previous day because of the rapid spin of Earth inside Moon's orbit. The apparent rotation (synodic revolution) differs because of Earth's continuous rotation around Sun. This changes our perception of Moon into a cycle of 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3 seconds and has served as a measure of time for many ancient cultures. Moon orbits Earth as around a basin in space-time, with Moon rolling around the inner wall like a ball on a spinning roulette wheel. "In relativity, objects simply respond to the contours of space in their immediate vicinity." (Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang, 1997)

The only scientifically accepted affect of Moon on Earth is the ocean tide - in combination with less influence from Sun. Alleged direct affects on plant life, horticulture and influence on the character of Man are legion. Gods that derive from Moon include: for the Aztecs "Texecatl;" for the Phrygians "Meen;" for the ancient Greeks "Selene;" for the Egyptians "Isis;" and for the Romans "Diana."

16) This dry, mineral mass with its low gravity, only 17% of Earth's, cannot hold light gases so it is airless, without an atmosphere. Irrespective, this desolate, tight ball 2,160 miles in diameter is in profile about the same size as the continental USA and a spherical area of 14,650,000 square miles of surface. For a long time, Moon was believed to have been formed as a molten satellite of Sun along with Earth about 4.5 billion years ago. The theory that Moon was formed from molten material exploded off Earth is recently gaining acceptance. The likelihood of a huge impact, or several impact planetesimals after the initial formation of Earth would account for several anomalies. Moon contains almost no iron, while Earth has an iron core. The density of Moon, about 3.3 grams per cubic centimeter, is similar to Earth's mantle but not the much more dense core. Moon has no volatile gases, if it ever did, in part because it lacks sufficient gravity and no magnetic poles to protect an atmosphere.

The idea that Moon came from another planet and bumped into orbit around Earth is dismissed by calculations of orbital dynamics; it would not have stayed in orbit without a third source of gravity. Moon is too big in comparison to Earth; only Pluto has a satellite as large in comparison to itself. Because the two masses shared a commingled origin many minerals are found on both, and the relative abundance of various isotopes, such as those of oxygen (which for Moon is only bound up in rocks), are much the same. This would not be the case for a moon formed elsewhere. Moon's orbit is unique as well, other satellites rotate above their planet's equator. While Earth's axis is tipped by 23 degrees, Moon rotates along Earth's solar orbital plane, not its equator. This accounts for the erratic pattern of Moon's visible path.

Another theory suggests that Moon's formation may have been assisted by the initial enormous solar winds and/or the protosun's magnetic forces. The silicate-rich atmosphere was vaporized (at 2,000 degrees C) from Earth's primordial surface when it achieved extreme temperatures due to the high-energy impact of infalling particles. The volatile silicate compounds that remained in the vicinity condensed into particles forming a disc analogous to the rings of Saturn, only relatively more massive. Moon rapidly condensed from the heat-resistant elements in the disc in as short a time as 100 years forming a lopsided sphere, trading its angular momentum for orbital velocity around Earth as it cooled, with one side being continuously attracted to Earth. As Earth's shape solidified the new Moon's orbit stabilized along the solar disc plane, acquiring huge amounts of debris from the action of meteorites.

17) Even though there are no ethical lessons to be learned from any planetary satellite, our unique Moon is the stoic recipient of great love and affection from many Earth-bound mortals (as well as from a few transient astronauts). Rabindranath Tagore wrote an affectionate story about Moon and described the kinship we feel toward this bright Light of Night:

"The Astronomer"

I only said, "When in the evening the round full moon gets entangled among the branches of that Kadam tree, couldn't somebody catch it?"

But dada [elder brother] laughed at me and said, "Baby, you are the silliest child I have ever known. The moon is ever so far from us, how could anybody catch it?"

I said, "Dada, how foolish you are! When mother looks out of her window and smiles down at us playing, would you call her far away?"

Still dada said, "You are a stupid child! But, baby, where could you find a net big enough to catch the moon with?"

I said, "Surely you could catch it with your hands."

But dada laughed and said, "You are the silliest child I have known. If it came nearer, you would see how big the moon is."

I said, "Dada, what nonsense they teach at your school! When mother bends her face down to kiss us does her face look very big?"

But still dada says, "You are a stupid child."


Poetry is an important source of inspiration about the beauty in Universe and nature. Religion can have this affect. (Quintus Decimus Stele: Religions, verse 16)


18) Moon is just there and it functions well in the scheme of Earth and its orbit around Sun. It is a good example of an 'ontological' presence, something that exists without need of defining a source, a cause, a motivation, a soul, a purpose. It is enough to accept Moon as our friend and companion, silent witness to our most intimate secrets, bright guide for our nocturnal wanderings, an allegory for the existence of Man and all plants and animals on Earth -- it exists because it exists.

19) The earliest 1 billion years of Earth's existence is called Hadean Aeon, after Hades, the hell of the ancient Greeks. The molten and cooling surface was pummeled continually by collisions with rubble that littered this inner space, remnants of the birth of the solar system. Some astrophysicists believe Moon was horribly close -- perhaps only 11,000 miles off (now 250,000 miles away). Moon revolved around Earth in about six hours thus its pocked marked face filled a large part of the sky. This ancient Moon was so close that it raised massive tides of molten rock. Earth spun much faster in the beginning; days and nights were only about five hours long. Each night pools of swirling lava glistened in the red light of the molten Moon, each day the blinding white sky was as bright as a welder's arc. There was no air, but a thin film of hydrogen and helium. As Earth cooled it retained the gases that seeped through cracks and fissures and volcanic craters. These included methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and water vapor. Shooting stars, comets and meteorites fell to Earth like tons of coal tumbling down a chute from space into a molten bin. These were a gift from space, millions of tons of carbon and water. The rising heat and tumultuous movement of gases created huge electrical storms forming ozone which gradually created the protective layers of atmosphere so essential to life. The atmosphere allowed heat from the surface to escape and the water vapor and ozone prevented too much heat from Sun from entering.

20) There was no recorded disturbance on the surface of Moon until November 3, 1958. A Russian astronomer, N. A. Kozyrev, announced that he had photographed what appeared to be a volcanic eruption. Other astronomers who have studied these photographs believe that they show large amounts of gas, perhaps carbon dioxide, released from a volcano or crack and glowing in the ultraviolet light of our shared Sun. There may be useful mysteries inside Moon, not to mention a large quantity of green cheese. This justifies the billions of dollars spent each year to explore and develop Moon's story.

In 1998 a major discovery occurred. As we know, the surface of Moon is pitted with meteorite craters because there is no erosion as on Earth, and near the poles where there is no sunlight, traces of water-ice were found. This discovery has created the hope that observatory stations might be established on Moon in the near future. With power from sunlight the ice can be converted to hydrogen and oxygen for fuel. Oxygen for breathing can be taken from rocks (also by plants), and a planetarium can be established to grow animals, fish and plants to feed the observatory personnel. Is this just a flight of fancy?

21) Every clear night, even when Moon interferes by offering an intense glow, we see a few stars that are rather too large, too mobile and too bright. We now know that some of these are planets traveling with us around Sun. The word 'planet' derives from the Greek word meaning 'wanderer.' Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can easily be seen, if you know where to look, with good eyes. Seeing Mercury is more problematic, only slightly visible and as with Moon, the planets' shine is the reflected light of Sun.

One can easily consult the chart of an Astrologer to find the position of these influential planets on any given night, although one must be careful not to be captured by the lure of the stories you might hear. If you find yourself looking at your horoscope in the newspaper with your morning coffee, or asking your friend what their Sun-sign is, take that as a friendly warning. Like opening Chinese fortune cookies, it can be rather entertaining to hear some prognosis of your future, but you don't get the sweet, crisp cookie.

Returning to the point, the planets follow roughly the same path as Sun and Moon, thus they are always in the zodiac, a band which crosses the southern part of the sky (from the perspective of the Northern hemisphere). This trajectory is consistent with the 'nebular theory' of planet formation. The planets developed in a flattened, hot, gaseous disc spinning around the contracting and still forming 'protosun.' As the contraction of the nebula slowed, the center got hotter and the outer disc cooled. The planets formed in this cooling disc, possibly in a period as short as 10,000 years, with each element cooling becoming solid at the threshold temperature for its solid state. Nickel enriched iron cooled to form Earth's core, then other particles formed to accumulate in 'eddies' in the swirling gaseous disc. Thus Earth and the other planets formed and were largely solid, molten bodies in the beginning.

The visible path of the planets varies because of their unique elliptical orbits and the changing perspective from Earth. Each planet spins around its own axis, much the same way as Earth turns from west to east, creating days and nights of varying durations on each planet. (Venus and Pluto spin in the opposite direction of Earth and Uranus spins at a 90 degree angle.) All this is a rich source of facts and food for science fiction writers the likes of L. Ron Hubbard who invented Scientology, one of the few religions that does not depend on an elaborate and mythical cosmology for its inspiration. There is no need to present more detail about the planets and their orbits, not wanting to compete with our erstwhile siblings, Astrologers, some of whom may be earnest, albeit confused Atheists.


The ontological nature of Universe, its existence without need for an intelligent cause, is shown clearly by Moon and Sun. (Undecimus Stele: Agnosticism, verse 28)
On to part 2 of Primus Stele