History Haiku – Clarke Event – GRB 080319B – March 19, 2008

polaroid of black and white cat overlaid with red letters

Billions of
away a star
death reaches
so bright
might follow

On March 19th, 2008 GRB 080319B was detected by the Swift space telescope – this Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) came from 7.5 billion light-years away and for 30 seconds was visible to the unaided human eye here on Earth. This makes it the furthest object ever visible to the human eye. It is also one of the brightest cosmic events ever recorded. GRBs are thought to herald the collapse or implosion of a star into a black hole or neutron star. GRB 080319B was detected just hours before the death of science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke (of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame, among many many other stories) and so it has been proposed that this GRB be called the Clarke Event. I don’t know if that has been made official, but it was an inspiration for my poem. Clarke wrote a story called The Star in 1955 and this story (SPOILER ALERT) features a supernova and mass extinction in a distant galaxy that becomes a key aspect of the Nativity here on Earth.

History Poem – December 11 – Birth of Annie Jump Cannon

Collage of stars and star formations layered with an older woman's face and the words to the poem

the ether swirled behind her eyes
“It’s a girl,” the midwife said
lamplight flickered in the window
the new mother smiled, “My daughter will
count the stars,
call them each by name
one by one.”

My history poem today is in honor of the birth of Annie Jump Cannon on December 11, 1863. Ms. Cannon became famous as an astronomer who pioneered the Harvard Classification System for stellar bodies – a system that is still in use today. She was also a pioneer for women at Harvard and in astronomy. She manually classified an astounding 350,000 stars in her lifetime – a number that is still a record. Her career in astronomy lasted more than 40 years and later included numerous honorary doctorate degrees from top universities – often from universities that didn’t admit women in the 1880’s when she was attending college. The Annie Jump Cannon Award is still presented by the American Astronomical Society each year to an outstanding early career female astronomer.

I wish everyone a good weekend – stay safe and healthy out there!