29 Sept. 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project

The Man With A Moon

There are a number of distinctions one can achieve in life. 

  • With the right combination of luck and talent, one can become a famous celebrity .  Although I have had fleeting contact with a small number of these, I'm not sure I can name one who can name me back. 

  • One can be Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot or others of their genocidal ilk, but I know none of them and they are very rare.

  • One can aspire to and occasionally achieve high political office.  The highest-ranking politician whose hand I have shaken is Robert Torricelli, and look what happened to him.  (This hand shaking occurred when he was just a member of the House, so his senatorial debacle must be attributed to another's hand.)

  • One can be a serial murderer without all that much effort.  I'm fairly certain I know none of them, although one can never be sure, and I do have friends with possibility.  Even so, the odds are against them.

  • One can be a world-famous athlete.  I'm just barely alert enough to know a few of their names, like the Z-Z guy who was so entertaining in the fútbol matches a month or so ago.  The most famous athlete I ever met was, I think, a guy who used to play basketball until he retired to sell tape machines.  I'm tall, too, so I wasn't overly impressed.

  • One can have his own moon.  This, too, requires an unusual combination of talent and luck.  One might argue that it also requires an unusual amount of gravity.  It is my great pleasure to have the acquaintance of a gentleman with his own moon, although his gravitational field is conventional. 

Unlike the fleeting celebrities, ex-senators, and candidate-serial-murderers, this gentlemen is unlikely to claim he doesn't know me or recognize my name.  I have photographic proof that we have met, correspondence in my email archives, and even a book (by him) in which some of my own material appears.

Claudio Maccone is an Italian space scientist.  In particular, he is a mathematician and theorist, and perhaps the world's leading expert on the Karhunen-Loeve Transform.  (If I were competent to go into detail on this, you would thank me for forbearing.)  Claudio finds himself in the United States frequently.  He gives lectures at Princeton and to the folks at NASA.  And, I am delighted to say, occasionally has dinner with me near my place of striving. 

Claudio and I share an interest in SETI and especially in gravitational lenses.  This is a phenomenon, predicted by General Relativity; it causes large masses to bend light rays passing near them.  As you know, an ordinary glass lens bends light rays.  This is what allows optical instruments to function and magnifying glasses to burn holes in leaves.  It turns out that our star, the sun, also bends light rays passing around it, and the focus of this "lens" is at 550AU.  An AU, or astronomical unit, is the distance from the earth to the sun.  550AU is a very great distance, but still only about 1% of the distance to the nearest star.  Putting an antenna there, as Claudio proposes, is difficult and expensive with current technology, but neither impossible nor giggle-inducing.  Such an antenna, using the sun as a lens, would be far more powerful than the largest radiotelescope we could build.  Great idea!  Sadly he is unlikely to live long enough to see any results from it.  This is one of the differentiae of the ideas of great scientists.

During our dinners I try to catch up on Claudio's latest thoughts on SETI and other space-related topics.  Most recently he mentioned Heim theory, for example, which sounds very interesting indeed.  On a previous occasion, while we were walking to the restaurant, he happened to mention that they had discovered that his asteroid had a satellite.

"WHAT?  Claudio, I didn't know that you had an asteroid!"

Well he does.  It turns out that a branch of the same folks who get to decide whether Pluto is a planet also get to name the asteroids.  These names are very important, as I have pointed out previously.  And Claudio received the honor of having an asteroid named after him.  It was only later that it was discovered that it had a natural satellite with a period of 15.11 hours and a lower-bound diameter of 1.2 km.  When he explained this to me, I added "Claudio!  You have your own moon!"  It was dark out, so I'm not exactly sure what his expression amounted to, but I think it was a bit of pride, a bit of embarrassment, and not a little hunger.  This was before dinner.

And so it came to be that I know a man with a moon.  There's much more to say about him, but I'll leave it at this for the time being.  Incredibly, I also know a woman with a moon.  The circumstances are different, and that story will also have to await a future blogitem, possibly a far-future one.

© 2006
Richard Factor

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