Dragons and Venus Arise to Fool

In case you missed it, this year's April 1st featured rainbows in a particle accelerator, a-moo-sing spacesuits, and . . . the resurgence of dragons?

Something’s afoot in the universe. For the past few years, my colleagues and I have noticed an inexplicable trend: unusual discoveries and celestial events seem to congregate around a particular date — April 1st. Patterns in the news cycle are typically tied to annual conferences, mission schedules, and solar system dynamics, yet even though April 1st isn't associated with any conference or cosmic alignment (to our knowledge), it unfailing brings with it fantastic revelations.

S&T working for a long time

S&T's editors have worked hard to discover why so many celestial events and scientific revelations occur on April 1st, without success.
Philipp Florinus von Pfalz-Sulzbach Riegel

The regularity of this pattern has flummoxed us. We’ve crunched the numbers, watched the skies, and plotted numerous celestial charts, looking for an explanation. The closest we can come is a seventeenth-order differential equation that combines, among other variables, the greatest elongation of Venus, Algol’s brightness, and the tilt of the Opportunity rover’s solar panels. Even that calculation has to be readjusted on a 12-year cadence by adding an additional constellation to the traditional zodiac.

Some of this year’s persiflage includes

  • Moo Spacewalker: NASA has unveiled the next generation of spacesuits — and in the process has revealed whom it’s planning to send on the first “manned” mission. Vacuum-sealed milk bottles not included.
  • In Beyond New Horizons: The Future of Pluto, Michael Lund (Vanderbilt University) discusses the incredible shrinking dwarf planet. Poor Pluto — it's already been removed from the planetary pantheon, now it may have to suffer the indignity of negative mass too.
  • Physicists at the LHC in Switzerland have unwittingly created a rainbow universe, albeit apparently unstable, a discovery that could turn the current theory of gravity on its head. Physicist Randall Pattinson (Princeton University) said of the result, "It’s like finding an original edition Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper that your daughter wanted for her birthday. It’s almost too good to be true."
  • String theory has inspired a team of scientists to rethink science. They argue falsifiability, once a foundation of the scientific method, should be discarded, along with other "F" words such as fidelity, frugality, and factuality.
  • The Air and Space Museum has landed a coup in its historic, one-day-only exhibit featuring Wonder Woman’s invisible jet. Below, watch an interview with museum specialist Beth Wilson explaining the difficulties of bringing this plane to D.C. from its usual home in Seattle.

This year’s April 1st is crowned with a rare and lovely apparition of Venus. Be sure to step outside to enjoy the sight tonight: at magnitude –4.0, Venus shines high in the south at midnight for observers at mid-northern latitudes.

But the most remarkable announcement that caught our eye today is not directly linked to astronomy. Reporting in the preeminent scientific journal Nature, zoologists have compiled evidence warning of a possible dragon resurgence. Dragons, as astute readers might know, were major figures in ancient astronomy, training both the Chinese and Babylonian astrologers and devising the first cosmology. We’ve reproduced below the press release in its entirety for your benefit:

The existence of dragons and their probable re-emergence in the near future are detailed in a News & Views article published online in Nature on the 1st April 2015. The article identifies a number of factors that are likely to trigger the resurgence of these creatures, including the global economic downturn, policy changes and inaction on climate change.

Andrew J Hamilton, Robert M May and Edward K Waters describe documents uncovered in the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, attributed to the monk Godfrey of Exmouth, which offer evidence of the impact of dragons over past millennia. They also detail further work that reveals that dragons were particularly prolific in the medieval times, due to a high abundance of food (knights), unusually warm temperatures and a high availability of nesting material (silver and gold). However, according to the authors, a decline in temperature and food availability triggered a long-lasting hibernation period in the various dragon species, beginning around the start of the fifteenth century.

The authors describe a number of key events over the past few decades that are likely to lead to the resurgence of dragons. The rise in ‘quantitative thieving,’ the process by which failing economic policies are bolstered by the removal of the dragons’ valuable nesting materials, alongside sluggish action on global warming and the restoration of knighthoods in Australia are all identified as factors that would encourage dragons to renounce hibernation. They conclude by warning that climatic conditions are rapidly reaching an optimum for breeding dragons and recommend further research into fire-retardant material and the avoidance of honorific titles.

Despite the press release’s cautionary tone, a dragon resurgence could bode well for astronomy. Given the loss of the original draconic astronomy texts with the destruction of the Library at Alexandria, several astronomers have already voiced the hope that, if the dragons do arise, they might have knowledge locked in their DNA of what was in those texts. Researchers at NIH are confident that recent advances in genetic transcription would enable them to access this inherited memory, should the dragons show themselves.