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by Henry Myers If you’ve been online recently, then no doubt you’ve heard about the NASA New Horizons spacecraft’s flyby of Pluto, which culminated an almost 10-year long journey across the solar system (space is really, really big) to collect data and take a number of photos, including the one above.Until just a few days ago, the small, icy world had remained tantalizingly out of reach, close enough to know about but much too far away (in fact, almost 40 times our distance to the sun) to be knowable by any other means.For the first time in history, 85 years after its discovery, we now know what Pluto looks like (outside of a few unhelpfully blurry photos from 2003).I can hardly contain myself about it: dwarf planets aside, I’ve been daydreaming about space, checking daily, and otherwise finding cool space things to look at and read about.
Some of it is familiar to us, such as Gustav Holst’s iconic suite The Planets, Op.32, a feat of color and orchestration, as well as one of the most fun, engaging pieces of music ever written (and a staple of my childhood, I listened to the Dutoit/Montreal/1987 recording we had on CD constantly).Some of it may not be so familiar: maybe you’ve heard of the jazz visionary Sun Ra, for example, but I bet you don’t know who in the heck Lucia Pamela is.We’ll get there in subsequent posts, but first, someone you’ve heard of (but probably not in the context of music).JOHANNES KEPLER Johannes Kepler was a German astronomer, mathematician, philosopher, astrologer, polymath, and overall coolguy.One of the key figures in the history of astronomy, he’s credited with discovering the Three Laws of Planetary Motion, which state that: 1. ) with its sun at one of the two foci (not the center! Yes, the Earth technically has an elliptical orbit.But its eccentricity is so small (0.0167) that it’s practically circular.Pluto has a higher eccentricity (0.25), so its orbit is comparatively elliptical.And Halley’s Comet, which probably came way, way, way far out from the Oort cloud, has a super-eccentric (0.967) and thereby super-elliptical orbit. In any given amount of time, a line drawn from a planet to its sun will sweep out the same amount of area.For example, any given 10 days of a planetary orbit will sweep out 10 days worth of area, regardless of where the planet is in its orbit. The square of the orbital period of a planet (P) is identical for all planets orbiting a particular star.This is a pretty important one, as it led Isaac Newton to discover his Universal Law of Gravitation, which stated that gravity, just like light, becomes weaker the farther away you get from the source (by way of what is called an “inverse square law”). But what in Space does Kepler have to do with music? At the monastic school where he was educated, Kepler had weekly lessons in music theory, and partook in the daily singing of four-part psalms and hymns.