Arthur C Clarke and the GRB

By Phil Plait | March 26, 2008 10:00 am

Over at EarthSkyBlog, Larry Sessions wrote a post suggesting that we call the extremely bright gamma-ray burst GRB 080319B "the Clarke Event", since it happened around the same time that ACC died.

This may surprise you, but honestly, I don’t have very strong feelings about this idea. Clarke was a huge influence on so many people, of course. That is without a doubt! And obviously the GRB was one of the most incredible events we’ve ever seen.

But tying the two together in this way strikes me as artificial. Astronomers have done such things before; there was a tremendous explosion on the surface of the Sun on July 14, 2000 that’s called The Bastille Day Event. That makes sense, and the name arose organically.

And I have no issues for calling the GRB the Clarke Event, but campaigning for it strikes me as, well, forced. Either it’ll happen or it won’t. The poetic alignment of the two events is enough for me, to be honest. I won’t go out of my way to merge the two. If it happens, it happens, and I’ll pick up the lingo like anyone else will, but I don’t feel particularly strongly about trying to make it so.

Hat tip to the many BABloggees who wrote to me about this!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy

Comments (33)

  1. Blu-Ray-Ven

    i think calling it the clark event will help future generations remeber that the 2 happend nearly at the same time. and we can make the distintion that clark was very into sci-fi and space. personally i see it as the universe paying its respects to ACC, it makes it wuike beautiful and spritual but with out socombing to the wooowoo

  2. Blu-Ray-Ven

    dagnabit – wuike = quite, i need to pay attention to my spelling

  3. Michael Lonergan

    I have no problems with it being named that. BTW, speaking of woooo, there’s a certain woo wooo message board that I have been banned from posting on ( :) ), where people are making comments such as this brilliant observation:

    “I have to laugh when people say that this even took place 7 Billion years ago. That’s impossible because the Earth is only 6,000 years old!”

    Keep up the good work, speaking out against the woo woo, Phil!

  4. Brett

    July 14, 2000. July 14, 200 would have been waaaay before Bastille day! Maybe the ad cut it off. I am just thankful that the GRB didn’t happen on Easter! That would have sent some into religious overdrive!

  5. Michael Lonergan

    Brett:
    The board I read, 1 comment: “This is the Savior leaving the gates of Heaven. He’s on his way!”

  6. roddg

    BTW, speaking of woooo, there’s a certain woo wooo message board that I have been banned from posting on ( :) ), where people are making comments such as this brilliant observation:

    “I have to laugh when people say that this even took place 7 Billion years ago. That’s impossible because the Earth is only 6,000 years old!””

    Man, your leaving us hanging. What’s the web Site?

  7. allkom

    completely agree with brett . much better name it after a man with great passion for space and space travel than for some meaningless date some people indulge in worshiping .

  8. Newbie

    Yes, please post the Web site so we can go make them look bad! Sorry, does that need sarcasm tags?

    How did this even come up in a post like this? Nothing better to do?

  9. madge

    I kinda liked the natural linking of the two events (nasa commented on it) but campaigning for some kinda “official” link does seem “forced” as you say Phil.

  10. Michael Lonergan

    roddg:

    Rapture Ready

  11. So, how is it that G-d knew, 7.5 billion years ago, that not only would there be an Arthur C Clarke, but the exact day he would die? :-)

  12. Carey

    The 800-pound gorilla is that Ken touches on is that the events weren’t even close to simultaneous. The Bastille Day event was only offset by 8 minutes.

  13. Funnily enough, when I saw this on Slashdot yesterday I posted the last line of Clarke’s story “The Star,” with “Bethlehem” changed to “Sri Lanka.” I was immediately modded a troll.

    Kids today.

  14. R.K.

    I’m partial to “Iraq war protest event”. It’s such a bad war, even some galaxy we’ve never seen wants it to end.

  15. Shapley

    The poetic alignment of the two events is enough for me, to be honest. I won’t go out of my way to merge the two.

    Nicely put.

  16. Fracture

    Very well put, Phil.

  17. RL

    I don’t really see the connection between Clarke and the GRB event. If he had been a physicist or astronomer deeply involved in that sort of thing, maybe. Otherwise it seems a bit of stretch and not a worthy idea.

    It would be more fitting to ask someone to name a new comm sat after him.

  18. blf

    I was going to suggest that geostationary orbits be called Clarke Orbits, but the Wikipedia article says they already are sometimes called that:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geosynchronous_orbit#Geostationary_orbit

    And he already has an asteriod named after him. And 3 “Laws”. What else?

  19. And he already has an asteriod named after him.

    And it’s probably bigger than 165347 Philplait.

  20. GuyMac

    Phil, what happens when there is a bigger, brighter GRB? Will we call that one the ‘Asimov Event’?

    Ha-ha-ha….

  21. Chip

    I think an event in the sky named in honor of the late Arthur C. Clarke should relate to something in Clarke’s writing.

    A “Clarke Event” should be something like a giant baby appearing in the sky or a super-computer locks you out of the ship. (Kidding!)

    Maybe simply something unexpected or seemingly unrelated to understood conditions, suddenly occurs. That happens in astronomy. (It happens in Clarke’s writing when a monolith suddenly appears among the soon-to-become-human primates.) When you get a “what’s that doing there?!” feeling, that’s a “Clarke Event”. Used sparingly. ;)

  22. I reckon I was one of the first people to suggest the Clarke link – as soon as I heard of the GRB I thought it was so fitting, almost as if he had somehow planned it. Although I agree with Phil that it shouldn’t be “forced”, I think it helps to fix the phenomenon in people’s minds.

    Ask yourself: What would Arthur himself say? I think he’d be all for it if the GRB had marked someone else’s passing (say Asimov for an obvious example) but since Clarke’s most famous story is called “The Star” I think it is even more fitting.

    Oh, and by the way, on July 14 2000 I was exactly 42 years old (at 00:35 GMT to be precise. I don’t know exactly what time the solar flare occured -perhaps someone can tell me.) Yes, Bastille Day is also my birthday, and we all know what 42 refers to. Make of that what you will!

  23. @Michael Lonerganon:

    Brett:
    The board I read, 1 comment: “This is the Savior leaving the gates of Heaven. He’s on his way!”

    I’ve got no problem with that – if this is true, then presumably he won’t get here until about the year 75000002008!

  24. MandyDax

    The Clarke Event doesn’t sound right. It conjures images of him causing a fracas politically or somesuch. The Clarke Deathday Event is just… morbid. :( I think it’s good to link the two things in our minds as far as remembering the date and such, but yeah, it does seem pretty retrofitted.

  25. Michael Lonergan

    @Elwood:
    Good, because I have lots more sinning ahead of me!

  26. Elwood:
    He should already be here then because it happened 7.5 billion years ago.

    *looking busy*

  27. TierOneGirl

    I think it’s a nice idea to call it the Clarke Event.

  28. Having read “The Star”, I’m not sure that Arthur C. Clarke would appreciated having his passing announced by such a cataclysmic event. How many billions – or several factors of ten more – of living sentient beings died as a consequence of this GRB?

  29. SkepticTim

    May I suggest that, perhaps, we honor ACC by simply referring to ‘geosynchronous’ orbits as ‘Clark’ orbits acknowledging his communication satellite contribution.

  30. StevoR

    I’ll second that proposal for “Clarke Orbits” above – may even use it in my SF stories …

    As for the GRB I agre with the BA there …
    Yeah, I’m in an agreeable mood at present! ;-)

    Wonder what’s happened regarding this since?
    ——————
    hello is there anybody out there? Does anybody [else!] ever read this far & late at all … ?

  31. For the record: ACC did not ‘invent’ the geostationary orbit or comsats – but tried in vain to stop people from believing that. Now he’s having an even harder time doing so … perhaps the GRB was a warning shot to all those who got in wrong again in their obituaries? :-)

  32. Almir Germano

    Guys, you don´t get it?! The GRB are the byproduct of the Quantum Propulsion used by all those alien starships
    cruising throught the galaxy!!!! ACC predicted it in “Songs from a Distant Earth” novel!!! The guy deserves the nomination!!!
    BTW: I´m kidding… but for woowoo factor it is a winner, isn´t it? ;) )

  33. I just stumbled across this blog today. The “Clarke Event” suggestion was mine and I have a couple of thoughts.

    First, I find the other comments — especially the deviations from the original intent — to be fascinating.

    Second, I never intended any “forced” naming and I never led any campaign to that end. I simply suggested a tribute to a great man whom I had the fortune to have known personally. There was no suggestion of an act of God or relation to religion, other than my suggestion that he might have alluded to it with a wink. The suggestion that some have made to “The Star” ignores the fact that ACC would never have suggested that there is any mystical relation or any ability to predict the future or the unknown, aside from the human ability for synthesis and logical projection. “The Star” is fiction and the GRB was real. Suggestions that the GRB might have destroyed civilizations is also fiction — although perhaps based on some logic and reasonable speculation. But in any event it was speculation based on absolutely no concrete evidence whatsoever.

    I guess a lot of people feel that it is perfectly right to make a fuss over Michael Jackson, with hours and hours and hours of media coverage, not to mention the forest of trees sacrificed to praise his greatness to the extent that some must have expected him to rise from the dead on the third day. But when a truly great man — such as Arthur Clarke or Carl Sagan — ies, the public is satisfied with a brief mention in passing, a footnote in the newspaper, a short soundbyte on TV. That, to me, is sad.

    It seems that many who heard my suggestion missed the last paragraph in my blog:

    “…Was it [the GRB] the Universe reacting to the loss of this great man? No, as he himself would have told you, although likely not without prefacing it with a mischievous grin and an allusion to the gods being angry with him. No it wasn’t the Universe mourning Sir Arthur. Instead, at its enormous distance, the light from this event formed and left on its journey long before Earth was born, presumably also making it the oldest event ever directly witnessed by human eyes. But what more fitting an honor for Sir Arthur?”

    Larry Sessions
    Denver

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