Monday, June 19, 2006

Gemini, Spitzer, Space Dust, a Flat Tire, and a Voice from the Past

On Saturday morning, I discovered that I had a flat tire, brought about by too agressively snugging the Volks against the stone wall beside our driveway. I've backed the car in successfully, hundreds of times, but this time, I misjudged and scraped the front passenger side tire, bashing the valve and causing the tire to go flat.

After a morning spent at the office (using the other car to get there) I went home and faced up to my problem. The valve was badly crunched, but there appeared to be no other damage. With Jill's air pump, we got the tire inflated again. It leaked, but looked like it might last until I got over to Canadian Tire (fortunately not a long drive).

However, it was clearly not my morning -- I shortly realized that I had forgotten my money and credit cards in my pouch, left hanging on the door. Fortunately, I had my cell phone, and a quick call later, Jill came to the rescue. In the meantime, I had pulled into the parking lot of my son's school. A few minutes to get the tire pressure back up, and shortly after that, Jill arrived. We even figured out that bending the valve stem and stuffing in a wad of plastic from a grocery bag beside it significantly reduced the leakage.

Once again, I set out. It was shortly before 1 o'clock as I pulled out of the parking lot. The radio was on, tuned as always to CBC. and Quirks and Quarks was on. Bob MacDonald was interviewing an astronomer, whose observations of interstellar dust grains using the Gemini Telescope, and the Spitzer Space Telescope, had demonstrated that some of these dust grains -- essential raw materials of planets -- would have formed in the supernovae of the earliest stars formed in the aftermath of the Big Bang.

Then I realized -- the astronomer being interviewed was Doug Welch, my classmate in university -- a very bright guy, who has obviously made it to the big leagues. It was one of the bright spots of a day which hadn't been all that great.

A PR fluff piece of Doug's research is available on the Gemini website.

I recall that it was Doug's custom to wear a cape on the day of the Spring and Fall equinoxes -- on that day, he was Captain Equinox. Somewhere in my collection of old paper photos, there is undoubtedly one of Captain Equinox, dating from the late 1970's, leaping down from the top of some campus structure.

The podcast of the June 17 Quirks and Quarks show is available from CBC radio.

I had another bit of good news a little later -- the tire was only $30 to repair, as opposed to a complete replacement.

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