Nostradamus and all That!
by Dr. Michael Martin-Smith
In the last few months, and more especially recent weeks, there has been something of a furore caused by the garbled verses of a 16th century French/Jewish physician with a side-interest in astrology and divination, Michel de Nostradame - better known as Nostradamus. His predictions- if such they truly are - were couched in cryptic verses with many anagrams and obscure contemporary references in 16th century French. This has made their interpretation by his followers into something of a jamboree. The result has been that some claim to have discovered predictions of Napoleon, Hitler, Bolshevism, Saddam Hussein and the Iranian Revolution amongst other things. His most famous prophecy was that a remarkable and dreadful event would befall us all in the seventh month of 1999, usually taken as July, but possibly extending to September "In 1999, seventh month, an alarmingly powerful King would descend from the sky raising again the Great King of the Angelmois; before and after Mars would reign merrily". Angelmois is seen as an anagram for Mongols, and so some are expecting a resurrected Genghiz Khan or modern day counterpart.
An additional complication is the total solar eclipse of Aug 11 1999 - we can safely expect this to actually happen! This has led some people to see in Comet Lee, discovered earlier this year as the King of Terror ; it will say some be found during the eclipse to have suddenly moved from an orbit which is set to miss us by 110 million kilometres into a collision course with Earth some 2 months later. Variants include a swarm of asteroids in the "skirts" of the comet. likewise organized so as to hit the Earth.
Yet another red herring is the space probe Cassini, which is wending a devious path to Saturn picking up energy by numerous fly pasts , like a sling shot, from successively Venus , Earth and Jupiter. Because Cassini is very massive, carrying the Huyghens lander for the moon, Titan, it cannot be launched directly to Saturn by a Titan 4 rocket, and so, using the methods pioneered by mariner 10, the Pioneers and Voyagers, and Ulysses, it is using the spinning energy of other planets to pick up speed. So, it will fly past Earth on August 18, at some 700 miles above the surface on its way to Saturn. Since Cassini carries radioactive plutonium to power its electronics at 1 billion miles from the Sun, alarmists are expecting a fiery re-entry with scattering of deadly Plutonium over the whole Earth. The facts that the position and speed of Cassini are known to several decimal points of accuracy leading to prediction within 1 mile of altitude in its passage by the Earth, and that such flypasts are among the safest and most accurate procedures carried out by NASA in its history and that the radiothermic reactor is designed to withstand the heat and shock of launchpad explosions does not daunt the doomsters; only the date August 19 can do that!
Many fans of Nostradamus actually expected the End on July 4 - a date now safely behind us. However, there is no blinking the fact that, if 2000 arrives with no sufficiently awesome event, most of prediction, divination, astrology and even large parts of the Bible can safely be junked. Most particularly is this true of Nostradamus, who was rash enough to give a definite date! We can hope that , after the next six months have come and gone with no more horrifying scenario than our annual Income Tax returns, people will learn not to read their fortunes in the stars; then perhaps it will be time to consider building our future, for ourselves, among the heavens - since we now know, even as Comet Lee passes us by a handsome margin, the time will come when we are not so lucky. In July 1994, Comet Shoemaker-Levy showed us in full view how civilization will end, if we are not by that time scattered from our one small blue planet. However, it will not be astrologers or mystics who foresee that event but the dedicated astronomers of Spaceguard.
Building our future in the sky will be a massive task over many generations which will bring great wealth adventure and opportunities- but it will be done by positive and creative thinking and action, not by passive waiting for "the End". The contrast between astrology and superstition on the one hand, and creative, humanistic science and technology on the other could hardly be greater. We should not await the New Millennium, but build it with our own hands. My forthcoming publication, "Salto nella Spazio" due to be launched in Italian in about six months by publisher and official of ANSA newsagency, Giulio Gelibter of Tre Editori, ROMA offers a positive alternative to the prophets of doom, at the best time possible. It comprises a personal view of the Universe and Humanity's present and future place in it; unlike the "prophecies", there is no fore-ordained conclusion; merely a scenario of a possible view of the world and our future, and a strong call upon our civilization to take up the call, while we still have the economic and cultural basis from which to do so.
As Shakespeare wrote, "There is a Tide in the affairs of Men, which when taken at the flood leads on to Fortune.." But all tides ebb , and our destiny in Space is no exception. We must grasp the nettle ourselves.
-- Michael Martin-Smith