‘Twas Pterodactyl, Sauropod

twas-gryphonOriginal pencil drawing of the sleeping Gryphon,
John Tenniel (1820 – 1914) 




“Jabberwocky” is a poem of nonsense verse written by Lewis Carroll, and was a part of his novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872). The book tells of Alice’s travels within the back-to-front world through a looking glass.

While talking with the White King and White Queen (chess pieces), she finds a book written in a strange language that she can’t read. Understanding that she is travelling in an inverted world, she sees it is mirror-writing, finds a mirror, and holds it up to a poem on one of the pages, to read out the reflection of “Jabberwocky”. She finds it as puzzling as the odd land she has walked into, which we later discover is a dreamscape.

It is considered to be one of the greatest nonsense poems written in the English language, and became a source of nonsense words and neologisms such as “galumphing”, “chortle”, and “Jabberwocky” itself.

In 1855, when Carroll was 23, he printed the first stanza of the poem in Mischmasch, a periodical that Carroll wrote and illustrated himself for the amusement of his family. It was entitled “Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry” and originally read:
“Twas bryllyg and ye slythy toves, Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe: All mimsy were ye borogoves; And ye mome raths outgrabe. ”
The spelling was altered when it was published as part of the later book.
The first stanza was written in Croft on Tees, close to nearby Darlington, where Carroll lived as a boy. The rest of the poem was written during Lewis Carroll’s stay with relatives at Whitburn, near Sunderland.
The story may have been partly inspired by the local Sunderland area legend of the Lambton Worm.

Roger Lancelyn Green suggests that “Jabberwocky” is a parody of the old German ballad “The Shepherd of the Giant Mountains” in which a shepherd kills a griffin that is attacking his sheep.
The ballad had been translated into English in blank verse by Lewis Carroll’s cousin Menella Bute Smedley in 1846, many years before the appearance of the Alice books.
Historian Sean B. Palmer suggests that Carroll was inspired by a section from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, citing the lines: “The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead/Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets” from Act I, Scene i.

John Tenniel reluctantly agreed to illustrate the book in 1871, and his illustrations are still the defining images of the poem.
The illustration of the Jabberwock may reflect the contemporary Victorian obsession with natural history and the fast-evolving sciences of palaeontology and geology.
Stephen Prickett notes that in the context of Darwin and Mantell’s publications and vast exhibitions of dinosaurs, such as those at the Crystal Palace from 1845, it is unsurprising that Tenniel gave the Jabberwock “the leathery wings of a pterodactyl and the long scaly neck and tail of a sauropod.”

Many of the words in the poem are playful nonce words of Carroll’s own invention, without intended explicit meaning.
Although the poem contains many nonsensical words, it holds to English syntax, and poetic forms are observed, such as the quatrain verses, the general abab rhyme scheme, and the iambic meter.
The linguist Lucas notes that the term “nonsense poem” is inaccurate. The poem relies on a distortion of sense rather than “non-sense”.

When Alice has finished reading the poem she gives her impressions:
‘It seems very pretty,’ she said when she had finished it, ‘but it’s rather hard to understand!’ (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) ‘Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate’
This may reflect Carroll’s intention for his readership; the poem is, after all, part of a dream.

In later writings, he discussed some of his own created lexicon, commenting that he didn’t know his source for some of the words; the linguistic ambiguity and uncertainty throughout both the book and the poem may largely be the point.
In Through the Looking-Glass, the character of Humpty Dumpty gives comments on the non-sense words from the first stanza of the poem; however, Carroll’s personal commentary on several of the words differ from Humpty’s.
For example, following the poem, a “rath” is described by Humpty as “a sort of green pig”, whereas Carroll’s notes for the original in Mischmasch suggest a “rath” is “a species of Badger” that “lived chiefly on cheese” and had smooth white hair, long hind legs, and short horns like a stag.
The appendices to certain Looking Glass editions, however, state that the creature is “a species of land turtle” that lived on swallows and oysters.
Later commentators have added their own interpretations of the lexicon, often without reference to Carroll’s own contextual commentary.

In January 1868, Carroll wrote to his publisher Macmillan, asking, “Have you any means, or can you find any, for printing a page or two of the next volume of Alice in reverse?” This may suggest that Carroll was wanting to print the whole poem in mirror writing. Macmillian responded that it would cost a great deal more to do, and this may have dissuaded him

Multiple translations into Latin were made within the first weeks of Carroll’s original publication.


Legend of the Lambton Worm:


Inaudible Music, Inexplicable Matter

The central region of a rich galaxy cluster about 250 million light years from Earth.

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips
July 24, 2014:
  The Universe is a big place, full of unknowns.  Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have just catalogued a new one.

Together with a team of more than a half-dozen colleagues, Esra Bulbul, of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics, has been using Chandra to explore the Perseus Cluster, a swarm of galaxies approximately 250 million light years from Earth.   Imagine a cloud of gas in which each atom is a whole galaxy—that’s a bit what the Perseus cluster is like.  It is one of the most massive known objects in the Universe.
The cluster itself is immersed in an enormous  ‘atmosphere’  of superheated plasma—and it is there that the mystery resides

“A line appeared at 3.56 keV (kilo-electron volts) which does not correspond to any known atomic transition. It was a great surprise.”
The spectral line appears not to come from any known type of matter, which shifts suspicion to the unknown: dark matter.
The menagerie of dark matter candidates that might produce this kind of line include axions, sterile neutrinos, and “moduli dark matter” that may result from the curling up of extra dimensions in string theory.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” says   “What we found, at first glance, could not be explained by known physics.”

Solving the mystery could require a whole new observatory.  In 2015, the Japanese space agency is planning to launch an advanced X-ray telescope called “Astro-H.” It has a new type of X-ray detector, developed collaboratively by NASA and University of Wisconsin scientists, which will be able to measure the mystery line with more precision than currently possible.

“Maybe then,” says Bulbul, “we’ll get to the bottom of this.”



Perseus galaxy cluster’s Cosmic B Flat

In 2003 a team of astronomers led by Dr. Andrew Fabian at Cambridge University discovered one of the deepest notes ever detected, a B.
No human will actually hear the note, because its time period between oscillations is 9.6 million years, which is 57 octaves below the keys in the middle of a piano.


see also:

Variations on an Ascending Scale
Study of Clouds
Trees Cry Out

Falling Stars

meteor‘Meteor seen over Hewit Common near York’ 
by Nathaniel Pigott  (1725–1804)


The Great Fireball of 1783

In the summer of 1783 the Montgolfier brothers flew the first successful hot-air balloon at Annonay in France, creating a craze for ballooning which swept Parisian society, and Henry Cavendish and Joseph Priestley continued their independent experiments on ‘inflammable air’ [hydrogen] and the chemical composition of water.

Sir Joseph Banks,  President of the Royal Society for over 41 years, was summering in Lincolnshire while Charles Blagden kept him apprised of scientific goings-on, opened Banks’s mail for him, and marshalled  the traffic at Banks’s house at 32 Soho Square – a continual back-and-forth flow of books, drawings, journals, newspapers, plant specimens and people

That same summer a large meteor was seen over England on the night of August 18th, passing rapidly over Scotland and travelling down the east coast of England – it was seen at Lincolnshire, where it appeared to break up, but the core continued, still blazing, more or less on its former trajectory– and at Ramsgate.  It was also seen from Brussels and France; and there was an unconfirmed sighting as far south as Rome. Blagden and Banks between them gathered reports of the event from across Britain and the Continent to attempt to estimate the meteor’s size, altitude, and speed; it was visible for a little under a minute, its altitude was estimated variously between 50 and 60 miles, it appeared about as large as the Moon’s disc (Blagden reckoned its diameter at roughly half a mile) and its speed was calculated at 20 miles per second.

These calculations of the meteor’s altitude and speed are remarkably plausible – and if Blagden’s estimate of its size is even marginally accurate then humanity can breathe a two-hundred-year’s delayed sigh of relief at its close shave.  Blagden didn’t see it like that, because he didn’t think meteors were physical bodies but electrical phenomena in the upper atmosphere.

When he heard that the Astronomer Royal, Nevill Maskelyne, was sending out queries of his own for an investigation of the comet, he wrote scoffingly to Banks:

‘I hear many years ago Professor [John] Winthrop, of Cambridge [Harvard] in new England, sent a paper to the R.S. containing a circumstantial theory of meteors as bodies revolving in very excentric elipses round our earth, & producing light by their effect upon our atmosphere.  This paper it was not thought proper to print; but most likely [Sir John] Pringle took his ideas from it, which Maskelyne is now going to hash up warm.  If every falling star be such a body, and it seems impossible to draw a line of distinction between them & the larger meteors, we are in high luck indeed that some of them, out of such an immense number, do not now & then miss their way, or get entangled in our atmosphere, and give us a smack.  That this good world may be preserved from such misfortunes is the hearty wish of

Your affectionate


Blagden argued in his published paper that it was precisely because meteors were seen so frequently, yet never felt actually to hit, that they weren’t orbiting bodies like comets.  His crowd-sourced data was remarkably reliable; and from his description of the meteor you would swear he imagined it as a solid body, but he’s forced away from that conclusion because he can’t find any evidence for the logical endpoint of that line of thought: namely, the meteor’s impact.

Crowd-sourcing observations in this way was an important tool, continues to be important to modern science, and is crucial to the history of science.

Blagden’s dismissive mention of John Winthrop, Hollis Professor of natural philosophy and Astronomy at Harvard is intriguing, in this context.  Winthrop’s theory that meteors were of extra-terrestrial origin was substantially correct, and his paper, which the Society hadn’t seen fit to publish at the time, is still in the archives; but he was also responsible for one of the first attempts to treat earthquakes as geological phenomena.
Like meteors and comets, these had largely been regarded prior to the scientific revolution as manifestations of divine wrath or providential omens; Winthrop’s study of the effects of the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which had also been felt in New England, attempted to measure the damage it caused and to quantify the forces involved, and he published the resulting lecture in Boston as well as sending an account to the Royal Society.


Famous contributing authors to Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, which was established in 1665, include Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and Charles Darwin.

Sir Joseph Banks took part in the Voyage of HMS Endeavour, exploration of Botany Bay with Captain James Cooke.