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Karl W. Giberson

The Patent Clerk from Mount Olympus

Einstein's annus mirabilis.

1. Voyages

We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.

In 1768, Captain Cook and his crew headed off on their legendary voyage to Tahiti. In that same year a stream of photons from the Hyades star cluster embarked on a much longer journey, along the most literal of beelines to the earth. One and a half centuries later, in the middle of the morning of May 29, 1919, the photons crossed the boundaries of our solar system on their approach toward earth. Scheduled to hit the earth at mid-day, the photons would normally be invisible, overwhelmed by the brilliance of the sun. But May 29, 1919 was no ordinary day.

Shortly after lunch, the moon began to migrate across the face of the sun. The eerie mid-day darkness of an eclipse, with its not-quite-normal color scheme and Stephen King complexion began to move across the face of the earth. Mid-day night fell and the stars began poking through the opaque blue of the sky. The stream of photons that left the Hyades cluster in 1768 grazed the edge of the sun, passing close enough to the solar system's largest body to experience a more powerful gravitational tug than any of the other bodies in the solar system, including nearby Mercury.

The intense gravitational power of the sun altered the path of the stream of photons by just under two degrees; they careened off nothing, like the mysterious deflection of a Curt Schilling curve ball. The new path of the ...

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