Forensic astronomer solves Walt Whitman mystery

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Forensic astronomer solves Walt Whitman mystery

Postby Egaladeist » Wed Jun 02, 2010 7:20 pm

Donald Olson, a physicist at Texas State University, is the world's leading practitioner of forensic astronomy - examining classic works of art and literature that include references to celestial phenomena.

In many of his investigations, Olson and his students use the methods of modern astronomy to determine precisely where and when a particular work of art was created or to pinpoint the event that inspired it. For example, Olson analysed Vincent van Gogh's Moonrise, a painting depicting a glowing yellow orb looming behind the silhouette of a rocky outcrop. Olson was able to determine the exact spot in France from which van Gogh viewed the rising moon, as well as the precise time: 9:08 pm, 13 July 1889.


It turns out that both the prose and the poetry of Walt Whitman is unusually rich in terms of references to the sky - very specific ones, in fact. He tells you exactly what he sees, and often gives the date. For example, he discusses the 1833 Leonids [one of the most spectacular meteor showers on record]. So I have a big file on Walt Whitman and astronomy. He's a very rich source of descriptions of the sky.


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