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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, July 23, 2016 10:02 pm

California man hopes to inspire galactic awe

Frank Gray

Dave Sneider lives in northern California where he runs a couple of startups and wonders about weird stuff on the side.

He has no close connections to Fort Wayne, other than an email he sent to the editor last week.

It seems he was out hiking one day when he began to wonder why people get excited when Mercury goes into retrograde. That means the planet appears to stop in its orbit around the sun and start going the other way. It’s an optical illusion.

"I was trying to nail down why there’s all this excitement about Mercury," Sneider said. "What large-scale event can we talk about?"

Finally, he decided it was time to declare Sept. 29 the 235th Galactic Tick Day, in which people everywhere will celebrate the earth’s progress as it circles the Milky Way.

Definitely, that is bigger than even Mercury in retrograde. But I’d never heard of Galactic Tick Day.

Well, Sneider went back to the day the first telescope was patented and made that the first Galactic Tick Day and counted forward. This is the 235th but in reality the first to be recognized.

Here’s how it works. The Milky Way, as you probably know, is roughly circular. Every circle can be divided into 360 degrees, each degree can be divided into 60 minutes of arc, and each minute can be divided into 60 seconds of arc.

Sneider’s plan is to mark the earth’s progress as it completes one hundredth of a second of arc, which is a tick.

The earth, you see, is circling the center of the galaxy at 143 miles per second. That’s 514,000 mph. Every 1.736 years, or every 633.7 days, it covers a hundredth of a second of arc, or that tick. That’s about 7.8 billion miles. 

That’s a long way. It makes going to the moon seem like walking from the living room to the kitchen.

But consider, the Milky Way is approximately 100,000 light years in diameter, maybe more, or about 314,000 light years in circumference. Traveling at a measly 143 miles per second, it will take the earth 225 million years to complete one circuit around the center of the galaxy.

Sneider is planning a big party in San Francisco on Sept. 29. He’s hoping that by spreading the word, other people will have events of their own where they can talk about how big the galaxy and the universe are.

Accomplishing that will take some luck. Sneider has contacted about 80 news organizations, but only three have contacted him back.

If you’re the type who likes to talk about old "Happy Days" episodes, an event like this might not be for you.

But if you’re the type who takes some comfort in occasionally sitting back and realizing that a century ago we thought the Milky Way was the entire universe but now know that the earth is a tiny speck next to a star that is just a tiny speck on the edge of one of the arms of a galaxy that is itself just a tiny speck in a universe with billions of other galaxies, it might be interesting.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.