Today is a birthday that I didn't mail certain stuff in time for, so here is a blog devoted to October 17 instead.
In the history of American Independence October 17 was particulary important, and many other things of importance to human civilization occured, but I'm most interested in a certain year, 1604, when Johannes Kepler, trying to figure out the music of celestial spheres saw a sudden star in a constellation named Ophiuchus, the Serpent Holder, unknown to most people. Ophiuchus could be either of two guys who crossed Ceres and got divine and serpentine retribution in exchange. Or Hercules, who whacked snakes from infancy onwards. Another theory is it's Aeskulapius (Aesculapius) healing Glaucus, son of Minos after a snake bite. This confusion over the symbolism may be why this constellation is the "thirteenth" and forgotten astrological sign.
This is Kepler's original drawing, with N at the ankle indicating the location of the supernova. Its remmant, thanks to the artistry of NASA combining photographs from 3 different telescopes, remains quite a firework spectacle.
The resulting image (Note the tongue action):
Speak of a stellar illustration for The Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy.
We should also all already know that we are stardust. Many of the heavier elements are only made in supernovas.
The physics of supernova collapse is still being studied.
Kepler's supernova remmant will continue accelerating for millenia, expanding to a radius of dozens or hundred light-years wide, and helping to seed the neighborhood with heavy elements. Our earth would not exist if it was not for a similar supernova, and in fact the Stardust mission hoped to find atoms older than our sun, from bygone supernovae.
When you consider the universe is roughly 13.7 billion years old, years, let alone birthdays, are more evanescent than the blink of an eye. Yes, I know I'm still in trouble for forgetting to send a birthday card on time.