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Pinwheels in the sky?

Surprisingly, comets do not always appear as sweeping brooms in the sky.  When viewed at the correct angle and orientation, while the comet is outgassing appropriately, a comet can actually appear as a spiral "pinwheel."  Below are some photos and a short movie of comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 when it was in spiral display. 


Fig. 1. Images of the Hale-Bopp comet shells registered in March-April 1997



Hubble Sees Material Ejected from Comet Hale-Bopp

View image details 

"These Hubble telescope pictures of comet Hale-Bopp show a remarkable "pinwheel" pattern and a blob of free-flying debris near its center. The image at left shows the entire comet; the picture at right is a close-up of the nucleus.

The bright clump of light along the spiral [just above the center of the picture] may be a piece of the comet's icy crust. Although the "blob" is about 3.5 times fainter than the brightest portion at the comet's center, the lump appears brighter because it covers a larger area. The debris follows a spiral pattern outward because the solid center is rotating like a lawn sprinkler, completing a single rotation about once per week."  NASA Press Release, 1995 http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/1995/41


Ancient cultures worldwide used "sky wheels" in their art.  This has long puzzled scientists who generally attribute the images to an interpretation of the sun. 

Could the ancients actually be recounting the awe inspring time(s)? cosmic pinwheels were visible from earth? 


Chaco Canyon, California



Petroglyph attributed to Classic Vernal Style, Fremont archaeological culture, eastern Utah.

Petroglyph attributed to Classic Vernal Style, Fremont archaeological culture, eastern Utah.



The astronomical sophistication of ancient humans becomes more obvious each year. A novel method of keeping track of the seasons [keeping track of the seasons?  Why does someone need to "keep track" of seasons?"] has been discovered on an isolated butte in New Mexico. Here, the Anasazi, who occupied Chaco Canyon between 400 and 1,300 A.D., carved spiral petroglyphs into the face of a cliff. Then, they arranged stone slabs so that sharp slivers of sunlight fell on the spirals. The precise position of the sliver of light depends of course upon the location of the sun. The solstices and equinoxes are registered by unique configurations of light slivers and spirals. In contrast to other calendar sites, which rely upon the rising and setting points of sun on the horizon, the New Mexico clock depends upon the altitude of the sun at midday. Slivers of moonlight on the spirals also seem to have astronomical significance.

(Sofaer, Anna, et al; "A Unique Solar Marking Construct," Science, 206:283, 1979.)

Spiral Rock in Arizona

Spiral Rock at Signal Hill near Tucson, Arizona

Gallows Outon, Scotland


Spiral at Nine Mile Canyon, Utah

Concentric circles are commonly found in locations that can be identified as Sun shrines or, less frequently, Sun observing stations. The spiral design, on the other hand, is usually not identified as a Sun-symbol by modern Pueblo people, although we are encountering it here (and again later ) in a context that is unambiguously solar. This may represents one example of the multiplicity of meanings of rock art, or meaning evolving through time.




North Carolina Antique Map Gallery


Its Spring and

that means



John Lawson's Trek Through the Carolinas 

In 1709 



The News & Observer


An Op-Ed I recently wrote



Archibald D. Murphy

And the improvement of North Carolina in 1815


Penguins and Parrots in North Carolina?


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