Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Waratah - meteorite, compass confusion.

Meteorites are composed of iron which has the 'capacity to render compasses useless, until taken ashore' (1910).  The compass that is, not the meteorite. The American Hydrographic Office also issued a warning in 1910: the approach of Halley's Comet would create electromagnetic waves affecting compasses. Halley's Comet is comprised of water, carbon monoxide and other ices plus traces of methane and ammonia. The evaporation of this 'dirty' ice releases dust particles which travel away from the nucleus creating the visible 'coma'. None of these constituents nor the proximity of the comet's trajectory in 1910 'set up electrical discharges' and released bits of meteorites or iron into the earth's atmosphere.

Getting back to the meteorite: The Waratah is on course. There are no problems. Suddenly there is a flash of light in the stormy night sky and a meteorite lands in the Indian Ocean causing a few fish to startle. It's far away, hasn't hit a ship or caused a tsunami. But Captain Ilbery notices that his compass is spinning. What if he goes off course and hits another steamer experiencing a similarly spinning compass? What if this is the real reason the Waratah ended up in Antarctica? Or better still, what if the meteorite caused a whirlpool, sucking the Waratah down into the chapters of a science fiction novel coming to a shelf near you?

No, let's get real, there are no records of compass disturbances experienced by other vessels at sea off the South African coast between 26 and 29 July, 1909. Frankly if Captain Ilbery's compass started spinning and he 'lost his way' I would be inclined to believe one of the cows in the pens on the Koombana jumped over the moon.

Getting back to Halley's Comet 1910, which I was rather enjoying, Mark Twain was born 30 November 1835, two weeks after the Halley's Comet perihelion (passing earth) and he wrote in his autobiography published 1909:

"I came in with Halley's comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together."

Twain died 21 April 1910, the day after Halley's Comet. In conclusion, Halley's Comet coincided with the somewhat psychic Mark Twain, but that's about it! Some meteorites such as the one depicted below, can cause rather a lot of damage, this one creating the Grand Canyon, in which case nobody would be paying the least attention to compasses.

Diablo Canyon Meteorite

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