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Forensic Astronomer Solves Walt Whitman Mystery 44

Posted by kdawson
from the signs-and-portents dept.
New Scientist has a piece on the uncommon art of forensic astronomy. Texas State University physicist Donald Olson has solved the mystery of Walt Whitman's meteor poem, thanks to clues found in an 1860 painting by Frederic Church. "Before we were done we had collected 300 records of observations [of the event]. I think this may be the most observed, and most documented, single meteor event in history. From the Great Lakes to New England, every town that had a newspaper wrote about that meteor. ... So we've got one of America's greatest landscape artists, Frederic Church, watching the meteor from Catskill, and we've got one of America's greatest poets, Walt Whitman, watching the meteor from New York City." The field of forensic astronomy may have gotten its start more than 30 years before, when art historian Roberta Olson argued convincingly that the lifelike comet in Giotto's "Adoration of the Magi" in Padua, Italy, in fact depicted Halley's Comet in its visitation of 1301.
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Forensic Astronomer Solves Walt Whitman Mystery

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @06:21AM (#32429322)

    In those days, the little town newspapers used boilerplate from the larger city newspapers and only added in a few local articles.

    Sounds just like today except the big town newspapers do it too. AP,Reuters,TASS, etc boilerplate is published everywhere.

  • by dylan_- (1661) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @07:54AM (#32429674) Homepage

    In those days, the little town newspapers used boilerplate from the larger city newspapers and only added in a few local articles. So the fact that the meteor was reported in many newspapers means diddly squat.

    I think that they would probably have only counted articles that were written in different styles or with local eyewitness accounts. I'm sure that a load of identical articles would have been very obvious.

  • by Lucidus (681639) on Wednesday June 02, 2010 @08:56AM (#32430140)
    So these guys studied a poem entitled "Year of Meteors [1859-60]" which mentions "the strange huge meteor-procession," and were able to determine that it refers to the great meteor procession of 1860? Wow, that is some impressive detective work!

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