“Getting scooped” is an ongoing occupational hazard for astronomers. An interesting idea pops into your head, or a significant peak starts to emerge in a periodogram, and you drop everything to do an analysis and write up your idea or discovery for submission. If your idea seems to work, and as your story takes shape on paper, it occurs to you that there are plenty of other colleagues who could easily have latched on to what you’ve just done. After all, there are only so many nearby red dwarfs in the sky!
The invention of the telescope at the beginning of the seventeenth century led to very rapid progress in astronomy, and because telescopes are relatively straightforward to make once the principle is understood, astronomers suddenly faced heightened competition, and with it, the ever-unnerving possibility of getting scooped.
Anagrams were brought into use as a method of protecting one’s priority of discovery while simultaneously keeping a discovery under wraps in order to obtain further verification. Galileo was an early adopter of anagrams. After observing Saturn, he circulated the following jumble of letters:
s m a i s m r m i l m e p o e t a l e u m i b u n e n u g t t a u i r a s
When he was ready to announce that Saturn has a very unusual shape when seen through his small telescope, he revealed that the letters in the anagram can be rearranged to read, Altissimum planetam tergeminum observavi, or “I have observed the highest planet tri-form.”
Galileo’s telescope wasn’t powerful enough to allow him to decode what he was actually seeing when he observed Saturn. The true configuration as a ringed planet was first understood by Christiaan Huygens, who, in 1656, with the publication of the discovery of Titan in De Saturni luna observatio nova, also circulated an anagram to protect his claim to discovery:
a a a a a a a c c c c c d e e e e e h i i i i i i i l l l l m m n n n n n n n n n o o o o p p q r r s t t t t t u u u u u.
In 1659, Huygens revealed that the anagram can be decoded to read, Annulo cingitur, tenui, plano, nusquam cohaerente, ad eclipticam inclinato, or “It is surrounded by a thin flat ring, nowhere touching, and inclined to the ecliptic.”
The most appealing anagrams rearrange the true sentence into a satisfyingly oblique haiku-like clue. In connection with his discovery of the phases of Venus, Galileo issued an anagram that read, Haec immatura a me iam frustra leguntur, or “These immature ones have already been read in vain by me.” When properly reconstructed, the letters reveal that, Cynthiae figuras aemulatur Mater Amorum, or “The Mother of Loves [i.e. Venus] imitates the figures of Cynthia [i.e. the moon]“.
So, in service to this venerable tradition, but without adhering to the hoary custom of couching everything in Latin, let me just say that,
Huge Applet, Unsearchable Terrestrials!
Note that according to the wikipedia,
The disadvantage of computer anagram solvers, especially when applied to multi-word anagrams, is that they usually have no understanding of the meaning of the words they are manipulating. They are therefore usually poor at filtering out meaningful or appropriate anagrams from large numbers of nonsensical word combinations.