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ars magna

May 13th, 2008

“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.

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  1. andy
    May 13th, 2008 at 22:19 | #1

    Hmmm… of the interesting possibilities, both “transitsearch” and “superearth” are in there, but after taking both of those out I don’t get much that makes sense. Unless “pale blue gel” has anything to do with anything.

  2. Hungry4info2
    May 14th, 2008 at 00:53 | #2

    Just some random speculation, bawsed on Andy’s post.
    Transit SuperEarth, Pale Blue Gel.

    Transits would be most easily detected around red dwarfs. “After all, there are only so many nearby red dwarfs in the sky!”.

    Pale Blue gel? Whatever the image is that Greg posted somewhat fits “blue”.

    Then again, we’re expecting HD 80606 b data. At least… I think we are. Maybe the planet has been detected in transit?

  3. mikeobrien
    May 14th, 2008 at 03:42 | #3

    at the risk of sounding over-hopeful, and by taking some liberties with customary astronomical nomenclature, a possible solution seems to be

    “grail result, alp cent bee has super earth!”

    I’ve checked it twice, but it’s late here and I may have made a mistake…


  4. Mike Hall
    May 14th, 2008 at 13:06 | #4

    I can get “Gliese super Earth search” but I am then left with “blue planatrt”. Suggestive, but no revelations there!

  5. Hungry4info2
    May 14th, 2008 at 13:10 | #5

    “grail” means, according to ‘teh internets’, “the object of any prolonged endeavor”. In which case, indeed, I would guess a planet around Alf Cen B would make sense.

    And I confirm, that “grail result, alp cent bee has super earth!” can indeed be made from “Huge Applet, Unsearchable Terrestrials”

  6. andy
    May 14th, 2008 at 21:41 | #6

    “Super Earth At Alpha Cen B. Rigel, Less True???”

  7. andy
    May 14th, 2008 at 21:42 | #7

    (or of course, “Super Earth At Rigel. Alpha Cen B, Less True”, but I didn’t think anyone targetted blue supergiants for planet searching.)

  8. tfisher98
    May 15th, 2008 at 01:46 | #8

    How about: “Bells greet Alpha Centauri’s super Earth!”?

  9. tfisher98
    May 15th, 2008 at 02:10 | #9

    Or: “The spectral lines reap a Regulus B Earth.”.

  10. tfisher98
    May 15th, 2008 at 02:23 | #10

    Or: “Rigel B planet search seals up true earth.”

  11. tfisher98
    May 15th, 2008 at 03:26 | #11

    “This huge pulsar celebrates rare planet.”

  12. Bruce Herrick
    May 15th, 2008 at 06:21 | #12

    Extending the entry from Mike Hall above on 5/14/2008 @ 1:06 gives:

    Search Star G, lie super blue earth planet

    Maybe Star G is Gliese?

  13. Hungry4info2
    May 15th, 2008 at 13:21 | #13

    I’m pretty sure looking for planets around Rigel is pointless. Most B and O stars have something wrong with them (pulsations, B’e’ issues and so on, on top of enormous surface jitter). Unless, of course, Rigel is in reference to ‘Rigel Kentaurus’.

  14. wbianco
    May 15th, 2008 at 15:55 | #14

    Has anyone looked at the title of the post for anagrams?

  15. Hungry4info2
    May 15th, 2008 at 19:39 | #15

    The title is probably “Anagram”.

  16. eric
    May 15th, 2008 at 19:47 | #16

    Greg, thank you for such a provocative posting!

    Can you say whether the anagram is hiding a secret that was obtained observationally or theoretically?

    And can you estimate how long we have to wait until the secret is unveiled?

    I hope these questions aren’t rude, but it also sure would be interesting to know whether you and your colleagues have already observing Alpha Centauri. (In the comments section of http://www.oklo.org/?p=269, you commented that the first observing run of one Alpha Centauri project was scheduled to start on May 19th…) Thanks for any extra info!

  17. wbianco
    May 15th, 2008 at 22:01 | #17

    Dear Hungry4info3,



  18. Hungry4info2
    May 15th, 2008 at 22:10 | #18

    Wbianco, thanks. Left for a while due to what seems to be everything stalling (I’ve lost track of how many things I’m waiting on data to be released for, Ups And system inclination, LHS 288 b?, Periodicity variations in OGLE-TR-111 b, the list goes on and on). I’m trying to get more seriously active in using the console though.

    eric, from what I can tell from the progress of the HD 80606 data, we could be waiting a while.

  19. tfisher98
    May 16th, 2008 at 02:40 | #19

    Or: “BL Ceti has sure planet: large super-earth.”

  20. tfisher98
    May 16th, 2008 at 03:08 | #20

    Or: “The secure planet b pushes larger Altair.”

  21. greg
    May 16th, 2008 at 05:36 | #21

    Wow! I’m amazed at the seeming plausibility of some of these rearrangements.

    So here is a bit more information: (1) I’m hoping that we’ll be able to announce the solution soon, but the analysis is proving to be more computationally intensive than we’d initially projected. (2) The words “super” and “Earth” don’t appear in the solution, and (3) HD 80606 news will be forthcoming quite soon, but is quite unrelated to the anagram…


  22. eric
    May 16th, 2008 at 14:54 | #22

    On the German language blog listed above, Greg gave another clue:

    “The solution contains a German name.”
    – Greg Laughlin (via the Google translator)

  23. henk brouwer
    May 17th, 2008 at 07:31 | #23

    Gliese could be the german name, wikipedia says he was a german born in Poland though, so this could be wrong.. A catologue number is harder to come up with, maybe the anagram holds other clues to it’s position, maybe the constellation?
    “Har! at hercules a planet perturbs gliese!”

    Or maybe we could use some of the letters to spell the catalogue number, with the right font gliese 581 looks almost the same as gliese SBl.

  24. Hungry4info2
    May 17th, 2008 at 14:32 | #24

    “The solution contains a German name.”

    Gliese is a German name. And it’s well established that Gliese can be found in the anagram, which may not be surprising: it isn’t a very small anagram. If we take out Gliese, we’re left with


  25. tfisher98
    May 17th, 2008 at 15:35 | #25

    Another good relevant German name in the jumble is Herschel. There is a Herschel telescope at Palomar (anyone know if Greg and crew book time there?) and there are stars that Herschel (Sr. or Jr.) first cataloged. No luck so far finding good anagrams using it though.

  26. thiessen
    May 17th, 2008 at 16:57 | #26

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:German_astronomers lists Gliese, Herschel, Copernicus, Gauss among others. I’m rooting for Thiessen, myself. It does help that there’s no W or Z or K in the anagram as that narrows the search space.

    Just an opinion, but I think Greg wouldn’t confabulate numbers and letters here, or use cryptic abbreviations in his starting sentence. That just doesn’t seem to fit with the spirit of the anagram process.


  27. Hungry4info2
    May 17th, 2008 at 21:29 | #27

    Tisessen died in 1961, if Greg’s announcement is indeed news, I don’t think Tiessen would be in it.

  28. Hungry4info2
    May 17th, 2008 at 22:36 | #28

    Translation, via the great Google Translator

    No reader will suspect that I ‘t talking about, but it has to do with astronomy. It is an anagram, a word or phrase, which is fully composed of the letters of another word or another sentence. The anagram was created by Greg Laughlin, since 2007 Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California at Santa Cruz (see his CV). In the tradition of, among other Galileo1 and Huygens2 Laughlin made the anagram. The suspicion exists that he has the anagram refers to a special discovery. He is working with others to discover exoplanets aardachtige, so perhaps he does on this playful way an announcement. Afijn, on the Internet are already various solutions devised for the anagram”

  29. May 18th, 2008 at 09:37 | #29

    My solution: Herschel ‘l see a big terraplanet: P Taurus. :-)

  30. Hungry4info2
    May 18th, 2008 at 13:42 | #30

    Somebody on another webpage, http://www.astroblogs.nl/2008/05/17/huge-applet-unsearchable-terrestrials/
    “Herschel bags terrestrial planet!”
    However, this leaves “uApUe: =S

  31. May 18th, 2008 at 15:16 | #31

    That somebody is me, it’s my blog. “Herschel ‘l see a big terraplanet: P Taurus” leaves nothing. Question is: is P Taurus something? I know what a T Tauri star is. But what is P Tauri?

  32. david_bennett
    May 19th, 2008 at 04:39 | #32

    Hi Greg,

    While your readers may have fun with your anagram, I don’t think that it will help to prevent you from being scooped. If you have a competitor working on the same that reads your blog, then they’ll be able to solve your anagram. And then they’ll know that they have competition, while you will not. This could spur them to get their result out more quickly. So, your anagram might spur your competition to scoop you. If the competition’s paper comes out first, your anagram is not likely to ensure that you get priority.

  33. Hungry4info2
    May 19th, 2008 at 11:47 | #33

    Translation is rather jumbled (from Sweedish), but basically talks about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and commenting about the vagueness of the announcenement, then finally promising to report more information when it becomes clearer.

    Greg, what kind of discovery is this on the (Mundane/Yay) scale? 1 being a typical hot Jupiter (imagine the reaction to CoRoT-Exo-2 b), and 10 being a transiting super-Earth?
    (Feel free to go beyond 10 if it’s really, really good, i.e. SETI contact results or something, lol)

  34. kpesanka
    May 19th, 2008 at 13:55 | #34

    Gliese charts a bluer, superearth planet!

  35. eric
    May 19th, 2008 at 16:24 | #35

    Two stars possibly referred to appear to be “Gliese 103” and “Gliese 310Aa”.

    You can spell out some numbers along with the word Gliese – for example, Gliese three ten, and then you are left with:
    ( gliese three ten Aa)(upplet,Usrchabl star!)

    If I understand this table correctly: http://www.ari.uni-heidelberg.de/datenbanken/aricns/gliese.htm , “Gliese 310Aa” and “Gliese 103” are valid star designations.

    Other possibilities for spelling out the numbers so that star catalog designations can be used include “three”, “ten”, “eight”, and “thirteen”…

  36. TRoemer
    May 31st, 2008 at 02:13 | #36

    Argh, that’s what I’d call a bait for a former astronomy student turned rpg designer (and just fiddling around with near star data). So my guess is:
    u r right, a real planet at Bessel’s, cheer up!
    (where “Bessel’s” is 61 Cyg (sometimes “Bessel’s Star”; first parallax discovered in 1838).


  37. Hungry4info2
    June 14th, 2008 at 05:22 | #37

    This post keeps changing.
    First the image,
    now the title. We now have an additional ‘s’ with our “ar magna”, so I guess the title is “anagrams”. That’s a bit of a hint?

  38. DrChromo
    June 22nd, 2008 at 06:09 | #38

    As a light-hearted attempt, how about these?

    Triple blue planet ushers a gatecrasher
    Relish a blue planet; gatecrasher erupts
    Planet AAA Cheeseburger Erupts, Thrills!
    Alpha Centauri a bestseller; regret push

    Dr Chromo

  39. June 22nd, 2008 at 10:17 | #39

    Large super Earth there, it’s Sun B Capella!

  40. jadawa
    June 25th, 2008 at 03:33 | #40

    I just started on this anagram and my knowledge of astronomical terminology is poor at best, but I did find another German (in origin at least) surname associated with red dwarfs. Haberle, Robert. Hopefully that will help someone. Lacaille 8760 anyone?

  41. danagram
    July 2nd, 2008 at 00:45 | #41

    Appears Light Returns Reheatable Clues

  42. GetMeOutOfHere
    March 26th, 2009 at 01:24 | #42

    Just saw the article on the Times website, here’s what I found–

    Spiegel rests alter reach nebular at

    Spiegel means “mirror” in German

    The remaining letters are UHP.

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