Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Ten Days of Newtonmas

Note: This post has been updated for 2016 here.
"Isaac Newton was born 25 December 1642 according to the Julian calendar that is old-style. If converted to the Georgian calendar, we have to add ten days, and so his date of birth was 4 January 1643 new-style." - The Renaissance Mathematicus
Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Pancha Ganapati, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, HumanLight, Kwanzaa, Jediism, Festivus, Goatsmas, or something else - or nothing at all - we all owe a debt to this devout but unorthodox Christian who was a bit of a jerk and into the occult but was also “one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution” (Wikipedia). In his honor, I humbly offer this sometimes irrhythmic version of “The Ten Days of Newton.” And I wish you all a very merry Newtonmas!
On the tenth day of Newtonmas,  
One of our greatest natural philosophers gave to us,
Ten confessed sins,
Nine moons of Jupiter and Saturn moving according to the same law that makes an apple fall,
Eight volumes of mathematics,  
Seven colors of light,  
Six planets orbiting according to Kepler’s Laws,
Five lessons of life,  
Four rules of reasoning,  
Three laws of motion,  
Two branches of calculus,  
And a universal law of gravitation.

Of course, as we all know, Isaac Newton isn’t the real reason for the season. But Festivus has already come and gone so it’s too late to air this grievance. If you feel like poking yourself in the eye now, please do it gently with your finger instead of with a bodkin like Newton.

Earth tilt animation.gif
Axial tilt is the reason for the seasons: "something big hit Earth and knocked it off-kilter."
"Earth tilt animation" by Tfr000 (talk) 16:54, 2 April 2012 (UTC) - Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

  1. Wait a minute. Why are there only ten days of Newtonmas when December 25th through January 4th is actually eleven days? Which of Newton’s birthdays (Julian or Gregorian) is not part of Newtonmas and why? There are many theories about this: Ten is even, we have ten fingers and ten toes, or it just allows us to celebrate Christmas (instead of Newtonmas) with our Christian family and friends on the 25th and then start celebrating Newtonmas on the 26th. My own theory is that the 4th is not part of Newtonmas due to social pressure and discrimination against the holiday which is reflected by the fact that most people have to go back to work on the 4th and can’t celebrate that day!
  2. The celebration of Newtonmas was recorded as far back as 1892 September 8, “"A New Sect of Hero Worshippers."”, Nature, volume 46, ISSN 0028-0836, page 459:
  3. At Christmas, 1890, or Newtonmas, 248, for the first time, the members of the Newtonkai, or Newton Association, met in the Physical Laboratory of the Imperial University, to hear each other talk, to distribute appropriate gifts, and to lengthen out the small hours with laughter and good cheer.
  4. This post started as a Facebook note. Based on feedback from several people I have updated it to better represent some of Newton’s flaws - which compelling heroes need.
  5. Someone also noted that the “shoulders of giants” quote in the original cover image for my Facebook note might have been a swipe at Robert Hooke who was short and hunchbacked. So I replaced it with a picture of Newton's own copy of his Principia, with hand-written corrections for the second edition ("NewtonsPrincipia". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons), but I did not include that image in this post.
  6. Finally, note that lesson #3 in the “five lessons of life” link is apparently a misattribution - so here’s another lesson for you: you can’t trust Business Insider!

How did Newton die?
Image Credit: Unreal Facts

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