~seventeen~ supersingular

Happy seventeenth to Quinn.

In keeping with tradition, here is the grid of birthdays:

12 months 8 sock monkey bdaysealion Photo2196 Photo1104

Photo505 0225131805 Picturez 006 happy 7 orange IMG_6629


We will celebrate Quinn’s seventeenth birthday next weekend when he is home, but I could not let the day pass without marking it in my usual way, wandering through random tidbits of science and math and literature while reminiscing about this young man I have had the privilege of raising.

My photos of Quinn as he approaches seventeen are of him playing in band, and of him holding kittens. These seem to be the two moments he doesn’t mind having his photos taken, so I will take what I can get. Luckily, others were holding cameras at Quinn’s winter band concert, and I have another band parent and Quinn’s English teacher to credit with some of those images.

Seventeen is the seventh prime number. It is the only prime number which is the sum of four consecutive primes (2 + 3 + 5 + 7) because any other set of four primes results in an even number. It’s a lucky number of Euler, which is different from the way 13 was lucky, but still quull. In abstract algebra, seventeen is a supersingular prime, the explanation of which I had no comprehension of, which is probably a sign I never took abstract algebra, but I still think supersingular sounds intriguing.

Quullest photo. This was taken by Q’s English teacher.

Quinn is not taking math this year as a junior, but he would still be the only person I know who will find some of these tidbits quull, like the fact that the Pythagoreans abominated the number seventeen (I imagine he will giggle at this). I think he will be tickled that Carl Gauss chose mathematics as his profession because of his proof that heptadecagons (polygons with seventeen sides) can be constructed with a compass and unmarked ruler, and that this is because seventeen is a Fermat prime, whatever that is. Quinn likes Carl Gauss as much or more than the next seventeen-year-old. I think Quinn would like that there are seventeen fully supported stellations in an icosahedron. And I also think he will find it interesting that seventeen is the minimum number of givens needed in a Sudoku with a single solution.

According to MIT, seventeen is “the least random number,” which is because it is the most commonly chosen number when someone is asked to choose a random number from 1 to 20, according to several experiments.

Quinn is taking chemistry this year, and the element with the atomic number 17 is chlorine (which rhymes). Also, it reminds me of swim lessons. The element with a molecular weight of seventeen is ammonia. Which reminds me of diapers. Doesn’t time fly?

But the subject Quinn has been the most excited about this year (possibly with the exception of band) is English. So it will bring me great joy to remind him that the Haiku form has seventeen syllables (5 + 7 + 5). In other literary greatness, seventeen is when a wizard comes of age, and is the number of sickles in a galleon in wizard currency.

There are the same longings as ever. I wish I had more time with him. I wish I had his birthday with him. I wish I could fully support his stellations.

When we left off at sixteen, NASA was getting ready to launch a mission to space object 16-Psyche, an asteroid made of iron and other metals. The launch was successful in October, and in December, the spacecraft turned on its cameras successfully, the moment on a space mission called “first light.” The craft will fly by Mars in 2026, receiving a gravity assist from the planet named after the god of war, and then will continue on to Psyche, arriving in 2029. This asteroid may be a planetesimal, the building block of a planet, or in other words, an opportunity to look at what our own planet looks like on the inside. Our own earth is a hunk of metal at its inaccessible center, and this is our chance to learn more about our own core. Maybe. Or find out something else.

Messier space object 17 is the swan nebula. What is a nebula, you might ask? So might I.

A nebula is

Luminescent star-forming

Interstellar stuff

From my vantage point crowd controlling the middle school band at the winter concert, I got this back-of-the-band shot of my tall drummer.

Nebulae are those colorful, foggy space places whose images would make good Trapper Keeper covers, and they are full of cosmic dust. They are the places where the particles of cosmic dust clump together and attract tumbleweeds of more material until they give birth to a star. I picture a grain of sand in the mushy mantle of an oyster gathering ocean bits to form a pearl, only space. After the stars get born, the remaining material leftover is thought to be the makings of planets and their rings, their moons, their comets and asteroids. A nebula is like a solar system womb, then. And the swan nebula is one of the largest star-wombs in our Milky Way.

NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M. Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team and ESA


Wombs. Milky ways. Quick subject change before I get too weepy.

Cicadas! Some species of cicada have a seventeen-year life cycle. Probably a lot of people already know this, but every time I hear it, I still think it’s miraculous. Between mating seasons, they are buried underground for seventeen years. This seems excessive and impossible and also has very cool ecological reason and rhyme. Also there are fossil cicadas dating back to the Triassic in Australia. Automatically quull.

Also, the periodical cicadas (including the 17-year varieties) are part of the genus Magicicada. I just learned this and I think it’s magical.


Underground for seventeen

That seems excessive

Cicadas are of course known most for their music, and as musicians, they are basically percussionists. I can keep going.

Did you know that the different stages of nymphs that develop during the 99.5% of their life that takes place underground are known as instars? There are few words I love as much as “instar.” See star-womb nebula discussion above.

There are a hypothetical thirty broods in the Magicicada genus, which are exclusive to North America. Many of the hypothetical broods have not been observed. I try to wrap my head around this and picture the type of nerd whose job it was to hypothesize mathematically occurring cicada broods, and I am picturing someone not that different from Quinn. (They numbered the broods with Roman Numerals. Am I wrong?)

We will not be enjoying roasted cicadas for Quinn’s birthday, though this is a culturally important delicacy to the Onondaga people.

Despite the hypothetical brood abundance, only fifteen of the broods are known to survive today, and their timelines are mapped out for our entomology ecotouring convenience. Brood XIII, the Northern Illinois brood from the Midwest, is a seventeen-year cicada expected to emerge in 2024. The next time they do, Quinn will be turning 34.

Least random number

Happy Birthday Quinnigan

You’re Interstellar


edited to add belated celebratory photo epilogue…

1 comment to ~seventeen~ supersingular

  • Camp boss

    The cicadas are supposed to hatch in the next week or so and it’s the culmination of the 17 year cycle and the 13 year cycle converging at the same time….billions maybe trillions will be coming to life!!! Hasn’t happened in over 200 years , just in case you were wondering. 😉 and I totally loved the haiku mixed in!

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