Groucho Presley Van Allen
When I posted about Elvis yesterday, I’d forgotten that today is the anniversary of his death. Not to worry, I’m not going to recall “where I was when Elvis died,” because I don’t remember exactly when I heard about it. I remember a little about that day, 29 years ago -- it was the second day of band practice in preparation for band class in my junior year of high school, and it was hot as hell. As it tends to be in August in South Texas.
That evening, some fool local anchorman in San Antonio opened the news with the exact words, “The king is dead!” Groucho Marx died that same week, by the way, so he didn’t get the postmortem attention he deserved.
I found out today that James Van Allen died recently. It was one of those deaths for which my reaction was, “He was still alive?” Moreover, he lived in Iowa City, which I didn’t know, so if I’d thought of it in recent years, I could have (theoretically) visited him to ask how it is to have big belts of radioactive particles named after oneself. Mountains, lakes, rivers and other earthly features have been named after people, but to have your name fixed to near-earth feature like that is seriously cool, and while you’re alive no less. Beats being a space scientist with a song written about you by Tom Lehrer, but only just.