Exactly 1,933 years after Mount Vesuvius' eruption buried the Roman city of Pompeii and its residents in a lethal blanket of ash, the catastrophe is being recounted as it was back then — only this time as a stream of tweets on Twitter.
The minute-by-minute reconstruction of Pompeii's destruction on Aug. 24 in the year 79 is based on the tale of Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar and admiral who took command of the city's evacuation. The last day of Pompeii will be retweeted as it happened, starting at 10 a.m. ET Friday, by @Elder_Pliny, a ghost who's being brought to life by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Why Denver? It's because the museum is due to host an exhibit about Pompeii titled "A Day in Pompeii," opening Sept. 14. The museum says it'll be offering an interactive map tracing Pliny's movements on that fateful day.
The old guy has already gotten a premonition of disaster: "The gods must be roaming the earth," he tweeted on Wednesday. "I felt the ground shake this morning."
Don't tell @Elder_Pliny, but the big day is not going to end well for him. In real life, his story had to be told by his nephew, Pliny the Younger, who provided pretty much the only eyewitness account of what happened. In his letters to Tacitus, the younger Pliny describes how his uncle sailed into the chaos:
"Ash was falling onto the ships now, darker and denser the closer they went. Now it was bits of pumice, and rocks that were blackened and burned and shattered by the fire. Now the sea is shoal; debris from the mountain blocks the shore. He paused for a moment wondering whether to turn back as the helmsman urged him. 'Fortune helps the brave,' he said. ..."
If @Elder_Pliny's tweets are even half as gripping, they'll be a must-read for Follow Friday.
After the eruption and ashfall, the city was abandoned and largely forgotten. Centuries later, the archaeological excavation of the city revealed a freeze-frame of everyday life for first-century Romans, from their brothels and trash heaps to their high-class homes. Pompeii has fallen on another round of hard times recently, due to modern-day deterioration — but the site still ranks as one of the archaeological wonders of the world. Here are more of the recent revelations from Pompeii:
- Pompeii couple reunited in marble inscription
- Fish sauce used to date Pompeii's destruction
- Archaeologists re-create the Pompeii diet
- Residents of ancient Pompeii liked fast food
- Scientists figure out how art was seen in Pompeii
- Heat, not suffocation, killed Vesuvius' victims
You can take a virtual tour of Pompeii's present-day ruins using Google Street View, and PublicVR has been working on a three-dimensional virtual reconstruction of the city's theater district as it was during its ancient heyday. If you can't make it to Denver for "A Day in Pompeii," there's also a "Last Days of Pompeii" exhibit opening next month at the Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif.
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.