Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Dead Alive   Leave a comment

Few witnessed the death, and even if more had, they’d likely not report it. With civilization so remote, so distant, who’d be around to determine the cause? No one.

And so, the body began its slow decline.

Within a few days, a hard snow fell, encasing the body, preserving it. Winter turned fierce and harsh, almost without end. The cold turned the snow into ice, and before long, the body’s grave filled around it, until the snow and ice smoothed over the land, creating a featureless, anonymous plain.

As travelers came upon the area, others trod upon the grave, unknowing of its presence. Some stayed and began new life, some died nearby, but none possessed the knowledge of the body buried a thick distance below.

Centuries passed without incident until a certain curiosity occurred: the seasons lost their sting. Winter winds carried less snow, ice retreated early, summer grew in importance. Soon the bare earth revealed itself as hadn’t been seen since a forgotten era. With it, the ancient body greeted the sky and within it, an awakening occurred.

Curious nomads happened upon the frozen body, now becoming soft in the glowing sun. A few touched it. To them, it seemed as if it had only fallen asleep for a brief nap. They remarked how full of life it appeared.

And it was.

Life takes many forms. Humans are quick to consider life as an embodiment of themselves, or animals, a favored pet. Even the trees and blossoms constitutes life, especially when it serves to please.

What the nomads hadn’t counted on was the darker side of life – the bringers of death.

When they touched the body, they released what had been preserved in slumber, hiding in the folds and innards of a long-dead reindeer. Anthrax had been the cause of its death, and remarkably, it’d been able to survive many years. It didn’t take long for the disease to sicken approximately one hundred lives and cause the death of a child.

This event actually happened in Siberia in the summer of 2016, when melting permafrost revealed a reindeer’s anthrax-infested remains. Simple curiosity infected, sickened and killed a vulnerable population, unaccustomed to such diseases occurring at random.

It’s also a larger symptom of an inevitable situation – climate change. Geographical regions such as the Arctic tundra are now revealing their long-buried secrets, causing situations not even imagined. While so much focus has been placed on rising sea levels (with good reason), there are other side effects to rising temperatures. So if anthrax can be released so casually to an unsuspecting population, what other diseases are rising to the surface, ready to strike, under similar circumstances? Especially on those with limited or no natural immunity?

If this seems like science fiction, well, it’s not.

It’s worse.

Posted April 22, 2017 by seleneymoon in Climate, Nature, Sci-Fi, science fiction

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Menacing Tides   Leave a comment

A recent New York Times article discusses how theories first put forth in science fiction might provide a few insights on how to curb global warming. Despite the naysayers and deniers, with each passing Storm of the Century and inundating flood, it’s become obvious that nature is retaliating against mankind’s environmental unfriendly ways.

As one who’s spent her lifetime at the New Jersey coast, I’ve witnessed the rising seas. It’s subtle, at first. As a kid in the second half of the last century, I roamed the wide beaches, chasing seagulls and digging up clams. Our beach’s jetty stretched far out into the waves, ending in a massive pile of black mussel-covered rocks. During low tide, I could walk out behind those rocks. Even after a destructive hurricane, the beach might have been ravaged, but there was plenty of sand to place a blanket and enjoy the rough surf.

Occasionally, during a pounding thunderstorm or unusually high tide, water would back up by the storm drains. We’d use these as excuses to splash around, jumping off the curb and into the puddles. Nor’easters and hurricanes flooded the roadway and sometimes the garage, but usually the water went down fairly quickly. But as the century advanced, the beach retreated.

Skip to today. Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc with the island I grew up on and wiped out the beach, taking with it a few houses built on dunes that shouldn’t have been placed there. Surprising? Shocking? Well, yes, but no. Over the years, I’ve watched the shore disappear, growing shorter and shorter with each tide. That jetty and rocks that provided hours of entertainment buried itself under the sand. The streets flooded and became impassible with every rainstorm and high tide. One nearby restaurant posted a sign, “Occasional Waterfront Dining” because the street in front of it developed a sizable pond twice a day, as water backed up from the storm drain each high tide. That’s also how we knew the tide came in without ever going up to the beach.

It only gets worse with each storm. A major rebuilding of the beach, including jetty removal and berm construction, will only temporarily halt the rising seas. In the past, though storms took away the sand, in time the ocean swept it back towards the beach. That natural flow has ceased. Now, outraged citizens demand that something be done to halt nature. Little do they realize that’s impossible.

What’s even more fantastical about all this is the utter denial about what’s really happening. More and more houses are going up on this island without regard to the slow destructive forces overtaking it. Those looking for a place to relax during summer weekends and perhaps a nice place to stay over the off-season holidays refuse to acknowledge, or even notice, what’s going down. “It’s so beautiful,” says many a shoregoer. And yes, I’d agree. But not for much longer.

Sometimes it seems as if I’m part of a “Twilight Zone” episode, where a concerned citizen shouts to the crowd about the impending danger awaiting them, only to be at first ignored and then vindicated. Building houses on the coast will not stop anytime soon.

Neither will the rising seas.

 

Posted April 8, 2017 by seleneymoon in Nature, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Weather, Writing

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September in Space   Leave a comment

September’s usually a loaded month, for all sorts of reasons. Kids head back to school, there’s a big holiday capping off the traditional summer holiday, all the zucchini’s either ripened at once and your neighbors run from you as you clutch your harvest, chasing them, and we turn the season from boiling to pleasant.

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There’s all sorts of things going on above our heads as well. We started off the month with a solar eclipse today, in Africa. That means in two weeks, we’re going to see a lunar eclipse on September 16.  Solar and lunar eclipses always appear in pairs, about two weeks apart. This time, the penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible throughout all of Europe, Asia, Australia, but not North and South America, except for the easternmost part of Brazil.

 

scorpio

If you know your constellations, Scorpio is crawling back down southwest to get away for the winter. It’s taking with it a colorful trio of two planets, a star and one moon…but just for a day or two. Around the second week of September, you’ll see Antares, a big red star located in the upper portion of the constellation, Saturn to the upper right and Mars to the upper left. The moon on the half-shell will add its glow to the grouping.

summer-triangle

September’s a fine month to spot the so-called Summer Triangle, a trio of constellations (The Swan, The Eagle and The Lyre) forming a jewel of a triangle consisting of two first magnitude stars and one zero magnitude: Vega (0.14 mag) in The Lyre, Altair (0.89 mag) in The Eagle and Deneb (1.33 mag). With luck, you can see this grouping almost all year round, but the best time for it is during the summer, when it’s nearly overhead in the Milky Way. Vega is especially close to Polaris, the North Star, and only goes below the horizon at latitudes 40 degrees for a handful of hours. The further north you go, the longer you can see it.

On Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 14:21 UTC, autumn officially begins in the northern hemisphere. That’s when you start thinking about how fast that summer went past, you still didn’t get to the beach, but that’s okay, because you can’t get into your bathing suit anyway. So why don’t you do yourself a favor? Toss on a sweater, take a chair and have a seat, looking up at the greatest gift we all have at our disposal: the heavens.

Almost, But Not Quite   Leave a comment

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How many of you look forward to gazing at the moon and witnessing one of Nature’s Greatest Wonders, such as the lunar eclipse pictured above? They happen twice a year, about two weeks apart from a solar eclipse. It’s the dance the moon and the sun do, shading the earth in a few places, and giving us a fabulous show.

But on August 18, something odd’s going to happen. The Sun, Moon and Earth will be closely aligned that day, but their shadows will not meet. It’s as if they’re all flirting with each other, yet don’t quite know whom to choose. So they hold off a bit.

Then, one month later, the Moon gets its chance with a Penumbral eclipse (also, not quite total, but almost), crossing two dates, on September 16 & 17. But here’s the thing with a Penumbral eclipse: you might not notice anything. In fact, most people see a normal full moon. A keen eye will notice it’s a bit darker, but only just. See, this kind of eclipse happens when the Moon passes through the faint part of the Earth’s outer shadow. The Sun, Moon and Earth are imperfectly aligned, so they can’t do what naturally should come to them – an eclipse – so they go through the motions and orbit away.

Sandwiched between those two almost lunar events is an Annular solar eclipse on September 1. That, too, is an almost-but-not-quite event, with the Moon standing a hair’s breadth too far from the Sun to block its light entirely, but enough to cast a pretty decent shadow and darkening things in its path. It’s kind of like going to the movies and someone with an enormous head sits directly in front of you. You can’t really make out the whole film, but at the screen’s edges you see a tidbit of the action. What a viewer will see is a “ring of fire” around the edges of the moon. The sky does darken and if you glance at the sun (eyes protected with a filter!), it’ll look pretty darn cool.

So look out, folks! Or you might miss something…

Posted August 6, 2016 by seleneymoon in Eclipses, Moon, Nature, The Sun

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June’s Nighttime Sky   Leave a comment

2016-june-2-mars-saturn-antares-scorpius

Credit: earth sky.org

Look up, folks!

This month proves to be a bonanza for Mars and Saturn fans! Take a look in the southeast and you’ll notice the giant fishhook that is Scorpio. You can’t miss it and if you glance at the top three stars, they form a crooked line. Here’s a better example of the constellation:

scorpio

Credit: H.A. Rey, “The Stars”

Mars slips across the southern sky, so incredibly bright, you can’t miss it. If you’ve been keeping your eye on it, you’ll notice every night it’s in a different spot, competing with Scorpio’s Antares (magnitude: 1.22). Mars is a fair distance ahead of Antares, so you can’t get them confused.

Saturn isn’t in as much of a hurry as Mars, but still commands attention. During June, the ringed planet is its closest to the Earth, and, as an added bonus, has its rings nicely tipped at a 26 degree angle, showing them off nicely for you. It, too, is in Scorpio, just above it.

Scorpio also happens to be one of my favorite constellations, glimmering all summer long. When I see it rise, in earnest, in May, I know summer isn’t far behind. It glimmers and shimmers. It never rises that high, but you can’t miss it when it’s here.

In the early morning sky, you can also see Comet Pan-STARRS near the constellation Capricorn low in the souther sky. It comes into view around 4:00 am.

If you happen to have a telescope, all of these are worth seeking out. Even a strong pair of binoculars make a difference, especially with the comet.

Here’s a brief video from NASA JPL with more details regarding Mars, Saturn and Comet Pan-STARRS. Take a moment this weekend and look south – nature will reward you with its charming beauty!

 

 

Einstein Was Right   Leave a comment

Gravitational Waves

To watch a fascinating video from the New York Times, click http://nyti.ms/1SKjTJ5

It’s all over the internet: Einstein was right – there are such things as gravitational waves.

In a seemingly impossible experiment, a group of astrophysicists announced on Thursday, February 11, 2016 that they now had aural evidence of gravitational waves. An international mega-group of 1000 scientists published a report in Physical Review Letters confirming their findings.

For those of you who might be asking, “What are gravitational waves?”, here’s a quick definition. They’re ripples in spacetime created by any particle or object with mass. Einstein predicted them in his theory of relativity in 1916.

In a classic case of “if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound,” two black holes collided so impossibly far away – a billion light years – and only now is the Earth receiving the noise from that cataclysmic event.

Two antennas designed for receiving any sound a gravitational wave would generate, located in Washington State and Louisiana, and part of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), picked up a brief chirp on September 14, 2015.

This event’s also a significant achievement for astronomy, where so much is dependent upon what can been seen. This experiment delivers another dimension from which to observe and measure the universe.

If you’d like to read more about this important confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity, here are a few sources:

 

All Things Being Equal   Leave a comment

Autumn Picture

 

Autumn, fall, change of the seasons, whatever you call it, occurs in the northern hemisphere on September 23 at 8:20 UTC.  It’s a time when things start winding down in gardens, the kids are probably already back in school and you’re looking at your heating bill with a bit of trepidation, knowing that winter’s beating a steady path to your door.

But let’s stick with autumn for now.

Autumn occurs when the sun hits a point in the sky called the autumnal equinox, or here:

Virgo

Credit:  H.A. Rey, “The Stars”

It’s the little “V” you see underneath Virgo’s head, as if she fell down and tripped on the ecliptic (the path in the sky where the sun, moon and stars “travel” along the zodiac).  The sun hits this spot on or about 21 September each year, but as noted above, this year it falls on the 23 September.  But if you look in the newspaper or even on many weather web sites, you’ll notice that the times of sunrise and sunset are anything but equal.  It’s close, but not exactly 12 hours of day and dark.  A lot of that depends upon your latitude.  The further south you go, that date creeps into October.

Here’s a handy chart to show sunrise and sunset times for New York  You’ll see day and night aren’t equal until September 26.  Why?  You’ll find an explanation here.

This National Geographic video explains not only the autumnal equinox, but also nifty cultural practices that go along with it.

(You might want to watch it before Rupert Murdoch gets ahold of it and turns it into an exploitive clip about the sun ripping off the nighttime sky by getting dark earlier and earlier).

Perhaps it’s a good time to sit and read a sci-fi novel about autumn.  Why not try “Autumn in Carthage”? or “Runes of Autumn? Or learn the meaning behind The Pillar of Autumn in Halo, a video game.

Want to hear the definitive theme song of autumn?  Here’s a short, catchy tune by the band Screeching Weasel called  “First Day of Autumn”:

Most important of all, nighttime sky watches CAN’T MISS the total eclipse of the moon!  It takes place on September 27/28, 2015.  Click here for details to look out for it in your neck of the woods.  In New York, it actually begins at a decent time, starting at 8:11 pm, with the full eclipse occurring at 10:11 and lasting until 10:47.  If you haven’t seen a total lunar eclipse, it’s worth watching.  It’s a slow process, but you’ll have time to truly enjoy it.  Don’t take your eyes off of it between 9:50 and 10:15 – watching the moon turn red is the coolest thing ever.  Break out your binoculars!

Have a great fall and see you next trip!

 

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