Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Is Our Future Really Dystopian?   Leave a comment

Japanese Robot

One can argue that this is a great time for things dystopian. There’s a lot of discord in this world and in our country in particular. School shootings seem to happen so frequently they hardly get a notice in the news. Climate change is a reality more than a concept. Now measles is roaring back…is smallpox next? And superviruses and superbacteria threaten us all, with no cures or countermeasures in sight. Racial tensions are again on the rise, while the gig economy undermines workers’ abilities to save for the future or just be secure.

And so on…

It’s easy to picture a future without hope or purpose. I’m even going through a rough patch myself and wonder if there’s any sparkle left to dream about. Any one of those scenarios above could make great fodder for a novel. And have.

But just image if one day we all took stock of what we have and set about to make it right. Make changes that benefit all, not a precious few. Pollyanna as that sounds, one rather famous series used an evolved humankind as its background. Yes, that’d be Star Trek. In it, those who inhabit the Earth (and not necessarily humans) have eschewed wealth for equality and humanity. Sure, each episode mirrored what’s happened here on the home planet, but the outcomes often were positive, if not hopeful.

Would it even, I daresay, be an odd sort of dystopia if everything went right and nothing went wrong? Can you imagine? Sure, it’d be boring but the movie Pleasantville is based on a premise of a perfect TV world turned upside-down with the introduction of color.

I suppose it’s somehow easier to believe things’ll blow up than to bloom. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that you or me don’t have it so bad as they will in the future. Or in the past. Or on planet Zorthon. Think about it. Isn’t it cathartic to complain? A downhill slide from justice into injustice, because somehow society needs to be punished. Bombs will blow, diseases will conquer, war will end all.

Again, does it have to?

There are a few simple things we, as humans, can do to change things. They are (in no particular order):

  • Don’t like who’s in office? Vote! Or better yet, run yourself. Take an interest in your town, your county, your state, your nation. Because, believe it or not, your vote matters. Ditto for…
  • You don’t like it that school kids are being shot? Or our environment’s being polluted at a crazy rate? Or something else? Contact your congressman, senator, mayor, governor or even president. You might get the runaround. Attend town halls or village meetings. Speak up. Make your voice heard. And if that doesn’t work, see the above point.
  • Stop wasting everything. Buy enough food that you’ll actually eat so it doesn’t turn into a dystopian event in the fridge. Use one sheet of a paper towel roll instead of two. Or better yet, use a rag and wash it out. Buy household paper that’s been sourced from recycled paper.
  • Don’t litter.
  • Walk instead of drive…if you can. It’s better for you in a myriad of ways. And don’t run the car. Turn it off.
  • Here’s something to ponder: Toothbrushes. Count up the number of toothbrushes you use in a year. Six? Eight? More? Then count the number your family uses. Add that up. Now apply that number to everyone on your street. Or multiply that by the population of your town. Or the population of the United States (or whatever country you happen to live in. You throw all of that away and it lands in a landfill. It lasts longer than humankind. All for clean teeth. What’s the solution? While there are bamboo toothbrushes, which is a step in the right direction, we need to come up with something better.
  • Ditto with needles – the injecting kind – but that’s human waste…and dangerous. But it’s not recyclable either.
  • Or baby diapers. An infant goes through thousands. Add that number up by the number of births in one year. All going to the landfill…

Before you get totally depressed, all of the above can be changed. This is a nation of innovation, or was, anyway. We still can be. Let’s hand it to the upcoming generation of engineers and scientists (and anyone else who’s inspired to join in) and create/invent materials that will biodegrade and/or can be developed from renewable sources.

And maybe, our future will be that much cleaner, clearer and less dystopian.

December 16 – 3200 Phaethon, Geminids and Beethoven   Leave a comment

Sky & Telescope diagram from 11/29/17, Bob King S&T blog

December’s not just about the holidays. There’s also a lot of nifty stuff happening in the nighttime skies now. For starters, did you know that there’s a ginormous asteroid headed our way? It’s name is 3200 Phaethon and it’s coming pretty darn close to the Earth – only 6,407,618 miles (or, to put it in perspective, 27 times the distance between the Earth and Moon). And here’s the cool thing about 3200 Phaethon: it’ll be moving so fast you’ll be able to track it! It’s going to be its closest on December 16 and if you have a 3″ telescope, you’ll able to make it out, as it will reach magnitude 10.7. It’ll pass through Perseus on December 12-14, then grow closest on the 16 as it whizzes through Andromeda, then on the 17-19 pass through the Great Square/Pegasus, and eventually heading out of view through Aquarius and Capricorn.

For an excellent article regarding 3200 Phaethon, please read Sky & Telescope’s article by Bob King.

If you do glimpse through a telescope, you might notice that it’s kind of dim as it nears closest to the Earth. That’s because it’s reflecting the sun and its full phase will be on December 12, when it’s not quite as close, and a waning gibbous as it grows nearer.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Go outside after 21:00 UTC/9:00 pm EST and glance toward Gemini for a real treat…the Geminids!

From “The Stars,” H.A. Rey, pp. 44, 97

 

Okay, I admit the above two pictures aren’t that great (I used my iPhone to take a picture of the above pages), but they’ll give you an idea of what and where to look around 9:00 pm. Gemini is a pretty easy constellation to find. If you know what Orion looks like, you can see he’s using his club to point right at them, as if he’s showing you where they are. They’ll be rising almost in the center of the sky, a bit to the south.

3200 Phaethon happens to be the father of the Geminids. As it passes closer to the sun, it kicks off detritus that enables the Geminids to occur (again, please read S&T article for more information – you won’t regret it).

So here’s what you do in order to get the best viewing experience for the Geminids. Try to find an open space that’s relatively dark, away from too much light. Pick out Gemini and you will see two bright stars for their heads – Pollux is the brightest and Castor is dimmer. Near Casto is the radiant, or point of origin for the meteor shower. From there, all the meteors will travel outward. Think of the radiant as the center of a daisy and the petals as the outward-flying meteors.

For your reference, here’s an image from Sky & Telescope:

What also makes this the ideal year for viewing the Geminids is the Moon will be a waning crescent, so its light will not interfere with anyone’s enjoyment. Even when it rises in the early morning hours, it’ll remain more of a passive bystander than a pest, leaving everyone with immense satisfaction instead of disappointment.

So what’s all this got to do with Beethoven?

Besides being one of the greatest composers ever to have lived, he was born on December 16, 1770 (or so it’s believed; another story for another time). His music was included on the Voyager golden disk that was sent out into space in 1977. In case you’re wondering what those works are: “Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Opus 67: I. Allegro Con Brio,” played by the Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer and “String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, Opus 130: V. Cavatina,” played by the Budapest String Quartet.

As you venture out to gaze at the nighttime sky to catch a glimpse of one of nature’s amazements, why not take along a recording of these works and listen as streaks of light flash past, and marvel at the wonder of it all.

Now that’s what I call a celebration!

 

 

Fall Back   Leave a comment

Feel the chill in the air?

How can one tell it’s the changing of the season? Just look at all the Christmas decorations filling the shelves at your favorite department store. Yes, it’s that time of year when we start picking out what’s going to twinkle twinkle on our boughs of poly. After all, who wouldn’t want to squeeze out the waning days of summer any other way?

Wait…what’s that you say? We have several other intervening holidays? Like Three Day Weekend in October, Overpriced Candy & Costume Day and the Day Before Black Friday? Oh, them.

As for me, well, it’s autumn when the sun crosses the celestial equator, known as the ecliptic, and enters the constellation Virgo on or about September 21-22 each year. As I labor at my job tomorrow, oh, let’s say around 20:02 UTC, the season will officially change. Day and night won’t exactly be equal, but they’ll be close enough.

Looking for some interesting ways to celebrate the season? Here’s a random list of suggestions:

  • Hold your own MST3K party and dig out the film “Barb Wire.”  Shot in 1995 and set in 2017, it stars Pamela Anderson in the lead role (she tacked on her married last name “Lee” in this film), it’s an utterly unwatchable film wherein our leading lady won a Golden Raspberry award for the worst new actress of 1995. Crack open something cold, chow down on Chinese and let those comments rip!
  • For a much better nightmare, why not check out John Carpenter’s “Halloween.”  Filmed on a minuscule budget and panned by critics, it marked the debut of a vastly talented actress, Jamie Lee Curtis and went on to launch a highly successful franchise. It’s considered a classic these days.
  • If you’re passing through the Hudson Valley of New York, check out Sleepy Hollow, formerly known until 1996 as North Tarrytown. It’s the legendary home of Washington Irving and his headless horseman. Visit his grave and say hi to his fellow cemetery mates Andrew Carnegie, Brooke Astor, Walter P. Chrysler, Elizabeth Arden and more. Fun facts: Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” is a native son. Caityn (“Bruce”) Jenner went to high school here. It’s also the setting for many a film and TV series, notably “House ofDark Shadows,” “Curse of the Cat People” and an episode of “Property Brothers.”
  • Can’t make the drive? Go gaming! Sleepy Hollow is also the location of 2014 game Assassin’s Creed Rogue.  Why not explore its dystopian milieu?
  • How about looking upward on a dark clear night? Spectacular meteor showers await. On October 21, the Orionids peak after midnight. And if the weather cooperates, this’ll be a grand night for viewing – it’s a new moon and unless you’re near a city or other bright lights, it doesn’t get better than this. For other meteor shower activity, visit Sky and Telescope’s web article.
  • Dress up on Halloween, no matter how old you are, just for fun. Throw on your taco costume with a unicorn head and freak out kids coming to your door for treats and trick them, instead. Then give them a pile of processed packaged sugar products.
  • Instead of cheating Thanksgiving out of the respect it deserves, gather your friends and family together, cook up your best free grocery-store bonus turkey and pig out. If holding dinner parties isn’t your thing, go volunteer. Share some kindness. Be a pal and visit an old friend or family member you haven’t seen in ages, or better still, invite them to share a plate at your dinner table. Don’t worry about catching bargains at War-Mart and standing out in the cold to be the first to get a 55″ LED screen for $199. Memories aren’t made of that. Sharing your time and opening your heart will do the trick much better.

So, what are you waiting for? Go out and celebrate! After all, nature’s tossing all of its leafy confetti just for you. Run under its shower with flailing arms and live!

Otherworldly Saturn   Leave a comment

Few places capture our imagination like Saturn. With its myriad of rings and moons, it shines above us in the night sky as it travels along the ecliptic.  It’s always been inspiration for sci-fi fans too. Anyone who’s ever glanced at pulp sci-fi fiction covers might have noticed ringed planets hovering in the background as a elongated oval-shaped finned spaceship rocketed past.

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“Tommy Tomorrow,” created by Jack Schiff, George Kashdan, Bernie Breslauer, Virgil Finlay, and Howard Sherman, DC Comics

Take, for example, our friend Tommy Tomorrow. Created in 1947, he roamed the heavens in his futuristic 1988 space jet, zipping past a rather featureless Saturn-like planet, as illustrated above, while another Saturn-ish red planet with gold rings spins in the distance.

Systema Saturn

Early drawings of Saturn. From the Systema Saturnium (Fig. 67)

Early astronomers struggled to draw what they’d seen through primitive telescopes. While they seemed to understand that its appearance changed in relation to its orbit around the sun and the earth, they couldn’t always account for its rings. A quick glance tells the viewer that something’s going on with Saturn, but just exactly what, they couldn’t be sure.

As telescopes grew more sophisticated, astronomers were able to recreate more accurate  images of Saturn.

Antique Saturn

19th century Illustration of Saturn

 

And photographers capabilities grew, so did their ability to capture Saturn.

1879 Jupiter and 1885 Saturn

A composite photo of  Jupiter (1879) and Saturn (1885)

In 1973, NASA launched Pioneer 11. Its mission included photographing Saturn. While previous photos of this planet taken from the Earth resulted in blurry, yellowish images, Pioneer 11’s photos revealed tantalizing clues about its nature, as well as its moons.

Saturn Pioneer 11

NASA image, Saturn and Titan as seen by Pioneer 11

None, though, can compare to the 20-year mission of Cassini. Launched in 1997, the Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative partnership between NASA and ESA to conduct an exhaustive exploration of the ringed jewel of the solar system. The images sent back are like none other.

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NASA, Cassini-Huygens mission image of Saturn

On September 15, 2017, the Cassini mission will come to a fiery end, as it crashes into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending a glorious 13-year run. It’s been an amazing journey, and without a doubt, its legacy will continue to fascinate astronomers and ordinary folk like me. You’ve done well, Cassini!

 

 

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.

eclipse_80

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.

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