Science

Mooning on Moonday

Posted on July 21, 2009. Filed under: Musings, Philosophy, Science |

I had planned for some months now to write about the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. Space exploration is of profound interest to me. As a child, as I’ve written elsewhere, one of my favorite books was You Will Go to the Moon! When I read it; people HAD gone. I just knew I would, too.

I wanted to write of a family member who’d told a long tale of how her summer vacation was interrupted by watching the moon landing on television. She’d been staying with her family in a cabin in the woods, without television or radio. Some kind neighbors along the way invited the family to their larger, more elegant summer home to view the historic event. Only nine years old at the time, she gradually came to realize it was important to stop building the “Flintstone Village” in the sand—which she’d been doing with a friend before being called in to watch the amazing event, and focus on the meaning and significance of space travel.

I wanted to say all this, in much greater detail…but something in me resisted, and procrastinated, until I found myself unable to write anything else, either. Well, this historic anniversary has come and gone (on Monday—“Moonday”, as it happens!), and I realize now that I felt I was supposed to write about it. I nearly joined a “Bloggers Unite” group to pledge to blog about this topic—I’m glad now I did not. As much as I honor the achievements of the crew that first stepped on the moon, in 1969, I find that dwelling upon and aggrandizing history, at least in this area, has lost much of its appeal for me. It is simply not who I am. And I feel a modicum of guilt, and a dash of reluctance to share that admission.

photo credit: NASA

apollo11-moon-landing-1

I cannot, even now, imagine the courage it took to agree to be shot into space, during those early days of travel, knowing that no one had done these things before. Nevertheless, they did, and space travel will continue, one way or another, as well it should. I believe ways will be found to colonize Mars or the Moon or some other place. Perhaps, we humans will delve further into the mysteries of quantum mechanics and discover we don’t even need vessels for such travel. But that is for another time. I just feel a need, these days, to focus upon the present.

Having let go of the burden to write about the Moon; I wrote about it anyway, without the burden. Life so often works better that way—at least I think it does—without the burden of necessity. Letting it go, letting it flow, can accomplish a peaceful resolution, regardless.

Perhaps we’ll meet on the moon, someday…

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Who needs pets when you have wildlife?

Posted on July 9, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Games, Musings, Science |

Yesterday I was peering into my back garden, as I often do, and noticed what appeared to be a family of lizards frolicking about. There was a light rain at the time, in advance of one of our summer monsoon deluges, and the lizards seemed quite perky in the mist. I had seen what I assume were these same four lizards several days ago, and a day or two before that. There was one large one, almost as big as a baby gila monster; a smaller but still substantial one, and two smaller lizards. They ran around in circles, sometimes chasing each other; sometimes not. I had always thought that lizards were solitary creatures, and until about three years ago, also thought they were always on the move, and didn’t stay in one place for very long.

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This latter erroneous supposition was put to rest when I met Fred. Fred has been living under the Desert Spoon in my front yard now for four years. I’m pretty sure he’s the same lizard each year, when he emerges in the spring, because he has a spot on his hindquarters that looks familiar. I guess he hibernates in the winter. When it starts to get warm again, I’ll see Fred sunning himself on a rock as I go out the front door to take a hike or fetch the mail. He immediately scrambles under the Desert Spoon (even after all these years, he’s not quite trusting) and then pretends he’s not under there. I will speak to him, however, saying “Hiya Fred, don’t worry, it’s just me! You know me. How are you doing?, etc.” Then, he wiggles a bit, and I fancy it’s to acknowledge my presence. He and I have come to an understanding over time: I won’t trim off the bottom of the Desert Spoon (which I wouldn’t want to do anyway because it makes them look even more hideous than they already do), although I will, from time to time, trim back the individual spines. He may continue to call the Spoon home, for as long as he likes. In return, he has agreed not to bite my toes.

So, Fred and I—we’re cool. Fred certainly doesn’t seem to have a mate or a family, so I had continued to believe that other lizards are loners, too. That is until I saw the frolicking family. The first time I saw them, I thought there just happened to be four lizards in the back garden, all at once. I thought they’d go away. Then—although I don’t know for sure it’s they same four—they came back. Or were still there. And yesterday, watching them play in the rain, it occurred to me they all had taken up residence in the back, as Fred had in the front. Hmmm. They got along; they never strayed more than a few feet from each other, and they seemed to interact. I wondered if they were indeed a family, and if so, if that was usual for lizards.

After a consultation with my trusty Internet, I discovered that lizards have a variety of social behaviours. Some like to live alone, while others stay in family groups and rarely stray from the rock crevice they all call home. Some, usually those in colder climates, are born “live”, while other species lay eggs. I had no idea there was such a variety.

There are many creatures to watch in my garden (I’ll have to write about the Prairie Dogs someday), but these normally slow-moving lizards, who perked up and frolicked in a rain storm, were just so cheery, I invited them to stay. I’ve called them Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa—for no good reason I can think of, as I haven’t even ever seen an episode of The Simpsons, but somehow, the names seem to fit.

=   =   =   =   =

So I turn from my lizards to complete a meme. It’s only fair that I do, as I requested blog friend B0bby to complete it, which he graciously did, only to wonder why I had not done so myself.

“Why is the meme in this post?”, you ask. (“Why do I project questions onto you which you may not even have?”, I ask.) Well, the meme is about MY wild life. Get it? It relates to the title? No? Oh, well, here goes anyway:

20 nosy questions meme:

1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought?   “Whew! better than I expected! 😉 “

2. How much cash do you have in your wallet right now?   “$17.38. Time to go to the bank.”

3. Do you label yourself?   “Constantly! I just have to remind myself to turn the yuccky ones into ones I like better.”

4. What does your watch look like?   “I have five watches! Three of them need batteries, so I don’t wear them (!) one runs two hours fast a day, so the one I wear most often is an old one I have to wind up. It’s quite traditional looking; gold-ish band, round face; second hand—always reminds me to get my other ones fixed, but I need something more than a reminder, obviously…”

5. What were you doing at midnight last night?   “Really? Truthfully? Reading the ICanHasCheezburger website. 😐 “

6. What’s a word that you say a lot?   “”Splendid’. I say it when I’m asked how I am (most of the time). I say it when describing my activities. And sunsets. And the state of the world. Oh my.”

7. Who told you he/she loved you last?   “Um. This person that I know.”

8. Last furry thing you touched?   “A dog that was a guest at the Independence Day party I went to.”

9. What was the last thing you said to someone?   “So, when we look at it from a broader perspective, we don’t see the tragedy of it all, we see it as very rich experience we can learn from. Doesn’t mean we don’t want to or can’t change it, though.”

10. The last song you listened to?   “Last song? I’ve been listening to a lot of Baroque-era instrumentals lately, but the last song would be ‘We are the World.'”

11. Where did you live five years ago?   “In a town, north of Tucson, Arizona; which is where I live now.”

12. Are you jealous of anyone?   “No. Jealous is a different word than ‘envious’, so I’ll say, no.”

13. Is anyone jealous of you?   “I don’t think so. I hope not. No reason to be.”

14. Name three things that you have on you at all times?   “There aren’t any! I guess the three most frequently used items are Contact Lenses (I don’t wear them at night, though), Underwear (but, you know, there are times…[whoa! TMI alert]), and the aforementioned watch. Whichever one is working.”

15. What’s your favourite town/city?   “So far? I haven’t been to ALL that many…Drat! Am I allowed to pick three? No? Alright, than I”d have to say ‘Paris’. (But if I were allowed three, I’d also say San Francisco and Canterbury.)

16. When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper and mailed it?   “Uhhh…Ummm…1996? maybe?”

17. Can you change the oil on a car?   “Not anymore. I used to have a really old VW on which I could, but not since then.”

18. What is your current desktop picture?   Stonehenge. I occasionally swap it out for something else, but always come back to Stonehenge.”

19. When did you start your blog?   “July, 2007. I’m almost two!”

20. What country would you like to live in other than your own?   “I like my own pretty well; but the next choice would be England.”


So, there you have it. I feel reconciled with B0bby again. I will not task others with this, but if YOU feel you’d like to take it on, by all means do. It was both entertaining and introspective for me.

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Musey Psilon’s Blogalot

Posted on June 7, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Games, Health, HowTo, Music, Musings, Philosophy, Science |

***WARNING***This post is very nearly completely silly. {You have been warned}

Gosh, I love this title! I needn’t write another thing, need I? I shall, though. I feel compelled to explain it.

I like science, and I’m fond of the absurd. This post blends them. I must wonder why? Why are our minds attracted to certain things, and combinations of things—even Things on top of Other Things? Why would I just, splendidly, enjoy theoretical physics AND Monty Python’s Flying Circus? Both these things are acquired tastes. While the former is seen as a “legitimate” interest, with a “place” in society (it’s a Branch of Science, after all!), I’d argue that the field of “comedy” has just as legitimate a place in society as does science. What comedy does is shake us up; it tears a hole in our everyday reality and makes us look at life in a new way. And that’s what science does, too! I used to think that “science” was about “discovering” the “facts”. Then, one manipulates, exploits, and recombines them—to what end? Well, primarily because it’s fun for the scientists. (If you are a scientist and not having fun, get out of the field! Now! I mean it!) 😮 But, secondarily, I believe, to “benefit” humankind. Comedy does not appear to have as direct a benefit. I propose that, although a more “lowbrow” form of entertainment than, say, the Ballet, it has its place. We would not survive as a species without comedy!

The title of the post came to me when I discovered that the great Tony Award® winning musical play Monty Python’s Spamalot is coming here to Tucson! I am of course looking forward to seeing it. Did I say this play has won awards? From the legitimate theater award organizations? You know, the mainstream, “serious theater”, well-respected organizations?

I just wanted to be clear on that, because, amazingly, I’m not sure with whom, amongst the many Tucson theater-goers I know, I shall attend. I am a Python-Geek(1), defined as “someone who has memorized all the skits”, and most of my peeps are not. 😦 When I think of one or two or three people I’d love to share this magnificent, culturally significant event with, I only come up with people who roll their eyes when I mention Monty Python. 🙄 I fully realize that Python is not to everyone’s taste. 😕 However, even though one or two of my friends might attend this play with me if I ask them, I refuse to go with an eye-roller! I’d rather go alone! Which I may do. (There is no shame in that!)

I’m also a Star Trek geek. (I told you I was going to talk about science, too!) Therefore, with this overly verbose bit of background out of the way, I’ll explain my post title:

(“I feel Musey! Oh, so Musey! I feel Musey, and Newsy and Glib!”)

So, “Musey“. This is an affectionate, diminutive, nickname for my blog name, “Muse”, which had already been contracted early on by some of my incredibly affectionate and diminutive readers.

So, “Psilon“. I thought I had made up this word. I wanted it to rhyme with “Cylon” (see below) but also have it relate to “psi” phenomena because the title sounded cool that way. Behold! a Wikipedia entry on the very term! “A Psilon is a unit of length that is equal to 44 manly strides or, less precisely, 0.025 miles (a quarter of a tenth of a mile).” However: “This article’s factual accuracy is disputed.Nevertheless, I had to practice my “manly strides” in my living room to see how far 40 of them would really take me. Unfortunately, my room is only four “manly strides” long (if I’m doing the “manly” part of the stride, right. Wait a minute; isn’t “Stride Rite” a brand of baby shoes? How did they get into a post about striding Manfully?) So, in order to perform 44 “manly strides” I had to go ’round and ’round my living room four times (the circumference being ten “manly strides”, or would be if I walked right over the sofa as well as the television cabinet). After thus going ’round and ’round, and beginning to feel considerably less “manly” at each turn, I gave up on the “psilon” as a useful measure of anything; agreeing completely with the Wikicritic.

Still, there is the aurally identical “Cylon” to consider.  “Cylon stands for Cybernetic Lifeform Node” and is a term to describe cybernetic workers and soldiers in the television series Battlestar Galactica. For months; nay, years, I tormented my friends (both sci-fi fans, and not such) with the query “How do you know I’m NOT a Cylon? (You see, [if you haven’t watched Galactica, and if not, why not?] the latest evolution of Cylons [and yes, I used the term “evolution” deliberately] look identical to humanoids!)

And finally, the last word, “Blogalot“, I believe, is fairly self-explanatory(2)

Thank you for reading this far, if, in fact, you did. You have an incredible amount of fortitude and spamina stamina. 😀

1 The thing is, when I recite the sketches for some of these unenlightened friends, they do laugh. I can be a one-person show with this, using different silly voices for each role. I have mastered Silly Walkery (yes, I really did practice it) and I have a pet ant called ‘Eric’. (Alright, I made that last bit up.)
2 Camelot” (musical play) >Spamalot” (very silly musical play) > “Blogalot” (unforgivably silly blogger).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

***Broken news (from 2008) “Michael Palin to replace Sarah Palin on McCain/Palin ticket!” (This seems to have been just a rumor, but DO scroll down and watch the video.)

***In a related story “Michael Palin’s reaction to his ‘niece’ Sarah Palin’s nomination”. (I didn’t know she was his ‘niece’! Did you?)

***In a somewhat related story, John Cleese tells how he’d thought Michael was the funniest Palin; his place has been usurped. With Cleese’s commentary on the American politcal system. Candid; estute; inflammatory—quite Cleese.

***My aplolgies for excessive linkism in this post. I imagine I’ll get back to normal one of these times.

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treks, stars, angels, demons, colliders

Posted on May 13, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Philosophy, Science |

Each of the words in the title of this post has at least a double meaning in my life this week. I have called the last week—from last Thursday until now—the busiest week I’ve had so far. I don’t know if this is strictly true, but, certainly a lot of things came together at once. First there was work. A lot of it. I’ll talk about that and brag about my accomplishments in a minute, but while it’s fresh I want to tell you about my day.

On Wednesday, I finally had a day off; a day where I wasn’t expected to be anywhere, and had only small or upcoming projects I could safely ignore—for a day, anyway.

Did I spend the day catching up on my blog friends’ blogs? On posts and stories and lives I’ve sadly neglected? Although I’ve missed you, and haven’t been around, and haven’t expressed concern for some things I know some of you are going through—No. I. didn’t.

I spent the day with Science Fiction, Reality, and Fun. I really needed the break, so please forgive me. I went to see a movie (guess which one), went out to lunch, and then went to a science lecture in the evening. I know the movie and lunch might sound like fun to most of you, but, a lecture? That’s more like work, or a class, or something. For some. For me it’s fun, stimulating, and relaxing all at the same time. This particular lecture was exhilarating! It was called Angels & Demons: The Science of Antimatter and the Large Hadron Collider. I haven’t seen the movie Angels & Demons yet, as it doesn’t open for a couple of days, but apparently, in honor of The Year of Science, many universities throughout the USA were presenting similar lectures this week.

atom3The talk was wonderfully entertaining. There’s nothing like a funny physicist to capture my attention. He was able to address the science in the upcoming movie in way that educated and enlightened scientists and non-scientists alike. I learned that much of the science discussed in the film is true; real; something that I wasn’t expecting. The Large Hadron Collider, which is planned to be activated later this year, plays an important role in Angels & Demons, and several of the physicists who’ve worked on the Collider teach at the University of Arizona, where I attended the lecture, and were present there. All the images and properties of the collider discussed in the film are accurate, we were told. The only s-t-r-e-t-c-h, perhaps, was the potential of the bomb which is the major threat in the movie. I’m impressed that so many of the highly-scrutinized science premises are well presented.

Six hours earlier, I was delighted with Star Trek, as well. Awesome; Credible; Very-Nearly-Perfect. I’ve seen every episode of The Original Series at least six times, and I thought the way the characters were handled in this film was surprising, but fit with the physics we know, without losing any credibility or violating the history of the franchise. There have been some viewers who feel the JJ Abrams film didn’t adhere to the Star Trek we know and love—I disagree, I think the story was handled in a consistent way with physics we entertain today. As I said; surprising. I’m not giving it away though! Go see it, even if you are not a particular Star Trek fan. (Do I know such people?) 😉 It’s a great space adventure whether you’ve heard of Kirk or Spock, or not. I, and my geeky, Trekker fans waited a long time for this film. I’m looking forward to the continuing voyages.

Here’s what I needed a break from: Two major events for two of the organizations I work for in ONE weekend. And all the buildup to them, and fallout afterward, including me getting promoted, or voted-into, really, the directorship of one of the groups. (Good for me! Yay!) I’m going to have a very busy year, but I have a little breathing room for a couple of weeks to catch up with my online reading.

All the science was a refreshing change for me, after being up to my ears in arts and cultural groups (even if one of them has its scientific elements). Tomorrow is my day to clean house, read blogs (alternatively blog-clean-blog-clean; it works better for me that way) and plan to move forward in my new role. Cheers, and thanks for your patience! 😀

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First Gila Monster of the year—It must be Spring!

Posted on March 14, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Musings, Science |

gila I was looking into my back garden yesterday—I always want to see what all the wildlife is up to—and I noticed this large reptilian lump perching on one of the fence-rungs. The creature had its back to me (mooning me!) so I couldn’t look at it’s little lizard face, but it looked about 6 inches long. It was too fat for a common garden lizard, though. Those are generally skinny little things. Fortunately I keep a pair of binoculars in the house (Is the term “PAIR of binoculars” redundant, actually, as the word “binocular” contains the prefix “bi” which already means “two”?  —‘scuse me, my thoughts sometimes go off like this…) so I ran to fetch them before the small dragon-y thing moved.

Turns out it was a baby Gila Monster! Oh boy! It was the first time I’d seen one in my own backyard! Gila Monsters get their name from the Gila River in southern Arizona, where they used to be quite abundant. For those who don’t know, “Gila” is pronounced “HEE-lah”, following the Spanish pronunciation of the letter “G”, and is a Spanish transliteration of a Tohono O’odham word meaning something like “the salty water stream”. I’m not sure where the “Monster” comes from. They can get about two feet long, and their bite is venomous (one of only two species of poisonous lizards in the US), but calling them “Monsters” is, I think, a little over the top.

I often wonder how I ended up in a place where so much of the vegetation AND animal life has fangs, claws, spikes, spines, and needles. Must reflect my personality. 😉 Though venomous, as I said, a Gila Monster bite is not fatal to humans, and they are so slow moving we can easily outrun them—with a slow walk! Most of these prickly spiny creatures don’t want any more to do with us than we with them, and will only attack if provoked. Additionally, Gilas are usually quite visible in a garden. The first thing I noticed about my baby visitor was how scaly the little reptile was. You might think “Of course s/he was scaly! S/he’s a lizard!”, and you’d be right, but this was different; I could see each individual bead-like scale quite distinctly. And Gila Monsters have broad tan or orange and black patterns. You will see one if one is there. They don’t blend well with the cactus, so it made me wonder why they were this color; what their natural camouflage was. I snooped around the Internet and saw these pictures which showed me they do blend well into a multi-colored river rock environment. Their colorings also remind me of some native pottery designs.

The species is native to the southern parts of Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico, and do not appear elsewhere. They are now a protected species. They’re quite elusive, generally, so it was a real treat to have one visit. My new friend will probably head underground as the weather heats up; not to be seen again.

In other nature news, and with more evidence of Spring, I must ask: “Are doves as dumb as posts?” Now, mind you, I don’t don’t object to our desert doves in general, even though their constant “coo-coo” can get to me at times. But…I have a light fixture in front of my house. It is a glass enclosed light, and the outside glass rectangle has about a three-inch square top. Occasionally, one of our local birds decides this is a wonderful perch, and will sit up there (and poop!) until I chase them away. Three days ago, I noticed a pair of birds flying back and forth across my kitchen window, and, believe it or not, were trying to build a NEST up there. I guess my covered doorway looked sheltered to them, or something, but can you imagine trying to build a nest on a 3-inch piece of glass suspended 5 feet in the air?

At first I laughed to watch them. They would fetch twig after twig, spilled from my neighbor’s mesquite tree (twigs so thin as to be like toothpicks) and pile them up on my light…and they’d promptly fall off! So, then, they’d gather more…which would fall off! Soon, I had a rather enormous pile of mesquite twigs on my front porch. If this kept up, I’d wouldn’t be able to leave my house. I’d be “twigged-in”. So, I chased them away; swept up the twigs, and thought that was an end to it. An hour later they were back, and back at it. The world “birdbrained” did not creep its way into the language by accident. This time, I put a balled-up t-shirt up there, since that had worked once before when another pair had been trying to nest on my back pillar.

I’m not anti-bird. I’m all for supporting this pair’s reproductive urges. I enjoy seeing a nest, and watching the babies hatch (except for quail, perhaps. Gila Monsters eat Quail eggs, heh) This was just an impossible situation for us all, though. It turns out they liked the t-shirt; probably felt softer than a pane of glass with three twigs on it. I didn’t want to do anything poisonous or injurious, I just wanted them to take their twigs and…So, I finally filled an old shampoo bottle with water, and set it on top of the light, giving them nowhere to land. Success!

(They did let me (and my front window) know, loudly, what they thought of my plan before they departed.)

Happy Spring, if Spring there be, where you are. 😀

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Time for some Shift

Posted on October 18, 2008. Filed under: Culture, HowTo, Philosophy, Science |

This is a follow-up post to the one I wrote for Blog Action Day on October 15. I was grateful for the opportunity to explore planetary resources from some different perspectives. Recently, I became aware of a film being made that explores the issues in many of the ways I enjoy. The film profiles a series of what it calls Global Activists who are on the forefront of an exciting movement to change the way we think about global issues. Leaders from all over the world appear, including one or two I have met, and many I’ve never heard of. There is strong support from youth leaders, as well as those of the more “seasoned” variety. If you watch the trailer below, you will see some familiar faces. I’ve signed up to support this project, and wanted to share its vision. I hope you will enjoy the trailer; about 6 minutes long.

The film’s website is here: http://theshiftmovie.com/

Peace.

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Science Friday is coming to Tucson!

Posted on September 16, 2008. Filed under: Culture, Science, Travel |

The National Public Radio (NPR) program “Science Friday” with its host Ira Flatow, will be broadcasting live from the Science Operations Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson on Friday, September 19th!!! I know I keep bragging about the University of Arizona’s involvement in the current Mars mission (as if I had anything to do with it), but signs of life in the universe are rare (not to mention intelligent life) and the thought that our University here could be a major player in experiments which have far-reaching consequences for years to come just has me jazzed!

The University of Arizona is really the cultural center of our area. This is the case in many University towns. There are large cities which also happen to have one or more colleges and universities (like Boston), and then there are cities such as Tucson where much of the local economy and cultural activities either take place there, or exist because the U does. For instance, we have an amazing number of professional theater companies here. The U has a fine drama department, and people from there branch out and start their own. This in turn attracts new residents looking for a milder climate, or a more relaxed lifestyle than they had in, say, Chicago or Los Angeles, but still want access to the “goodies”—plays, concerts, and fine restaurants—they had back home. So, they move here, join the theater guild or the museum association, and those organizations continue to flourish.

Even so, let’s face it; Tucson is not London or Sydney; New York or San Francisco. So, when the eyes of the WORLD are focused on our li’l ol’ University because it’s instrumental in building and maintaining the Mars Lander, we get a tad excited out here back o’beyond.

Alright, I’ll cut the colloquialisms and get to the point. I listen to Science Friday every chance I get because it features interviews with those doing the most amazing research, with the most exciting implications for our culture. The show looks all over the world for those scientists doing work which can actually impact our lives for the good! It’s beautifully produced, and always fascinating, and this Friday they’ll be at the Science Center interviewing Peter Smith, principal investigator of the Mars Lander program. The Center itself is worth visiting both virtually and in person, as I’ve reported here, but I’m also looking forward to hearing the latest news on what has been a worthwhile, though, at times, controversial mission. This story has all the drama of a stage play, and it continues to unfold, in real time, right before our eyes via Phoenix’s cameras, and transmissions of data from the countless experiments it’s programmed to do.

The lander has already found and identified ice (oh my!) and all of us humanoids SO want to know if there were ever, or could ever be conditions favoring life! on Mars! If you want the answer to these, and many other questions, tune in Friday (live!) from 11am-1pm Pacific Time; 2-4pm East Coast time, and I’ll leave you in the rest of the world to figure out when it is there. If you don’t have NPR in your area, you can listen to the live stream at our local affiliate, or find one on the Science Friday page. You can also download the program there for later listening.

(And, no, I don’t work for them. Honest. Actually I pay them; they don’t pay me. You, know, because I’m a member and all.) 🙂

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Weekend Windows Update on Mars

Posted on August 31, 2008. Filed under: Culture, Games, Musings, Science |

(No, not that “Windows”, not that “Weekend Update”, and it didn’t actually take place on “Mars”, but I just had to get some Mars news in, too…)

This is really meant to be an update on several posts I’ve made recently. My “Valance was out of Balance” as I reported in this post. I’d thought, as that adventure was winding down, that I’d obtain store-bought valances, and a really long curtain rod to hang them on and be done with the whole thing.

Then, my stubborn streak kicked in. I’m able to keep that formidable streak in fairly good control most of the time (I patronize it a bit, by telling it what a “nice” streak it is, and how it’s “helped” me on numerous occasions, but this time it saw through my platitudes and stubbornly decided to continue to be stubborn.)

I realized, by examining various woven wood, grass, and bamboo shades in the stores (something I might have considered doing before attempting to make my own valance!) 😳 that the reason my valance was sagging so unattractively and so unevenly, was because, as it was originally designed as a table runner, all the individual sticks that were stitched together were meant to lie on a flat surface (DUH!!!) and therefore were sewn vertically, and that woven shades, meant to be hung (with gravity being the force that it is) were sewn horizontally. Hah! What a discovery! Undaunted, I took the valance down, put it on the floor, lined up all the little individual sticks once again—and then proceeded to drill sets of two small holes every two inches all along the header. I then found a tapestry needle somewhere, and some really strong thread, and went along sewing and tying knots all along the header. I do not sew! I’m in complete denial that I even know the first thing about it! See what stubbornness can drive a person to?

So, for now, anyway, it’s staying straight; looks good. My valance is back in balance.

As for Mars, and in a related story, Biosphere II, I’m delighted to report that the Phoenix Lander is doing so well, and that the weather on Mars is so hospitable, that the lander is going to continue to be able to do experiments for at least another month (earth time). In addition to observing and testing ICE (and therefore WATER), the lander will now explore whether certain areas of Mars could once have been habitable. If so, they may be again, with a bit of terra-forming. Full story here.

Biosphere II is doing some really good work now in its latest incarnation. There is a ten minute interview here, which explains some of the hydrology and biological systems work they’re doing, and what interested me the most is a facility which will be open to the public to view and test which kinds of alternative energy sources would be best for a particular home or business. Here in Arizona we’re having local elections on Tuesday, and some of the candidates are running on a “solar” platform. With 300 days of sunshine a year here, there is no reason (other than the initial financial investments) that most of our power cannot be solar! I’ve read that Germany has more solar power than we do, with many fewer sunny days; but they have government incentive programs to get it done. Wish us luck on Tuesday!

UPDATE: The “Solar Panel” of candidates won in Arizona! Yay! Now, let’s see what they do!

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The Rainforest in the Desert

Posted on August 8, 2008. Filed under: Culture, Health, Science, Travel |

There is much of international interest in the news currently, and I’ll leave you to form your own opinions about those events. I focus here on a project which may benefit the worldwide community, and is located in my state of residence, Arizona, USA.

I’ve been fascinated to watch the developments of the latest NASA mission to Mars, involving the Phoenix Lander, and recently finding water on that planet. Although American in origin, I truly believe projects such as this can bring the world together to explore, at some point, colonizing either the moon, or the planet Mars. It is my fervent wish that extra-terrestrial planetary bodies will not be seen as the “property” of any one nation, but truly as the combined social and scientific explorations of many nations together.

In this spirit, albeit with a bit of local pride 😉 I’d like to discuss Biosphere 2, located a scant 20 miles from where I sit typing.

Biosphere 2 has now fascinated me for two decades, from long before I actually lived nearby. I first visited with family during the 2-year experiment, when eight “Biospherians” entered and lived in this completely closed, and theoretically self-sustaining domed environment. It was meant to study, in close proximity, seven different earth environments including a rainforest and an ocean! (This, in the dry Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona; an area totally landlocked, and anything but tropical). The project also planned to study climate change and its effects on plant and animal life, long before the term “global warming” was coined.

During my first tour there, in the early 90s, the project was managed by its founders, Space Biosphere Ventures. We tourists were given a lecture, and then a guided tour around the outside of the facility. We were, of course, not allowed inside the sealed environment, as it was an active, live, two-year contained laboratory. There are articles I shall link to which tell the story of the construction and philosophy behind the project, but I feel it’s important to point out that it was privately funded, and designed to be self-sustaining.

I was startled to see one of the Biospherians hoeing a field in the intensive farming environment. It’s hard to give a sense of how huge the Biosphere is—it’s commonly referred to as being the size of three football fields, and “the largest closed system ever created”—but it is a truly amazing sight, both from a distance and close up. It took about two hours to walk all the way around it and see and be told all about what was going on inside.

Each Biospherian had their job to do. There was farming, gardening, lab research and analysis. They grew their own food, recycled their waste, and coexisted with a variety of plant and animal life. It still amazes me that they have an OCEAN in there. A small one, but it has waves, and sea life, and everything!

The Biospherians were local and worldwide celebrities. They were on every television news channel as they entered the dome, to be sealed in for their two-year experiment. They waved to the crowd as the cheers erupted, looking just like astronauts in their uniforms. I couldn’t imagine being sealed inside a dome with seven other people for two whole years! Even though they had demanding jobs, emergency rations, and plenty of recreational equipment, it didn’t seem like something I’d like to do!

We all watched, breathlessly, as the experiment proceeded, because if this was successful, it was in all our imaginations that a similar structure could be built on Mars! or the Moon! The domes were based on designs by the iconoclastic R. Buckminster Fuller.

{An aside: Years ago (I’ve always been a science nerd) I met “Bucky” in an elevator at a San Francisco hotel where he’d been giving a lecture. I’d attended, and thought I’d head up to the rooftop restaurant to have a spot of tea. (I was all by myself, and very young. I look back now, and am amazed I used to do things like this at that age.) Well, Bucky and his entourage got into the elevator, too, and he looked right at me (I had to look down, he was a little guy) and asked if I’d enjoyed his talk. I shook his hand and told him it blew my mind. He asked if I’d understood it. I blurted out “No!” and blushed furiously. (I used to blush a lot in those days.) He chuckled softly to himself, as I plastered my tongue-tied self against the wall.}

Bucky’s domes are world famous, and provide structural integrity along with beauty. Biosphere 2 is very beautiful. The visual impact of this delicate-looking structure in its desert location justifies its existence even if it never did an experiment in its life!

Things didn’t go as planned in the dome. The environment, meant to be self-sustaining, was losing oxygen. There wasn’t enough food; the scientists were hungry. And, the eight-member crew split into two political and social factions. Some members barely spoke to one another. Again, I’ll refer to outside sources for much of their fascinating story, including an interview from one of the hungry Biospherians. Many considered this a “failed” experiment, as oxygen had to be pumped in from outside, and the goals of the project changed as the social conditions deteriorated. I still think it’s an amazing effort. It’s crucial, if we as a species ever do colonize other planets, that we know our structures will function. Most likely, on the moon, we won’t be able to pump in oxygen, or send out to McDonald’s if the dwellers run out of food!

In this Wikipedia article, I was particularly interested in the section titled “Psychology and Conflict”. It is, of course, vital to know that a structure housing humans in a non-earth atmosphere can be relied upon. Equally vital is the study of humans living together in confined spaces for a long time. While there have been a number of studies done on living conditions in arctic environments, most of my knowledge about such things comes from Science Fiction. There are any number of plots where either the crew’s air or their patience runs out—not a desired outcome in either case.

Synchronistically, a few days ago an episode of one of my favorite Sci-Fi shows aired on television. Eureka is set in a fictional town where most of the inhabitants are geniuses and doing amazing research into unbelievable projects. Its existence, let alone the work going on there, is highly classified, and the show’s “glue” is its “regular guy” Sheriff who tries to keep order amongst these eclectic and overly-intelligent residents. In the episode “What About Bob“, we learn that Eureka has a long term Biosphere-type experiment going on, but their biosphere is built deep underground. Unlikely mayhem takes place, however the questions asked by the “real” Biosphere are asked, here too, without, unfortunately, any better answers. Stay tuned.

After going through a couple of ownership and management shifts, Biosphere 2 is now managed by the University of Arizona as a science center to research our impact upon our own planet. Many of us breathed a collective sigh of relief when our local “U” took over, as we’d heard the facility would be razed for a housing development!

One can now tour inside the domes! I’ve been back, and I have. It’s this kind of research that gives me hope for the human species.

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Arizona: way to go! Mars Lander: you’re all wet!

Posted on August 4, 2008. Filed under: Culture, Science, Travel |

I’m taking a moment to gloat about the local University’s role in space history! I’m not involved in the science department at the U at all, (drat!) but have been eagerly following the latest Mars mission since it launched last year. I could hear cheers from Tucson the day the Phoenix Lander made a near perfect landing on Mars in May. I watched as the first exciting pictures from Phoenix graced the pages and pixels of worldwide news media.

Would they find water? They found sticky stuff. They found what might have been water, but it evaporated before they could test it.—Oh no, they were running out of test kits! One more chance. The scraping of Martian soil on Wednesday was perhaps the last chance, for a long time, to determine that:

“We have water,” said William Boynton of The University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. “We’ve seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted.”

Yippee! This means:

“…the science team is trying to determine whether the water ice ever thaws enough to be available for biology and if carbon-containing chemicals and other raw materials for life are present.”     [full story here]

I’m so excited. And so proud that our university is at the forefront of this research. Here is a link to a virtual tour of the laboratory and offices of the space center at the university. The 15 minute tour was filmed before the actual landing, which somehow makes it more poignant to watch now. The first couple of minutes show the buildings and desks, but if you hang on, you can see models, lab equipment, and how the lander’s arm performs in different gravities. At the very end is something special I have seen, and which particularly touches my heart regarding this project. 🙂

There is a lot to explore at the project’s website, too, about Mars, Space, Education, and the Love of Learning. Enjoy, and thanks for indulging my local pride. I have a post coming up in a couple of days about why this science is useful in these times, as well as another local connection. Stay tuned!

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