Category Archives: Nature

Too Hot to Handle

KELT 9-B seems an innocuous-enough name for an exoplanet. It was discovered in 2017 and is apparently an “ultra-hot Jupiter” – huge gas giants hotter than anything in our solar system.  In fact, some of the new data coming in suggests that it is three times larger than our Jupiter and approximately  7,800 degrees Fahrenheit on its surface.  So hot in fact, that hydrogen atoms are shredded by the heat during the daytime and can only re-form until they appear on the dark side of the planet; KELT 9-B is tidally locked to its star, so the hot side always faces its sun.

It’s amazing to me that we can figure this stuff out since we can’t just look it up on the internet. All the data on KELT 9-B has come from two robotic telescopes in the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope project, one telescope in South Africa and the other in southern Arizona.  And of course, it makes me wonder how a planet like KELT 9-B comes into existence.  And can it survive its own heat?

How do you cool down when you’re angry?

Space Discovery

Photo credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

For all space geeks, the news this week is that a high school student, on his third day of interning at NASA, discovered a planet. For all Star Wars geeks, it turns out that it’s not just your ordinary planet, but a very rare circumbinary planet with two suns, like Tatooine, the planet where Luke Skywalker grew up.

He made the discovered this past July at the very beginning of his internship; he and other astronomers have spent the last six months confirming the find. The planet is now called TOI 1338b and looks to be almost 7 times bigger than Earth.

Apparently not only are circumbinary planets rare, they are even rarer to find since the way that most planets are confirmed don’t work due to timing of the planet passing in front of its stars.   So this is quite an auspicious start for the high-schooler who has said that he does intend to continue his studies in astronomy and astrophysics.

If you could be known as the discoverer of something, what would it be?

Thunder & Lightning

Photo credit:  Javsama

As part of my site inspection in Peru, we spent two nights in Cusco, which is also known as the “Gateway to Machu Picchu”. Cusco is in the mountainous part of Peru and is 11,152 feet in elevation (this is actually HIGHER than Machu Picchu).  While there are certainly spots on the globe higher than this (Kilimanjaro, Mount Everest), Cusco routinely makes the list as one of the highest altitude cities on the planet.  Many of the hotels in Cusco pump extra oxygen into the rooms and almost every establishment of any kind (shops, restaurants, hotels) have access to oxygen tanks, just in case.  If you search the internet, you’ll find a massive amount of information about altitude sickness, what causes it, what you can do about it.

But nowhere are you warned about the thunderstorms. In the mountains and tropical areas of Peru, it’s rainy season right now.  That means a lot of gray days and in Cusco, thunderstorms – three to four a week for a few months.  We experienced a thunderstorm the first afternoon we were there and let me tell you, when you are 11,000 feet up, the thunder and the lightning is MUCH closer to you than down in  the lower climes.  It’s hard to describe the visceral feeling that goes through you when the lightning seems just on the other side of the street from you and the thunder crackles and booms loud enough that you cover your ears.  We were touring a couple of convents during the storm, both with large courtyards and covered walkways; we weren’t actually standing out in the rain (which was intense as well) but close enough that the storm felt startlingly  close by.

The next day, I got to spend a couple of hours with the tour guide all to myself (a serious perk in my estimation) and he told me that in the Andes, the god of thunder is the most popular weather god as he is associated with the health of agriculture and crops. He is not known as Thor there, but as Illapa (pronounced E-yapa) and he even has his own holiday – July 25.  Apparently he is the keeper of the Milky Way which he keeps in a jug and pours out to make the rain.  Did I mention that on a clear night in Cusco, the Milky Way is very bright and visible?

So I came home from my trip with a robust appreciation of the god of thunder and lightning. When thunderstorms season rolls around next year, I’ll have to try to enjoy it more.

Any gods or goddesses that “speak” to you?

A Christmas Visitor

I read with great delight a recent story about a family who found  a live Eastern Screech Owl in their Christmas tree. The little owl had apparently been the tree in their living room for about a week. They didn’t notice it when they decorated the tree.  Many of their ornaments  were owl shaped, so the hitchhiker blended right in. I was surprised it didn’t hoot or move much.

The family contacted a rescue organization  that caught the owl and fed it up and got it back into the wild. The woman who found the owl in her tree was pretty delighted and said she felt a pretty special bond with the little owl.  The native people Husband works with believe owls are portents of death. We all have different relationships with animals.

Any good owl stories? What animals have you had special bonds with? Have you ever had unexpected visitors?

Khaki & Backpack

There is a Wyndham hotel right across the street from the Lima International Airport. Although Lima is a gigantic city of 11 million, it is just a quick stopover for many tourists who are on their way to the interior of the country to see Machu Picchu.  In fact, the Wyndham does a very brisk business for those arriving from the States at 12:30 and 1 a.m. in the morning, who then turn around to depart the next morning for Cusco and other cities farther south and east.  At 1:30 a.m. the front and bell desks are fully staffed!

There might be folks staying at the hotel who are NOT heading off to hike in the mountains, but you can’t tell by looking at them. Everywhere you look the view is khakis and backpacks.  At breakfast (which opens at 4 a.m.), even families are all dressed in khaki and even the smallest kids have backpacks (although you see more red and pink backpacks at this age).  Hiking boots and sturdy shoes always round out the ensembles.

It is such a ubiquitous outfit that our last morning in Cusco, I was startled (yes, startled) to see a group of five women at breakfast in extremely fashionable clothing. Tight leather-ish pants, a lacey red blouse and the little short black jacket of one woman definitely caught my eye.  And shiny red heels that were so high that if I were to wear them, I would have to super glue my feet onto them to keep from slipping right off.  She and the other four women looked lovely and very stylish, but definitely not in keeping with the khaki and backpack set!

What item in your closet do you wear the most?

Physics, Anyone?

Yesterday in 1684, Isaac Newton’s paper on the theory of gravity was read to the Royal Society by Edmund Halley.  I wonder how it was received? Did they nod and say ,“Oh yes, I can see exactly what he is getting at”, or did they scratch their powdered wigs and shrug their shoulders, thinking “Poor Isaac has been spending too much time sitting under the trees.”

Hard sciences were never my strong suit in high school and college. Neither was mathematics. for that matter, although I was  pretty ace at Psychology statistics in graduate school. In college, the Physics majors I knew often said that Physics was a way of investigating God. I was just glad I didn’t have to take any physics classes. Biology, now that was a subject I could embrace.  I don’t know what it means that my poorest grade in college was in bowling,  a physical education class I despised. Maybe if I had taken a Physics class I would have been a better bowler.

What came easily to you in school? What was difficult? What would you like to learn about now?