Category Archives: space

Half a Giraffe

You’re giving a announcement to the press about a small asteroid that has managed to get through our atmosphere without completely burning up.  The small space rock is named 2022 EB5 and hit above Iceland last Friday causing a boom and a flash of light as it whizzed across the sky.

You haven’t found any evidence of the asteroid actually making it all the way to the ground, but you want to make folks feel secure about how little damage it would have caused.  So you describe the size of the asteroid as small, 10 feet/3 meters across, “half the size of a giraffe”.

What?  I think a lot of people have probably seen a giraffe in a zoo and have a fairly good idea of how big a giraffe is but it’s certainly not the first thing I would think of when trying to tell someone the size of something.  Especially when 10 feet or 3 meters isn’t that hard to imagine.  But a giraffe…. actually HALF a giraffe?

Isn’t half a giraffe the same as a baby elephant?  Or six dolphins?  Are we picking on animals?  Should we say the asteroid is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle?  And even if we stay with giraffes are we talking half a male giraffe, a female giraffe, a dwarf giraffe?  Are we talking head to halfway through the torso or halfway through the torso to the feet?

Possibilities are endless.

What do you think is a measure of size that the world is missing out on?

Dinosaurs to the Moon

I wasn’t on the trail much over the weekend; I was following a livestream on YouTube.  (I can’t even imagine what I would have thought if I had read that sentence 20 years ago!)

15 years ago, after reading a book by John Green (I think it was Looking for Alaska), I started following him and his brother, Hank, on their YouTube channel called VlogBrothers.  Hank is the brainchild behind SciShow, another fabulous channel and together the brother have created multiple other channels and platforms.  They manage and ship creations by a variety of artists, from their DFTBA (Don’t Forget to be Awesome) warehouse, among many other things.  Their following is called Nerdfighteria and I have to say that they were a big factor in my finally being able to own my nerdiness and feel that it was OK to admit to my smarts.  I say it calmly but it was actually a fairly big turning point in my life.

Both John and Hank are thoughtful, kind and generous – the year I started following their vlog, they decided to do a weekend event on YouTube to raise money for good works.  They invited people to send in videos to the channel to support charities; we would watch and vote on the videos and, if we could, send in money.  At the end of the weekend, they split up the money among the top voted groups.  And they did a livestream the entire weekend to encourage folks to watch the videos, vote and donate.  They called this Project for Awesome. 

And 15 years later, it is still awesome although a little more cohesive these days.  The first 24 hours of donations go to a couple of specific organizations that Nerdfighteria have supported for many years and then the second 24 hours of donations gets split up among the top groups whose video have been voted on.  Lots and lots of perks donated by various online creators.  The livestream is a little surreal… YouTubers setting up goals and challenges.  My favorite is Destin whose vlog “Smarter Every Day” I have watched for years.  Donations during his 2-hour stint get you a plastic dinosaur magnet with your name on it that gets sent to the moon on an electronic pulley system. Honestly I don’t even know how to describe it.  Suffice it to say it’s just hysterical and the donations just blast in during his time.

Anyway, I watched quite a bit of the livestream, including staying up too late both nights and then watching early in the morning.  As the project rolled toward its end, donations again ramped up as John and Hank finished up the livestream with a lot of thanks and champagne poppers and confetti.  About 15 minutes before the end, the counter clicked over the $3 million dollar mark.  I have to say I got a little verklempt.

The happiness that I get from being part of the nerdfighter community makes me think a lot about the Trail and my baboon companions there.  I am not a serious member of the group and I only know one other nerdfighter personally but as a group they follow their leaders… they are kind and thoughtful and generous as a whole, exactly like those I know on the Trail.  No nastiness, no name calling, no mud slinging.  Wish I could spread that feeling out to the whole world.

Tell me about some other nice, thoughtful, kind folks you know!

Too Late?

Asteroid 1994 PC1 whizzed past us yesterday at 43,000+ miles per hour.  Apparently compared to the asteroids that swing by almost every day, 1994PC1 is fairly large to be so far outside the asteroid belt.  NASA has been watching it for years (I’m guessing from it’s name, since 1994) and since none of us got warnings about impending asteroid/earth collisions the last few days, they are quite aware that relatively speaking while it’s coming close to us, its closest pass will be five times the distance between us and the moon.  According to scientists “if you aren’t worried about the moon crashing into your house this week, you shouldn’t be worried about this either”.

I guess we might have a closer call with a much larger asteroid in 2028.  That news actually hit the stands back in 1997, just a year after a big scare when 1996 JA1, an asteroid the length of two football fields, passed by at only 300,000 miles with not much warning.  This might account for a bunch of the asteroid movies that came out in the next couple of years (Deep Impact, Armageddon, Asteroid, Judgment Day to name a few). 

I’m not a big disaster film buff (although technically if they divert the asteroid, it’s not really a disaster flick, is it?) but I did see a couple of these.  It’s an interesting concept – pushing off an object that is traveling 43K miles an hour.  And I don’t really follow this stuff closely so I don’t know if there is an object that NASA is actually worried about.  And I wonder, would they tell us if there were?  Not sure what in heck we, as citizens of the planet could actually do to prepare.  I mean, I assume we’re smarter than the dinosaurs, but there sure wasn’t anything they could have done differently.

Which do you worry about more – asteroids or a zombie apocalypse? 

Jumping In

Al the discussion about gardening on Mars and The Martian by Andy Weir made me think.  If I were sure I could get back, would I want to try Mars?  And better yet, if I could beam to Mars and back, instead of spending more than a year on a spaceship each way, would I want to try Mars?  I might, since my biggest issue is the travel part.  And the getting home part.

By now, of course, I’m pretty far down Fantasy Road and I found myself thinking about whether I would want to change places with any other movie character, or tv character or character in a book. 

Again, part of my decision is based on the absolutely certainy that I am not putting my life in danger and I would be able to get back home.  Kinda like the holodeck in Star Trek where you just say “computer, end program” and the door to the ship’s hallways opens right up.

That being said, I can think of LOTS of characters I’d like to be for a week or so.  Scarlett O’Hara from Gone w/ the Wind, Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, Ren-Marie from any of the Three Pines mysteries, Frodo from Lord of the Rings, Lawrence from any of the Temeraire stories (except Australia – that one stunk)…. I could go on and on.  Of course there are a lot of stories I prefer from a reading distance – pretty much anything during WWII and Vietnam, anything where the character is scared/threatened/blackmailed through the book or movie. Anything that is too gory or gruesome.  And if it’s a book I really didn’t like then I definitely don’t need to swap with those characters ever.

So what about you?  Any character you’d like to be for a week?

Where No Ketchup Has Gone Before

“First came the billionaires, then the movie stars — now ketchup is making its mark on the space race.”  (CNN November 8, 2021)

At first glance, this seemed like a silly story – Heinz had made “Marz Edition” of their ketchup using tomatoes that were produced in a controlled environment similar to what plants could expect if they were growing up on the Red Planet.

But turns out this was a serious experiment by 14 astrobiologists as part of long-term food harvesting  strategy for NASA.  I guess astronauts and Mars pioneers need a little more than freeze-dried ice cream (which is awful, by the way) to get by.

The ketchup will not be available to the public but there will be a big taste test tomorrow – if you are Twittered or Instagramed, you can watch it at 10 a.m. ET.  For the rest of us, we’ll just have to dream.

If you have a couple of Martian acres, what would you want to grow (and would you want to garden in person or from a distance)? 

Fresh Air

Our son and his family just moved to a town four miles outside Brookings, SD. Brookings is a university town with a population of 22,000 people. The town to which they moved has around 800. They commute to their jobs in Brookings.

Brookings is in the middle of the prairie. It is not industrialized. The nearest larger towns are 50 miles away. Both are pretty modest in size. We are talking sparsely populated. Son and Dil insist that the air in their new little town is noticeably cleaner than in Brookings. They adore the quiet. They love looking outside and seeing the stars. There is very little light pollution. Unless they fence their yard, any gardens they plant will be eaten by deer and raccoons.

We are so happy for them in their new digs. I think their assessment of the air quality may be a little bit exaggerated, but it is nice to see them enjoying their life. They are so proud of their new home. I grew up in a small town downwind from beef and pork processing plant, so I know how important air quality can be to life satisfaction.

What are your favorite indoor and outdoor smells? What are the most polluted and cleanest places you have lived? What constellations and stars can you identify? When are you most likely to kvell?

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He Said She Said

I spent an hour or so at Urgent Care yesterday (not a big deal – just wanted to be reassured that my self care was OK and to get a tetanus booster.

While waiting I noticed a woman go in and out of the UC door a few times; she was wearing a Darth Vader smock.  Long gone are the days when everybody is required to wear white!  When it turned out that she was the nurse who was going to rewrap my hand and give me my shot, I was elated.  I told her how much I like her smock and she told me about her other Leia smock.  We traded our favorite quotes from Star Wars.  Since she is a Darth fan, hers is “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”   I like that one but I do gravitate to Yoda “ Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.”

On the way home I was thinking about this encounter (which was really the highlight of my day) and how many times I use quotes from my favorite movies.

  • “On the side.” When Harry Met Sally
  • “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”  Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  • “You know, assholes.” Blazing Saddles
  • “Candygram for Mongo.” Blazing Saddles (You’d be surprised how often you can make this work.)
  • “You overestimate both of us.” People Will Talk
  • “Snap out of it.” Moonstruck
  • “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”  The Fly
  • “There will be blood tonight.” Princess Bride
  • “We are men of action. Lies do not become us.”  Princess Bride  (Note: I say this to myself.  Not aloud.)
  • “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” Princess Bride   (Again, never said outloud.  And I say it to myself with Mandy Patinkin’s accent.)
  • “Now they’re practical.” Romancing the Stone
  • “Not exactly firing on all thrusters.” Star Trek IV
  • “Fun fun fun til her/your daddy takes the T-Bird away.” (yes, I know this a song not a movie, but, what the heck, it’s my blog post…..)

Any quotes from movies (or tv or book or songs) that you find yourself using in every life?

 

 

 

Rabbit Whimsy

Last month Bill (I think it was Bill) mentioned Voyage to the Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells.  It had been in print a few years before I was first read it to Child, but I remember that we had it from the library at some point.  The Hennepin Library doesn’t own a copy any longer but I was able to get it through InterLibrary Loan and I’m liking it so much that I’ve ordered myself a copy.  (I have a very modest children’s book collection – based solely on what I like).

There are three stories, each featuring a young bunny who has had an exceedingly bad day —  never-ending math class, horrible cousins, medicine that tastes like gasoline.  At the end of these bad days, the young bunnies wish for a visit to the Bunny Planet.  There they are greeted by the kind Queen Janet who invites them in with a “Here’s the day that should have been.”  Each bunny falls off to sleep with the visions of a perfect day dancing in their heads.

At the beginning of each story, there is a rabbit quote like this:

It is the first duty of a flagging spirit to seek renewal
in the latitudes of whimsy.  I, for one, dream on
beyond the give planets to a world without wickedness;
verdant, mild, and populated by amiable lapins.
Benjamin Franklin

The other quotes are from Rudyard Kipling (“The captain fell at daybreak, and ‘e’s ravin’ in ‘is bed, With a regiment of rabbits on the planets round ‘is ‘ead.”) and Galileo (“I designated this heavenly body “Coniglio,” but alas, never saw it again.”)

It’s gratifying to see rabbits making the grade in heavenly literature but I think it’s fascinating that Benjamin Franklin dreamed of whimsy and thought a perfect world would be a bunny haven.

I say whimsy all around!

Tell me about your “day that should have been” and how your perfect world would look?

Gadzooks – It’s Our Anniversay

Trail Baboon has reached a milestone – TEN YEARS!  In honor of our anniversary, I am re-running a piece from our first week (with Dale’s approval!)   I was going to change the question, but it’s turned out to be eerily prescient in our current situation.

SIX MEN IN A TUB
An intriguing human experiment has begun in the western part of Moscow at the Institute for Medical and Biological Problems.

Six men just started a 520 day “mission” to Mars.  They are enclosed in “a series of windowless steel capsules” for the duration, with enough food and activities and chores to keep them busy.  There’s also ample time for relaxation.  The “voyagers” will have to exercise two hours a day but will only be able to shower once a week.

Uh oh.

There are many obstacles to overcome in a real journey to Mars.  There would have to be a shield to protect the humans from solar radiation.   And psychologists predict that one the greatest emotional hazards is the likelihood that the crew would begin to grow tired of each other’s company.   But at least in a genuine Martian trip there would be a sense of excitement and anticipation of arriving on the planet – something that’s missing in this effort.

Perhaps the greatest hurdle in this make believe exercise is to get six grownups to pretend for almost a year and a half that they can’t just walk out for a smoke or a bit of vodka.   After all, it takes skilled actors years of training to get you to suspend reality for two hours on a stage.  How long can fact-based scientists and researchers last?

Because a similar effort ten years ago ended badly (sexual harassment allegations, fistfights), the mission commander is quoted in an AP article as saying “Each crew member has the right to end the experiment and walk out.  We have had such negative experience in the past, and I hope it won’t happen during this experiment.”

Double uh oh.

Which guy will make a bid to scuttle the mission after 500 days because he can’t stand “Commander Flatulence” or would just like to get out and feel the sunshine? The longer you’re in, the greater the pressure to stay in.  And the longer you’re in, the greater the leverage for anyone who threatens to leave.

This sounds like a twisted reality show disguised as a scientific experiment.  All it needs a name and a theme song, like that ditty that introduced “The Brady Bunch”.

Here’s the story of a group of fellas
Who were simulating flying into space.
They were scientists and they all liked each other
Which is not commonplace.

They’re pretending to go to a planet.
If you’re Martian it’s the place that you belong.
In the movies when the Martians meet the Earthlings,
they never get along.

Till this mission where these fellas met this planet.
Well not really but they tried to make believe.
They had almost made it there when it started.
That’s when everyone declared “I’m going to leave.”

I’m going to leave.  I’m going to leave.
I can’t stand you, and you, and you I’m going to leave.
I’m going to leave.  I’m going to leave.
This is Moscow we’re on Earth I’m going to leave!

What would you need to survive 520 days enclosed in a series of windowless steel capsules with five other people, all pretending that you can’t go outside?

 

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?