Category Archives: SCIENCE

The Real Deal

In the early 1960s I was in grade school, and my mother let me stay home to watch NASA’s Mercury and Gemini spacecraft launches on TV. We’d follow the whole exciting run-up and count-down, and cheer for blast-off, willing the fiery ship up, up and away into space.

This gave me my life-long love of space travel stories. Every moment of Star Trek the original series, the next generation, the movies. Star Wars amazed me with its realistic hardware, like Luke’s rusty little flying car – it felt so real!  I never miss a space flick on the big screen if I can help it.

I carried my space fandom into adulthood, thrilled when the Shuttle began to fly, and devastated when the Challenger burst apart before my eyes in the Florida sky. Then we lost Columbia, and the shuttle missions withered to an end.

While we may not be launching as many humans into orbit, NASA has stayed busy with amazing planetary missions and probes bringing us closer to the planets, moons, asteroids, and comets.

Today, the incredible Cassini mission to Saturn and its moons begins its final mission, 20 years after it lifted off from earth. For nearly 13 years Cassini has amazed with the data and imagery from the moons, rings and storms of Saturn.

Watch this. This is epic space opera, folks. And this one is REAL.

 

Another Monarch Update

Enjoy this 360° video from the NYT that takes you to the Michoacan forest in Mexico:

Basking in Butterflies

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Check out this wonderful 360° video of the Michoacan forests, destination of the migrating Monarchs. (sorry I wasn’t able to embed.)

Every year, thousands of monarch butterflies migrate from eastern Canada to Michoacan, Mexico. Step inside a butterfly reserve in Michoacan to see where they make their winter homes. Link

The Monarch’s Incredible Journey

The iconic Monarch butterfly certainly made an impression on my young self. Late in August we’d be out floating on the pristine marsh rivers of Ontario, picnicking after a swim, and in the balmy afternoon breeze a flutter of orange would catch my eye, brilliant against the teal green water.

In those days I didn’t realize the Monarchs traveled from Canada to Mexico on their monumental migration. I was impressed enough it would head out across the 30-mile span of Lake St. Clair.

Visit the Forest Service page to get all the details about their incredible journey:

Eastern North American monarchs fly south using several flyways then merge into a single flyway in Central Texas. It is truly amazing that these monarchs know the way to the overwintering sites even though this migrating generation has never before been to Mexico!

Monarchs are Threatened

These beautiful and inspiring creatures are facing multiple survival challenges from commercial agriculture, deforestation and climate change.

What you can do:

•Create a habitat in your own garden and in your community. Plant milkweed (Asclepias L), the only species that Monarch caterpillars will cocoon upon. Invite and protect the flashy caterpillars and their homesand you can enjoy the Monarchs rebirth in late summer.

•Support the work of National Wildlife Federation and other organizations that have habitat projects, protecting and replacing lost habitat along highway corridors and agricultural lands.

Support World Wildlife’s efforts to preserve Mexican forests by supporting alternatives to clear cut lumbering.

DO NOT USE PESTICIDES

Please do not use pesticides or herbicides in your garden or lawn. These chemicals have a devastating effect on not only monarchs but all pollinators, the creatures that make our food grow. For assistance with organic gardening practises click HERE.

And, tell me your Monarch stories. I’m sure you’ve got some!

The Surprising Love Life of the Fig

This is a reblog from the NewYorker.com. Please follow the link to read the complete article. Who knew fig reproduction was so unusual? 

Bite a fig in half and you’ll discover a core of tiny blossoms.

All kinds of critters, not only humans, frequent fig trees, but the plants owe their existence to what may be evolution’s most intimate partnership between two species. Because a fig is actually a ball of flowers, it requires pollination, but because the flowers are sealed, not just any bug can crawl inside. That task belongs to a minuscule insect known as the fig wasp, whose life cycle is intertwined with the fig’s. Mother wasps lay their eggs in an unripe fig. After their offspring hatch and mature, the males mate and then chew a tunnel to the surface, dying when their task is complete. The females follow and take flight, riding the winds until they smell another fig tree. (One species of wasp, in Africa, travels ten times farther than any other known pollinator.)

When the insects discover the right specimen, they go inside and deposit the pollen from their birthplace. Then the females lay new eggs, and the cycle begins again. For the wasp mother, however, devotion to the fig plant soon turns tragic. A fig’s entranceway is booby-trapped to destroy her wings, so that she can never visit another plant. When you eat a dried fig, you’re probably chewing fig-wasp mummies, too.

The fig and the fig wasp are a superlative example of what biologists call codependent evolution. The plants and insects have been growing old together for more than sixty million years. Almost every species of fig plant—more than seven hundred and fifty in total—has its own species of wasp. But codependence hasn’t made them weak, like it can with humans. The figs and fig wasps’ pollination system is extremely efficient compared with that of other plants, some of which just trust the wind to blow their pollen where it needs to go. And the figs’ specialized flowers, far from isolating them in an evolutionary niche, have allowed them to …

Continue reading at the New Yorker

 

Seeing More: A Scientist’s Field Journal

I’m linking to Isaac Yuen’s piece at the Ekstories blog because it tells a wonderful tale of art and science, as inseparable as mind and body.

Finding Place through Art and Science: The Field Journals of Lyn Baldwin

Biologist Lyn Baldwin’s field journals are full of beautiful watercolors from her travels as a biologist in British Columbia.

Her careful observation and reverence are apparent in the drawings.

“I always see more when I draw.”

from the post:

Baldwin describes the act of drawing as a powerful means to know something on an intimate level, whether it be a single flower or an entire landscape.

In an increasingly disconnected and attention-deficient world, sketching the veins on a leaf or the mountains out the living room window can help ground us in place and time, train our gaze towards the ordinary beauty we would otherwise skim over.

While her finished illustrations are stunning, Baldwin stresses the importance of process over product. “Regardless of what the final drawing looks like,” she writes, “I always see more when I draw.”

Do you sketch when you travel?  Document flowers and bugs in your garden?  Tell us about it, share your work!

Read the whole blog post HERE

Read an article by Lyn Baldwin HERE

To Stand Under

How do we learn to live with people who aren’t like us?

Mahzarin Benaji researches unconscious bias at Harvard. She discussed her fascinating and important research  this week on the podcast On Being.

Dr. Benaji uses the word “implicit” instead of “unconscious,” because of

“the implication that the unconscious is this incredibly motivated, smart process that is constantly trying to do things that are in my interest and shove away the deep dark secrets of my childhood that I don’t wish to remember. And the science has not produced good evidence for that.”

Her book, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People asks the question:

“‘Are you the good person you yourself want to be?’ And the answer to that is no, you’re not. And that’s just a fact. And we need to deal with that if we want to be on the path of self-improvement.”

 

Who is ‘Other’?

According to Dr. Benaji’s findings, distrusting the ‘other’ has provided, until recently, an evolutionary advantage: discernment about who to embrace into one’s community was a useful filter in an agrarian culture.

But in today’s global world, this inner program doesn’t serve us when we are, for instance, hiring someone, or choosing the best candidate for a program. Someone who looks and speaks in strange-to-us ways is quite often the best choice. Yet those who haven’t experienced multiple cultures in a community like a university, urban life or the workplace still operate from this ancient, implicit view. This might explain some of the Trump phenomenon.

Apparently without direct experience of ‘others.’ we are not inclined to consider their humanness. In the wake of the horrifying Orlando shooting, teaching tolerance is clearly an urgent need.

Instead of the word tolerance Dr. Benaji prefers the word understandingUnderstand comes from Old English and is literally stand, read as viewpoint, and under meaning beneath or unconscious.

You are the Unreliable Narrator!

For an example of how unreliable our automatic perception can be, have a look at the Selective Attention Test video. If you haven’t already, watch the vid and follow the instructions carefully.

Are you willing to challenge your automatic assumptions?

Please share your insight!

Thanks to Univ. of Haifa School of Social Work for the header image.

Pluto and the Texture of the Infinite

Horsehead Nebula

In ancient times, (or when I was in grade school) the planets were  very smooth, like billiard balls. We had no detailed images, only descriptions of what they might be. Images of the galaxies and nebulas were quaintly fuzzy.

This recent Hubble image of Horsehead Nebula shows a different animal.

Over the past 40 years we humans have sharpened our focus. The Hubble Space Telescope and numerous planetary explorations have yielded not only amazing data but astonishingly detailed images as well.

Dramatic view of the Pluto system as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew in for close-up on July 14; then passed behind Pluto to see the atmosphere glow before watching the sun passes behind Pluto’s largest moon, Charon.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Stuart Robbins

Watch this a few times and enjoy the ride: how you find the bright dot in all that darkness, spiral in, and then glory in the uniquely Plutonian landscape. This, the orb that had it’s planetary status revoked! 

(You may find it odd that I am adamantly pro science and still hark to astrology, but consider hearing me out. The following gives a cultural perspective on the ninth rock from the sun.)

Astrologically Pluto has a profound gravitas, the inescapable resonance of the everpresent but unseen, representing our own soul.

Prominant Astrologers had some interesting things to say about Pluto’s change in status.

from Rob Brezhny of Free Will Astrology:

Scientists no doubt had sound, rational reasons to exile Pluto from the traditional solar system and transfer its realm to the Kuiper Belt with the other dwarf worlds, but they were also under the influence of deeply unconscious forces too. The expulsion of Pluto marked a symbolic turning point in the triumph of scientism, a mode of thinking that values only what’s visible, measurable, and categorizable. But Pluto is more than the rocky planetoid representing it: Pluto is an essential phase of human consciousness.

The overall downgrading of Pluto is a milestone in the modern attempt to depreciate the soul’s mode of awareness and make it subsidiary to the deductive mind. To banish Pluto is to deny that living in the soul has any value to us.

See how smooth it looks? Now watch the video with actual photos.

Visionary Activist Caroline Casey offers this:

The god of the Underworld, was amused by being called “Dead as a planet.” “Of course I’m dead, I’m the god of the dead.”

And used to being dissed, exiled, albeit at tremendous cost to cultures that do so. Of course human dementors would like to stick their fingers in their ears, and say, “no, no, no, we deny the invisible. We deny the dead, the invisible, the principle of power, the abuse of power known as plutocracy, now rampant.” Death is cheap, not valued, marketed wholesale, so that even the god of death is appalled.

 

Crochet Coral Reef

We’ve heard about multiple hazards threatening the well-being of our ocean, from a profusion of plastic junk to rising temperatures to excess CO2 – but what have you done about it?  No, this is not your typical tree-hugger guilt trip! I want to amaze you with the creativity and cross-cultural genius of this particular project:

The Crochet Coral Reef

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Margaret Wertheim is a physicist and writer who has, among other things, noted that the underlying mathematical description of the growth patterns of coral -their hyperbolic geometry -was best described through the rhythm and pattern of crochet.

“Corals and sponges — all those frilly crenellated structures — are actually biological manifestations of hyperbolic geometry. And although brainless corals can make hyperbolic forms literally of the bodies, it’s very difficult for humans to make models of this. And in fact, the best way to do it is with crochet.”

This realization led to a collaborative project to create coral reefs in crochet by needle artists around the globe, a unique method for using art to bring attention to the corals.

It’s difficult to confront the serious threat of coral bleaching, without the sense of helplessness that can cause us to throw up our hands and cry “I recycle! what do you want ME to do about it, give up my CAR?!”

When Margaret and her twin Christine started the project in 2005, they joked about the reefs disappearing. Today, NOA scientist are warning about record level coral die-off. These tiny brainless creatures build cities that can be seen from space.

When I listened to Margaret in a recent episode of the On Being podcast, I was struck by her gift for crossing connections among science, art and spirituality, something that is clearly dear to my heart here at Art, Spirit, Nature.

You can listen to the interview here:

Neomenia, Eostre & Equinox

Neomenia is a fancy word for New Moon, which we have a splendid example of today. The Super Moon of March 20, 2015 caused a total eclipse of the sun for the North Atlantic and bits of Greenland and Iceland.

Some Pagan folk call Spring Equinox by the name of Ostara, or Eostre, after the ancient Germanic goddess who heralds the spring reawakening. The word is related to East, and Aus, a proto-germanic word for dawn. I’ve often thought is sounds quite a bit like Purim’s Esther and that other rabbit & egg holiday that’s just around the corner!

The Equinox refers to the balance of dark and light, for today, the night is as long as the day, roughly speaking. I see for us the sun rises and sets at around 7:18.

Rumor has it that the heavenly dance of Pluto has big things in store for our little planet. So heed the auspicious signs, plant your seeds, honor your Mother. Let us celebrate the wonder of life.

I wish all the blessings of the change of season to you all, the joy of rabbits leaping, and flowers opening, and delicious boiled eggs of many colors, including chocolate!

 

Strange Silvery Cloud

“As many as 80% of all people on earth today have never had the chance to witness a clear view of the Milky Way.

Have you seen the Milky Way? How did it make you feel? Leave me a comment and tell me about it.

“In 1994 a major earthquake struck LA, causing massive power outages across the city. Residents called 911 to express alarm about a “strange silvery cloud” hovering overhead.”

Illusion of Lights, a film from Goldpaint Photography, specialists in landscape astrophotography

“I like to run at night in the summertime because it’s nice and cool. As I’m running, I’m thinking about work and the discoveries that we’re making.  I look up at the stars. And in that split second, just that fraction of a second when I first saw not pinpoints of light, which are stars. I saw planetary systems. I saw solar systems. I saw other planets out there. It’s really hard to articulate that kind of an experience. It’s something very personal.”

~Natalie Batalha (from a 2013 interview with Krista Tippett)

Natalie Batalha hunts for earth-like planets beyond our solar system. A research astronomer at NASA Ames Research Center, she heads the Kepler Mission.   In its first four years, the mission confirmed over 100 new planets — but the search for one just right for life continues. Early interpretations of Kepler data point to as many as 17 billion Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone.