I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Astronomy Tuesday

You are a child of the universe, 
no less than the trees and the stars; 
you have a right to be here. 
And whether or not it is clear to you, 
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
                              -- Desiderata, Max Ehrmann

Do people still know the Desiderata? Although it was written in the 1920's, I think of it as a product of the Sixties and Seventies, when it frequently appeared on dorm room walls and a spoken word version was an unlikely hit single in the early 1970's.

But I'm thinking of it today for reasons that aren't exactly transcendental. Shortly after the hit record version of the original poem, National Lampoon released a parody version called Deteriorata, which changed the line to “You are a fluke of the universe.”

And today I got to experience one of the happy side effects of what is truly a fluke of the universe: the solar eclipse. Our sun is 400 times bigger than our moon, but it is also 400 times farther away. So, seen from Earth, the sun and the moon appear to be approximately the same size, and it's that coincidence that makes total eclipses possible. If the moon were much closer, it would block out too much of the sun and we wouldn't see the corona; if it were farther away, you'd have only annular eclipses, where the sun isn't entirely blocked. And since the moon is moving gradually farther away from Earth, over the next several million years, total eclipses will become increasingly infrequent, and will eventually stop.

I will write much more about the experience over the next several days, but here's one of the photos I took: shortly after First Contact, when the moon first starts to move over the sun. You can see just the smallest indentation at about the 12:30 mark. The dark spots in the center of the sun's disk are sunspots.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Bonus astronomy blogging

This is M15, one of the many globular clusters of stars hanging around the fringes of our galaxy. It's also one of the objects I got to see last night at the Oregon Observatory. This picture was taken by the Hubble, so what I saw last night through that earthbound 20-inch telescope lacked all of this detail and color. And yet, I was so thrilled to see it I almost lost my balance on the stepladder I was using to reach the eyepiece. There were a lot of Oh, wow's heard as we wandered through the back yard of the observatory, seeing the Andromeda galaxy through one telescope, and then the red supergiant star Mu Cephei through the next one.

We couldn't get a great look at Jupiter -- it was too close to the horizon and obscured by smoke, but saw Saturn quite clearly, tiny and pure white, with Titan winking off to one side, and the shadow of the rings clearly visible. It may have lacked the color and detail of the Cassini images but somehow seeing something with your own eyes, however imperfectly, is better than the best photograph.

Which, of course, is why we're all in Oregon this weekend.

Credit: NASA, ESA

Sunday bird blogging

Ducks on the river yesterday morning.

I ended up skipping the welcome dinner and going to bed early, so yesterday morning I took a long walk before breakfast, when the mist was still clinging to the riverbanks, and the empty golf course was miles of fields and gentle hills.

It's lovely here. We had a lecture after breakfast, and after dinner a field trip to the Oregon Observatory where we got to peer at various celestial objects through large telescopes, but most of the day was free. I went for a swim, walked into the village for lunch at a Portuguese cafe, and spent the afternoon mostly reading on a lounge chair under an umbrella. The air smells of summer: tree bark baked in the sun mixed with pine needles and dusty roads and suntan lotion.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Saturday reflections

It's maybe cheating a little to call this a reflection shot, but too bad -- I'm on vacation.

This is the early evening view along the water in Sunriver, Oregon, yesterday evening. The journey here was mercifully hassle-free, except for the getting up at 4:30 in the morning part. The air was thick with wildfire smoke in the afternoon, but did clear, as you can see.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Urban poetry

If you're really, really, desperate for cash (perhaps because someone is pointing a weapon at you) here's a convenient ATM on one of the not-quite gentrified streets of Hell's Kitchen.

I'm leaving at dawn tomorrow (assuming I remember to bring my wallet this time) for Oregon and a weekend of eclipse-related activities, followed by some time relaxing with friends in California.

Blogging will probably be sporadic until I'm home again.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Astronomy Tuesday

Cassini is coming to the end of its mission around Saturn after thirteen years, but continues to transmit spectacular images.

Here's a closeup of a ring, showing density waves caused by the gravity of one of the many small moons.

Image Credit and License: NASA/JPL/SSI; Digital Composite : Emily Lakdawalla (Planetary Society)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday bird blogging

Wikipedia informs me that “a mustering of storks” is the correct collective noun, but these painted storks in Keoladeo National Park don't appear to be up for mustering anything much.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Palate cleanser

In case you ignored my warning about the cake song and are now stuck in a loop of singing to yourself about birds like tender babies in your hands, here's the song that finally supplanted it in my stubborn brain.

Here we are now, entertain us.

You're welcome.

Saturday reflections

A monster face smiles benignly out at the streets of Providence. This is the window at Big Nazo, a puppet-making and performing collective.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Regarding the earworm

Why is it usually the worst songs, the songs you really hate, that get stuck in an endless loop in your brain?

This all started with Glen Campbell. When I read about his death this week, I thought about songs of his that I'd liked -- this is a clip of my favorite, Gentle on My Mind, with a smokin' guitar solo that demonstrates why, before the corny TV show and string of soft-rock hits, he'd been a well-known session guitarist, and had briefly replaced Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys.

But this isn't the song that got stuck in my brain. Thinking of Glen Campbell made me think of Jimmy Webb, the man who wrote many of his hits: Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galveston.

And who also wrote what I personally believe (and I am not alone) is the worst song ever written -- MacArthur Park. So, of course, that's the song that's been on endless replay ever since I made the mistake of remembering its existence.

Unfortunately, I'm all too familiar with it. My mother, although an admirable woman in many ways, had a fatal weakness for both Irish actors and variety show-type crooners and Richard Harris was both. He recorded many excruciating songs, all of which my mom repeatedly inflicted on the family throughout the late Sixties -- early Seventies, but for sheer awfulness I contend nothing in recording history comes close to MacArthur Park (and I once owned an album called Hugo Montenegro's Dawn of Dylan that made people run screaming from the room.)

Everyone remembers the cake out in the rain, and how he'll never have the recipe again, oh noooooo...but that's not even the worst lyric. There's this, for one:

I will drink the wine while it is warm
And never let you catch me looking at the sun

Huh? This is the lyric I've been especially stuck on, because I've been reading so much about eclipses and eye protection, but I still don't understand why he wants warm wine, or is trying to sneak peeks of the sun when his lover isn't looking.

But nothing tops this:

As we followed in the dance
Between the parted pages and were pressed
In love's hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants

You might be tempted to search it out and give it a listen to see if it could possibly be that bad, but I'm begging you: It is. Don't go there.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Urban poetry

The stern faces of plastic barriers on West 51st Street.

I know I haven't written much about the photos lately -- life, work, and a large volume of the usual crap -- but I leave on vacation the end of next week and hope to return relaxed, refreshed, and significantly more verbal.

With my bad luck streak of cancelled travel in the past year, I've been joking that I expect to get an email from God notifying me that, unfortunately, he's decided to call off the eclipse. The eclipse is still happening as far as I know, but the wildfires in Canada after the extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest have been covering the entire region with a thick layer of smog.

When I checked the forecast for Redmond, Oregon a couple of days ago, the current weather was listed as Smoke. (So apparently that's not limited to Jaipur.) It's clear again now, so fingers crossed that it stays that way until after August 21st. Mama wants to see that corona!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Astronomy Tuesday

This is spiral galaxy NGC 1512, which has two unusual rings. The one closer to the center of the galaxy is the bright blue characteristic of a star nursery. The gas and dust in the outer ring are pulled by gravity into the inner ring, where they fuel the baby stars.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Space Telescope

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