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

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

In the beginning, there was hydrogen....

Every atom in your body -- the carbon in your cells, the calcium in your bones, the oxygen in your lungs -- was cooked inside a star. Stars shine because their enormous mass forces hydrogen atoms to combine into helium. Eventually the pressure at the core of the star causes those helium atoms to fuse into carbon while the outer layers continue to burn hydrogen. The cycle continues, creating heavier and heavier elements at the star's center until, in very large stars, silicon begins to fuse into iron. And the star dies.

Fusing two iron atoms together eats energy instead of producing it. The star quickly becomes unstable, and the outer layers collapse onto the core, rebounding back in an enormous burst of energy. All of the elements nuclear fusion had created during the star's lifetime -- helium, oxygen, carbon -- are spewed out into space to mix with the gases there and eventually form new stars. All of the elements heavier than iron -- gold, copper, zinc, lead, iodine -- everywhere in the universe are created by the explosion itself. We really are stardust.

This spectacular supernova in galaxy NGC 4526 was captured by the Hubble in 1994.

Image Credit: High-Z Supernova Search Team, HST, NASA

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

The spring migrants won't be turning up for a few months yet, but here's a black and white warbler from last year.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Saturday reflections

I haven't been having much luck with the birds recently, but the reflections in the cars on the West Side streets near the park have definitely made up for it. Here are two from earlier this week.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Urban poetry

Another look at what I now think of as my tree, from last summer.

I love that rectangle of leafy green inside my neighbor's kitchen (it could be a window, but I'm pretty certain there's another room between that wall and the street, so I think it must be a mirror hanging over the sink) framed through another window.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Non-industrial light and magic

Two of the huge trees outside my bedroom window were cut down last year. I didn't know it was going to happen; I was sitting on my bed drinking coffee and suddenly branches started falling.

I was in mourning for months. I loved catching glimpses of birds through the leaves, and the foliage acted as a curtain for my bedroom window. But there is certainly a lot more light now, and I like being able to see the buildings on the other side of the block, and there's nothing I can do to bring those trees back anyway, so I've resigned myself.

One wonderful consolation has been watching the light on this tree, which I could never see clearly before. Most of the time the tree is just an interesting brown shape against the white brick and square windows. But in winter, in the early morning sun, it explodes into this glory of gold.

It only lasts for a few minutes. The sun slides behind some other building and the tree's in shade again. Later, when the sun is higher, the entire yard is brightly lit, and the tree is pretty, but still, just another tree.

But those few minutes are magical -- proof being that I actually got dressed and crawled out on my fire escape at 7:30 on a freezing morning so I could take pictures of it. Who wants curtains when this is what you see from your bed?

Astronomy Tuesday

Here's a lovely closeup of a spiral galaxy, courtesy of the Hubble.

NGC 7331 is similar to our Milky Way, so this is probably what the denizens of any of the billions of planets there see when they look in our direction. Wave at them!

Image Credit and License: ESA/Hubble and NASA/D. Milisavljevic (Purdue University)

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

He's not quite in the frame, but this grackle is too beautiful not to post.

I love those yellow eyes.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Saturday reflections

A fire escape on Columbus Avenue, reflected in a store window across the street.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Urban poetry

An underpass near the West Side Highway in New York -- one thing we never have a shortage of here is traffic.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

This is 3C 273, an object much more interesting than this Hubble image suggests.

Quasars (the name was originally derived from quasi-stellar radio source) were originally discovered in the 1950's when astronomers were using radio emissions as a new tool for investigating the universe. They found hundreds of objects that were emitting large amounts of radiation but either were invisible optically, or appeared as a very faint star.

When I was taking astronomy classes in college, quasars were still a mystery. The large redshift in the radiation they emitted suggested that they were very far away and moving very fast, maybe proto-galaxies at the very edge of the expanding universe.

Now more than 200,000 quasars have been identified, and we know that they consist of supermassive black holes surrounded by a disc of gas. As the gas falls into the black hole, enormous amounts of energy are released; the largest quasars are thousands of times more luminous than a galaxy like the Milky Way.

Finally, I have to admit that I am also old enough that I can't see the word quasar without thinking of the line of Motorola TV's by that name.

Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA

Monday, February 10, 2020

Welcome to the working week

New Year's morning in Times Square and all that pesky confetti to clean up.

I don't really have working weeks any more (hurray!) but I'm taking care of so much paperwork at the moment, plus planning upcoming trips, that it feels like a job. Though fortunately I don't have to write a report on my progress or sit through a meeting explaining what I'm doing instead of doing it.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

I did much better in my visit to the park this week -- two usable pictures instead of one. But this female house finch is so pretty, I don't mind that she had so little company.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Saturday reflections

Walking on the Upper West Side on a sunny day this week, I caught these architectural reflections in a parked car.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Urban poetry

I loved these crooked tree trunks in St. John's.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

Layers of sedimentary rock in the Danielson Crater on Mars, as captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The bluish color is sand on the rocks.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

These chipping sparrows came through last spring, but for some reason never graduated to the Ready to Post folders. I love when I manage to capture these glam shots, as though the birds were movie stars in the age of Technicolor posing for publicity shots.

I've acquired a new hair stylist, quite by accident. For years I had my hair cut by a woman down the street from my apartment; her haircuts are mediocre at best but she's very nice and I can pop in without an appointment while I'm out running errands. Then a few months ago, my friend Jayne was early for a lunch date and went for a haircut across the street from the restaurant where we were meeting. She loved the salon and the stylist, and after lunch I got my hair cut there as well.

I thought maybe it was a one-time fling, but I went back this week, and I'm afraid I belong to James now. I'm putting this story in bird blogging because I think of birds while he's cutting my hair -- his tiny scissors zip around my head and snip so delicately I feel like songbirds are flying through my hair. I'm always surprised to see the piles of hair on the floor because it feels as though he's barely touched me.

Of course, I'm going to have to move because I feel so guilty about abandoning my old stylist, and I can no longer walk past her salon. But that's a small price to pay for a good haircut.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Saturday reflections

Here's some more of that golden January light on the brick buildings reflected in the picture above.

I really wanted to post the image on the right. It's from the same building (on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea I think) but there's not really much of a reflection. So I just did both.

But I do love that bored security guard just pacing back and forth, back and forth.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Urban poetry

This made me smile -- the Petropolitan, an animal day care in Calgary. I think playing with other people's dogs all day long is a job I could really enjoy.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

All the light we cannot see....

Well, most of us can see light, at least in the aptly named visible spectrum, but there's so much more that we can't see, not just the various frequencies of non-visible radiation, but also the dark matter that makes up so much of our universe. At least we have instruments that can see the non-visible forms of light for us. Dark matter not only can't be seen, we actually have no idea what it is.

UGC 2885 was one of the spiral galaxies whose rotation was studied by Vera Rubin in the Sixties. She found that the mass of the visible stars couldn't account for how fast the galaxy's stars were rotating around its center. Unless there was a large amount of matter that we couldn't see, the galaxies should have been flying apart. Thanks to her work, we now know that perhaps 80% of the universe consists of dark matter. This isn't just a new form of the matter we're used to -- protons, neutrons and electrons -- that's for some reason hard to see from Earth. It doesn't seem to interact with what we think of as matter at all, so it may consist of entirely new subatomic particles, almost a universe within a universe.

Think about that. We know so much about the universe, macro and micro, close up and impossibly far away, and yet 80% of it consists of something we know absolutely nothing about. We know it's there. And that's just about all we know.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, B. Holwerda (University of Louisville)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

I went to the park this week for the first time in a couple of months. Very few birds were around, but it was a beautiful day and a lovely walk.

This blue jay was my only decent picture. I love the soft January light.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Saturday reflections

Street, building, sky -- New York captured and curved on the side of a car by Central Park.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Urban poetry

The on-ramp to winter.

This snow disappeared in a day, but since I got to experience ample winter in Canada over the holidays, I don't really need it to stick around.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

I feel as though this image should be accompanied by the theme to Star Wars.

This is a Herbig-Haro object, a more than usually mundane name for something quite splendid. They're disturbances in the Force, um, patches of nebulosity caused by newborn stars.

The star causing all this mayhem is hidden in the cloud, but those long, lightsaber-like beams are jets of gas and dust that have fallen into the star and are blasted out along its axis of rotation.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage (STScI / AURA) / Hubble-Europe Collaboration Acknowledgment: D. Padgett (GSFC), T. Megeath (University of Toledo), B. Reipurth (University of Hawaii)

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

Here's a gray catbird digging for a treat in Central Park.

I thought I heard a catbird in the yard behind my bedroom a few days ago, then realized, No, it was just a cat.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Saturday reflections

The Galleria Trees in Calgary made wonderful reflections.

I'm sure they're doing their best to blunt the winter winds coming off the prairies, but all things considered, I'd just as soon be in New York this time of year.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Urban poetry

The yellow sign announces that this snow-covered stairway in Montreal is fermé pour l'hiver.

We've had precious little hiver so far in New York this year, but a snowstorm is on its way tomorrow. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A tale of four cities

I do love cities in black and white. These are four random pictures from last year: a power station in Manchester, New Hampshire; the BC Place Stadium in Vancouver; a snowy morning in Montreal; a weekday morning near Hudson Yards in New York.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

Something a little different: the wonderful blue colors are reflection nebulae, reflecting the light from young stars on the cosmic dust. The curves in the nebulae to the left are caused by the jets blasting out from embedded newborn stars.

Image Credit and Copyright: CHART32 Team, Processing - Johannes Schedler

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

Because we need all the cuteness we can get in this crazy world, here's a titmouse to start off the New Year's birds.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Saturday reflections

There's an array of small reflections in these windows in Quebec, but I especially love the patterns of dappled light reflected from the windows across the street.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Random things I saw in Quebec

One of the welcome fires around the city; the Dufferin Terrace outside the Château Frontenac was almost as icy as the river below; the train station (where I actually stayed in a loft my first two nights in the city); the spires and bare trees of winter in Quebec.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Urban poetry

Just a few pictures left from Quebec, but here's something different: between the buildings on the rue de Petit-Champlain and the cliffs of the Upper Town lies this little street, with stairs and walkways climbing the cliffs on one side and the backs of the buildings on the other. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

I'm returning to the regular blogging schedule with this lovely Juno image of the intricate cloud patterns on Jupiter.

Image Credit and License: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS; Processing: Kevin M. Gill

Monday, January 6, 2020

The setting

The lobby and the ballroom at the Château.

I was surprised by how many families with young children came to the dinner. I'm assuming they had a special children's menu; even the most sophisticated toddlers are not likely to enjoy foie gras.

Fête de Noël

Our tour ended with Christmas dinner at the Château Frontenac.

It was four courses, not including an amuse bouche and dessert, and I was pretty much done halfway through the second course. I barely tasted the tenderloin, and ate exactly one bite of dessert. But I very much enjoyed the spectacle of it all -- getting dressed up and heading to the Château, mingling with the crowds in the lobby, then heading up the stairs to the ballroom for dinner.

I did love that they translated mousseline de courge as “squash muslin.” Muslin -- the fabric -- is mousseline in French, but an edible mousseline would never be called a muslin in English.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

O Holy Night

I took these pictures on my way to Mass Christmas Eve.

Trompe l'oeil

These murals on buildings in the Lower Town depict historic figures and writers and artists.

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