Cluster Map

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pollyanna is back from California

Our message to all of you
 Pollyanna is  back from her trip to California with YandA and Titan.  We all had a great time, but now we have to get back to the serious stuff of life.  Why?  Because the sky is high or kacha or whatever.  Here is a Hannuka treat from Saturn.

The huge storm churning through the atmosphere in Saturn's northern hemisphere overtakes itself as it encircles the planet in this true-color view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
› Full image and caption
Over the past year, a great disquiet has swept across the face of Saturn. The normally serene countenance of this giant planet was pierced last December by the sudden eruption of a bright, discrete, and powerful convecting storm that over the course of two months grew and spread to become a planet-encircling colossus, a wide kaleidoscopic band of commingled waves, vortices, and eddies, all in continuous swirling motion .... a mesmerizing display of snaking, sensuous, churning, turning, chaotic, roiling atmospheric  turmoil.
Outbursts like this are not new to Saturn and, in fact, are known for their episodic behavior. The largest of these appear every 20 to 30 years in the northern hemisphere and spread completely around the planet. But this one is different. With a 200-day interval of intense, hissing convection, it holds the record as the longest-lasting Saturn-encircling storm ever. And it has become the largest by far ever observed on the planet by an interplanetary spacecraft, giving us an unparalleled opportunity to study in great depth the subtle changes on the planet that preceded the storm's formation and the mechanisms involved in its development.

Some of you might be interested to know that the Pollyanna movie from 1960 is now available on DVD.

This week saw the deaths of three famous people, two of whom will be missed.
Vaclav Havel,(1936-2011) the former president of Czechoslovakia and later of the Czech Republic  died this week at age 75.  He was a man of incredible courage and integrity who led the "Velvet Revolution" and brought his country into the family of democratic nations.  Of all the obituaries I found that of the Guardian to be the best and I link you to it along with an appreciation from Amnesty International.

Justin Lane for The New York Times
Christopher Hitchens in Washington, D.C., in 1999.
Christopher Hitchens who died this week at age 62 was a journalist and writer,  a beacon for liberal causes and one of the world's most articulate atheists.  In an age when fundamentalist religion and mass superstitions are taking over from rationality, his voice was a call for clear thinking and logic.  We are appending an obituary from the New York Times.

The world is rid of the noxious presence of Kim Jong Il He will be succeeded by his equally odious son and the misery of the people of North Korea will continue.  We were told that war needed to be waged in Iraq to liberate the people from Saddam Hussein, indeed an evil dictator.  It was rank hypocrisy to go after him while Kim developed nuclear weapons and persecuted his subjects.  Read a profile of this monster.  Andy Borowitz has news of a possible alternative candidate to succeed Kim Jong Il.
Composer, John Cage rehearses his 12-hour composition "Empty Words" in Hartford, Conn., in 1981. (Anonymous - ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The composer John Cage (1912-1992) is famous for many beautiful pieces including 4:33 in which a pianist sits in front of a piano and plays nothing for that time.  He has come up with another rebuke to the noise and bustle of modern life with a piece that has been  playing for 10 years and will be finished in 2640.  It is called “Organ²/ASLSP(As SLow aS Possible),” and it requires a bit of patience.  
The Large Hadron Collider is giving tantalizing hints that the discovery of the Higgs Boson, which gives particles mass, may be around the corner.  This is most exciting and provides much food for thought.  It has been dubbed the "God particle" and if found will add a piece to the Standard Model puzzle.  If it is found not to exist, it will mean that physics has deeper subtlety than imagined so far.  Stay tuned as the reports come out and verification becomes closer.  Indeed some of the press accounts may have jumped the gun and we would do well to wait until the 5 sigma level is reached. 
DEAD SEA SCROLL AUTHORS may be identified by new research being conducted in Israel on the textiles used to wrap the scrolls.  The research reveals that all the textiles were made of linen, rather than wool, which was the preferred textile used in ancient Israel. Also they lack decoration,  some actually being bleached white, even though fabrics from the period often have vivid colors. Altogether, researchers say these finds suggest that the Essenes, an ancient Jewish sect, "penned" some of the scrolls.  This may help understanding of how the scrolls made their way to Qumran,shown in this picture.
First excavated by Roland de Vaux in the 1950s, the site of Qumran in Israel is mired in controversy. De Vaux believed that it was a monastic settlement used by the Essenes and that the Dead Sea Scrolls were composed here. More recent archaeological work has cast doubt on this idea. The new textile research may help resolve the debate.
CREDIT: Joseph Calev | | Shutterstock

While we were in San Francisco at the meeting of the AGU, NASA came up with the announcement of a Goldilocks planet (temperature appropriate for the existence of liquid water) named Kepler 22b orbiting a solar-similar star just around the corner, 600 light years away.  It is doubtful that the planet could support life as we know it, but it is exciting that planets like the Earth are around in the universe.  In addition to Kepler 22b, we now are told about planets Kepler 22e and 22f that are also of great interest since they are comparable to the Earth in size although far too hot to contain liquid water.  While at JPL  (see YandA blog), we heard a lot of talk about the subject of Astrobiology.  I could not but remember what my friend Yuri said about this field, that it is interesting because it has no subject matter.  That is not quite fair today since much good laboratory work is being done on finding out what kind of environments might support life somewhere.  The search goes on and although we shall never visit these places, it is fun to know that they are there.

Pollyanna shares with XKCD the confusion of priorities in the modern world.

While in Santa Monica (where Tom Lehrer likes to spend Hannuka) last week we came upon the atheist answer to the Nativity Scenes usually seen along Ocean Avenue.  We reported on it in the YandA blog, but here is a more detailed discussion of the issue.  The result of the lottery by the city government would tend to show that God has a soft spot for his atheist children.
YandA photograph
Our book review for this blog is by Helen Brown writing in the Telegraph who  reads A More Perfect Heaven, Dava Sobel's new book about Copernicus (273pp, Bloomsbury).  It appears to be well worth a read as has been our experience with all her other writing, such as Longitude and Galileo's Daughter.  It is an open secret that we are harboring in our midst many crypto-adherents of  Claudius Ptolemaeus .

The four of us, Pollyanna, Titan and YandA all came back from Calfornia with some added weight and are trying to do something about it.  A consultation on the subject with Gene Weingarten yielded some not very useful advice.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pollyanna is here again

Agnes Marin, raped and murdered, age 13, credit AFP
 Pollyanna is back and before she gets into the nice stuff that you expect from her she is going to rant.  In fact, she is going to give her brother Titan the ranter a lesson in ranting, foaming at the mouth and infinite outrage.  In this, she is joined of course by Titan and YandA.  We are ranting about the rape and murder of this 13 year old girl,  Agnes Marin in France.   She was raped and killed by a 17 year old schoolmate who is awaiting trial for the rape of a 15 year old who at least survived.  Despite this, he was admitted to a boarding school and it appears that no one told the principal that this young man constituted a danger to his schoolmates.  You can read the details and rage with us at the utter incompetence of the juvenile justice system in France.  Excuses abound, but the bottom line is that parents are entitled to assume that their children are protected in school against marauders and killers.  It is incomprehensible that the unnamed 17-year old was granted admission to the private boarding school in Chambon-sur-Lignon, central-southeastern France, given that he had spent four months in prison last year over the rape of another fellow pupil in another region.

Pollyanna and Titan are joining YandA for a trip to the West Coast of the USA.  You may get a Titan next week, but Pollyanna is sparing you until December 23.  We will attend the Annual Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco and then visit colleagues and friends in Los Angeles.  We will be back for Hannuka.


Iapetus is an oddball moon of Saturn.
Two-Faced Moon
Two faced Iapetus  NASA

Iapetus has extreme topography and one of the most ancient surfaces in the solar system. It also has a tall mountain range running exactly around its equator.

Iapetus ridge NASA
Size: 1,460 km - 3rd largest moon of Saturn
Orbital radius: 3,561,000 kilometers - 59.1 Saturn radii - far outside Saturn's ring system
Orbital period: 79.33 days - 5 times Titan's
Discovery: 1671 by Giovanni Domenico Cassini

Iapetus [pronounced eye-APP-eh-tuss; adjective form: Iapetian] has been called the yin and yang of the Saturn moons because its leading hemisphere has a reflectivity (or albedo) as dark as coal (albedo 0.03-0.05 with a slight reddish tinge) and its trailing hemisphere is much brighter at 0.5-0.6. Giovanni Cassini observed the dark-light difference when he discovered Iapetus in 1671. He noted that he could only see Iapetus on the west side of Saturn. He correctly concluded that Iapetus had one side much darker than the other side, and that Iapetus was tidally locked with Saturn.  Since Cassini's time, the spacecraft named for him has taken much better views of Iapetus including an encounter on September 10, 2007 a few samples of which are shown above.

In mythology Iapetus was the father of Prometheus, Epimetheus, Menoetius, and Atlas by Clymene.   He was regarded by the ancient Greeks as the father of the human race.
This week Anne Mccaffrey the famous fantasy and science fiction author died at age 85.
Camera Press
Anne McCaffrey in 1981.
She will be remembered as the author of the Perm novels for young adults in which it became possible for girls as well as boys to ride dragons.  We append an obituary by the New York Times.

Lynn Margulis whose ideas turned evolution theory on its head, died this week at age 73.  Her work on evolution at the microorganism level challenged conventional wisdom in the 1960's and was initially rejected.  She stood by her guns and her ideas of symbiotic evolution have now become the standard theory.
Paul Hosefos/The New York Times
Lynn Margulis, wearing her National Medal of Science Award.
 Her first husband was the noted late astronomer Carl Sagan, but she did not need his reflected light and become a distinguished scientist on her own.  

GOOD NEWS from Oregon--the  governor of Oregon has announced that he will not permit any executions to take place in the state as long as he holds the position.
( Don Ryan / Associated Press ) - Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber  announcing in Salem, Ore., Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011, that the execution of convicted killer Gary Haugen will not go on as scheduled next month and no more executions will happen while he is in office
An execution was due to take place very soon but Governor John Kitzhaber announced on 22 November that he was issuing a reprieve in the case of Gary Haugen, a 49-year-old man scheduled for execution on 6 December after waiving his appeals. We, together with Amnesty International welcome the decision by the Governor and hope that it will eventually lead to abolition.

You may recall that a while back we reported on a preprint by Cohen and Glashow in which they pointed out that if the Gran Sasso neutrinos had exceeded the speed of light they would have emitted Cherenkov radiation.  This is radiation emitted when the passage of photons through a medium is impeded and falls below the speed of light in vacuum.  In such a case, particles can move through the medium faster than the local light speed.  If that happens, then the particles emit a characteristic radiation and lose energy.  The ICARUS group at Gran Sasso reports that its search for Cherenkov emission yielded no positive findings.
Bubble chamber tracks like this one display the motions of electrically-charged particles as they move through a superheated liquid. The ICARUS team used a bubble chamber to study radiation (or lack thereof) from a beam of neutrinos at Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy.
CREDIT: Fermi National Laboratory
This may be a crucial blow to the overfast neutrino results.  Stay tuned.

A new rover named  Curiosity is on its way to Mars where its predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity have been gathering in data for years.
Meet Curiosity who is off on a long journey
 Among other things it will look for methane, which can be interpreted as an indicator of life.  Life on Earth can be detected from space  by the methane emitted by cattle and sheep in Texas and Australia.  We note the daintiness of the New York Times science team who tell us that cows "burp" methane.  The question of whether life ever existed on Mars is not in the agenda of Curiosity, but it is indeed an interesting question and should be looked at someday, when scientific funding is less tight.  We are proud to tell you that the name of our grandson Maayan will be on a chip carried on board Curiosity.  He even has a certificate to prove it.
There are several mysteries floating around in physics such as  retrocausality, entanglement and other weird things.  One of the most challenging has been the question of why the universe is here at all.  Matter and antimatter mutually annihilate and since at the time of the Big Bang more or less equal amounts of matter and antimatter came into being, not much if anything should have been left.  It now appears, albeit not at a compellingly conclusive level yet, that the Large Hadron Collider beauty group  may have found an answer to this question.  If so, we may have to revise the Standard Model of physics and go in new directions.  Indeed, that was the reason for building this very expensive machine.  Maybe supersymmetry, who knows what the future holds for physics?  Meet an LHC group:
The LHCb team stands in front of their experiment, the LHCb detecor, at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.
CREDIT: CERN/Maximilien Brice, Rachel Barbier
CANCER VACCINE There is a claim by an Israeli biomed firm Vaxil that it has developed a vaccine against cancer.  This is a huge claim and since the link that we just gave you connects to a blog of an Israel promotion propaganda site, we are a little skeptical.  We ran a search and came up with some reservations that tend to cast doubt upon the claim.  In fact, we are told that the claim contains some untrue statements.  Judge for yourself, but we share the doubt caused by the fact that the company officer quoted is not the Chief Scientist or a laboratory scientist, but the the Chief Financial Officer Julian Levy and one might wonder about his qualifications.  We checked him out and he has a law degree from Cambridge University and a resume of business administration in the biomed field.  Indeed Hadassah is doing the clinical trials and it may well be important.  Nonetheless, we find the bombast to be a bit exaggerated.  Again, stay tuned.

LUNAR MAGNETISM Our Moon has long been considered an inert body, but it had a wild past and maintained a magnetic field for 400 million years, much longer than might have been expected.  Now there are interesting theories coming to explain the phenomenon, mainly by the effects of asteroid bombardment that shook things up in the interior and possibly the influence of the Earth and its gravitational field.  The subject is interesting in itself and we coauthored a paper on the detection of vestiges of fossil magnetism by an orbiting spacecraft, long ago, certainly before the authors of the new paper were born.  The popular report is free, but you might require library access for the  new Nature paper and the  old Science paper..

BOOK REVIEW This week Pollyanna calls your attention to a review in the NYTimes (Published: October 21, 2011) of Jose Saramago's last novel Cain (Translated by Margaret Jull Costa, 159 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $24.) by Robert  Pinsky.   Some people like Saramago more than others.  You might like to give him a try.

FUND RAISING APPEAL We are sure that many of you make use of Wikipedia.  The folks there are putting out a call for some financial support from the user community.  Please consider donating to support this most useful Web utility.
Click to donate online.

Support Wikipedia

It is interesting to note that many people, including some very close to me, boggle at moving big files around.  Nothing is simpler than an ftp server or just plain  ftp or Dropbox that synchs files.    XKCD  makes the point very well. 

We wind up with a comment on Black Friday from Andy Borowitz which would be funny if it were not so tragic.  People go out of their minds in shopping and consumer madness.   Of course, we could not let you off without a new chapter in the ongoing saga of Gene Weingarten and his interaction with the canine world

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pollyanna returns

Pollyanna has decided to say thank you to the author who gave birth to her in 1913, Eleanor H. Porter:
She might be credited (or blamed) for distorting reality for generations of girls, but Pollyanna appreciates being granted her existence.
Pollyanna has been frustrated all week because, although she has sworn off politics, the shenanigans of the two Katzenjammer kids
Hans and Fritz, inspired by Max and Moritz

who serve as PM and Defense Minister in this pathetic country are enough to wipe out the gladness game forever. She sincerely hopes that cooler heads will prevail and no one sends air crews out to bomb Iran with no hope of success and little chance of returning alive. We will let Titan rant next week about this and other things of that ilk, such as the attacks on democracy.

Today Pollyanna is giving the moons of Saturn a rest and is focusing on even smaller objects, in particular asteroids. (click for Asteroids 101. ) This solar system flotsam and jetsam is left over from the earliest days of planet formation and can provide knowledge of the primitive solar system.  They can also be dangerous if big enough.  Tuesday at 0130 or so our time we were  visited by an asteroid of substantial dimension, about 400 meters.  It flew by at about 85% of the distance to lunar orbit and astronomers, both professional and amateur, had a field day.

In the wake of the flyby, Nasa offered two places to take a closer look at the action - Asteroid and Comet Watch on the main NASA site, and Asteriod Watch on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's website.  Both of them should be great fun.   Read more.

An answer to the Fermi paradox, i.e. if life exists elsewhere and there has been sufficient time for propagation through the galaxy, then where are they?  His friend, the physicist Leo Szilard had a different answer to the question of where the aliens are.  "Enrico, they are here amongst us and are known as Hungarians."  At least the US Government has no knowledge of their existence outside of Hungary.
Astronomers are listening to the cosmos; but no evidence exists yet for alien life

Norman Ramsey the 1989 Nobel Laureate in Physics died this week at age 96.
Norman F. Ramsey in 1989. AP

His research on the internal structure of atoms and molecules led him to the technology of super-accurate atomic clocks. He participated in the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb during WWII.
Dr. Ramsey signing off the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945.

He was possibly the last survivor of the giants of  the Golden Age of 20th century. physics.

Joe Frazier
the great heavyweight boxer died this week of liver cancer at the age of 67.  He is famous for his fights with Mohammed Ali and lived greatly in Ali's shadow, but was a person of worth in his own right.  I append an obituary from the New York Times.  RIP

 Andy Rooney

passed away this week at the age of 92. Recently we marked his retirement from the 60 Minutes show after over three decades of serving as the curmudgeon par excellence of humanity.  Titan, age 4.6 billion, Pollyanna,age 98 and I are all old enough to have empathy with curmudgeonry and feel that something has gone out of our culture. Rest in Peace Andy and tell the Management wherever you are now that things have gone downhill since whenever.  Harps with plastic strings should not be considered acceptable.... Titan claims to have fond memories of his childhood when a T Tauri Sun provided some entertainment and Pollyanna complains that it was easier to play the gladness game when we did not have digital information flow telling how bad things are all over the place. I on the other hand "love" the modern world especially the rise of superstition masquerading as religion and reincarnated Neanderthals masquerading as political leaders.

As you all know by now, Pollyanna forgets about gladness and goes ballistic over abuse of women and girls by anyone, governments, institutions or individuals. She is outraged about what is happening to lesbian women in Ecuador presumably a civilized, progressive First World country.  It is shocking that this is happening in 2011.   At 207 "clinics" across Ecuador, lesbians are held captive, raped, tortured, starved and beaten in an attempt to make them straight. Pollyanna is calling upon all of you to go to the petition site, to click on the petition, sign and pass it on via Facebook, Twitter, email and in general to everyone you know.

On the other hand she is happy about the results of the  referendum in Mississippi. Mississippi voters slapped down GOP attempts to define “personhood” as occurring at the moment of fertilization. They proved that conservative southerners can say no just as easily as voters in Colorado to a measure that critics say would imperil birth control pills and in vitro fertilization and restrict doctors from treating cancer patients who are pregnant.

The EU betrays women by preventing the release of a film on the abuse of women in Afghanistan. Women who complain about abuse are themselves imprisoned and rape victims are prosecuted for fornication and adultery, all this a decade after the fall of the Taliban. The  systematic violation of the human rights of women and girls  in Afghanistan is a major scandal and the world should be aware and proactive in putting an end to it.
Pollyanna also has very strong feelings about environmental issues. The actions and inactions of Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world's largest and most profitable corporations, have devastated the lives of people living in the delta of the Niger River. There used to be life and hope in the Niger Delta town of Bodo, a village filled with thriving fish ponds and mangrove trees. Then in 2008, two oil spills changed everything -- twice, nearby Shell Oil pipelines spewed toxic oil for weeks before they were repaired.

"It killed all the mangrove trees, the ecosystem, everything we put there. Everything just died in a day." --Bodo resident Christian Lekoya Kpandei
Shell's oil spills in the Niger Delta (pictured) mean the region needs the world's largest clean-up, says the United Nations Environment Programme. Photograph: AP

It is time that Shell be called to account  for the damage that it caused.   Pollyanna asks you to join this action initiated by Amnesty International.

Two weeks ago Pollyanna reported to you on the extinction of the Javanese rhino in Vietnam. She is very upset about the news of the extinction of another breed of rhinoceros, the black rhinoceros,

which has been declared extinct in West Africa. This is a result of a superstitious belief in the medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties of rhinoceros horn and the venality of the poachers who are hunting these magnificent animals off the face of the planet. Indeed, poverty is terrible in the Third World, but it cannot be a justification for rhino hunting. It appears that for many  species on the brink, captivity offers the only chance of survival. 


 Prehistoric paintings such as this one from Pech-Merle show horses with spotted coats. It is nice that DNA evidence shows that the artists were not drawing fantasies, but actually saw the animals that they drew. Pollyanna likes this and is really glad about it.

Dreams have always fascinated people. ..We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.-Prospero in The Tempest.
Pollyanna is fascinated by the implications of lucid dreaming and its interaction with brain studies.   Lucid dreaming is the rare ability to direct behaviors while in a deep sleep. By all objective measures, the person is dead to the world, most muscles are paralyzed and the eyes are doing the quick jitters that characterize REM, the main dreaming phase of sleep. But at the same time, the lucid dreamer knows that he/she is dreaming and can control the scenes, says study coauthor Michael Czisch of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich. “The world is open to do everything.” 

A few blogs back we brought you the first part of an article by Saul Bellow in the New York Review of Books. Here is  Part II of his discussion of being a Jewish writer in America. We also would like to showcase another great writer, Romain Gary (1914-1980). We have just finished reading his autobiography (given to us by Yosefa) describing his life with his mother in Eastern Europe and Nice, his WWII experiences and his life up to 1960.  The book, Promise at Dawn, was a New York Times best seller in 1961.  Yosefa first introduced us to him via the novel The Life Before Us which won him a second Prix Goncourt (under an assumed name). His life is described in brief in The Telegraph by his biographer , David Bellos. He may have been a weird character, but he was a great writer and had a fascinating life.
Glamorous life, glamorous wife; but Gary and Seberg’s marriage went sour
Definitely worthy of our your attention.

As Titan told you a while back, our dog Chilik wandered off at the beach and has not been seen since. She was old and had a cancerous growth on her spleen and was dependent on steroids to stay alive, which she had been doing quite successfully. In any case, she is gone and we shall probably adopt another dog out of the pound as we did with her ten years ago. You will be told when it happens. We mention this now

because the Gene Weingarten tale for this week is of special interest and empathy for dog owners.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pollyanna post holidays

Pollyanna has survived the holiday season and welcomes all to the normal world, such as it is in our place.  

There are some things to be glad about this week.  Last week, Titan had the privilege of welcoming Gilad Shalit home and we wish to join in the good wishes.

As you can see from the image Pollyanna is in nursery school mode and will introduce you to some really tiny moons of Saturn. These are moons that orbit inside the main ring system and were first discovered by the gravitational effects that they have in the surrounding ring matter.  They orbit inside gaps in the rings, Pan in the large Encke gap and Daphnis in the narrow Keeler gap.   We start with Daphnis (S/2005 S1)
Source Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute Range about 853,000 km

 Note the wavelets casting shadows on the ring.  This blows Pollyanna's mind and she enjoys sharing it with you.  
Stats for Daphnis:  
Size: Roughly 7 kilometers
Orbital radius: 136,500 kilometers - 2.26 Saturn radii - within the Keeler gap in the A ring
Orbital period: 0.594 days - about 1/27 of Titan’s
Discovery: 2005 by C. Porco et al

PAN (S/1981 S13)
The Encke Gap Moon 

+ Play Quicktime (2Mb)
Saturn's small, walnut-shaped moon, Pan, embedded in the planet’s rings, coasts along in this movie clip from the Cassini spacecraft.
Size: Roughly 20 kilometers
Orbital radius: 133,583 kilometers - 2.22 Saturn radii - within the Encke gap in the A ring
Orbital period: 0.575 days - about 1/28 of Titan’s
Discovery: 1990 by Mark R. Showalter
In mythology Pan is the shepherd god who played on the pipes and Daphnis is a young man who is beloved by Pan and many others.  Homosexuality was a norm among the ancient Greeks and thus was a practice of the gods as well.
Pan and Daphnis
For those who prefer a straight version there is also the legend of Daphnis and Chloe.  Take your choice.

Daphnis and Chloe

Pollyanna  would like to share a beautiful picture of the rings of Saturn serving as a sundial of the seasons. This was a NASA picture of the day some time ago.
Saturn: Shadows of a Seasonal Sundial
Image Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA, NASA

Explanation: Saturn's rings form one of the larger sundials known. This sundial, however, determines only the season of Saturn, not the time of day. In 2009, during Saturn's last equinox, Saturn's thin rings threw almost no shadows onto Saturn, since the ring plane pointed directly toward the Sun. As Saturn continued in its orbit around the Sun, however, the ring shadows become increasingly wider and cast further south. These shadows are not easily visible from the Earth because from our vantage point near the Sun, the rings always block the shadows. The above image was taken in August by the robotic Cassini spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn. The rings themselves appear as a vertical bar on the image right. The Sun, far to the upper right, shines through the rings and casts captivatingly complex shadows on south Saturn, on the image left. 

Pollyanna has several things to be glad about this week.  She is glad over the progress made in developing a  vaccine for malaria and has high hopes that this scourge can soon be eliminated.  She is also pleased that the silly talk on risk of brain cancer from cell phone use has been laid to rest, as our colleague Bob Park  has been shouting about for years.  She believes that the danger to the brain from cell phones is from the content of the typical cell phone conversation.  We reached this conclusion from riding trains between Natanya and Tel Aviv and being a captive audience to the cell phone talk around us.  In Germany, there are cell phone cars and quiet cars on trains and we think that it would be an excellent idea to adopt something like that here.

Pollyanna is also very glad the the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico has undergone major upgrades and is ready to probe even deeper into the mysteries of the universe.  Click for details and participate in the naming of the new complex. 

Pollyanna, Titan and YandA are all pleased to hear of the release of three Prisoners of Conscience in Myanmar.   We join Amnesty International in calling for continuation of the releases and amnesties of political prisoners and congratulate Zarganar, Su Su Nway and Zaw Htet Ko Ko on their freedom.  Human rights activists have campaigned for the people arrested after the great cyclone and the "Saffron Revolution" for years and we all  hope to see more positive results.

Pollyanna is delighted that one of her favorite writers, Julian Barnes has been awarded the   Booker prize for 2011 for his novel The Sense of an Ending.  We have read many of his books over the years and think not only that the Booker was overdue, but that some thought should be given to the Nobel.
Write stuff: Julian Barnes has won this year's Booker Prize with The Sense of an Ending, with judges taking just 31 minutes to make their decision

One thing that Pollyanna is not glad about is the absence of rational thinking from public discourse.  In fact, there is far too much fantasy and superstition masquerading as belief and religion floating around and the degree of ignorance caused by the failure of education systems is appalling.  The rejection of science as a means of evaluating phenomena is used by unscrupulous politicians and corporations as a way of justifying just about anything.  We now have  definite proof of climate change, ironically from a study funded by the Koch brothers, the oil tycoons.  The study was conducted by Richard Muller, a respected physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, who used to dismiss alarmist climate research as being “polluted by political and activist frenzy.” Frustrated at what he considered shoddy science, Muller launched his own comprehensive study to set the record straight. Instead, the record set him straight. We also have  unequivocal confimation of the predictions and analysis of evolution in biological systems.  Yet the right wingers prefer to have people believe in the Biblical narrative.  Too much thinking is bad for you, right?

It is not confined to Christian fundamentalists.  I recently received an email from a respected member of my Reform congregation with a story of how Rabbi Gamliel in the 2nd century knew the exact period of the Moon.  How did he know this?  First because Jews are smarter than anyone else and second the wisdom was handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai along with the rest of the Torah and all human knowledge.  This from a woman who drives a car and knows how to manage her bank account, presumably!  I referred her to Babylonian and Greek astronomy and  in particular to  Thales of Miletus who correctly predicted the year of a solar eclipse that took place on May 28, 585 BCE and thus saved the town from panic.  He formulated the mantra of modern science that every phenomenon in nature has a natural cause.  The Chinese and Koreans were doing similar calculations and studies centuries before Rabbi Gamliel without even hearing that Moses had gone up a mountain.
Pollyanna apologizes for ranting and sounding like her brother Titan, but sometimes even she can lose her cool.  She definitely loses it when it comes to the rights of women and girls and their abuse by established power.  She refers you to a blog describing a UN Report on abuse of women and girls..  Read it and fume!  She is also upset  about what happens to  women in Norway , where 10%  experience rape and spousal rape is not a crime.  For the record, the Talmud forbade spousal rape 2000 years ago.  The punishment was 40 lashes.  Women are not property.
Pollyanna, Titan and YandA all plan on attending the social protest rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night.  This rally is of extreme importance.  The social protest that began this summer must not be allowed to fade away. Let Gideon Levy lay it right on the line.

We are sorry to hear that Andy Rooney is in serious condition at a hospital.  “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” wrapped up the 60 Minutes news magazine for decades and his comments were always interesting and to the point.  He retired from the show recently and will be missed sorely.  We wish him a full and speedy recovery  Fortunately, a replacement is being offered,   Gene Weingarten is applying for the job.  I wonder if Gene, a lad of 60,  is not too young for this--you need a grumpy crotchety old man, such as myself.  Pollyanna agrees, impudent little twerp that she is.

Pollyanna is certainly not glad that the Javan rhinoceros has been hunted to extinction  in Vietnam because of the ridiculous demand for rhino horn based on quack medical superstition.  This kind of poaching is connected to the extreme levels of poverty in the Third World.
Okay, says Pollyanna, let us get on to more fun things.  Speculations about the original language spoken by humans have long dealt with the question of how our ancestors formulated their thoughts.  Now it appears that they spoke more or less like Yoda, the little Jedi in Star Wars who had a unique style and word order in his speech. In a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Merritt Ruhlen and Murray Gell-Mann, co-directors of the Santa Fe Institute Program on the Evolution of Human Languages, argue that the original language used Subject Object Verb ordering ("I you like") instead of the Subject Verb Object order we use in English.

We reported in the past of the finding that neutrinos had been caught exceeding the speed of light which is a big no-no in physics.  It is nice to report that the experiment is to be repeated  in light of the speeding tickets issued by many eminent physicists.

Recently a famous American jazz harpist Park Stickney visited Israel for the Jaffa Harp Festival organized by our friend the famous Israeli  harpist  Sunita Staneslow.  She and her spouse Fred Schlomka arranged a visit for him to the West Bank where he had a  workshop with music students at the Salem village Music Center near Nablus.   Pollyanna is glad and thinks this was really cool.
Workshop in Salem Music Center

The work of Leonardo Da Vinci has long captivated Pollyanna and most of us--he was a genius of incredible ability.  We hope to see an exhibit of his work in San Francisco in December including the analysis of the Mona Lisa.

Images of the Mona Lisa reveal hidden details in infrared and visible light.
CREDIT: PRNewsFoto/RYP Australia.

It may be that a painting of his was  sold for a piddling sum because of lack of proper attribution, but the matter is still under debate.
A recreation of what La Bella Principessa would have looked like as a page in the Sforziad.
CREDIT: Martin Kemp, Pascal Cotte and Lumiere Technologies

A few years ago I saw an exhibit of his "failed" works in Atlanta.  I suspect that many active artists would be quite happy to have such failures in their portfolio.

Our  book review for this week  is of the book Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives, by Dean Buonomano.  This  review also contains an NPR interview with the author which is worthy of your time.

Let us wind up with some comments from XKCD for those of us who own or are owned by smartphones,

and some quotes from  famous authors by Andy Borowitz.