Cluster Map

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pollyanna greets you

Pollyanna is back after a long hiatus. Last week you all took a blast from grumpy brother Titan, so she will try to be a bit nicer. Not that she has any illusions about the world in which we live, but she still tries to live up to her name and be glad.  She would also like to tell you that Googleblogs have been creative and have decided to  "improve" the system so now it takes two clicks instead of one to open a link.  Last week Titan showed you lovely Helene who orbits ahead of Dione around Saturn. Pollyanna would like to show you the tinier brother Polydeuces

His stats:
Size: Roughly 13 kilometers Orbital radius: 377,400 kilometers - 6.26 Saturn radii - within the E ring -at Dione’s trailing Lagrange point (L5) - co-orbital with Dione and Helene Orbital period: 2.7369 days -about 1/6 of Titan’s Discovery: 2004 by Carl Murray  Polydeuces orbits Saturn on the same circular path that Dione does, but behind Dione, and the centers of Dione, Saturn, and Polydeuces form an equilateral triangle.

The little moon is named for the twin brother of Castor, together the Dioscuri or Hero Twins; better known by his Roman name Pollux. Polydeuces was considered godly enough to be admitted to the divine court on Mount Olympus, while his brother was sent to Hades as a mere mortal. But Polydeuces could not bear eternal separation, so the  gods allowed the twins to remain together forever, spending half the year in the Underworld and the other half on Olympus. Pollyanna thinks that is cool to wander around in the Elysian Fields and that Polydeuces should be admired for his sacrifice of Olympus for the sake of being with his beloved brother.
Maybe the gods were nice to him because of the Pollux jokes that he had to put up with in the Roman world. Pollyanna has just threatened to fire me and to write the blog herself. 

This great lady who was a true hero of WWII passed away at age 98. 
Adam Butler/Associated Press
Nancy Wake, a French Resistance hero of World War II, in 2004.

It is thrilling to read of her life and deeds and to think that there are people who will take risks and struggle for causes that they regard as greater than themselves. May she rest in peace.

One area of human rights in which Pollyanna takes a strong stand is the rights of women. As you know, she is a committed feminist. Today she applauds two news items from the Center for Reproductive Rights. One is from the United States, "Today’s decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to require health insurance companies to cover a full range of contraceptive methods without co-payments is a tremendous victory for women and represents a huge stride towards reducing unintended pregnancies in the U.S. and promoting healthier, planned childbirth," says the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The other is from Brazil and involves justice eight years after a tragedy. Alyne da Silva Pimentel would have been 37 years old today if Brazil’s government had honored its responsibility to protect her fundamental human rights. Instead, because she was poor and Afro-Brazilian, she died in 2002 after being denied basic medical care to address complications in her pregnancy. She was only 28 years old. And her death was completely preventable. Although nothing can reverse Alyne’s fate,  a groundbreaking decision handed down today by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women means that Alyne’s mother and daughter will finally see justice served—and women worldwide will benefit from the ruling issued in her name.  

We can start out with some good news on the human rights front. Six activists who were under political detention in Malaysia  have been released .  Of course, they never should have been detained in the first place.

Bat eared fox who depend on the herbivore migration for his food
The government of Botswana has scrapped a plan to build a tarmac road across the Serengeti. This would have had devastating effects on the indigenous wildlife and Pollyanna is very glad that sense prevailed in this case. Here is someone who certainly is happy about it.

There has been much discussion about the three meter gap in the fossil record at the time of the presumed extinction of the dinosaurs and many other species. Of course, there is another view: supported by Rick Perry and the Tea Party folks.  It may be the first senior moment in history,  to say something of the judgement of old man Noah:

It now appears that the finding of a fossil specimen has put this problem to rest. . The abstract is free and open. If anyone wants the full article, please let me know and I will download it for you in pdf format. While we are into paleontology, there is a new report from Alaska of the finding of the nearly complete fossilized skeleton of a  thallatosaur,

a long-tailed sea creature that plied warm, shallow waters in the early days of dinosaurs and became extinct at the end of the Triassic period some 200 million years ago.

With all this attention to evolution and such heresies, Pollyanna would like to even up with some attention to the DAWN OF RELIGION Many of us have visited Stonehenge and marveled at the ability of prehistoric people to build such a structure. It appears that there exists a site in Turkey that eclipses Stonehenge both in age and in the technological sophistication involved. There are dozens of massive stone pillars arranged into a set of rings, one mashed up against the next. Known as Göbekli Tepe (pronounced Guh-behk-LEE TEH-peh), the site is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge, except that Göbekli Tepe was built much earlier and is made not from roughly hewn blocks but from cleanly carved limestone pillars splashed with bas-reliefs of animals—a cavalcade of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and ferocious wild boars. The assemblage was built some 11,600 years ago, seven millennia before the Great Pyramid of Giza. I
strongly recommend reading this report   from National Geographic--even very busy people who lack the time to follow the links.

Apropos religion, it is interesting that at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem there is a 53 year old project going on to try to find a definitive text for the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible. It is a daunting project. This is an endeavor so meticulous, its pace so disconnected from that of the world outside, that in more than five decades of work the scholars have published a grand total of three of the Hebrew Bible's 24 books. (Christians count the same books differently, for a total of 39.) A fourth is due out during the upcoming academic year.

If the pace is maintained, the final product will be complete a little over 200 years from now. This is both a point of pride and a matter of some mild self-deprecation around the office.

Rill indicating flow of water:NASA image
Evidence has been found that might well indicate that at certain times ofthe year, water might actually flow on Mars, mainly on slopes facing the summer sun. NASA first found signs of water on Mars more than a decade ago, but earlier indications were that any existing water would be frozen and concentrated at the poles. Recently analyzed images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite show dark, finger-like features that extend down some slopes and crater walls on the planet during its late spring through summer, fading in the Martian winter. Here is the press release,  the NASA announcement and also the scientific paper, which is a bit more reserved than the press, as it should be.  This is the free abstract and if anyone wants the full paper, I will be glad to provide it through my library access.  Pollyanna and I think it is exciting and we hope you share our excitement.

When Pollyanna and I saw this item, we were sure that someone was fixing the gladiator matches at the Colosseum and that someone should inform the Emperor.
Emperor Augustus
This could only lead to the decline and fall of the Empire and to the writing of a colossal book by some 18th century Englishman.On closer inspection, it turns out to be a bit more contemporary.

 I recall that Daphne was relieved of 150,000 lire (about $100) at the Colosseum by some enterprising Roman pickpocket. Yosefa got ripped off in an Athens hotel elevator for about 80 Euros by some skillful practitioners of the craft.There must be something about women connected to me.

Pollyanna also has some strong opinions on environmental matters and would be grateful to any of you who
would (very quickly) sign off on a petition to the President of Brazil to prevent concessions to loggers that would greatly endanger the Amazon basin and its great rain forest along with the environment of the entire world.

We would like to pass on some science tidbits  and refer you to a review of an interesting book. by Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of Sascha, but not accountable for him) and send you off with a dose of humor, first from our friend XKCD

 and then Gene Weingarten, who arouses empathy in all of us who have ever tried to learn to play golf.