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.