Cluster Map

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pollyanna is here despite SOPA & PIPA

Pollyanna is back, cheerful as ever, independent of whether there is much to be glad about.  Still we will give you some relief from brother Titan's rants.  She is pleased that a movie actress has taken her name and is helping to make her famous.  Thank you, Pollyanna Woodward--you give her an idea what to anticipate when she grows up.
Steve Rawlings, a well known British astrophysicist and Oxford professor,

died this week in circumstances that led to suspicion being directed against his long time colleague and collaborator the Oxford mathematician Devinder Sivia at whose home he was found dead.  In the meantime, the evidence against Prof. Sivia has been found to be flimsy and he has been released from custody.  Prof. Rawlings played a major role in the design and planning of the Square Kilometre Array – a next-generation radio telescope that will be built in Australia or Southern Africa – and played a prominent role in the redevelopment of the Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station in Cornwall as a radio-astronomy facility.  The world astrophysics community is in deep shock.
We also note the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Robert F. Scott and his party at the South Pole where they found that Roald Amundsen and his group had arrived earlier.  Scott and his companions perished en route back to the coast of Antarctica.
Happier times in Antarctica: British explorer Robert Falcon Scott stands alone in the glittering white wilderness, months before he began his final push to the South Pole, in an image taken by expedition photographer Herbert Ponting.
CREDIT: © 2011 Richard Kossow.

 Pollyanna wants to be a bit didactic today and give you a scale picture to show you the relative sizes of solar system objects, this time Earth, Titan and our Moon.

Earth, Titan, and Earth's Moon compared

Titan may be larger than the planet Mercury--and (the dwarf planet) Pluto-- but it is still considerably smaller than the Earth. Despite Titan's  diminutive size, its atmosphere is dense enough that the barometric pressure at Titan's surface is one-and-a-half times greater than that of the Earth's at sea level.
 She also would like to point a finger at crackpot "science" blather and to show how careful we must all be in making statements that can be picked up by UFO nuts and posted on the Web as fact.  In this case, atmospheric chemistry of Titan has been twisted to show that "life has been discovered" there.  Indeed, there are hydrocarbons in the atmosphere and oceans of Titan, derivatives of methane, and you could speculate that if there were life there it would have to metabolize methane as an energy source. (The field of psychoceramics deals with cracked pots...)

Pollyanna is very sensitive to environmental matters and is delighted to learn that President Obama is standing up to Big Oil and denying permission to lay a pipeline from Alberta across the United States.    Read more.
Protesters marching in Washington against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, 11/06/11. (photo: Daniel Lippman/MCT)
As you all know, Pollyanna is very happy to see women advancing to greater equality in all areas.  She is delighted to tell you about the election of the first Native American openly lesbian woman
In a special election, Susan Allen won a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

to the legislature of our native state of Minnesota.  Another woman won election to the state Senate, thus enhancing the representation of women in Minnesota state politics.

In Israel, Pollyanna commends the Israel Medical Association for refusing to take part in a conference on gynecology at which women speakers were banned.  Please join her in thanking our doctors.
The argument that religious leaders would walk out if women spoke is specious and unacceptable. We have nothing against religion per se but when organized and established religion starts to push its views on society as a whole, as we are seeing now in Israel, in every aspect of life, we cannot but agree with James Madison the author of the First Amendment, in which establishment of religion is forbidden, and the fourth president of the United States:
 "What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not." –James Madison-"A Memorial and Remonstrance", 1785

We would like to share with you a video that Yosefa brought to our attention.  It is a discussion by Riccardo Muti of the art of conducting.  It is lovely and amusing as well

In the past week we have seen the 39th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the legal holiday of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King.  In synagogue, we read as the weekly portion the opening chapters of the book of Exodus. Last Saturday, we gave a sermon connecting the prophetic mission of Moses and Aaron in the Bible with the 20th century mission of Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King who stood side by side in two  titanic struggles, for the civil rights of the African-American population of the US and in particular in the South and against the war in Vietnam.  Pollyanna and I have written up an expanded version of the sermon and it is available on Googledocs for those who read Hebrew.  For the Hebrew-challenged, we recommend the Web site of Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia who discusses the conjunction of these dates every year.  We also refer you to a posting by Bradley Burston who writes about the dreams of Dr. King and what we can all learn from his life and mission.

Pollyanna would like to share with you an interview with the scientist Tom Statler from Ohio University who specializes in galactic astronomy.

Recently the greatest cluster of galaxies ever seen was discovered and dubbed El Giordo, the fat one.
STARS BRIGHT: A composite image shows El Gordo in X-ray light from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in blue, along with optical data from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in red, green, and blue. (Photo: NASA, ESO)
 On the same day at the same conference another group announced the observation of the farthest, i.e. the oldest  galaxy cluster ever seen.
The composite image, taken in visible and near-infrared light, reveals the location of five tiny galaxies clustered together 13.1 billion light-years away. The circles pinpoint the galaxies.
CREDIT: NASA, ESA, M. Trenti (University of Colorado, Boulder, and Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, UK), L. Bradley (STScI), and the BoRG team

Both announcements were made at the 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Austin TX on January 10.  We are living in a very exciting time for galactic astronomy and Pollyanna is very glad about it
Apropos astronomy, it is worthy of note that a major international debate is going on over the leap second.  The leap year, needed to account for the slight inaccuracy of the year as a measure of the period of revolution of the Earth around the Sun (yes, you Copernicus skeptics, that is what happens) which involves adding a day every four years except for end of century years (x000) that do not divide by 400, is easily accepted, unless you are apprenticed to a pirate.  The leap second is added every few years to keep the rotation of the Earth in synch with atomic clocks and vice versa.  The US would like to abolish it, other countries want to keep it, but I doubt if anyone will go to war and you will not really need to reset your watch when the next event comes up on June 30.  Stay tuned.

WALKING THROUGH DOORS can make you forget things.  A recent Scientific American article explains why we forget things when we go from one room to the other.

Turn the handle and leave the past behind. Image: iStock/Robert Vautour
We are reminded of the elderly lady who complained about her memory problems to her vicar who told her that she should be thinking about the hereafter.  She replied that indeed that is what she does, i.e. goes from one room to another and then asks herself, "what am I here after?"

Recently, whenever we are online with Skype, a mysterious person named Faustina has tried several times to contact us.  We have consistently declined since contact attempts by women have always turned out to be either harassment or pathetic attempts at enticement.  We tried to look her up and in light of what we found, apparently she only had good intentions.  She had been granted the  Cook's Tour of Hell and just wanted to warn us.
The Apostle of Divine Mercy
St. Maria Faustina Kowalska
of the
Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy

Alas, she lacks the poetic talent of Dante Alighieri.

We were thinking of skipping this week as a protest against SOPA.  Instead we will let XKCD express our opinion.

As we have told you, Gene Weingarten who used to be the funny man of the Washington Post has moved on to the world of comics.  It has not really been a step up as you can see from this:

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pollyanna and the New Year

Mary Pickford as Pollyanna
Pollyanna is taking her turn to wish all of you a very Happy New Year.  Let us hope that 2012 will be a better year than its predecessor which was marked by disasters both natural and man made.  The natural disaster of earthquake plus tsunami in Japan was exacerbated by human failures such as the inability to prevent the radiation catastrophe at  the Fukashima nuclear power plant.

This week we present nature's version of the Death Star from Star Wars, the Kronian moon Mimas.  It apparently was hit hard in the past by an asteroid or comet and came near to disintegration.

Size: Sub-spherical, 418 x 392 x 382 kilometers - 7th largest moon of Saturn
Orbital radius: 185,520 kilometers - 3.08 Saturn radii - within the E ring
Orbital period: 0.9424 days - about 1/17 of Titan’s
Discovery: 1789 by William Herschel
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute Cassini Image

Mimas is the first of Saturn's medium-sized moons, lying outside the main ring system but within the tenuous E ring. Its surface is completely saturated with craters, indicating that it has not changed much in billions of years. The largest crater, Herschel, is named for Mimas’ discoverer. All of the other craters are named after characters from the Keith Baines translation of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur legends of Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. The life of William Herschel is also a fascinating story, about which you can read here. 
The mythological Mimas was a giant who was killed by Mars in the war between the Titans and the gods of Olympus. Even after his death, Mimas' legs -- which were serpents -- hissed vengeance and sought to attack his killer.  
Mimas was named by John Herschel, the son of discoverer William Herschel, who explained his choice of names for the first seven of Saturn's moons to be discovered by writing, "As Saturn devoured his children, his family could not be assembled round him, so that the choice lay among his brothers and sisters, the Titans and Titanesses."

Normally Pollyanna deals with things to be glad about or otherwise worthy of note and leaves ranting about human rights, social justice and political malfeasance to her brother Titan.  There is, however, one notable exception to this rule and that is matters connected to the abuse, rights violations and marginalization of women and girls.  Unfortunately these constitute a far too common phenomenon and Pollyanna does not contain her anger when she discusses such matters.  Today she is calling your attention to a blog posting on Women's Media Center concerning the way women, who were instrumental in starting the social protest and Occupy movement have been pushed to the side as the revolt developed.  While women do indeed start movements, anything that seems successful becomes a guy thing.  This goes back to the French Revolution and even before.  Robin Morgan puts things in focus, loud and clear.
Mexico city collective, from
As Titan told you last week, we have added a new canine member to our menage.  We took him to the beach for the first time.  Since he is half Labrador and half Australian Cattle Dog, we expected  him to take to the sea.  We are in the aftermath of a fairly major storm and the surf is still quite heavy.  In fact, Murphy was totally spooked by the waves rolling in and wanted no part of them.  He did get in a good run and expended some of his great supply of energy.  Indeed Murphy is a mixed breed dog, what some would call a mutt, but there are several good reasons to love mutts.   Here he is looking over his domain.
The beach is a great place
Friday we took him to the vet to be registered and weighed him while there. 34.4 kg is a lot of dog  especially when he indulges in puppyish behavior or has to be hoisted into the car.

Yaffa Yarkoni (1925-2012) died this week.

She was a famous Israeli singer whose voice is associated with the heroic period in the history of Israel.  She was famous for going to all places to entertain the troops even at the front.  To many she will always be associated with her signature song Bab el Wad, about the narrow valley on the road to Jerusalem where the convoys to the besieged city encountered ambushes during the 1948 war.  Despite her intense patriotism or more likely to our mind because of it, she parted company with the military establishment in 2002 and strongly criticized the brutal actions of the Army in the West Bank in the wake of the second Intifada.  Because of this many of her admirers turned against her, but she stuck by her guns.  We append an obituary from the New York Times.


No we are not talking about the Holy Grail but rather about a pair of spacecraft called Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory that achieved orbit about the Moon and will be used for the most detailed study ever of our nearest neighbor in Space.  Read more.

While browsing through the JPL pages for Mimas images I came across a profile of my friend,  Bonnie Buratti whom we visited a few weeks ago in Pasadena.  She is profiled as one of the Senior Scientists of JPL and has some good advice for anyone, particularly young women, who might be contemplating a career in space science.

As any young driver knows, his/her parents disapprove of speeding.  The same seems  to hold for neutrinos who have received many citations for exceeding their speed limit, the speed of light.  Now it seems that their  parent pions are getting into the act and are casting doubt on the reported result.  As more and more evidence against the speeding neutrinos piles up, we can hope to have the matter resolved, certainly when the replication experiments report in.  It will be a relief for everyone, including the OPERA people to have the doubts about Special Relativity allayed.

Hubble Space Telescope photograph of the nebula (Credit: M. Bobrowsky and NASA)
One of the most exciting discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope was the death of a star and the birth of a planetary nebula, in this case the Stingray Nebula , named because of its shape.  This is a poorly understood process in astrophysics and the observation of the rapid evolution of the system
as observed by Hubble  was a great piece of good fortune for science.  IKCD gives it a unique perspective.

The Mother Nature Network has come up with a list of the most most anticipated space launches of 2012.  Many of them are trivial billionaires' games, others are nonsensical efforts  involving a huge investment of public resources in manned spaceflight which achieves nothing of significance and finally we have the wonderful robotic missions  that truly advance the cause of science and expand human knowledge and understanding of our universe.  The manned flights, such as the ISS, which does nothing and consumes much, are of the genus "Panem et Circensus", literally "bread and circuses",which was the formula for the control of the  population in Rome by the regime in power (a term invented by Juvenal )*.  We are told that unless we have  some clown in space wasting  both money  and time we would not have funding for the real science done by robots such as Cassini, Voyager, Pioneer and the others.
*(The full quote is:  The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now concerns itself no more, and longs eagerly for just two things - bread and circuses!
        Juvenal, Satires
        Roman poet & satirist (55 AD - 127 AD))

Gene Weingarten was rather gross and unfunny to us this week, so we are giving you a pair of cartoons  from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.  The first  will enhance your knowledge of history and the other a comment on our species, homo sapiens.