Cluster Map

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pollyanna in the Wintertime

We have had quite a cold and rainy spell here in Israel even to the point of snow at higher altitudes.  Some people like it, but those who had a frozen childhood could do without it and Pollyanna shares that view:
Our tour of the solar system takes us to the asteroid Eros. A spacecraft named NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendevous) Shoemaker (after the late planetary astronomer Eugene Shoemaker 1928-1997) visited Eros on February 14, 2000 (an appropriate date), imaged it and landed on the surface. This is important for preparing to deal with a possible Earth collider asteroid that may come along. The encounter yielded much useful information about this type of large asteroid.
This is a mosaic of four images taken by NEAR Shoemaker on September 5, 2000, from about 100 kilometers (62 miles) above Eros. The knobs sticking out of the surface near the top of the image surround a boulder-strewn area (featured as the Image of the Day for April 4, 2000) and are probably remnants of ancient impact craters. The very faint grooves that run diagonally across the surface in this image may have formed during a collision between the asteroid and a smaller body. (Mosaic of images 0143581726, 0143581602, 0143581788, 0143581664)
 Three American high school students, Daniel Parmentor, Demetrius Hewlin and Russell King Jr were killed last Monday by a teenager who went on a shooting rampage in the cafeteria of a high school in Chardon OH, near Cleveland. The students were seated at the same table in the cafeteria at 7:30 a.m. when a teenage boy at the next table pulled out a .22-caliber gun from a bag and began firing, witnesses said.   The boy, T.J. Lane, was not a student at Chardon High School, but knew some of the students there.  There is no information about motive. Three other students are hospitalized with serious injuries and the killer has been indicted as a juvenile.  The New York Times has more details.  We are all outraged that something like this could happen and that firearms are so readily available to carry out acts of this type.  The framers of the Second Amendment were worried about a British attempt at reconquest and in the absence of a standing army relied on an armed populace.  This is certainly not what they had in mind.

David Maxwell/European Pressphoto Agency
Samantha Kimball consoled her younger brother Daniel after a fatal shooting at a high school in Chardon, Ohio.

As you will recall, Frederic, the hero of G&S's Pirates of Penzance, was apprenticed by mistake to a pirate and was to be released from his indentures on his 21st birthday.  Alas, Frederic was born on February 29, 1852 and his 21st birthday came only in 1940 (he had no birthday in 1900 in case you think we cannot compute).  The New York Times published an article "Frederic Goes Free" on February 29, 1940 and we can do no less than to wish Frederic a happy 39th birthday that came on Wednesday this week.

For those unfamiliar with Gilbert and Sullivan, we present the scene in which Frederic meets Mabel and the romance begins with two arias, in which Mabel sends up the bel canto coloraturas with a vengeance.  Sullivan parodies several operatic composers,  mostly Verdi, but also Gounod and Donizetti.  It is great fun!

We have named our GPS guide Mabel in recognition of her lovely  and expressive voice.  Personally, we love best the patter song of the modern Major-General which is not really a parody, but an accurate description of career military types, as anyone who has ever served in an army knows well.

We have come across an interesting blog that addressed the question of Leap Day this week and gives us the lyrics of the aria in which the Pirate King explains to Frederick about the fine print in his indenture contract.  It appears to be a left-anarchist blog with the quote from Gilbert, "Free as a tethered ass." featured across the top.  Meet the Pirate King, a nice chap really.
 Gioachino Antonio Rossini, the great composer, was born on Leap Day in 1792.

 Google has created a special doodle for him along with a biography..  The picture depicts four frogs as characters from the Barber of Seville.

 I have great admiration for anyone who can write an almost cheerful Stabat say nothing of this great aria by Figaro.  We show the Robert Merrill version:

OK, enough of fun and nonsense and let us get on to the serious glad stuff.  First however, we want to put in a quick rant, with permission of brother Titan.  The killing of wolves in Canada because of habitat destruction by tar sands development is as misguided an idea as was ever whelped.  Please sign the demand to PM Harper to back off and restore the habitat.

The Hubble Space Telescope has come up with a new piece of exciting science.  An exoplanet discovered a few years ago has been analyzed during a transit of its tiny host star and lo and behold! the main constituent of its atmosphere appears to be water vapor.  Since the planet's mass and size are known, astronomers can calculate the density, of only about 2 grams per cubic centimeter. Water has a density of 1 gram per cubic centimeter, while Earth's average density is 5.5 grams per cubic centimeter. This suggests that GJ 1214b has much more water than Earth does, and much less rock.  Read the details and if you can and are interested the  research paper is online as well.
GJ1214b, shown in this artist's view, is a super-Earth orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. New observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope show that it is a water world enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere. GJ 1214b represents a new type of planet, like nothing seen in the solar system or any other planetary system currently known. Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Aguilar (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
 The virus notorious for causing cervical cancer in women also turns up frequently in men and can hang on unnoticed for months or even years, researchers report online March 1 in Lancet. The study solidifies earlier research indicating that human papillomavirus is highly prevalent in men and strengthens the case for vaccinating men and boys against it, the report’s authors say.    If any of you have teenagers of either gender, you might want to take a look at a  fact sheet put out by the Center for Disease Control in the US and consider taking steps.

Thanks to Judy for sending along the news that the speeding neutrinos were apparently a glitch in the hardware. We can all rest assured that relativity is still in good shape.  Here is an official announcement from CERN:
The OPERA collaboration has informed its funding agencies and host laboratories that it has identified two possible effects that could have an influence on its neutrino timing measurement. These both require further tests with a short pulsed beam. If confirmed, one would increase the size of the measured effect, the other would diminish it. The first possible effect concerns an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations. It could have led to an overestimate of the neutrino's time of flight. The second concerns the optical fibre connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock, which may not have been functioning correctly when the measurements were taken. If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos. The potential extent of these two effects is being studied by the OPERA collaboration. New measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May.
We shall stay tuned.
THE JOYS OF BEING A SCIENTIST have been brought to our attention by our cousin Alan in Portland.  Alan is a well known organic chemist at Reed College and one of our loyal readers.  He sent us this blog from Science magazine and we are sure that all the scientists who read us will resonate with the words of Adam Ruben.
This week we refer you to a reassuring book for all of us sinners.  Nick Bascomb reviews in Science News the new book The Science of Sin: The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (and Why They Are So Good For You) by Simon M. Latham.    It is nice to know that our peccadilloes are good for our health.

Some people might resonate with this Barney and Clyde episode:

As all know, the LHC is marching up the energy scale to find the Higgs boson and learn why particles have mass.  We can relax--Dilbert has beaten them all and we can see what the result turned out to be.

If any of you have been following the antics of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (why?) you will be aware that he went to a party in Lille and then was called in for a chat (overnight) with the gendarmes about the party and who might have paid for the fun and games.  We discussed this in a previous blog.  Now we have a play-by-play (we hesitate to say blow-by-blow) description of the action as imagined in The New Yorker by Martha Weiman Lear.

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