Saturday, February 28, 2009

ISS--"dump or keep" poll

It appears that the vast majority wish to keep and maintain the International Space Station. I would like to hear the "why" arguments. I and a colleague voted no based on the costs, jeopardy of lives, loss of lives, net return on investment being disproportionate to expenses.

The vote:

10 yes
2 no

"The Itsy-Bitsy Spiders" @ the ISS

ISS necessary?

Photographic postcards...astronomy

Astronomy for Children--The Lunar Eclipse

Halley's Comet in 1066 from the Bayeux Tapestry
France/United Kingdom

"La Lune pour deux sous" [The Moon for a penny]

Solar Eclipse of August the 31st, 1909
Lyon, France

The Imperial Marine Observatory
Kobe, Japan

The Moreux' Obervatory
Bourges, France

The Solar Eclipse, February the 10th, 1930
Bogota, Columbia

Classical music--Gustav Holst's "The Planets"

Gustav Holst

A fine classical music presentation of several planets by Gustav Holst.

Gustav Holst - The Planets Op.32

Kenric Taylor:

During the 1910's, Holst was undoubtedly going through a period similar to a midlife crisis. His first large scale work, and opera called Sita failed to win a cash prize at a Ricordi composition competition and his other large works of the time, notably The Cloud Messenger and Beni Mora were premiered without great success. In March of 1913, Holst received an anonymous gift which enabled him to travel to Spain with Clifford Bax, the brother of the composer Arnold Bax (and later the librettist for Holst's opera The Wandering Scholar). Clifford Bax was an astrologer, and he and Holst became good friends, with Bax introducing him to the concepts of astrology.

Perhaps due to this friendship, Holst began to rediscover his childhood intrigue with theosophy. He had a book in his library called, "The Art of Synthesis," by Alan Leo. Leo was himself an astrologer and Theosophist who published various books on astrology, however if you look at "The Art of Synthesis," each chapter is labeled with a heading, offering a precursor to how The Planets was constructed. Alan Leo divided his book into chapters based on each planet, and described the astrological characteristics of them. In fact, "Neptune, the Mystic," is given the same title in both the book and the suite! Holst may have been introduced to Leo by George Mead, a Sanskrit scholar and a fellow member, along with Holst, of the Royal Asiatic Society. Mead and Leo were friends.

Holst called his piece "a series of mood pictures." In actuality, this helps lead into other influences for this work. Before Holst started to compose The Planets, both Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky made trips to England and caused quite a stir. Schoenberg came to England and conducted his Five Orchestral Pieces Op. 18. Holst must have gone to this concert and been impressed, for Holst labeled the preliminary sketches of The Planets "Seven Orchestral Pieces." Around the same time, Stravinsky came to England and conducted his Le sacre du printemps. Holst must have noticed this unconventional way to use the orchestra, because in the first movement, "Mars," the blatant dissonance and unconventional meter seems to be riddled with the influence of Stravinsky.

Gustav Holst seemed to consider The Planets a progression of life. "Mars" perhaps serves as a rocky and tormenting beginning. In fact, some have called this movement the most devastaing piece of music ever written! "Venus" seems to provide an answer to "Mars," it's title as "the bringer of peace," helps aid that claim. "Mercury" can be thought of as the messenger between our world and the other worlds. Perhaps "Jupiter" represents the "prime" of life, even with the overplayed central melody, which was later arranged to the words of "I vow to thee, my country." "Saturn" can be viewed as indicative of Holst's later mature style, and indeed it is recorded that Holst preferred this movement to all others in the suite. Through "Saturn" it can be said that old age is not always peaceful and happy. The movement may display the ongoing struggle for life against the odd supernatural forces. This notion mat be somewhat outlandish, but the music seems to lend credence to this. "Saturn" is followed by "Uranus, the Magician," a quirky scherzo displaying a robust musical climax before the tranquility of the female choir in "Neptune" enchants the audience.

The piece displays that Holst was in touch with his musical contemporaries. There are obvious ideas borrowed from Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Debussy (the quality of"Neptune" resembles earlier Debussy piano music.) Holst never wrote another piece like The Planets again. He hated its popularity. When people would ask for his autograph, he gave them a typed sheet of paper that stated that he didn't give out autographs. The public seemed to demand of him more music like The Planets, and his later music seemed to disappoint them. In fact, after writing the piece, he swore off his belief in astrology, though until the end of his life he cast his friends horoscopes. How ironic that the piece that made his name famous throughout the world brought him the least joy in the end.

The Planets was first performed in a private concert in 1918 with Adrian Boult conducting as a gift from Henry Balfour Gardiner, who was also responsible for the premieres of Holst's Two Eastern Pictures and The Cloud Messenger. The first complete performance of the piece was under Albert Coates in Queen's Hall in 1920.

Mars: The Bringer of War

Venus: The Bringer of Peace

Mercury: The Winged Messenger

Jupiter: The Bringer of Jollity

Saturn: The Bringer of Old Age

Uranus: The Magician

Neptune: The Mystic

Gustav Holst

And of interest...

Andrew Fraknoi's "The Music of the Spheres in Education: Using Astronomically Inspired Music"

"Music and Astronomy" by Jos´e A. Caballero, Sara Gonz´alez S´anchez, and Iv´an Caballero


What do Brian May (the Queen’s lead guitarist), William Herschel and the Jupiter Symphony have in common? And a white dwarf, a piano and Lagartija Nick? At first glance, there is no connection between them, nor between Music and Astronomy. However, there are many revealing examples of musical Astronomy and astronomical Music. This four-page proceeding describes the sonorous poster that we showed during the VIII Scientific Meeting of the Spanish Astronomical Society.

Halley's Comet--human companion and part of the Bayeux Tapestry

King Harold and nation cower in fear at the close passage of Halley's Comet.

I witnessed Halley's Comet in one and only encounter. I suppose that this is the most documented coment sharing mankind's history

David Newton's animated Bayeux Tapestry [in part] depicting the Norman Conquest and establishment of William The Conqueror as the King of England

Bayeux Tapestry

History had recorded the previous visits of Halley's Comet:


240,164, 86, 11


66, 141, 218, 295, 347, 451, 530, 607, 684, 760, 837, 912, 989, 1066, 1145, 1222, 1301, 1378, 1456, 1531, 1607, 1682, 1759, 1835, 1910, 1986

Next encounter will be in 2061.

Joe Laufer's Halley's Comet newsletter

Friday, February 27, 2009

William Otis' steam shovel

Friction and lots of simple/complex machines working here: Pulleys [single/multiple--transmitting energy/motion], gears [single/multiple], belts [transmitting rotary motion from shaft to shaft], the wheel and axle [increasing force like a level]--yada, yada. Every classroom in general physics needs one of these. Check out the steel cables. Steel braided cables is a physics in itself. All of that for a steam shovel and its electric predicessor as seen in Big Brutus. Patent was granted on February 24th, 1839.

William Otis


West Mineral, Kansas

What's orange and black with a bit of white and green and once tore into the Earth’s surface seeking vast coal deposits? The answer can be found in West Mineral, Kansas. It is "Big Brutus". It was eclipsed by “Big Muskie” once located in Cumberland, Ohio and now gone. "Big Brutus" [Bucyrus Erie model 1850B] weighs 5.5X10^3 tons, is about 160 feet high, has a bucket capacity of 90 cubic yards, and speeds along at a whopping speed of about .2 mph. In the mid 1980’s it was retired and converted into a museum.

Seed preservation for future generations

Short term preservation.

Long term preservation.

Well, there are food banks, sperm banks, and now "seed" banks. A good idea? Yes. Just in the event of a man-made or natural catastrophe, it is a good idea to save what feeds humans. Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the largest and located in Norway but there are others too: The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens' Millennium Seed Bank [United Kingdom], and the Greenbelt Native Plant Center.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault [Wikipedia]

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

March...astronomical lion and lamb

"March is the month of expectation,
The things we do not know,
The Persons of Prognostication
Are coming now.
We try to sham becoming firmness,
But pompous joy
Betrays us, as his first betrothal
Betrays a boy."

Emily Dickinson

It is correct to say that March is a transition month...for on the Vernal Equinox [about March 21st] we have around 12 Hours of Daylight and 12 Hours of Nighttime...SPRING. And there is the old adage..."In like a lion" [beginning of the month] and "out like a lamb" [end of the month]...and vice-versa. But what does that mean...any astronomical connection?

"What Does That Old Saying 'In Like A Lion Out Like A Lamb' Have To Do With The Cosmos?"


Jack Horkheimer

Star Gazer

Greetings, greetings fellow star gazers. You know I have always been fascinated by mythology and folk lore, especially phrases we learn during childhood and repeat all our lives and frequently have little or no idea where they came from. For instance everyone has heard that old phrase that" if March weather comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb" and vice versa. But have you ever wondered where that phrase comes from? Well my astronomical colleague Guy Ottewell has long suggested that maybe this phrase got its imagery from the heavens. Let's take a look and see what you think.

O.K., we've got our skies set up for the first day of March any year about 8 p.m. your local time and if you're far from city lights and if you go outside and look toward the northwest you will see the very dim stars that make up the constellation Aries the ram or lamb. But if you look in almost the opposite direction toward the northeast about the same height above the horizon you'll see the constellation Leo the lion. So here we have two wonderful night sky images that match the phrase, a lion and a lamb, both about the same height above the horizon in early evening on the first of March.

But what will we see if we go out at the same time a month later on March 31st? Well quite a different story, because on March 31st at 8 p.m. the lion will be almost overhead and the lamb will be smack dab on the northwestern horizon. Now we all know that the weather at the end of March is usually milder than the weather at the beginning of March so our skies at 8 p.m. on the last day of March with the lamb setting supports the fact that March is going out like a lamb. However if we turn our skies back to March 1st at 8 p.m. we see that the lion is just rising which lends support to the premise that March usually begins with fiercer weather, comes in like a lion so to speak. So perhaps long ago someone tied this all together noticing that on the 1st day of March Leo the lion was just rising up into the heavens whereas at the end of March Aries the ram was leaving them. And thus decided to poetically link both of them to the weather.

This March of 2009 however we can add a second cosmic meaning to that old phrase because also in the west just after sunset at the beginning of this March 2009 is the planet Venus at its greatest brilliancy out dazzling everything in the sky except the Moon and the Sun. In fact it comes in at the beginning of March like a lion but as the month progresses, it loses half its brightness and starts vanishing into the sunset, going out like a lamb. Whatever, it's always fun to investigate old folk lore because there always seems to be a bit of truth involved. So here's hoping your March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. But even if it doesn't, keep looking up!

Video presentation

Star Gazer

"Today In Science History"--great newsletter

A most interesting website to visit and one can subscribe to have the daily newsletter, listing the day's people and events in science.

Today In Science History

Here is today's newsletter...

David Hunter Hubel

Born 27 Feb 1926 Quotes Icon
Canadian-born American neurobiologist, who was a corecipient (with Torsten Nils Wiesel and Roger Wolcott Sperry) of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for mapping the path of nerve impulses from the eye to various centres of the brain. In 1958, Hubel joined Wiesel at Johns Hopkins University, and the two relocated to Harvard in 1959. Their work was made possible by a number of technical advances. From the early 1950s onward it became possible to use microelectrodes to monitor the activity of a single neuron. Their studies were in the area of visual perception, with particular emphasis on the nerve impulses mediating between the retina and the brain. They observed that various nerve cells were responsible for different types of visual stimuli.
Kelly Johnson

Born 27 Feb 1910; died 21 Dec 1990.
(Clarence Leonard) "Kelly" Johnson was a American aeronautical engineer who introduced innovative designs. While managing Lockheed's secret project division, known as the "Skunk Works," he contributed to more than 40 airplanes. His early work included the P-38 Lightning fighter (1938) and the Hudson bomber. Later, he developed the fastest supersonic and highest-flying airplanes in the world. The U-2 (1954) was the first plane designed for routine flight above 60,000 feet. The F-104 Starfighter interceptor (1954) was capable of flying at twice the speed of sound, setting world records of 1,400 mph and 103,000 ft altitude.«
Kelly: More Than My Share of It All, by Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson.
Yuly Borisovich Khariton

Born 27 Feb 1904; died 19 Dec 1996.
Russian physicist who played a key role in the development of the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons and nuclear physics research. Khariton began his career as a researcher in chemical physics, studying combustion and explosion effects. In 1926-28 he studied and worked in Ernest Rutherford's Laboratory in Cambridge, England. Upon his return to the Soviet Union, he directed nuclear research at the Arzamas-16 centre through the 1930's and 1940's. He oversaw the preparation, assembly and detonation of the Soviet atomic bomb, which was built using stolen blueprints of the American plutonium bomb. The first Soviet A-bomb was detonated on 29 Aug 1949 at the Semipalatinsk test range.«
Charles Best

Born 27 Feb 1899; died 31 Mar 1978.
Charles Herbert Best was an American physiologist who, while 22 years old, assisted Dr Frederick Banting, in Toronto, Canada, with the discovery (1921) of a pancreatic extract - the hormone insulin - that could control diabetes in the dogs they used as test subjects. This led to human diabetics being treated with insulin. Banting (with J.J.R. Macleod) received the 1923 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Best was not nominated because he did not receive his medical degree until 1925. However, Banting recognized Best's role by later voluntarily sharing the prize money with him. Best also discovered the vitamin choline and the enzyme histaminase. He was the first to introduce anticoagulants in treatment of thrombosis (blood clots).«
Bernard(-Ferdinand) Lyot

Born 27 Feb 1897; died 2 Apr 1952.
Bernard(-Ferdinand) Lyot was a French astronomer who invented the coronagraph (1930), an instrument which allows the observation of the solar corona when the Sun is not in eclipse. Earlier, using his expertise in optics, Lyot made a very sensitive polariscope to study polarization of light reflected from planets. Observing from the Pic du Midi Observatory, he determined that the lunar surface behaves like volcanic dust, that Mars has sandstorms, and other results on the atmospheres of the other planets. Modifications to his polarimeter created the coronagraph, with which he photographed the Sun's corona and its analyzed its spectrum. He found new spectral lines in the corona, and he made (1939) the first motion pictures of solar prominences.«
Ralph Linton
Born 27 Feb 1893; died 24 Dec 1953.
American anthropologist who had a marked influence on the development of cultural anthropology. After combat in France during World War I, he received a Ph.D. from Harvard (1925). In the early 1920's he did fieldwork in Polynesia. He introduced the terms "status" and "role" to social science and influenced the development of the culture-and-personality school of anthropology. His works, such as The Study of Man (1936) and The Tree of Culture (1955), are regarded more as popularizations of anthropology than as original scholarship.
David Sarnoff

Born 27 Feb 1891; died 12 Dec 1971.
American pioneer in the development of both radio and television broadcasting. He was the first general manager of RCA and founded the television network NBC (1926). His first job was that of delivery boy, and his life continued to display a rags-to-riches element. He became a wireless operator and met Marconi in 1906. Foreseeing the multiple possibilities of radio, he became commercial manager of American Marconi in 1917, having already predicted that radio would become "a household utility in the same sense as the piano or phonograph". RCA succeded the Marconi group (1919), and Sarnoff became its general manager (1921) then its president (1930-50). He steering it into the world of television, first black and white, then colour with NBC.
L.E J. Brouwer

Born 27 Feb 1881; died 2 Dec 1966.
L(uitzen) E(gbertus) J(an) Brouwer was a Dutch mathematician who founded mathematical Intuitionism (a doctrine that views the nature of mathematics as mental constructions governed by self-evident laws). He founded modern topology by establishing, for example, the topological invariance of dimension and the fixpoint theorem. (Topology is the study of the most basic properties of geometric surfaces and configurations.) The Brouwer fixed point theorem is named in his honor. He proved the simplicial approximation theorem in the foundations of algebraic topology, which justifies the reduction to combinatorial terms, after sufficient subdivision of simplicial complexes, the treatment of general continuous mappings.
Henry Chandler Cowles

Born 27 Feb 1869; died 12 Sep 1939
American botanist who was a pioneer in the field of plant ecology, especially the concept of dynamic ecology, which he devised in the 1890's through a study of sand dune vegation at the southern end of Lake Michigan. He observed ecological succession, whereby starting with a bare habitat, there is a sequence of biological communities, each providing modification of the habitat to favour successors, until a climax community is established, characteristic of the climatic conditions of the region. His field work there showed that the vegetation at any one point in the system is related to the distance the point lies from the lake, the kind of soil present at the location, and the time period over which seeds and spores have had a chance to germinate.«
Alice Hamilton
Born 27 Feb 1869; died 22 Sep 1970.
American pathologist, known for her research on industrial diseases. By actively publicizing the danger to workers' health of industrial toxic substances, she contributed to the passage of workmen's compensation laws and to the development of safer working conditions. In 1911, she accepted an appointment as special investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Labor. These duties led her into field investigations of mines, mills, and smelters. Concentrating at first on lead, the most widely used industrial poison, she compiled statistics dramatically documenting the high mortality and morbidity rates of workers. She later did the same for aniline dyes, picric acid, arsenic, carbon monoxide, and many other industrial poisons. Hamilton died when 101 yrs old.

George Herbert Hitchings

Died 27 Feb 1998 (born 18 Apr 1905)
American pharmacologist was a medical research pioneer who was awarded a share of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1988 (with Gertrude B. Elion and Sir James W. Black) for development of drugs for several major diseases. In the 1950s, he and colleague Elion developed thioguanine and 6-mercaptopurine, that treated leukemia, and in 1957, azathioprine, used in treating severe rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders. Their drug allopurinol was effective treatment for gout. Other important drugs they developed include pyrimethamine, an antimalarial agent; trimethoprim, a treatment for urinary and respiratory tract infections; and acyclovir, the first effective treatment for viral herpes.«
William Ross Maples

Died 27 Feb 1997 (born 7 Aug 1937)
American forensic anthropologist who examined and identified the skeletons of a number of historical figures, including Tsar Nicholas II and other members of the Romanov family killed in 1918 by the Bolsheviks, Vietnam MIAs, conquistador Francisco Pizarro, and in 1994 helped convict Byron De La Beckwith of the 1963 murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. At the University of Florida, the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory was created through Maples' energetic fundraising. This sophisticated, unique facility, dedicated to forensic anthropology opened its doors in 1986. Maples wrote Dead Men Do Tell Tales (1994, with Michael Browning).
Kingsley Davis

Died 27 Feb 1997 (born 20 Aug 1908) Quotes Icon
American sociologist and demographer who was a world-renowned expert on population trends; he coined the terms population explosion and zero population growth and promoted methods of bringing the latter about. His specific studies of American society led him to work on a general science of world society, based on empirical analysis of each society in its habitat. Later, however, he came to be concerned about low birthrates in developed countries, fearing a shortage of educated leaders.
Konrad Lorenz

Died 27 Feb 1989 (born 7 Nov 1903)
Austrian zoologist, founder of modern ethology, the study of animal behaviour by means of comparative zoological methods. He was known affectionately by his pupils as the "father of the grey geese" which he studied. His ideas revealed how behavioral patterns may be traced to an evolutionary past, and he was also known for his work on the roots of aggression. He shared the 1973 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, for developing a unified, evolutionary theory of animal and human behaviour. He was also a vehement environmentalist, criticizing prodigality and believed that nature protection is necessary for the preservation of humanity. Even late in life, he participated in demonstrations even if in conflict with government and authorities.
David Keilin

Died 27 Feb 1963 (born 21 Mar 1887)
Russian-British biochemist who discovered cytochromes, as enzymes critical to the cell's use of oxygen (1923). His career began as an entomologist studying the life cycles of flies. While studying the absorption spectrum of the muscles of the horse botfly, that he noticed four absoption bands that disappeared when the cell suspension was shaken in air, but reappeared afterwards. He had found a respiratory enzyme. He named it cytochrome, and began a thorough investigation of its role in cellular respiration. Like haemoglobin, the cytochrome enzyme contains iron. Cytochrome is a pigment found in some cells, such as bacteria and yeast. He studied also catalase and peroxidase which are also iron-containing enzymes with a role involving oxygen.
Ivan Petrovich Pavlov

Died 27 Feb 1936 (born 14 Sep 1849)
Russian physiologist known chiefly for his development of the concept of the conditioned reflex. In a now-classic experiment, he trained a hungry dog to salivate at the sound of a bell, which was previously associated with the sight of food. He received the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Adam Sedgwick

Died 27 Feb 1913 (born 28 Sep 1854)
English zoologist, a grandnephew of the geologist Adam Sedgwick, who is best known for his researches on the wormlike organism Peripatus, which he recognized as the zoologically important connecting link between the Annelida, or segmented worms, and the Arthropoda, such as crabs, spiders, and insects.
Samuel Pierpont Langley

Died 27 Feb 1906 (born 22 Aug 1834)
American astronomer, physicist, and aeronautics pioneer who built the first heavier-than-air flying machine to achieve sustained flight. He launched his Aerodrome No.5 on 6 May 1896 using a spring-actuated catapult mounted on top of a houseboat on the Potomac River, near Quantico, Virginia. He also researched the relationship of solar phenomena to meteorology.«
Bryan Donkin

Died 27 Feb 1855 (born 22 Mar 1768)
English mechanical engineer and inventor. After the Fourdrinier brothers imported from France a prototype machine for making paper in continuous lengths (1802), Donkin assisted with design improvements and to establish a factory. By 1808, Donkin acquired the works and a license to manufacture the paper-making machines. He also developed printing machinery and invented the composition roller used in printing. Donkin held other patents on gearing, steel pens, paper-making and railway wheels. He also worked on the preservation of food in airtight containers (1813), revolution counters and improved accurate screw threads for graduating mathematical scales. Three more generations of his family included engineers.« [Image right: Donkin/Fourdrinier paper-making machine 1820.]
Jean(-Rodolphe) Perronet

Died 27 Feb 1794 (born 8 Oct 1708)
French civil engineer renowned for his stone-arch bridges, especially the Pont de la Concorde, Paris.
John Arbuthnot

Died 27 Feb 1735 (baptised 29 April 1667) Quotes Icon
Scottish mathematician and physician. In 1692, he published Of the Laws of Chance, the first work on probability published in English, being his translation of a work by Huygens to which he added further games of chance. In 1710, he published a paper discussing the slight excess of male births over female births since 1629; it was perhaps the first application of probability to social statistics and included the first formal test of significance. As a political satirist, he wrote a series of pamphlets featuring the character John Bull that became an iconic Englishman. Arbuthnot joined with Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and John Gay in founding the famous Scriblerus Club. From 1705 he was physician to Queen Anne until her death in 1714.«
John Evelyn

Died 27 Feb 1706 (born 31 Oct 1620)
English country gentleman, diarist, author of some 30 books on the fine arts, forestry, and religious topics. A lifelong member of the Royal Society, he produced for the commissioners of the navy the book, Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-trees, and the Propagation of Timber (1664), encouraging estate owners to plant timber for the navy. It was the first important work on conservation, published at a time when English forests were being stripped of timber to build ships for the expanding British Navy. The book gave a description of the various kinds of trees, their cultivation, uses, and advice on pruning, insect control, wound treatment, and transplanting. The study, with numerous modifications, had gone through 10 editions by 1825.


Surgery on CCTV

In 1947, the first closed-circuit broadcast of a surgical operation showed procedures to observers in classrooms. Dr. Alfred Blalock, at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Md., demonstrated two operations on the heart. Two more heart operations were also seen, and one on nerves of the spine.
Solar radio

In 1942, J.S. Hey discovered radio emissions from the Sun.

In 1932, the neutron was discovered by Dr. James Chadwick.

In 1900, Felix Hoffman was issued a U.S. patent for Aspirin (No. 644,077)

In 1879, saccharin, the artificial sweetener, was discovered by Constantine Fahlberg at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
Dental mallet

In 1867, Dr. William G. Bonwill of Philadelphia, Penn., invented the dental mallet while watching a telegraph key sounder operate in a Philadelphia hotel.

In 1813, first federal vaccination legislation enacted.