Solar eclipse 2017, as seen from (ironically) Wheatland, Wyoming 1

Solar eclipse 2017, as seen from (ironically) Wheatland, Wyoming
DENVER, COLORADO — Today’s total solar eclipse was my fourth and my son’s first, and despite some traffic delays, it was a total success! Our plan was to witness the eclipse from Casper, Wyoming, where I once worked, so we got up early to drive from Denver. But, traffic on I-25 was slower than we expected, and we realized that if we continued to Casper, we’d miss most of the show, including totality. So, we opted to stop at Wheatland, which was just on the edge of totality. [See map below.] We got there just in time for me to mount my camera on a Benro tripod to catch first contact (no ETs, sorry). To minimize camera shake, I used a wireless shutter release for all of these shots. Unlike in 2009, when I used a #14 welding glass to shoot the eclipse in Wuhan, China — which made everything unnaturally green — I used a solar filter film from Thousand Oaks Optical. I waited too long to order a screw-on camera filter, so I settled for taping the film over the lens hood. Low tech, but it worked. Also, I discovered the camera could not automatically adjust the shutter ...

Man from Hunan farming village gets doctorate, speaks at Harvard commencement

Man from Hunan farming village gets doctorate, speaks at Harvard commencement
JISHOU, HUNAN — A man from a small village near Changsha has become the first Chinese person to address a Harvard commencement ceremony. Hé Jiāng 何江 is the older son of a farming couple in Ningxiang county. Though the family barely had two coins to rub together, Hé did very well at school and his college entrance examination (gāokǎo 高考) scores gained him admission to the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, Anhui province. On May 26, he graduated with a doctorate in molecular and cellular biology from Harvard, and was selected to be the graduate school speaker at the graduation ceremony. In his speech (text in Chinese and English), Hé said he is concerned that modern medicine is unevenly distributed, so that poor people, like his own family and their neighbors, don’t have access to adequate care. He related a dramatic incident from his childhood, when his mother wrapped his hand in cloth soaked in liquor and set the cloth on fire after he was bit by a spider.    You see, the part of China I grew up in was a rural village, and at that time pre-industrial. When I was born, my village had no cars, ...

The Atlantic Monthly fails Science 101, #FlatEarth ers rejoice

<em>The Atlantic Monthly</em> fails Science 101, #FlatEarth ers rejoice
GEORGE TOWN, PENANG, MALAYSIA — There is just so much wrong about a science writer equating “fringe science” with real science in a major magazine that I feel compelled to write a response. I know, I should be writing about my wonderful vacation trip instead of grousing about an essay praising science cranks for their creativity and inquisitive spirit, but Lizzie Wade’s essay in The Atlantic Monthly, “In Defense of Flat Earthers,” just irritates the crap out of me. It bothers me because Wade, whose background as a science writer seems pretty solid, gets all touchy-feely, New-Agey and says fringe scientists are just so adorable, trying to make sense of the world in their cockeyed ways. Why, they’re just like real scientists! No, they are not. I will explain why momentarily. Even more annoying is Wade’s response to criticism that she’s fundamentally missed the boat on what science is and does. She tweeted this rejoinder to one such complaint: It’s not my job to promote science or encourage people to become scientists. https://t.co/lepZqYmMH2 — Lizzie Wade (@lizzie_wade) January 28, 2016 What in blue blazes do you think your job is, Lizzie Wade? A science writer shuld be writing about science, ...

Global warming could cut my old neighborhood off from the rest of Long Island

Global warming could cut my old neighborhood off from the rest of Long Island
The image above comes from ClimateCentral.org. You can put in your zip code or city name, and see how rising sea levels would affect that area. So, I put in 11743 (Huntington, Long Island, NY) and scrolled over to the Causeway. People from Lloyd Harbor and Lloyd Neck know what it is, but for everyone else, it’s a narrow strip of land, barely wide enough for a two-laner, connecting Lloyd Neck at the top to the rest of Long Island at the bottom. Judging from the predicted sea levels, the Causeway would be under water, as would parts of Lloyd Harbor Road, and Lloyd Neck could become an island. Of course, local government and homeowners could afford to raise the road, or build a retaining wall to keep Oyster Bay and Huntington Bay from surrounding the Neck. It would be expensive, but feasible. Now consider what happens in other parts of the world where people don’t have the capital to protect their homes from rising sea levels. They will lose their homes and will need to relocate inland. If you scroll northward, some homes in Fiddlers Green would be underwater, too. Global warming is happening, whether you want to believe ...

Making a scale model of the solar system (video)

Some of my American students may recall our attempt at drawing the solar system to scale along Broadway in front of SFHS. It’s not easy to get both the size of the planets and the distances between them to scale. This video explores that question.

#PlutoTime in Jishou, China

#PlutoTime in Jishou, China
As you’ve probably heard by now, the New Horizons probe swung past Pluto yesterday, taking the first close-up photos of the most distant planet (now classified a dwarf planet) in the solar system. Pluto is almost 32 times further from the Sun than Earth is, so midday on the surface of Pluto is going to be a lot dimmer than it is here. But how much dimmer? Well, as it turns out, there’s enough light to read a book, though standing outside near a lake of frozen nitrogen is probably not a wise choice. Better bring a blanket. NASA has a web app, called Pluto Time, to give you an idea of the lighting conditions on Pluto’s surface. Find your location on a map of the Earth and it will tell you the time when the ambient light on Earth approximates the conditions on Pluto, minus the starry skies and frozen lakes of nitrogen that your feet have just melted into. Generally speaking, #PlutoTime on Earth is in twilight, either before sunrise or after sunset. For Jishou today, it was 7:44 pm. So after dinner, I went to the top of my apartment building and took five shots of the ...

How to poop in orbit – astronaut Sam Cristoforetti’s how-to video

More at the Washington Post, or hit Cristoforetti’s webpage for articles and other videos. The International Space Station also has a new coffee machine that makes espresso. It was designed by Lavazza, the Italian coffee company. Molto buono!

Video: The power of pele — Hawai’i’s Kilauea volcano

It’s just about six minutes long, but this video will give you an idea of the power of the Earth underneath our feet. And rather fittingly, today is the birthday of my cousin Ernie, who lives in Oahu. Happy Birthday!

This week in Republican scientific ignorance

This week in Republican scientific ignorance
Stupid or ignorant? You be the judge. On Monday, a state senator in Idaho, Rep. Vito Barbieri (above, left) showed some confusion about human anatomy. He asked if doctors could send a small camera into a woman’s stomach to conduct a remote gynecological examination. The question Monday from Republican state Rep. Vito Barbieri came as the House State Affairs Committee heard nearly three hours of testimony on a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine. Dr. Julie Madsen was testifying in opposition to the bill when Barbieri asked the question. Madsen replied that would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina. “Fascinating. That makes sense,” Barbieri said, amid the crowd’s laughter. Link. A few days later, Nevada assemblywoman Michele Fiore — also a Republican — declared on a radio program that cancer is a fungus, and can be flushed out of the body with intravenous injections of salt and baking soda. “If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus,” she began, citing a widely debunked theory that the American Cancer Society warns about, “and we can put a pic line into your body and we’re flushing with, say, salt ...

Cool! Watch a Martian sunset

Cool! Watch a Martian sunset
NASA link Look familiar? I hope so. The colors are bluish, because the Martian atmosphere is much thinner and has less oxygen and nitrogen than Earth’s.

And in other news

I’ve contributed a few pieces to a new website called If You Only News, on the invitation of a former student working there. This one is about the Gilbert, AZ, school board who cut out pages referring to contraception from a honors biology textbook. If you go here and read it, my page hits go up and so does my pay. Thanks very much. The rest of the site is not bad, either.

A peek at a possible future in space

Using real images taken by space probes and telescopes, Erik Wernquist created this awesome short video, showing what humanity’s future might be like if we don’t kill ourselves off in the interim. Around 1:50 you’ll see a Martian sunset image similar to the one I use as the banner here. They were taken by the NASA/JPL Opportunity probe. The narration is by the late Carl Sagan, Cornell astronomer, author, and co-creator of the first Cosmos series. One wonders what Megan Fox, the creationist homeschooler, would say about this film short.
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