In the Garden

A redbud in flower quick-frozen by an early spring storm

A redbud in flower quick-frozen by an early spring storm

New Scientist has a delightful short gallery of finalist photos in the UK’s International Garden Photographer of the Year. (The photograph above is not, of course, a part of the competition, but rather a domestic product, captured here in Haysville.)

Published in: on May 18, 2009 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Trinity of Triumph in the International Year of Astronomy

Hubble Space Telescope Orbiting Earth

Hubble Space Telescope Orbiting Earth

In a stunning confluence of events, three separate milestones have been attained almost simultaneously in this remarkable International Year of Astronomy: the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis has linked with the venerable Hubble Space Telescope to repair, replace or upgrade a number of its vital systems, to extend its lifetime and radically improve its performance; the Kepler spacecraft has begun its search for earth-like worlds in distant solar systems; and the amazing new European duo of Planck and Herschel have been jointly launched on their respective missions.

The Hubble Space Telescope celebrated its 19th anniversary last month. Launched on April 24, 1990 aboard the Discovery space shuttle, Hubble was the largest and most sensitive optical telescope to operate in space. Despite suffering from a flawed mirror which initially created an embarrassing focusing problem, it was soon repaired, and has revolutionized our conceptions of the universe, returning myriad almost miraculous images of galaxies, nebulae, stars, and other astronomical phenomena previously beyond our ken.

The Hubble Heritage Information Center at the Space Telescope Science Institute offers an extensive gallery of stunning images taken by Hubble over the years. An even more immense collection of hundreds upon hundreds of nearly overwhelming Hubble images can be found in NASA’s Hubblesite Gallery at NASA’s official website for the space telescope.

For a more limited set of selected images, see CBC News’ gallery of 25 images gleaned from 19 Years of Hubble or, from the BBC, a series of 11 stunning photographs touted as Hubble’s Best Images.

Then, if you’d like to learn a bit more, you might check out Ten Things You Don’t Know About Hubble at Discover Magazine’s Bad Astronomy blog. And you can track all the details of the current fifth Hubble servicing mission here.

Finally, to put it all into context, New Scientist has a gallery of The Most Important Telescopes in History from Galileo through Swift.

What you won’t find in that review of historical telescopes are the three newest and very exciting missions, Kepler, Planck and Herschel.

For the next three and half years, Kepler will be staring intensely at a patch of sky forming 100 square degrees of the Milky Way galaxy in the direction of the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. Its purpose is to discover and explore the nature and structure of planetary systems surrounding a large number of relatively nearby stars in this sector. You can find out much more about the Kepler mission by consulting the official Kepler mission website, and by looking at NASA’s Kepler pages.

Both the Planck and Herschel missions are well-summarized in the brief article ”Two Spacecraft Set to Probe the Early Universe’s Mysteries” in Scientific American.

The Planck spacecraft is designed to observe and image the Cosmic Background Radiation with unprecedented accuracy and resolution. You can find a quick overview of its purpose and capabilities in this New Scientist article or in greater detail at the European Space Agency’s Planck home page, as well as here and here.

The Herschel Space Observatory is a space-based telescope that will view the far-infrared and submillimeter portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. For Herschel, the European Space Agency also offers a website. You can also find additional useful information at NASA’s Herschel Science Center and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Herschel page.

Hubble Update (May 20):

“We got everything we asked for, we’re going to have a great mission for years to come.” See Second Hubble Revolution Starts Today at

Published in: on May 16, 2009 at 8:09 pm  Comments (2)  

Caveat Emptor

The ad hominem argument is often derided as a logical fallacy, and it is assuredly true that one’s failure to live one’s values is not necessarily a refutation of the validity of the values themselves. Nevertheless, there’s much to be said in favor of the proposition ‘if you talk the talk, then walk the walk.’

A new and apparently very popular book by “best-selling author” Daniel Goleman, Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything is discussed in an interview with the author in How to Live With Ecological Intelligence in Scientific American.

I can’t express an opinion about the book, not having read it — but before you do, you may want to read this interview, with special attention to Goleman’s response to the final question “how are you practicing ‘ecological intelligence’ in your own life?”

Goleman answers “I’m starting to do small things. When I started this exploration I was completely clueless. I’m still relatively clueless.” He then offers precisely three ways in which he’s “started practicing green” in his own life: His wife has bought some stainless steel water bottles so they no longer buy bottled water. They threw out some plastic food storage containers that “seem to leach BPA.” And he asked his lecture agent to stop scheduling him for worldwide trips, and to send videos instead. “I’ve done this in half a dozen venues and it works well. It cuts down enormously on my carbon footprint.”

Yeah. Quite the ecomaniac, huh?

Published in: on May 15, 2009 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Library Ghosts

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, justly renowned for its serious and sustained attempts to attain definitive status, occasionally ventures into the more imaginary realms of the surreal or serendipitous. Consider, for example, their blog’s offering from the American Library Association’s George Eberhart: Ghosts in the Library!

A selection from Library Ghosts – Midwestern US:

“Hutchinson Public Library. The ghost of Ida Day Holzapfel, head librarian from 1915 to 1925 and 1947 to 1954, has been seen and heard since her death in California in 1954, according to the October 31, 1975, Hutchinson News. Library staffer Rose Hale said she saw a lady standing below the stairs one day. She did not know the woman’s name, but when she described the woman to another library employee, Hale was told she had just described Ida Day. Other employees claim to have heard footsteps in the basement, and it became a shared joke that whenever anything was misplaced or missing, Ida Day took it. The stacks area in the southwest corner of the basement is notorious for cold spots, disembodied voices, and hazy apparitions.”

Published in: on May 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Ice Have It

Maximum and minimum ice cover surrounding Antarctica, 2008-2009

Maximum and minimum ice cover surrounding Antarctica, 2008-2009

Minimum and maximum ice cover over the Arctic Ocean, 2008-2009

Minimum and maximum ice cover over the Arctic Ocean, 2008-2009

The extraordinary complexity of predicting with great confidence and precision the exact effects of climate warming are emphasized in two new studies of the earth’s polar regions. New Insight into Decline of Arctic Sea Ice Cover explains in just what way we have previously underestimated the propensity of the Arctic Ocean ice to deform, fracture, disperse and melt, leading to a significant underestimate of the pace of and degree to which the icecap over the north pole has melted. Contemporaneously, it appears we have made the opposite error in assuming the effect of melting in the south polar regions — overestimating sea level rise consequent to even total melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Want to learn more? NASA’s Earth Observatory has an excellent overview article on Sea Ice, complete with a number of interesting charts and photos.

Polar Bear on Sea Ice

Published in: on May 15, 2009 at 2:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Politics of Self-Promotion

The Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based public policy institute, has released a 23-page study by Shawnna L.M. Bolick indicating that “between 2006 and 2008, elected officeholders in Arizona spent at least $4.2 million in public funds on name and photo placements in various official publications.” The publication, Shameless Self-Promotion: How Politicians Use Your Money to get Re-elected, is focused upon the state of Arizona, but certainly describes a phenomenon which applies almost universally in American politics from the local to state and national levels. The author suggests that “the use of public funds for what essentially constitutes campaigning is ethically and constitutionally suspect. Moreover, this practice puts others who attempt to run for office at a serious disadvantage. An incumbent who gets so much ‘free press’ is a difficult opponent indeed. And for most elected officials, the lure of using public funds to self-promote is simply too great to resist.” The document abounds with examples which will bring to your mind almost numberless similar cases from your own city, county and state.

For the quickest possible overview, see the initial press release and executive summary of the report.

Published in: on May 15, 2009 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

From the Greenhouse

Earth Average Brightness Temperature April 2003 - Atmospheric Infrared Sounder

Earth Average Brightness Temperature April 2003 - Atmospheric Infrared Sounder

“Many people think the greenhouse effect is a late 20th-century invention. Yet the physical basis for anthropogenic global warming was established six months before Darwin published On the Origin of Species . . .” See The Man Who Discovered Greenhouse Gases.

Published in: on May 14, 2009 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Citywide Cleanup

Citywide Cleanup 2

The annual PRIDE City Wide Clean Up will be held on Saturday June 6th (beginning at 7:00 am) for the west side of town and on Saturday June 13th for the east side of town. Permits are available for $10, and can be purchased from the Haysville Community Library beginning on May 18th, or at True Value Hardware.

For more information, call the library at 524-5242, or visit the city’s website.

Published in: on May 13, 2009 at 9:41 am  Leave a Comment  

Citizen’s Briefing Book

Citizen's Briefing Book 3

From the White House Office of Public Engagement comes a Citizen’s Briefing Book, a 33-page document offering a number of interesting policy proposals and ideas, some quite controversial, others much less so. The briefing book explains that “as a closing act for the Transition, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett requested that the Office of Public Liaison create a process by which Americans outside of Washington could come together to present ideas directly to the President – a ‘Citizen’s Briefing Book.’

“The idea was to use the Transition website,, to create a grassroots version of the research binders that presidents receive every day. But instead of advice from top government officials, the Citizen’s Briefing Book is composed of ideas submitted by ordinary people and reflecting the enthusiastic engagement from the public we saw throughout the course of

“125,000 users submitted over 44,000 ideas and cast over 1.4 million votes, with the most popular ideas accumulating tens of thousands of votes each. This book contains some of the top ideas, broken into groups by issue area. You can tell how popular each idea was by looking at the number next to it – it represents how many people voted for the idea, with 10 points awarded for each positive vote. In addition, you will find a ‘word cloud’ for each category of ideas representing the frequency with which various words and concepts appeared through the entire process.

“Out of the tens of thousands of submissions, these ideas found the most support; here they are, unvarnished and unedited.”

The Citizen’s Briefing Book should provide interesting topics for public debate for some time to come.

Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 2:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

On Books, #6

“The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.”

— Carl Sagan

Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 12:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Snow Job

The Two Cultures 1

Exactly half a century has passed since C.P. Snow penned a little book — originally delivered as a lecture — which wielded an influence out of all proportion to its length, and, the truth be told, even more out of proportion to its exceedingly modest virtues. The Two Cultures – remarkably unperceptive when written and even less revealing now – purports to examine the cleavage between the divergent “cultures” of the sciences and the humanities. At the time it provoked quite a tempest of discussion. The work is accounted a classic, and continues to receive accolades and recognition. I recommend you check it out (it can be found at 001.2 Sn in the library stacks) and ask yourself “why?” (The book is a mere 51 pages, and even with the follow-up lecture in the library’s edition, just 100 – yet could now perhaps better be compressed into a single tweet.)

You’ll find a more positive assessment of The Two Cultures in this article from the Daily Telegraph, and a series of quite peculiar short comments vaguely related to the book in the article Science and Art: Still Two Cultures Divided? in the New Scientist.

Update: Smithsonian magazine offers a far more interesting and evocative article about the interrelationship of science and the arts and humanities in “Forensic Astronomer Solves Fine Arts Puzzles”.

Published in: on May 11, 2009 at 3:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Beneath the Waves

Maldive Islands (CIA World Factbook)

The Maldive Islands, with a total surface area less than twice that of Washington DC, is the lowest lying country in the world. The highest point in the entire Indian Ocean island nation is just 2.3 meters above sea level, and about 80 percent of the country is less than a meter above sea level.

How are they coping with the threat of sea level rise from global warming? In “Paradise Lost: Islanders Prepare for the Flood” the New Scientist’s Gaia Vince explains.

Published in: on May 11, 2009 at 11:19 am  Comments (1)