Total Eclipse

The early morning hours of October 8 promises North Americans a lunar spectacle. Beginning at 6:25 AM EST, and from 3:25-4:24 AM PST, the stunning sight of a low orbit behemoth full moon will pale in comparison to a full lunar eclipse. Anyone who witnessed the recent Harvest Moon appreciates the optical enormity of fall moons. Imagining an enormous moon transformed into an orb surrounded by red (in some places red and turquoise) light makes me swoon.

A lunar eclipse happens when the moon passes within the shadow of our planet. Sunlight refracted by our atmosphere creates the distinctive red “glow” , the intensity depends solely on current atmospheric conditions. Volcanic eruptions for instance can result in barely a hint of red light. Turquoise results from  light passing through the stratosphere and refracting off the ozone layer. The ozone layer absorbs red light, bouncing it back with bluish hues. According to NASA, conditions are perfect for turquoise – best seen with binoculars in the minutes just before, or just after totality.

This particular eclipse is worth losing a little sleep. Mark October 8 on your calender – get up early, go to bed late – you can nap or pack it in early the next day. I promise you – pondering a cosmic event will restore sanity in ways you never imagined.

Linked directly below – a worldwide eclipse visibility map courtesy NASA.



Shame On You Canada

Pakistan 2007, Jamila Bibi was accused of adultery. Accusations stemmed from a land dispute – land awarded to Bibi – property her husband’s family wanted. Outraged family members accused Bibi of adultery – in Pakistan, morality under Sharia Law trumps all else. Ponder hard line Islamic fundamentalists as extreme right wing Christians on steroids – self proclaimed keepers of the faith oblivious to proof, reason, fact or human rights – the punishment for adultery is “stoning”.

Based solely on the word of disgruntled relatives, authorities in Pakistan arrested Bibi. Released from jail in 2007 pending judgement – Bibi fled to Canada, claiming refugee status. In 2011 a deportation order followed denial of her refugee claim – the order placed in temporary limbo by the United Nations when her Lawyer asked the UN to intervene. The UN said it needed time to review the case.

For the next 22 months, Bibi went to work at a restaurant in Saskatoon, reported dutifully to authorities and waited for a UN ruling. Apparently Canada had little interest in reviews by the UN Committee Against Torture – by the time her Lawyer received a copy of the judgement enforcing immediate deportation, Bibi had been arrested by Canadian authorities – 5 days later Canada put her on a plane to Pakistan with $183 dollars in her pocket.

“Stonings” are legal in 14 Islamic countries. According to a Washington Post article published in May of this year (linked below) – 943 women in 2011, 869 in 2013 – were killed to restore “honor” to their families. Courts rarely bother with the minor details of murder for honor, preferring to look away as families dispatch horrific ends to innocent lives.

Jamila Bibi doesn’t know her date of birth, the assumption being her early 60’s. Her brave decision to flea Pakistan, escape death in the name of “honor” for greedy people capable of getting away with murder, and hopes of politely living out the rest of her days – callously shredded by a Canada  oblivious to human rights.

Shame on you Canada. This Canadian is appalled by your lack of regard for the United Nations, ludicrous justification, and embarrassing demonstration of absurdity. The country I’m proud of wouldn’t hesitate in protecting a terrified sixty something woman from sanctioned torture. What happened to common sense? On what planet did she threaten the fabric of our nation?

I hope you’re proud of yourself Canada. Take a long hard look at the face of the “adulterous prostitute” you sent to meet “justice”.  Pat yourself on the back – your asinine decision solidified this Canadian”s resolve to campaign for a country without Harper at the helm. Any decent Canadian would have done the right thing – shame on you Canada.

Canadian Border Services refused comment on details of individual cases – the court “removal order” stated in part….

“The applicant has not presented evidence before this court that could support a finding that she will face risks if she is removed to Pakistan that have not been already assessed on two occasions (by immigration officials),” Justice Marie-Josee Bedard wrote.

“Therefore, and considering that the applicant’s allegation of irreparable harm is based on risks, she has not met her evidentiary burden.”

Secrets Lurk Beneath Stonehenge

A four year project named Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes, revealed hundreds of unseen structures beneath the sod of Salisbury Plain. We’ve always thought of Stonehenge as a singular entity – standing defiant and alone, daring us to ponder ancient secrets. Archeology can’t agree precisely when Bronze Age people erected this iconic monolith – all agree it is very, very old. Textbooks hold fast to a middle ground of 2000 to 3000 BC. A massive dirt bank surrounding the area has been carbon dated to 3100 BC.

Image credit: University of Birmingham

Ground penetrating radar and geophysical survey techniques were used by the Hidden Landscapes project to illuminate incredible buried structures. Seventeen of which flabbergast an already puzzled gaggle of ancient history sleuths.

Underground “peeping” without excruciatingly slow excavation presents astounding Stone Age ponders. Radar imaging suggest Durrington Walls ( a super massive earth “henge” surrounding the familiar monoliths) once stood between polite rows of stone pillars – tidy rows up to 3 meters tall stretching for one and a half Kilometers. Evidence now points to long forgotten “pits” with astronomical alignments, and speculation Stonehenge evolved over a period of 11,000 years. Burial mounds predating Stonehenge, ring after buried temple ring of civilization lost, sleeping under Salisbury’s pillow.

Stonehenge is hardly my favorite ancient structure – Puma Punku or Gobekli Tepe take that honor. It is however one of the most recognizable and best known testaments to ancient kick ass. Learning further evidence of engineering wizardry rests beneath a few meters of British sod, explains the silly grin on my face. Slowly, but wielding scientific surety, evidence mounts to dispel notions of the history we memorize in school. Pondering civilization lost never grows old.

Roger Ridley

It could be argued Roger Ridley is responsible for the Playing for Change movement. PFC creators Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke planted a seed in 2002 when they hit America’s streets with mobile recording equipment. Hoping for inspiration – their fledgling mission began as a project to look and listen to the “shadow people” – to hear and feel sentiments of people the majority of us barely noticed, let alone stopped to acknowledge.

Venice, California 2005 – Johnson stumbled upon Roger Ridley singing Stand by Me. His voice piercing the day, a beacon of “joy” in the purest sense. Mesmerized by the power Ridley commanded – Johnson asked Ridley if he could return the next day to record his performance. Ridley agreed, and PFC global movement, “Songs Around the World” was born. A mission to connect the world through music – global musicians singing the same song, uniting the world with music. Stand By Me is brilliant, the catalyst for Playing for Change Band, and formation of their foundation operating music schools in the most impoverished corners of the globe.

Roger Ridley passed away suddenly in 2009 at the age of 51. Ridley was a messenger – a man who traveled every Saturday from his home in Las Vegas to play on the Venice boardwalk. A man completely deaf in one ear, and very close to it in the other. Undaunted by minor details –  a man who understood his path, followed his heart, and touched that of all who wandered within ear-shot. Ridley set unstoppable forces in motion – I doubt he knew the enormity of the seed his voice sowed.

Find out more about Playing For Change….

Adventure Day

All too often we follow the path of least resistance. Busy lives, hectic schedules and routine, meet lack of imagination, or silly notions of how we’re supposed to spend free time – precious days off become “to do” lists. Hurry up, catch up, clean up – one day, two if you’re lucky, to convince yourself this is living. “Time off” becomes a hectic scramble. So much to do, so little time -

Today was my first break after 9 unrelenting days of work. The house looks like a bomb dropped – back to work at 7 AM tomorrow morning for another stretch of who knows how long. I should have spent it cleaning, washing and shopping – not a chance, today was the inaugural “Adventure Day”.

Adventure Day wasn’t premeditated – as with all good ideas, it was seized and implemented without the slightest hindrance of discussion or doubt. Chores could wait, adventure day couldn’t. Setting out – not a cloud in the sky, barely a hint of fall chill – it was decided, rain or shine – Adventure Day took precedent over laundry. Adventure Day arrived, and will stay for as long as we’re able to hit the road.

Likely 20 years since driving the canyon to Harrison Hot Springs, we happily pointed the car in that direction.  From Vancouver heading east, the Trans Canada highway is preferred by travelers headed for the interior or places beyond – a divided freeway capable of depositing you in Hope, (a small town marking a definitive end to farmland, and first of many mountain climbs) in less than 2 hours. Highway 7 (also known as the “old highway”) eventually lands you in Hope – unlike the freeway , a straight blast through wide open farmland on one side of the Fraser River, Highway 7 is a winding 2 lane road hugging the opposite side. Beyond urban sprawl and bedroom communities, a lazy route for those in no particular hurry. Perfect for our first adventure day.

At Mission it started feeling like an adventure. Mission is named for Westminster Abbey – a Catholic seminary perched at the top of a steep hill. We’d seen the “tower” from below, but never taken time to drive up the hill. In fact, we didn’t even know it was a seminary until parked inside the gates and approached by an 85 year old monk.

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We took pictures of his prize flowers, and watched another priest play soccer with students in a field below.

The “mighty Fraser” is a river most locals take for granted – a body of water we’re forced to cross at all too few bottleneck bridges. Highway 7 lends perspective to Fraser as a vibrant, working river. Lumber mills cluster along her banks, log booms rest patiently and every accessible inch in between is taken over by boat launches.

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Burnt out shell of a boat in the foreground, with smouldering wood pile at a mill in the background.

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Harrison Hot Springs is a sleepy little tourist mecca on the shores of Harrison Lake – just a few miles before Hope. The “hot spring” enclosed in the Harrison Springs hotel complex, best left to tourists, the lake – peaceful, idyllic, and enjoyed by families out for a Sunday picnic.

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Round trip, our first Adventure Day covered around 250 Kilometers. Just over 7 hours from start to finish, and well worth every minute. I have no idea where the next one will take us, nor does it matter. Adventure day is about spur of the moment frivolity. It can’t be scheduled or given much thought – there are enough places we have to be during our work lives, we deserve one day a week dedicated to carefree adventure.




Aurora Alert Tonight

Ponder Earth’s magnetic field as a shield protecting us from harmful cosmic radiation. Known as “geomagnetic” because it starts at our solid iron outer core, (miles below the surface) and reaches to the outer atmosphere. (creating a magnetosphere, the point in space beyond the ionosphere where charged particles protect us from solar wind and radiation). Without it – our ozone layer would wither, and we would succumb to ultraviolet radiation. In other words, life could not exist.

When strong solar winds impact the magnetosphere, they “distort” our magnetic field creating “openings” – the near side to the sun being “compressed” and far side of the planetary field is bulged outward.

  1. As the charged particles of solar winds and flares hit the Earth’s magnetic field, they travel along the field lines.
  2. Some particles get deflected around the Earth, while others interact with the magnetic field lines, causing currents of charged particles within the magnetic fields to travel toward both poles — this is why there are simultaneous auroras in both hemispheres. (These currents are called Birkeland currents after Kristian Birkeland, the Norwegian physicist who discovered them — see sidebar.)
  3. When an electric charge cuts across a magnetic field it generates an electric current (see How Electricity Works). As these currents descend into the atmosphere along the field lines, they pick up more energy.
  4. When they hit the ionosphere region of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, they collide with ions of oxygen and nitrogen.
  5. The particles impact the oxygen and nitrogen ions and transfer their energy to these ions.
  6. The absorption of energy by oxygen and nitrogen ions causes electrons within them to become “excited” and move from low-energy to high-energy orbitals (see How Atoms Work).
  7. When the excited ions relax, the electrons in the oxygen and nitrogen atoms return to their original orbitals. In the process, they re-radiate the energy in the form of light. This light makes up the aurora, and the different colors come from light radiated from different ions.

Two recent solar events – CME’s (coronal mass ejection) are poised to deliver Aurora magic in regions unaccustomed to their magnificence. Solar wind from the first eruption have arrived, with stronger consequences from the second ejection expected in the next few hours. What this means is Auroras could be visible far below normal latitudes. Some scientists project as far south as Mexico.

If you feel so inclined – go outside, cast your gaze northward, and watch for tell tale green ripples across the sky. Best time to view is between midnight and dawn – obviously clear skies away from city lights are advisable.

Taken a few hours ago from the International Space Station







Europa Has Plate Tectonics

“Plate tectonics” – “Plate” a geologic term for large slab of rock, and “Tectonics”, part of the root in Greek for “to move” – put them together – suddenly ocean currents, weather patterns, and an average global temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit start to make sense. Science accepts the theory of moving plates of rock – 7 major and over a dozen minor plates, making up the Lithosphere. A 100 Kilometer deep  (give or take, here and there) outer crust  floating about on hot layers of  upper mantle.

Tectonic plates couldn’t exist without water. As our world took shape billions of years ago – water was the single factor capable of setting life in motion – accretion settled down, planet Earth announced she was here to stay – it was water that set our unique set of circumstances in motion. There’s a lot of it beneath the surface – perhaps as much as an entire ocean – pooled, saturating, running and generally messing around with otherwise solid stone. Our planet was precisely the proper size to form and cool – not too fast, not too slow, but just right. Mars tried to develop tectonics, science speculates it had an atmosphere and magnetic shield for a cosmic blink, but ultimately proved too small (hence cooled to fast) to make it in the long run.

Plate tectonics are tricky – on Earth they are credited with formation of mountain ranges (the Andes and Himalayas for instance), geographic barriers responsible for trapping moisture, continental drifts and collisions (Antarctica separating from Australia – hence redirection of ocean currents) or volcanic eruptions which released trapped carbon dioxide gas leading to global warming.

Plate tectonics are the reason we have earthquakes – ever drifting sections of the planet grind against each other, exert unimaginable pressure as one plate attempts to overtake another – inevitably very bad days follow. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, monsoons, hurricanes – all products of our unique tectonic designation. I could write pages about Earthly tectonics, but ask  you trust me when I tell you – they are the reason we exist. At the moment, I have Europa on my mind.

Europa is the 6th closest of Jupiter’s 63 moons. It caught Galileo’s attention in 1610 (a ponder in itself – why this moon Galileo?). Of interest to NASA since the early 70’s, modern science suspects Europa’s smooth icy surface hides a liquid ocean – data from the Hubble telescope indicate “plumes” of water vapor spewing from a suspected underground source. Earlier this week, researchers S.A. Kattenhorn and L. M. Procter published findings culled from Hubble images indicating tectonic movement on Europa. Using images from Hubble, they concluded Europa’s surface appeared to move about, much like our own – a conclusion with only one explanation – plate tectonics.

Plate tectonics rely on water, water is the one and only constant needed to support life. We’ve long believed Earth was unique regarding tectonics and the ramifications of liquid water  in relation to supporting any form of life. Pondering Europa as a planetary body with plate tectonics means it’s possible life exists beneath the surface.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has conceptualized a mission dubbed “Europa Clipper”, with an optimistic launch in the next 10 years. Despite a daunting 2 billion dollar price tag, NASA is asking the scientific community to submit suggestions by October 17, 2014 for instrumentation or investigative approaches to determine once and for all if Europa has what it takes to support life.

“Life” is complicated. Plate tectonics  may be tricky, yet one thing remains unshakeable – life exists on Earth due to tectonics – we owe it to ourselves to investigate that possibility on Europa.