Finding Andromeda


Traveling at the speed of light for 2,538,000 years you would reach our closest galaxy, Andromeda. To put it simply – moving at 186,000 miles per second for over two and a half million years, covering a distance of 15,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles.

If you happen to be in the northern hemisphere and want to try finding Andromeda – now is the perfect time. Attempting Andromeda within cities or urban areas is futile – Andromeda requires the darkest of darkest skies.

Look to the eastern sky around 9 PM and locate the Great Square of Pegasus. Think of Alpheratz as 3rd base – draw an imaginary line between first and third base – that line points towards Andromeda.

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Next allow your eye to adjust and find two “streamers” to the north (left) of Alpheratz. Streamers being “lines” of brighter stars. These “streamers” form constellation Andromeda. Find Mirach – the brightest star along the bottom line, let your eye draw a line between Mirach and the star Mu in the “streamer” above – keep going about the same distance above Mu, and say hello to Andromeda.  I won’t promise a jaw dropping spectacle – more like a fuzzy smudge.
Finding Andromeda isn’t about razzamatazz. Even if you fail – the act of finding two and a half million year old light from another galaxy, is worth the effort.

Holey Space


Massive holes, deep holes, old holes – space holes. Holes in the vastness of space – vague, imperceptible apparitions free to behave anyway they please. Invisible cosmic riddles hidden from all but infrared light. Holes of unimaginable scope occupying the vast expanse  perceived as “empty”.  Holes without explanation or understanding – can they bend time, are they portals, do they obliterate everything foolish enough to wander up and say hello?

Images from the European Space Agency (ESA)  Herschel Space Observatory found a .2 light year wide hole in constellation Orion. Using infrared technology, Herschel verified a “blob” in nebula NGC 1999 (a star cluster within the confines of Orion) was indeed a hole in space as we know it. Science has a theory as to how the hole opened  (a void left when fledgling star cluster V380 Ori was born), beyond that – questions from depth to destiny are anyone’s guess.

A "hole in space" captured by Herschel.

A dark patch in a green blob of gas and dust (top) is a hole in the nebula NGC 1999.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/05/100512-science-space-black-hole-herschel-stars/

Our Milky Way galaxy churns around a “super massive” black hole. Black holes are all about gravity – imagine our planet the size of a dime – small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but weighing the same and packing the exact gravitational forces as its former self. Next multiply that by hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions, and you have a black hole. A region of space so densely packed with matter, gravitational pull won’t let light escape. By definition – an object in space so dense that its escape velocity exceeds the speed of light.

Watch this video – black holes are beyond cool.

http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/black-holes/

Old Holes


Ancient holes exist beneath our radar. Often referred to as “digs” or “sites” , we tend to ponder them as novels rather than chapters or pages. For now lets just call them holes – I don’t care if the story makes sense or chapters flow sensibly – take a look at some very old “holes”.

Constructed around 800 AD, Chand Baori in India is a spectacular old hole. This Stepwell ( a well behaving more like a pond – water reached by descending steps) has 3,500 steps sloping 100 feet to the bottom. In monsoon season, the well fills almost to capacity.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2269135/Well-I-Incredible-man-watering-hole-India-features-maze-seemingly-ending-steps.html

Derinkuyu in Turkey may not be a hole in the traditional sense, but any civilization that digs a 13 level, over 100 foot deep underground structure able to house 20,000 people, makes my list of old holes. Attributed to the Phrygians around 800 BC, each level could be secured behind rolling stone doors from inside the structure. Sophisticated ventilation kept fresh air flowing to deepest corners, and a tunnel almost 5 miles long connected it to the underground city of Kaymakli.

Qanat Firaun is below ground and excavated by hand – I see no reason not to consider it an old hole. Credited as the worlds longest ancient underground aqueduct, it runs for over 100 miles beneath present day Jordan and Syria. Work began around 80 AD to supply water to the Roman frontier known as Decapolis – capital city Gadara was home to an estimated 50,000 people. Also called the Gadara Aqueduct – so much water funneled beneath the desert, thousands of fountains and baths gave ancient Gadara a staggering daily water consumption of 500 litres per capita. I call that a remarkable old hole.

A Hole Story


We’ve been digging since the dawn of time – turning earth in search of water, metals, minerals and gems. Caves, tunnels, crypts, bunkers, treasure vaults, food storage – purposely hewn testaments to our ingenuity.

Bingham Canyon Copper Mine in Utah is the largest man made hole on the planet. Three quarters of a mile deep, two and a half miles wide, In continuous production since 1906 – now owned by United Kingdom based Rio Tinto – it dodged falling copper prices and a planned closure in 2013, when copper prices began to climb. Rio Tinto has plans to build a second mine, 2000 feet beneath the floor of the existing open pit.

http://www.weather.com/news/science/environment/bingham-canyon-mine-worlds-biggest-man-made-hole-ground-20140724

Second place goes to the Mirny Diamond Mine in Siberia -1,722 feet deep and 3,900 feet wide – between 1955 and 2001, it produced over 10 million carats of diamonds every year. Large scale mining has ceased in the open pit, mining activity now takes place underground.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/atlas_obscura/2013/06/28/russian_diamond_mine_is_the_worlds_second_largest_hole.html

Kimberly Mine in South Africa deserves mention for reaching a depth of 705 feet, width 3,600 feet – dug entirely by hand. Between 1871 and 1914. upwards of 50,000 men armed with picks and shovels, extracted 6000 pounds of diamonds from this ridiculously steep round hole.

The Kola Borehole in Russia is in a league of its own. Who knew Russia and America not only raced for space – each wanted to be the first to reach Earth’s core. American effort “Project Mohole” exhausted funding in 1966, the site off the coast of Mexico in the Pacific Ocean was abandoned. Starting in 1970 until 1994, Russian scientists managed to bore a hole 7.5 miles into Earth’s crust. The project closed when temperatures at the business end exceeded 356 degrees Fahrenheit – super heated rock behaved more like plastic, making further drilling impossible. Far from being deemed a failure – core samples showed the existence of biological fossils in rock more than 2 billion years old. In all, 24 species of single cell marine plankton were identified.
Far from being the whole story – tomorrow I’ll look at ancient holes.

Starfish Prime


July 9, 1962 – 250 miles above uninhabited Johnston Island – a Pacific atoll between Hawaii and the Marshall Islands –  America detonated a nuclear warhead. As part of “Operation Fishbowl”, this wasn’t their first high altitude nuclear rodeo. High altitude nuclear testing began in 1958.  six detonations that year raised more questions than answers.  Hardly surprising poor instrumentation and inconclusive data, frustrated scientists on the forefront of nuclear exploration.

“Previous high-altitude nuclear tests: YUCCA, TEAK, and ORANGE, plus the three ARGUS shots were poorly instrumented and hastily executed. Despite thorough studies of the meager data, present models of these bursts are sketchy and tentative. These models are too uncertain to permit extrapolation to other altitudes and yields with any confidence. Thus there is a strong need, not only for better instrumentation, but for further tests covering a range of altitudes and yields.” – Defense Atomic Support Agency interim report on Starfish Prime, August 1962

Just after 11 PM Honolulu time July 9, 1962, Thor (the first USAF ballistic missile) unleashed Starfish Prime – Thor traveled almost 700 miles straight up before puttering out, as it fell towards Earth – at precisely 13 minutes 41 seconds after launch –  a programmed detonation took place around the 250 mile mark.

The question of how Earth’s magnetosphere reacts to thermonuclear assault became clear. The EMP (electromagnetic pulse) sent instruments off the scale, 900 miles away in Hawaii streetlights blew, burglar alarms sounded and a damaged telephone microwave link knocked out phone service between Kauai and other Hawaiian Islands. Auroras illuminated thousands of miles over the Pacific – according to a U.S. Defense Report, the New Zealand Navy on anti-submarine maneuvers, took advantage of light from the blast. Starfish created a “radiation belt”  – initially 3 “low earth orbiting” satellites went dark, ultimately a third of all “low earth” satellites clocked out. It would be 5 years before Starfish electrons completely left our atmosphere.

Starfish Prime was the last high altitude nuclear event – science wasn’t prepared for such a powerful EMP, further detonations would have been folly. A clever decision to place tracer isotopes in the package, allowed science to  map polar and tropical air masses.

http://www.wired.com/2012/03/starfishandapollo-1962/

 

 

Ferguson, Missouri


I made  a conscious decision not to write about the quagmire developing in Ferguson, Missouri. If doubting my capacity to add fresh insight wasn’t enough,  fearing a distinct possibility of outrage becoming rant sealed the deal. At that moment a ponder formed.

Abolition of slavery was an inconvenience to Southern plantation owners, share cropping was the answer. Slice plantations into tiny pieces, assign plots with wooden shacks, provide each “farmer” with seed and tools, have them work your land, take half the profits, then deduct the cost of housing, seed and tools. Pass laws requiring poll taxes and literacy tests to qualify as voters – voila, it was all a bad dream – business as usual. The south depended on two things – labor and levees.

April of 1926, the Army Corps of Engineers announced levees from Illinois to New Orleans were unbreachable. – that fall it started to rain. By January of 1927 water has topped “flood stage” at Cairo, Illinois – undaunted the Mississippi River Commission sides with the Corps. In March relentless storm water arrives at the Mississippi Delta , a delta inundated and overwhelmed by unimaginable rainstorms. Fearing a breach, residents of Greenville South Carolina start to evacuate. Skittish land owners , terrified share crop labor forces might follow – round up African Americans at gunpoint, forcing them into work camps along the levee. On April 15 Greenville receives over 8 inches of rain.

The next day, south of Cairo Illinois a section of levee fails – 175,000 acres are flooded. At Greenville 30,000 African American “prisoners’ fill sand bags around the clock – guards have orders to shoot anyone attempting escape. April 21 the levee breaks. Within hours the river is almost 100 miles wide, those not swept away cling to rooftops. Greenville is under 10 feet of water. Prominent land owner LeRoy Percy appoints his son Will to head the Flood Relief Committee.

Will orchestrates a relief effort – plucking thousands from trees and roof-tops, taking them to a “crown” of levee still intact.  April 25 finds 13,000 blacks stranded on a strip of land – no food, water or shelter. Will organizes another rescue – boats charged with taking survivors to safety arrive at Greenville. He didn’t realize plantation owners – including his father – couldn’t risk losing their labor. Only 33 white women and children were allowed to leave.

Will convinces the Red Cross to set up a relief center in Greenville.  When provisions arrive they go to white residents first, anything left went to blacks provided they had a tag around their neck marked “laborer”.  Stories of horrific abuse by National Guard troops – theft, rape, beating and murders of African Americans start finding their way to northern news desks. Enter Herbert Hoover.

President Calvin Coolidge appoints presidential wannabe Hoover to investigate allegations of abuse. Hoover forms the Colored Advisory Committee, comprised of African Americans, led by Robert Moton.  Seizing an opportunity, Hoover convinces Moton to silence Committee findings verifying atrocities against blacks on the levees. In exchange Hoover assures Moton that if he is elected his priority will be advancement of African Americans and agricultural land reform. African American votes help elect Hoover –  Hoover had no intention of helping African Americans.

I wonder how many Americans learned this history at school, my guess is very few. Click on the link for a detailed timeline from American Experience. Finally, ponder why this is my response to Ferguson Missouri.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/timeline/flood/