Baby Step to Mars

My last post asked people to look upwards; in particular, to cast eyes at the night sky and “wonder”. Not foolish enough to think my cosmic ponderings could ignite embers in those not inclined – I did vow to try “baby steps” – patient little steps intended to draw attention away from planet earth. Beginning with a video of lightning and auroras as seen from the space station, and linked below – next stop is Mars.

On April 8 of this year, Earth will pass between the Sun and Mars. This happens every few years, making 2014 a “good” year for Mars viewing. The months leading up to and following this date are perfect for Mars watching.  Rising in the east, by April it will be visible from dusk until dawn.

Here's one way to find Mars, and the star Spica nearby, if you're in the Northern Hemisphere.

Here’s one way to find Mars, and the star Spica nearby, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere.

Here's a way to find Mars, and the star Spica, if you're in the Southern Hemisphere.

Here’s a way to find Mars, and the star Spica, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.

I can’t ask anyone to find wonder, all I can do is offer tools and hope for the best. I will promise one thing – once you get some sky basics under your belt, you’ll be hungry for more.

I’ll conclude with a few Mars facts – due to elliptical orbits, the distance from Earth to Mars swings wildly. The closest distance being 56 million Km., and greatest 401 million Km. Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, the first “visit” was by Mariner 4 in 1965. Olympus Mons is the tallest mountain, with a base of 500 Km, it rises 24 Km above its surroundings and has a cliff on one side measuring 6 Km. Scientists believe surface water was present millions of years ago – a conclusion drawn from extensive images of erosion. In 1996, meteorite ALH84001 – believed to be of Mars origin – was reported to contain fossilized micro-organisms; still debated by scientific communities, yet something to ponder.

A link to “Mars facts”

Another Perspective


“Curious” is the only way to describe polarized opinions of the universe. Try as I might, ability to convey my  belief the universe can be welcomed without discussion of God, often elude, baffle and exasperate. I feel sorry for those choosing to grind away at life, blinders firmly in place as silly rhetoric robs them of wonder. Constant encounters with people blithering over “God’s” magnificence, reciting the “party line” as their field of vision narrows. I can’t put this any way other than calm assurance – I don’t give a rat’s ass what you believe, look at the damn sky! Snap out of it, understand it doesn’t make a lick of difference who or what made it – is it too much to ask you pay attention?

Indifference void of religious cataracts make even less sense. Patience becomes a rare commodity as eyes glaze over, insincere “how interesting” or lame alien jokes illustrate your lack of imagination. Look at the damn sky!

Having a favorite star, knowing exact distances between earth and the moon or sun, checking space weather reports, watching aurora cams, geomagnetic storm activity, solar winds or potentially hazardous asteroids doesn’t make me paranoid, flakey or crazy. Knowing star formations, planetary alignments and lunar cycles isn’t guaranteed membership in the “crystal worshippers club”. Interest in Keppler, Hubble, Cassini, or Voyager space probes, phone apps Google Sky and Solar Dynamics Observatory with “real time” images at my fingertips hardly justify your snickers.

Human nature dictates longing for explanation – answers put our minds at ease. For those so inclined, God becomes a fall back position, “his” wonder negating any need for further reflection. To be honest, those void of conviction, unwilling to tear themselves away from all too important little lives are the ones who confound; stay the course religious constraints considerably more understandable than indifferent, self absorbed tweeters.

This evening a fat old light bulb flickered – long enough to glean a moment of comprehension, bright enough to illuminate reflection. It dawned on me; wonder wasn’t something to shove down throats, expecting others to share my views – ridiculous as religious fundamentalists asking me to climb on board. Expectations for socially wired twenty somethings to see the world as I do or comprehend life without all consuming devices, nothing more than a sign middle age is laughing.

Undaunted by sobering light bulbs, human nature prevailed – my approach is all wrong – baby steps might be the answer. To be honest it doesn’t matter, won’t alter my course or change my ways if others can’t name the stars in constellation Orion. This isn’t about swaying the masses, isn’t directed at the majority of my open minded followers or intended as anything other than the “baby step” angle stuck in my head.

Over the next few days I’m going to attempt a politely restrained road trip away from planet earth. Tonight’s video, barely outside the upper atmosphere, captures lightning and auroras from the orbiting space station. If nothing else, it cements the concept of our”magnetosphere” –  the starting point of space weather repercussions – a baby step into the cosmos.

Wolves Trigger Trophic Cascade

Some time ago I wrote a post called “When In Drought Find a Beaver” –

The story of Yellowstone Park reintroducing wolves takes the concept to a whole new level. Trophic cascade is the term given to trickle down effects on eco-systems when you crown a previously absent predator top dog – in this case literally when in 1995 Yellowstone Park released wolves, a species absent for 70 years.

Those years saw an explosion in deer population – decades of  growth went unchecked as the voracious nibblers cleared vegetation, ate saplings, grass, flowers, and berries. Valleys and river banks eroded, mud and debris washed away from barren hillsides, inundating streams and rivers – directly impacting fish, amphibians and reptiles.

Enter Mr. Wolf – not only did deer population drop, their behaviour took an abrupt turn. Deer avoided valleys where they could easily be trapped, they fled to the hills allowing vegetation’s return along river banks and low lying meadows. Barren slopes suddenly grew aspen, birch and willow trees. As saplings became young forests – birds returned, beavers moved back – with abundant wood, they built dams. Newly formed pools and slower moving water gave habitat to fish, muskrats and frogs. Wolves killed coyotes, mouse and rabbit numbers grew bringing back weasels, hawk, and eagles. Plentiful berries saw bear numbers rise.

In less than twenty years wolves redefined an eco system, more incredibly –  managed to complete transform geography. Anyone not gob smacked by one seemingly innocent “tweak” ought to think again. Anyone not pondering consequences of our slash and burn mentality – those unable to make the obvious connection between this tale and environmental issues such as the tar sands – might want to reconsider apathy as a fall back position.

Every one of our actions comes with a definable reaction in the natural world. It works both ways – for and against us, but never without consequence. Remember that the next time you roll your eyes, change channels, turn the page or click away from environmental issues. Take a few minutes to watch this video – I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better example of environmental domino effects – a cautionary tale illustrating tired old “balance of nature” to perfection. We all need to smarten up.

Pondering Great Lakes Ice

We all know the Great lakes cover a vast area – why else would they be “great”.  Lakes Erie, Huron,Ontario, Superior and Michigan cover an area of 244,000 square kilometres. One fifth of the world’s fresh surface water, 17,549 Kms. of coastline, and enough water to submerge continental USA under almost 10 feet of water were you able to open a flood gate and spread them around.

It’s hard to comprehend their size until you tackle them head on; one of our road trips across Canada followed the route north of Lake Superior – from Thunder Bay to Sault St. Marie, a distance of over 700 kilometres just to drive the top of Superior. Before tripping north of Superior lake statistics were numbers without actual reference – even having perspective, it’s difficult to view this lake as anything other than an inland sea.

When I heard this little snippet I nearly fell out of my pondering chair – as of March 5 the NOAA reported 91% of the Great Lakes are covered in ice. A few more days of abnormally cold weather could break the record of 94.7% set in 1979.

I’m not saying climate change is afoot – that jury can stay out. I will say I find all that lake ice freakin’ crazy, and will link to a couple old posts on the subject below the link on lake ice.

No More Trouble

Far too long since Playing For Change took center stage in my thoughts, a timely reminder of their message seemed appropriate this evening.  A movement to unite people through music, provide safe havens with music schools in third world countries, and make all of us smile with hope for a better tomorrow.

Learn more ….

Aurora Cam

I just found the greatest thing, smiling from ear to ear all I can think about is sharing Aurora Cam. This link takes you to a site with further links to aurora cams set up around the world. In real time, or in the case of the cam at Yellowknife, NWT which I’m currently glued to – updated every 20 seconds – watch northern lights as they happen around the world. Don’t expect a planetarium laser show every time – just sit back, get comfy and let aurora cast her spell.

Each cam will tell you if geomagnetic action is taking place. To get the most out of this without losing interest – keep an eye on the site is updated every 10 minutes and gives advance warning of solar impacts as well as estimated intensity and scope. When spaceweather indicates solar storms in progress – high tail it over to Aurora Cam.

Good Enough For Jesus

As a Canadian, I confess to little knowledge of America’s food stamp program. Assistance varies from province to province based on factors such as regional unemployment rates; one thing for certain – Canada doesn’t pigeon hole recipients with the stigma of food stamps. Social assistance is based on a shelter allowance and “support” payment to cover necessities. Additionally, the Family Bonus program pays $111.00 (tax free) a month to low income families for each child under 18. Aid is available for dental expenses, bus passes, training, daycare, an endless list of “circumstance” provided you meet the criteria. I’m not saying our system is perfect or adequate – I will say Canadian poor are spared “labels” stamped on our low income neighbors to the south.

In Canada we don’t often hear of welfare fraud or abuses, nor do we peg or pass judgement on purchases made by recipients. We have the same drug. alcohol, and mental illness issues. Unemployment, child poverty, affordable housing, homelessness  –  we deal with the same problems. What we don’t do is stamp the poor with indelible ink – we don’t marginalize by issuing a food stamp card – a system that instantly labels users, an inescapable mark, tisked and judged by those who haven’t a clue what poverty involves.

I go out of my way to avoid Fox News; “news” being a rather thin veil for “opinion” (a position cemented years ago when a hotel guest complained  Canada favoured CNN, which he called the “Communist News Network”) I get a glimpse of Fox once in a while when watching The Daily Show. Last night Jon Stewart opened with a piece on food stamps – a segment comprised of clips courtesy Fox News.

Ponder what Fox reported – People were observed using food stamps to purchase fresh seafood, food stamps were even accepted at organic food shops in New York. One recipient had the nerve to purchase bait, with intention to go Bass fishing. Fox condemned buying dog food, tossed in “reports” of gambling, liquor, and concession stands at Disneyland. I was annoyed but my holy crap moment didn’t happen until a guest on Neil Cavuto from a few years ago complained about disposable diapers.


NEIL CAVUTO: Bailouts from cradle to grave, Connecticut Democrats pushing for the government to pay for diapers for low-income families with babies.

NEIL CAVUTO GUEST #1: If they choose diapers, what’s next?  Toothpaste?  Car seats?

NEIL CAVUTO GUEST #2 (10/26/2011): If you can’t afford these new-fangled diapers, what’s wrong with going back to old school? … The swaddling cloths were good enough for Baby Jesus, they’re probably good enough for your baby too.

My blown mind reminded itself Fox News aired this story. I tried to dismiss absurdity, tell myself no sane person actually felt this way – not a chance! I demand every self righteous, bible thumping fundamentalist who nods in holier than thou agreement with swaddling good enough for Jesus, immediately swaddle their own children. Who do these six figure talking heads think they are? Imbeciles clucking that if you give the poor disposable diapers, next they’ll be asking for car seats and toothpaste.

There will always be cheaters, no system is perfect. That said, stop being asses about it and give people some dignity – my guess is you’d find them rising above.