As this past July closed, Weekends in Paradelle closed out its ninth year online. An achievement of sorts. Since 2008, I have written more than 1300 posts here. That can either be viewed as impressive output, or a lot of time spent on something that I am not compensated for doing.

“So where is this Paradelle place?” asked a friend tonight as we sat with our drink looking at the New Moon.

“Mostly in here,” I replied, pointing to my head.

“But you often refer to New Jersey,” she said.

“Well, my body is there most of the time. But it doesn’t take a lot to get away to Paradelle, so I try to get away every weekend.”

“There’s also the allusion to poetry, right?” she asked, though she knew the answer was Yes. (see this post from 2008)

“Yeah, but I don’t think there is a real solid connection. I just liked the word and I like the suffix from French where it originally formed diminutives. After all, Paradelle is a little place on this enormous World Wide Web.”

So, now I’ll get back to writing and closing out this online decade. You come too.

There’s all kinds of fake news these days. There is even fake news about fake news. There has pretty much always been fake news about science, even before we used the word science.

Imagine all those ancient people wondering about lunar and solar eclipses. How many of them did eye damage by staring up at a solar eclipse? Were the gods or a God punishing us by taking away the Sun, and further punishing those who dared to look at it? Did they pray the Sun would return and rejoice when it did return?

In July 2015, an article online claimed that NASA had confirmed that the Earth will experience 15 days of total darkness between November 15 and November 29, 2015. Supposedly, this had not occurred in over one million years.

Of course, it was fake news. The original story seems to have come from a fake news website Newswatch33 (no link to it here which would only increase its search ranking).

The story is evergreen and came back as happening in November 2016 as that date approached the following year, and I saw it this week as a link in some Facebook feeds as an event for November 2017. I suspect the eclipse publicity brought this “November Blackout” story back and social media will give it some life again. Any number of legitimate news, science or debunking websites will tell you it’s completely fake.

And yet some people believe it. Wouldn’t you think that if  NASA knew that the world will remain in complete darkness for 15 day it would have been covered by the real media and not just by your friends on social media?

The “explanation” of this supposed event was that it would occur because of  another astronomical event between Venus and Jupiter. It was explained that during the conjunction between Venus and Jupiter on October 26, light from Venus would cause gases in Jupiter to heat up and those gasses will cause a large amount of hydrogen to be released into space. The gases will reach the Sun and trigger a massive explosion on the surface of the star, heating it to 9,000 degrees Kelvin. The heat of the explosion would then cause the Sun to emit a blue color. The dull blue color will last for 15 days during which the Earth will be thrown into darkness.”

This bullshit jumps off from the term “conjunctions,” which are real but mostly just visual phenomena. Conjunction, in astronomy, is an apparent close meeting or passing of two or more celestial bodies. It is hardly a rare thing. The Moon is in conjunction with the Sun every month at the phase of New Moon, when it moves between the Earth and Sun and the side turned toward the Earth is dark. That two things in the sky look closer together from our point of view on Earth does not mean that they are in fact close together.

Are Jupiter and Venus ever in conjunction? Yes, and when that happens they can still be over 800 million km apart. (For perspective, the Sun and the Earth are about 150 million km apart.)

Jupiter doesn’t affect the Sun. At about 778 million km from the Sun,  Jupiter could swap places with Venus or Jupiter could disappear and the Sun would go on shining normally.

I suppose we Earthlings would like to believe that amazing things can happen. Add to that the pretty poor understanding of basic science (especially of things astronomical) that most people have retained (oh, it was taught to you in school), and these ridiculous stories more easily gain traction. It’s not that fake news didn’t make its way around a town, country or the world a thousand years ago. Surely, it did – but slowly. Since the rise in popularity of the Internet and social media sharing, hoaxes and fake news has proliferated at an incredibly fast rate.

One of the other big fake science stories is the  “Mars Hoax” which pops up every August online since 2003. That year, a historically close approach of the Red Planet to Earth actually did occur. But it has become an annual event online and the closeness has grown so that the headline or link will say that on some particular night in August, Mars will appear as big as the full moon. Totally untrue. That didn’t even happen in 2003. It will never happen.

This year there was a new fake story to start the year saying that on January 4, 2017 it would be “Zero Gravity Day”  when people on Earth would be able to experience weightlessness if they jumped into the air at a specific moment that day. How many people believed that one? I don’t have that number, but I suspect it is not zero.

That particular story sent me back to childhood and listening to the humorist Jean Shepherd on the radio. At least once, he tried to get listeners to jump as high as they could on his command to test a theory that if we removed enough weight from the Earth all at once, we could tip the planet. We knew it was Shep yanking our chain, but I did jump on his command just for the heck of it.

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago about fake news and I said that, of course, everyone knows that headlines from The Onion or The Borowitz Report are quite deliberately fake and satiric. My friend didn’t know that and didn’t think he had ever seen any of those stories. As someone on Facebook and Twitter, I’m sure he has seen them. I hope he didn’t believe any of them.

Sure, Andy Borowitz is published by The New Yorker, a very legitimate and respected magazine, but his Borowitz Report web page says right at the top “Satire from the Borowitz Report. Not the news.” But you don’t see that tagline disclaimer when someone posts a link to one of his stories. You see “Trump Says Sun Equally to Blame for Blocking the Moon,” and think that since President Trump has said so many ridiculous things lately that it might actually be true. It is getting harder to be ridiculous these days.

The Onion‘s headlines tend to be a bit easier to spot as satire – “‘My Work Here Is Done,’ Smiles Contented Bannon Before Bursting Into Millions Of Spores,” for example – but I’m sure there are people who read them (and pass them on) sometimes as real news.  SAD – as our President might comment about this in a tweet.

 

 

eclipse from space

From space, the Moon’s shadow during a solar eclipse appears as a dark spot moving across the Earth. – NASA Earth Observatory

Get your t-shirts and protective eyewear because The Great American Solar Eclipse will arrive on Monday!

This Sea-To-Shining-Sea Solar Eclipse is rare in that it is visible across the country, although only total along a narrow path. The eclipse will begin over the Pacific Ocean at 8:46 am Pacific Time. Moving inland, it will reach the western border of Idaho at 10:10 am, Wyoming at 10:16 am, and Nebraska at 10:25 am local time. It will cross northeastern Kansas starting at 11:36 am local time), Missouri (11:46 am), southern Illinois (11:52 am), western Kentucky (11:56 am), Tennessee (11:58 am), northeastern Georgia (1:07 pm). It will pass over Charleston, South Carolina at 1:13 pm and then pass over the Atlantic Ocean.

Where I will be in New Jersey on Monday, which is north of the path of totality, the sun will appear partially eclipsed with about 73% of the sun being covered by the Moon which will still be an incredible sight. I will see the effect of the eclipse from 1:16 pm to 4:09 pm ET.

Here is a tool that will allow you to see how and when the eclipse will look based on your zip code.

The Moon will pass between Earth and the Sun, and blocking all direct sunlight. It will turn day into darkness in varying degrees depending on where you are viewing.

You probably have not seen a total solar eclipse if you have lived in the United States. The solar eclipses that were total in the past 100 years were either not visible here or only visible in a few locations.

But I certainly remember them occurring. One that stands out in my memory was on March 7, 1970. It wasn’t total where I was that day in New Jersey. From central Florida, the path went up the coast through Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  Two years later, Carly Simon referred to it in “You’re So Vain” when she sang  “You flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia – to see the total eclipse of the sun.”

If you are in the path of totality or off to the side and planning to watch the Sun, you will need eye protection. According to NASA, it is safe to look at a total solar eclipse with the naked eye only when the face of the sun is totally obscured by the Moon. Check out this article on space.com for more information.

I am fascinated by the records of historical eclipses. They are often used to try to more accurately date events.

A solar eclipse of June 15, 763 BC mentioned in an Assyrian text is important for the Chronology of the Ancient Orient.

The ancients interpreted all eclipses, lunar or solar, as omens or portents. But the solar eclipses are certainly more dramatic and jarring and enter the mythology of many cultures.

Who was eating the Sun? In Vietnam, people believed that a solar eclipse was caused by a giant frog devouring the Sun. Norse cultures blamed wolves, in Korea it was dogs, and in ancient China, it was a celestial dragon. The Chinese word for an eclipse, chih or shih, means to eat.

In Hindu mythology, the deity Rahu is beheaded by the gods for capturing and drinking Amrita, the gods’ nectar. Rahu’s head flies off into the sky and swallows the Sun causing an eclipse.

Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Thales of Miletus predicted an eclipse that occurred during a battle between the Medes and the Lydians. Both sides put down their weapons and declared peace as a result of the eclipse. That exact eclipse remains uncertain, but a candidate is one on May 28, 585 BC.

Historians trying to establish the exact date of Good Friday have tried using the darkness described at Jesus’s crucifixion as a possible solar eclipse. This has not been successful since Good Friday is recorded as being at Passover, which is held at the time of a full moon and solar eclipses are connected to a New Moon like the one on Monday. Also, the Bible says that the darkness lasted from the sixth hour to the ninth, and three hours is way too long a time. Totality maxes out at about 8 minutes, although the partial darkness can last much longer.

We don’t have many reliable records of eclipses before 800 AD. The recording begins with Arab and monastic observations in the early medieval period.

The first recorded observation of the corona was made in Constantinople in 968 AD. The first known telescopic observation of a total solar eclipse was made in France in 1706. English astronomer Edmund Halley accurately predicted and observed the solar eclipse of May 3, 1715.

Black Sun

Totality’s end in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway – photo by György Soponyai via Flickr

The Black Sun was the name given to a solar eclipse in Mesoamerican mythology. It had mystical meanings and was connected to the god Quetzalcoatl and his entry into the Underworld. For these ancients, there were two suns, the young Day Sun and the ancient Dark Sun. Some scholars regard the mythological Black Sun not as not only a thing to fear, but as the ancient female origin of all. It is both tomb and womb and its oneness integrates death and the expectation of birth.

If you get to observe this solar eclipse in person, you’ll have something to tell the next generation. And you will be able to perhaps understand in some small way the wonder that must have filled ancient observers.

wow_signal

The Wow! signal. The original printout with the handwritten Wow! by Ehman (Big Ear Radio Observatory and North American AstroPhysical Observatory)

I know that most people think of the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence as the stuff of movies and science-fiction, but it is quite real.

We just crossed the 40th anniversary of the “Wow! Signal.”  I recall hearing news reports on August 15, 1977 when it was detected.  It was a strong, narrowband radio signal detected by Dr. Jerry R. Ehman while working on a SETI project at the Big Ear radio telescope of Ohio State University.

It lasted for 72 seconds, and it had the hallmarks of a potential non-terrestrial and non-solar system origin. Ehman was so amazed at how closely the signal matched the expected signature of an interstellar signal, that when he saw it he circled the signal on the computer printout and wrote the comment “Wow!” on its side. This comment became the name of the signal.

As far as I could find, no one has yet conclusively explained the origin of that signal. A current theory suggests it may have been a comet, because as comets pass by the sun, ultraviolet light breaks up their ice, creating a large cloud of hydrogen gas around them. The frequency of the Wow! signal matches a frequency naturally emitted by hydrogen. This means that comets passing in front of a telescope like the Big Ear would generate a brief signal that might match the Wow! signal.

But in 1977, no one knew these comets existed, so no one had considered this idea, and the media buzz was ALIENS.

arecibo_observatory_aerial_view

The largest single-dish radio telescope in the world is in the jungles of Puerto Rico. Arecibo Observatory is operated by Cornell University for the National Science Foundation. It came into operation in 1963. Among other things it has been used by SETI and features in the film Contact by Carl Sagan.

The SETI Institute has had a mission to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. The  Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is actually the collective name for a number of activities to detect intelligent extraterrestrial life.

Even the ancients wondered about extraterrestrial life. SETI is listed as getting started in 1959 when Cornell physicists Giuseppi Cocconi and Philip Morrison published an article in Nature in which they pointed out the potential for using microwave radio to communicate between the stars. SETI still surveys the sky to detect the existence of transmissions from out there.

In the mid-1980s, the United States government contributed to SETI, but recent work has been primarily funded by donations.  The Institute comprises 3 centers, the Center for SETI Research, the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe and the Center for Education and Public Outreach.  They employ over 150 scientists, educators and support staff.

SETI doesn’t only listen – they transmit. Active SETI (also known as METI = “Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence”) consists of sending signals into space in the hope that they will be picked up by an alien intelligence.

Not everyone believes that extraterrestrial civilizations will be as benign as the lovable E.T.

Stephen Hawking wrote in A Brief History of Time that we should “lay low” and not alert extraterrestrial intelligences of our existence. The science fiction author David Brin has also expressed similar concerns.

If you’re not afraid to make contact with some aliens, SETI@home is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers like yours in the search.  You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data on your home computer when you’re not using it.

Dream lucidity means that while you are dreaming, you are aware that you are dreaming. There is a chance that it has happened to you. But there is a better chance that you have not had a “lucid dream.”

So, does this seem familiar? You are in the middle of a normal dream and suddenly realize that they are dreaming. This type actually has a name: a dream-initiated lucid dream.

I have had this type of dream twice. And despite trying to initiate a lucid dream, I have not been able to force one to occur though there are lots of suggested ways to make a lucid dream more likely.

An even rarer and odder type is called a wake-initiated lucid dream. That occurs when you go from a normal waking state directly into a dream state, with no apparent lapse in consciousness.

There are references to this phenomenon in the ancient Greek writings of Aristotle. He wrote that:  “often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream.”   I question the “often” part of his statement, but clearly this is something that we have observed for a very long time.

The term ‘lucid dream’ to describe the phenomenon was coined by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in his 1913 article “A Study of Dreams.”

There is no way to force yourself to have a lucid dream, but there are methods that are said to make it more likely. I have written before about lucid dreams and I have tried all the methods I have read about.

One suggestion, which I have followed for many years, is to keep a dream journal. I keep my beside my bed and a few times a week I have a dream that remains clear when I awaken and I write it down. 99.9% of those dreams are not lucid. The journal is supposed to train you to remember more of your dreams. We all know that dreams fade very quickly if we don’t review them when we are awake by writing them down or telling them to others. I have also tried using a voice recorder to eliminate the time that writing takes. I have had dreams fade away while I am writing them down.

I have also been told that repeating a phrase such as “I will be aware that I’m dreaming” before you fall asleep. The official name for this technique is “Mnemonic Induction to Lucid Dreaming” (MILD). This is also a way to turn on awareness of your dreaming. Another awareness reality check is to stare at their hands for a few minutes before they go to sleep.

Increasing your ability to have lucid dreams is part of  the Tibetan Buddhist practice of dream Yoga, and the ancient Indian Hindu practice of Yoga nidra.

Neuroscientists are also interested in lucid dreaming as a way to study differences in brain activities while waking and sleeping. I read about a study in which researchers triggered lucid dreaming using low-power electrical currents of specific frequencies applied directly to the head. That is not a method most of us can access – and personally I wouldn’t want to try it.

Lucid dreaming is not without risk. People who are not mentally stable should probably consult with a doctor before experimenting.

All of experience some sleep paralysis during the REM cycle of dreaming. That sounds bad but it is a good thing as it prevents you from physically acting out your dreams. You don’t want to leap off your bed while asleep when you’re dreaming about jumping off a dock into the water. If while lucid dreaming you are in that  half-dreaming and half-waking state, you may feel awake but be in a kind of sleep paralysis.

For myself, the two times that I experienced a lucid dream state they were uninitiated. It just happened. Both times it was during a recurring dream. In one instance (which I wrote about “pre-lucidity” two years ago), I had a dream about walking down a particular street, stopping at a home and walking up the steps and knocking on the door. I had that dream three times before. The fourth time I had the dream I thought while I stood at that door that “This is a dream and I need to keep knocking until someone answers.” I did that and I finally met the person behind the door. It was someone I know, and I wrote as much about the dream as I could recall in my journal, but I still have no interpretation of its meaning.

This weekend (tonight into early Saturday and Saturday into Sunday, August 11-12 and August 12-13) will be the peak nights of the 2017 Perseid meteor shower.

The Perseids get their name because they appear to come from the constellation Perseus. Perseus is a mythological Greek hero. He beheaded the Gorgon Medusa and saved Andromeda from a sea monster Cetus. Perseus was the son of the mortal Danaë and the god Zeus. In the night sky, constellations named after other ancient Greek legends surround Perseus, including Andromeda to the west and Cassiopeia to the north.

In 1866, after the perihelion passage of the Swift-Tuttle comet in 1862, the Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli discovered the link between meteor showers and comets. A meteor shower is the result of an interaction between a planet, such as Earth, and streams of debris from a comet.

In John Denver’s song “Rocky Mountain High”, he alludes to watching the Perseid meteor shower in the mountains near Aspen, Colorado – “I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky.”

A much stranger reference is the Catholic religion’s reference to the Perseids as the “tears of Saint Lawrence.” The belief was that his tears returned to Earth once a year on August 10 which is the canonical date of that saint’s martyrdom in 258 AD. Saint Lawrence was said to have been burned alive on a gridiron. From that came the origin of the Mediterranean folk legend that the shooting stars are the sparks of that fire. Furthermore, it was believed that during the night of August 9–10, the cooled embers of that fire appear in the ground under plants, and are known as the “coal of Saint Lawrence.” I checked around my garden Wednesday night. No coals.

This weekend you can watch from late evening until dawn. The meteor showers have been “falling” for several weeks, but this weekend should be the peak. The greatest number of meteors typically fall in the hours before dawn. In a remote location and on a “moonless” night, you might see 50+ meteors per hour. For 2017, there will be a bright waning gibbous moon after midnight. And I will be in Northern New jersey, not far from New York City, which will make viewing more difficult. But I still should be able to see those bright enough to overcome the city and moonlit glare.  This year they may be a “Perseid outburst” with 200 meteors per hour at the peak.

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