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.

s-1445c8ba57b5e19a6c41e03f391ac7ce53ed6533

The August Full Moon arrives in my neighborhood tomorrow, August 7 at 2:11 pm.

Names for the monthly Full Moons are very much culturally and geographically based. The August Full Moon is sometimes called the Corn Moon, but that name is used by others for the July Full Moon. It depends on your growing season. Similarly, I have heard it called the Barley Moon, which is also based on where you are located.

Some other names for the August Full Moon are: Worm Moon, Lenten Moon, Crow Moon, Sugar Moon, Chaste Moon, Sap Moon. It is the Celtic Singing Moon.

I see the August Full Moon called the Harvest Moon in some places. That is another name that varies in the month that it occurs. You might be harvesting in your locale, but the Harvest Moon is traditionally the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. Most years, that is in September though it can be in October. This year the equinox is on September 22, so the October 5th full moon is closer than the one on September 6.

The month of August meant that sturgeons were plentiful in the waters of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, so the Algonquin who fished there called it the Sturgeon Moon. Originally, they used hooks made of small animal bones or the wishbones of birds.

The Assiniboine of the Northern Plains called this the Black Cherries Moon, while the Ponca were more concerned with it being the Corn In the Silk Moon and the Shawnee, “plum moon.” But August also meant that plants and animals were transitioning in preparation for colder weather. The Cherokee called this the Drying Up Moon, which certainly would be the situation in the Southwest.  The Cherokee have called it Dulisdi, Nut Moon, and the Dakotah Sioux refer to it as the Moon When The Calves Grow Hair.

I found that the Passamaquoddy people called this the Feather Shedding Moon which resonated with me because I have been seeing feathers on the ground on my walks lately.

The Passamaquoddy (Peskotomuhkati or Pestomuhkati in the Passamaquoddy language) are an American First Nations people who live in northeastern North America, primarily in Maine and New Brunswick, Canada.

Most birds molt once per year, but some lose their feathers slowly during the year.  A few, like the American Goldfinch, have two molts a year. I don’t know which species the Passamaquody were observing up North.  I suspect it may have been  ducks, geese and other waterfowl, some of whom lose most or all of their flight feathers all at once. This leaves them flightless for a short while, until new feathers grow in. Even a couple of flight feathers lost will inhibit their ability to remain airborne.

It seems counterproductive to lose all of them at once but it makes more sense for them to get the process done in one fell swoop rather than be inhibited throughout the year. I have read that many waterfowl molt after their nesting season.

Summer is half full, but I am seeing all the signs of it being half empty. There are Back-to-School ads already. A few nights have been autumn cool. Some leaves have fallen in the backyard. There are end of summer sales at the Jersey shore.

I say shed a few feathers, but don’t go flightless yet.

 

mars simulation

Exiting the capsule. Photo: Rae Ellen Bichell/NPR

We have thought about Mars for a long time. Ancient people knew of it, probably first as a bright star and later as a planet. We saw it closer with telescopes, and we imagined Martians lived there. All the 1950s sci-fi books and movies that had aliens from our solar system had them coming from Mars.

Those Martians invading Earth have given way to humans invading Mars.

Is Mars as the next frontier for human exploration? It seems that way. In March, President Trump signed a bill reiterating NASA’s plan to send people to orbit Mars in the 2030s, with a goal of studying the possibility of “living off the land” there.

Movies like The Martian and Interstellar piqué our interest in living off-Earth – and make it seem more possible than it is right now.

As the U.S. in preparation for the Moon landing, we do simulated Mars exercises in the desert. The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), owned and operated by the Mars Society, is such a facility located in Utah. The site’s empty red hills and canyons have been a Mars testing ground for 16 years.

NPR did a story about Crew 177, a team of students and teachers from a Texas community college who had applied to spend a week in a two-story metal cylinder at the MDRS near Hanksville in southern Utah.

The Mars Society

The Mars Society is a nonprofit funded by grants, private donations and membership fees.

They once got donations from the [Elon] Musk Foundation, but he has his own plan to colonize Mars now.

The Society started using the Utah site in 2001. They are not affiliated with NASA who has its own simulation site in Hawaii. NASA runs simulated missions that last as long as a year.

Is this all about Mars exploration for scientific or economic gains? Or both? Or is Mars our Plan B?

Science fiction explored the Plan B idea a long time ago with Mars or other planets being a place to go if – or more likely, when – Earth is no longer habitable.

Joel Achenbach wrote in the Washington Post in 2016 that Mars is not a Plan B, but there are still some serious projects to get there for a variety of reasons.

And don’t we want to get out there before the aliens make their arrival here?

When the mothership lands, know who your friends are.

collecting specimens

An “extravehicular activity,” collecting rock specimens. Photo: Rae Ellen Bichell/NPR

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All around I fear that Jonathan's (and most modern) satire is lost in a world that is itself a satire. The corporation side. All fall down The chenille is blooming its odd flowers again. It's August in NJ.

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