Thursday/ New Year’s Eve

Hooray! We get to erase 2020, annus horribilis that it was, and go into 2021.

There are no guarantees that 2021 will be better —but we do have vaccines now, to fight the pandemic with.

The Biden administration will soon start to pick up the pieces from the last four years. At least there was some economic help from the government this year, with more to come (the $600 checks, $300 per week unemployment benefits extended through mid-March).

Tuesday/ the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter

Galileo started to turn his telescope to the heavens in 1609.
He soon discovered Jupiter’s four biggest moons, and that Saturn had a ‘strange oval surrounding’. Right around that time, there was the Great Conjunction of 1623 – but it is almost certain that Galileo did not see it.
Astronomers and historians have not found the event mentioned anywhere in the records of that time.

Check out this incredible picture posted on Sunday night by J. Rehling on Twitter (@JRehling). 

In his Twitter thread notes below, he says that he used a 9.25″ (that means wide) Celestron telescope with a 2350 mm focal length and an ASI 1600 mm monochrome camera, with separate filters for clear, red, green, and blue.

And when is the next super-close pairing of the two planets? March 15, 2080.

The Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, posted on Sunday night by J. Rehling on Twitter (@JRehling).

Wednesday/ the last of the superheavies .. for now

Below is the last batch of superheavy element slides that I had made for my collection.

Oganesson, atomic number 118, is the element with the heaviest atoms. Can even heavier elements be made, with atomic numbers 119 and 120?
Here’s what Samanth Subramanian wrote for Bloomberg Businessweek in an article from Sept. 2019:
‘The periodic table was never expected to furl out endlessly. In these extreme reaches of the table, cramming proton after proton into a nucleus renders it more and more precarious. The positive charges repel one another until the nucleus decays near-instantly—before electrons have had a chance to settle into orbit to provide an atomic structure and before the passage of a hundred-trillionth of a second, the time an atom must exist to count as a new element.

Were you to reach element 173, scientists theorize, matters could get even stickier. The effects of Einsteinian relativity would kick in, and electrons would behave in peculiar ways. Those atoms may not even be atoms as we know them—their electron clouds dissolving and the regular periodicity of their properties swerving wildly off course.

But physics presents difficulties long before 173. Even for 119, waiting just offstage, scientists aren’t sure which two elements they might fuse. Oganesson, No. 118, was the product of an especially stable isotope of calcium slamming into californium. But that calcium can’t just be directed toward einsteinium, the next element after californium; a handful of nuclear reactors around the world generate only a milligram or so of einsteinium for research every year.

Seven years ago at GSI, Christoph Düllmann and his team tried a combination of titanium (22 protons) and berkelium (97 protons), without results. In Japan, Haba has been working with vanadium (23 protons) and curium (96 protons). In a $60 million Superheavy Element Factory in Dubna, inaugurated in March, scientists are pelting berkelium with an extra-stable titanium isotope, its nucleus fat with six neutrons more than standard titanium. But at the moment, Düllmann says, 118 “is the end of the story. We now need one more idea. Maybe we’ll get enough einsteinium at some point. But we have no idea what combination of elements is best for 119 and 120. The number of theories is the same as the number of theorists you talk to.’

 

Friday/ three more ‘superheavies’

Here are the next three elements that I had made little panels for, to add to my extended ‘Elements’ picture collection.

Life is short for these, the elements with the heaviest atoms. Their atoms emerge from high-energy nuclear collisions, usually with scant time for detection before they break up into lighter atoms.

Friday/ the periodic table is now full

My current digital picture project is to add slides to my set of pictures for the elements. The pictures I have are scanned from the 1965 book ‘The Elements’, published by TIME-LIFE magazine.

At that time (1965), the elements up to Lawrencium (atomic number 103) were known. By 2002, scientists had created and identified all the ones up to Oganesson (atomic number 118).  The periodic table of elements is now ‘full’ (see picture below).

I hope the nuclear physicists are not just playing with their particle accelerators, but are contributing to the quest for the world’s first fusion reactor (that can produce gigawatts of energy). We need to save the planet.

Bombarding a very heavy element with atoms from a smaller one such as calcium, make its nucleus unstable, and then it decays into several other elements. Some of these are very, very fleeting: the new daughter elements are still unstable, and then decay further. [Graphics from Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad].
Here are some scans from the 1965 book (Oxygen, Iron, Copper and Radon).
I had text blocks (from the book) for Einsteinium, Fermium, Mendelevium, Nobelium and Lawrencium), but wanted to add in pictures for them.
For the rest up to Organesson, I will have to make brand new up text blocks, as well as pictures.

 

 

Friday/ decoding street art

I walked down to the former Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone by the East Precinct police station today.

All was quiet with not much traffic on the streets – but right then three police patrol vans erupted out of the police station garage, piercing sirens going and headlights flashing.  There was an emergency somewhere that they were rushing to.

Here’s artwork on the boarded up street corner where CHOP was (Pine St & 11th Ave): a gallery of pop culture characters.
At the back, left to right: Barney Rubble from The Flintstones (first appearance 1959), Luigi from Super Mario Bros., Inspector Gadget from the namesake animated TV series (1983), Ned Flanders from The Simpsons (1989), and The Kool-Aid Man, primary mascot for Kool-Aid (1975).
In front, left to right: Rocko the wallaby from Rocko’s Modern Life (1993), Nibbler from the cartoon series Futurama (1999), Underdog from the animated movie (2007).
And this one makes one wonder what Anti-Anti-Antifa would mean. Well: Antifa is short for anti-fascist* or anti-fascism. So Anti-Antifa would presumably support a right-wing fascistic stance, and Anti-Anti-Antifa would bring us back to a reiterated Antifa. (Just as in math, where a double negative becomes a positive).
*Fascism is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, as well as strong regimentation of society and of the economy which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe [Wikipedia].

Wednesday/ the Capitol Hill ‘Autonomous Zone’

I walked by the section of Pine Street between 10th Ave & 11the Ave today, called the Capitol Hill ‘Autonomous Zone’ by the protesters. (How long it will remain ‘autonomous’ — occupying the city streets, unchallenged by the Seattle Police Department— is unclear).

Three intersections on Pine street are blocked off, and a little ‘protest village’ of sorts have sprung up all around it. There are tents, stalls that sell water and food, and other trinkets to protesters.

Around 4 pm, on the corner of 10th Ave & Pine St, and looking east towards 12th Ave. In the distance a person with a loudspeaker is talking to a crowd of 50 or so people.
Here is an impromptu memorial with candles and flowers for victims of police brutality, set up at the corner of 11th and Pine.
Graffiti on the boarded-up shop fronts further down on 11th Ave. BLM = Black Lives Matter, and Defund SPD = Defund Seattle Police Department. Critics (I’m one of them) would say ‘Defund’ is not the best word for the slogan. Most activists explain that it means among other things to ‘take SOME, BUT NOT ALL funds given to the police, and add it to the budgets for social services, healthcare, education and training’. Other things should happen that is not captured by ‘defund’. For example, the police need to be demilitarized (don’t deploy weapons of war against civilians). Already, Democratic 2020 Presidential Candidate Joe Biden has said he does not support ‘defunding’ the Police.
Trump must have seen coverage of Seattle on Fox News (far-right propaganda news network). Bet he did not pick up the phone to call our Governor, just tweets an insult with the usual stupid spelling errors. The ‘President’ of the United States, stooping down to the stupid joke that he is.

Thursday/ geranium & germanium

ge·ra·ni·um
/jəˈrānēəm/

noun
a herbaceous plant or small shrub of a genus that comprises the cranesbills and their relatives. Geraniums bear a long, narrow fruit that is said to be shaped like the bill of a crane.

ger·ma·ni·um
/ˌjərˈmānēəm/

noun
The chemical element of atomic number 32, a shiny gray semi-metal. Germanium was important in the making of transistors and other semiconductor devices, but has been largely replaced by silicon.


I found some geranium (cranesbill) flowers on my walk around the block tonight (had to do an image search on Google).
Just for fun, below is a picture of a chunk of germanium.

Ultrapure chunk of polycrystalline germanium, 12 grams. Source: Images of Elements

Monday/ Mount St Helens, 40 yrs later

‘Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!’ – Radio message from David Johnston (30), United States Geological Survey (USGS) volcanologist who was killed by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State, May 18, 1980 at 8:32 AM


It’s 40 years on, and Mount St Helens is still an active volcano and under constant surveillance. From the USGS website: The 1980 eruption jump-started interest in the study of explosive eruptions and monitoring efforts to improve warning systems that help mitigate hazards. The eruption underscored the importance of using as many monitoring tools as possible to track unrest and eruption activity.

We have five active volcanoes in Washington State, and one more just south of the state line in Oregon. For now, they are all at a ‘Normal’ alert level. [Map from www.usgs.gov].
Plinian column from May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. This is an aerial view from its southwest. [Graphic from @WAStatePks on Twitter.  Photo Credit: Robert Krimmel].

Thursday/ the flower moon is out

The last supermoon of 2020 is out tonight, and its color was a rich cheesy yellow, from my vantage point here.

Here is a pair of pictures that I found on Twitter, of the International Space Station transiting against the Sun, and against the Moon.
The scales of the pictures are the same!  .. our Sun is gargantuan, of course — its diameter roughly 400 times that of the moon —but it is also 400 times further away from Earth, than the moon.

Tuesday/ the pink moon (that is not pink)

Here’s my blurry photo of the full moon. It’s the pink moon, and it’s a supermoon*.

*A full moon closer than usual to Earth, so it looks a little larger. It’s called pink, because of the bloom of ground phlox this time of year (a pink flower common in North America).

The full moon from my window tonight (shot at 135mm zoom on Canon EOS 7D). The big dark spot on the left edge in the middle is the Ocean of Storms, and there is a bright spot on the lower right that is a crater called Tycho. The crater is named after the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and is estimated to be 108 million years old (one of the younger ones on the moon!).

Friday/ the United States is in a National Emergency

Gov. Jay Inslee expanded school closures and prohibited large gatherings across all of Washington State on Friday, in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Health officials reported at least five new deaths, and more than 560 people have now tested positive.
– Associated Press


Where coronavirus cases have been reported (official count: 2,100 with sparse testing). More than a handful of experts put the number of infected Americans already, as an estimated number, in the hundreds of thousands. [Graphic by the New York Times].
This is a scary graph. There is no sign whatsoever, that the ‘curve is flattening’ (the number of new cases reported every day, still increases at an exponential rate).

Trump finally announced today — some 30 minutes before Wall Street closed for the week— that he declares a National Emergency* over the coronavirus.  He shook hands with at least three Fortune 500 executives (a bad example in the time of coronavirus), and proceeded to exchange barbs with the press. ‘Such a nasty question’ he said, without answering, when asked why he disbanded the pandemic response team when he took office.

Panic buying erupted on Wall Street, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average and other indexes up almost 10%.

Okaayy .. but there is going to be a recession. How can there not be? The world is grinding to a halt. The three largest cruise ship lines have announced a suspension in cruising for 30 days. Delta Airlines says the drop-off in business is worse than after 9/11. If any number of states is like Washington State or the State of New York, the national economic impact will be significant.

*The Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1987 is activated. When the Stafford Act is activated to deal with a pandemic, the federal government can begin providing direct emergency medical care to citizens throughout the country. This could include the establishment of temporary hospitals, for example, to ease the nation’s projected shortage of intensive care beds. The government could also use the act to provide food, water, medicine and other supplies to Americans. [Source: USA Today].

Saturday/ happy Leap Day!

Researchers from the University of California Irvine discovered that during landing, toads’ muscles adapt to the varying intensity of impact. As the creatures hop over longer distances, their landing muscles increasingly shorten in anticipation of larger impacts. UC Irvine biologist Emanuel Azizi says that toads are ideal for studying jumping and landing because they’re so good at it, and that studying them provides the basic science on how muscles respond during high-impact behaviors like landing or falling. [Video clip by University of California @uofcalifornia on giphy.com].

P.S. Also: it’s Saturday, so the stock market cannot go down.

Tuesday/ lots of sunshine

There was sun and blue sky all day here in the Emerald City.
Even so, it was only 47 °F (8° C).

As I walked down to the Capitol Hill Library today, though, bright sunlight would bounce off windows from the buildings nearby and onto me, and I instantly felt the radiated heat on my face.

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope has produced the highest resolution image of the sun’s surface ever taken. In this picture, taken at 789 nanometers (nm) wavelength, we can see features as small as 30 km (18 mi) in size for the first time ever. The image shows a pattern of turbulent, “boiling” gas that covers the entire sun. The cell-like structures — each about the size of Texas — are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the sun to its surface. Hot solar material (plasma) rises in the bright centers of “cells,” cools off and then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection. In these dark lanes we can also see the tiny, bright markers of magnetic fields. Never before seen to this clarity, these bright specks are thought to channel energy up into the outer layers of the solar atmosphere called the corona. These bright spots may be at the core of why the solar corona is more than a million degrees. [Photograph: Highest resolution photo of Sun (NSF) as of January 20, 2020 NSO/AURA/NSF]

Saturday/ a bad start to the Year of the Rat

This picture is from the Barnes and Noble Bookstore closing in Seattle downtown, but it is also a fitting illustration of the worrisome start of the Lunar New Year.

It’s the first day of the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Rat, and a new start to rotating through the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.

The coronavirus outbreak, and the lockdowns in place in multiple cities in China, are dampening the celebrations in the country’s Mainland badly, though.

Infographic from Agence France-Presse, showing the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak: the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.

Tuesday/ the internet was almost the ‘cat-enet’

It was 50 years ago, to the day, that the first remote login from one terminal to another was done, on what was then called Arpanet. And so the internet was born, say the pundits.

Just in time for Halloween: Meihejia Funny Cowboy Jacket Suit, available on Amazon for US$16.

Research papers into the late 70’s referred to these linked terminals as the ‘catenet model’ (concatenated terminals). It was only in the early 80’s with the arrival of the Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) protocol that the term ‘internet’ was settled on.

And it would be until the mid-90’s, before the public-at-large would get drawn into the internet — by the likes of America Online and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Amazon (1997*), Netflix (2002), Google (2004), Facebook (2012) and Twitter (2013) would follow.

*The years the companies went public.

Monday/ the growing problem of wildfires

The Kincade fire, burning in Sonoma County near Geyserville, Calif., which burned through 10,000 acres within hours of igniting on Wednesday. [Picture from the New York Times online. Photo credit: Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images]
Here we are again, with national coverage of the massive wildfires in California, and scenes of their total destruction. I’m not sure the preventive power outages from Pacific Gas & Electric have helped that much. (The largest ever: 2 million+ people without power for 5 days of intentional outages).

It seems it will take a combination of hardening PG&E’s electric grid (example: metal powerline poles instead of wood), aggressive cutting of trees & shrubs near power lines, and designating high-risk areas as out-of-bounds for new development or even for rebuilding.  The last few years, Governor Gavin Newsom and his predecessor have already poured an extra $1.2 billion into new planes, helicopters, more firetrucks and vegetation thinning.

Hurricane-strength winds (more than 80 mph), had made several of the fires spread rapidly, making them into blow torches that light up the tinder-dry vegetation.

There is going to be a pause in the winds on Tuesday, says meteorologists, but then they will come back with a vengeance on Wednesday and Thursday. [Graphic: Paul Duginski/ Los Angeles Times]

Wednesday/ the Pike Motorworks Building

Wow .. the new Pike Motorworks Building looks quite nice, I thought as I walked by on Tuesday.

The black lettering used to say ‘BMW SEATTLE’, and it was a single-level BMW dealership and garage until 2013 or so, when BMW moved out. The property was then developed into one of the largest apartment buildings on Capitol Hill, with an acclaimed microbrewery called Redhook Brewlab in the old BMW garage space. The Pike Motorworks Building is now owned by Boston-based TA Realty.
Artwork on the apartment. Hmm. Let’s see. Yes, smelling a rose (top right), would send (intoxicatingly pleasant) electrical signals to the brain, as would biting into an apple (bottom right). And the brain and heart (middle right) are both part of the central nervous system. Does the brain send electrical impulses to the heart to make it beat? No. Hearts get their impulses from the sinus node, a small mass of specialized tissue located in the right upper chamber (atrium) of the heart.

Saturday/ why the truth is so hard to find

‘We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are’.
– from Seduction of the Minotaur, by Anais Nin (1961)


The entire Sept. issue of Scientific American is dedicated to the topic on the front page in bold letters: Truth, Lies & Uncertainty: Searching for Reality in Unreal Times. The articles are heavy on science and general philosophies about what is real and what is virtual. For example: to this day, philosophers cannot agree on whether mathematical objects (say, the number ‘7’) exist, or are pure fictions.

A summary of the article by Prof. Anil K. Seth that goes with the picture below, goes like this:
‘The reality we perceive is not a direct reflection of the external objective world. Instead it is the product of the brain’s predictions about the causes of incoming sensory signals. The property of realness that accompanies our perceptions may serve to guide our behavior so that we respond appropriately to the sources of sensory signals’.

So throw in Presidents that lie every day, greedy corporations with profit incentives, and worldwide social media networks ⁠— and holy cow: it’s more important than ever before to try to verify if something uncertain or new that we come across, is ‘true’.

Our realities are constructed by our brains, and no two brains are exactly alike.