Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Looking Back at the Moon

For old astronomy buffs, there's been a lot to celebrate this week. Most of us can remember where we were on July 20,1969--and I'm no exception: baseball game, watching the Angels at what was then called Anaheim Stadium. The Angels were playing the Oakland Athletics, who won 9-6. The old stadium didn't have much in the way of cool graphics capabilities, but they did show a rough version of the lunar module slowly descending to the "surface" of the moon. When it stopped, the crowd erupted and the poor guy at bat, who was behind in the count, couldn't figure out what the hell was going on. Then he looked up at the scoreboard, threw down his hat, and started jumping up and down. I can't remember who it was, but I think it was one of the guys who pitched--and since this was in the days before designated hitters, I could actually be right. Anyway, when something great happens, like a moon landing, it's rather fun to be with a big crowd.

Then, yesterday, if you were living in the right place (mainly China and India), you got to see the longest solar eclipse of the century. In honor of all this I though it would be a good idea to revisit my favorite repositories of web-available images for an historical look at moon pictures.

My first stop was, as usual, Wikimedia Commons, which produced a page of Galileo drawings of moon phases, a Japanese print of a wolf in front of a full moon, and a detailed map of the moon.

Galileo, Phases of the Moon (1616)

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi Full moon in Mushasi, 1890

I can't do the Map of the Moon justice here; you'll have to go to the link and enlarge the image, but it's rather wonderful. It was created for the Andrees Allgemeiner Handatlas, 1st Edition, published in Leipzig in 1881 and scanned by "Grombo" for the Commons.

I then found a composite photo of the earth and the moon, which originally came from GRIN (Great Images in NASA):

The Earth and Moon, created from two separate images taken by the Galileo spacecraft in 1992. See the GRIN page on the image for the full description. And here's another great shot from the same website, taken from the Apollo 16 Command and Service Module on April 23, 1972. The Lunar Module carrying John Young and Charles Duke were on their way up to "Casper" after three days of exploration.

I also revisted the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery for another drawing by E. L. Trouvelot (who was featured in an earlier Cabinet post on astronomy), this time one showing a partial lunar eclipse.

The event was observed on October 24, 1874 and published c. 1881-1882.

Back at Wikimedia Commons I found the image that says it all for me, and which opens the post: "Earthrise." This may well be the most evocative photograph to come out of the space program, and was taken On Christmas Eve, 1968, by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders in orbit around the moon. The information on the link notes that

this phenomenon is only visible to an observer in motion relative to the lunar surface. Because of the Moon's synchronous rotation relative to the Earth (i.e., the same side of the Moon is always facing Earth), the Earth appears to be stationary (measured in anything less than a geological timescale) in the lunar 'sky'. In order to observe the effect of Earth rising or setting over the Moon's horizon, an observer must travel towards or away from the point on the lunar surface where the Earth is most directly overhead (centred in the sky).

I was, alas, too busy to properly mark the 40th anniversary of the first actual landing, but I did want to wax sentimental about it as soon as I could. At my age, celebrating things that happened that long ago is part of what's good about getting old. We were there, we saw it happen, and it was amazing. That Walter Cronkite died almost on the anniversary itself is almost poetic; after all, he was part of the experience.

As I type, I'm watching and listening to astronauts Dave Wolf and Chris Cassidy doing some battery work and preparing for a payload transfer to the Japanese module, Kibo, on the International Space Station. I never get tired of listening to these guys as they work, and will be forever grateful for the NASA TV gadget that shares space with the moon phase gadget on my desktop.

My hope for the future is that today's young folk have a chance to experience the wonder and the sense of human accomplishment generated by spectacular achievements in the various space programs currently in progress. And I hope I live long enough to see somebody (I don't really care who) go to Mars and come back. Maybe they could retrieve Spirit and Opportunity so we can put 'em in the Smithsonian for subsequent generations to enjoy, like my kids enjoyed seeing artifacts from the Apollo missions, moon rocks, and Neil Armstrong's space suit.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Garden Oddities

It's been eons since I've posted here, but I'm hoping to make up for it by aiming for a couple of posts a month at least. I'm not sure why I ever thought it was a good idea to break the original Farm into three bits, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

My so-called holiday is almost over, and I've spent the entire morning updating the slide list for my first lecture on Monday. But before I head out to the garden for some R&R (despite the fact that workers are tearing down the back of one neighbor's garage immediately adjacent to the potager, and major repairs are being inflicted on the house across the alley), I thought I'd post the pictures I took last week. Later I'm going to saw off the legs of an old wooden dining table to make a perch for feet and food (not necessarily together) and place my grandmother's old metal lawn chairs around it--so this is part one of a two-part effort on the cranky things we're doing in our garden these days.

I had got the idea for the bottle fence pictured above from the traditional bottle trees that show up all over goofy back yards in the south. But it's also connected to a Sherri S. Tepper novel called The Visitor, in which bits of DNA were "bottled" and put into a wall for reasons I won't go into here. When I was looking for ways to keep the Terrifying Space Monkeys out of the kitchen garden, I put the following equation together: saved blue glass bottles + all the rebar we inherited from the previous owners = bottle fence. At last my packrattishness bears fruit.

Beloved Spouse kindly nipped bars of iron into more-or-less random lengths (some are a bit too uniform and will have to be modified later), and impaled them in the ground at intervals too small to let largish dogs in. We then upended the bottles on the bars, and voila!

We also dumped about five big bags of cedar mulch in amongst the herbs in an effort to cut down water loss and maybe keep the mozzie population down. Then we moved the copper/tree-trunk bird bath off the sidewalk and onto the dirt to help close up where the dogs get in. It's not 100% yet, but I've figured out a way to put a gate in that we can lift up easily, so now I just have to tie together some twigs (as artfully as possible, I suppose) to make that and we should have a dog free garden.
But not toad-free, I hope. There are now two places for toads to hide, although one is probably a bit too open for them. The one above is an up-ended broken clay pot that got smashed up a bit during the big storm I wrote about on the Farm. The ceramic pipe shown below doesn't work as well, but it has the advantage of being next to a shallow dish of water. So far the robins love the water dish and occasionally perch on top of the pipe. But no toads in either place yet.

The final shot is of the newly moved bird bath. There was just enough space between the concrete and the Salvia, and room next to it for a pot of basil (the grille behind it is from the Smith & Hawken copper firepit that got smashed when our neighbor's tree fell on it; we replaced the firepit, but then had an extra grille, which last year supported a pot of Stevia).

The weather has been so lovely the last couple of days that I've gotten spoiled. No air conditioning, a spot of rain, Sunday morning on the front porch with coffee, newspaper, and no bugs. Most of the baby birds are fully fledged (although there was a baby blue jay tragedy yesterday when the little Manx that occasionally hangs out under my car caught herself a nice little morsel, much to the very loud consternation of its parents), so the mums and dads are getting a rest and occasionally lounging in the bird baths. By tomorrow the temp will be back up in the high 90s and all this cool peacefulness will evaporate. Still, it's reasonably nice most mornings, so the summer isn't a complete bother yet.

Hope everyone hasn't given up on me--I really will try to post more frequently and get back to looking at all the blogs I get such a kick out of, including a couple of new additions.