"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Peek at Waterloo-Pinckney in March

Thanks to a freakishly mild winter, I've already made two fair-weather visits to Waterloo State Recreation Area. Below are a couple of photos taken on the Old Field Trail. It is located near the Gerald E. Eddy Discovery Center. Outfitted with Michigans's Recreation Passport, I look forward to many excursions in the coming year. You can click on the photos below to see larger versions.

Old Field Trail in Mid-March



Especially for casual hikers like me, the Old Field Trail is a great warm up. It's a nice easy loop, less than a mile, with minimal elevation change. These two pictures are from the same stretch of trail. Obviously, leaves and other vegetation have not yet arrived. I enjoy this time because the landscape opens up and you learn a lot more about the topography. Ridge lines, roads and nearby houses are visible that will soon be camouflaged by foliage.

Waterloo-Pinckney Trail Awaits


As the small arrow signs in both photos indicate, the Old Field Trail is part of the longer Waterloo-Pinckney Trail. In the above photo, you can make out steps heading up and to the left.

For images from a previous season, check out this post:
Hiking the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Testimony to Congress Regarding NASA

Though I have written to elected officials many times, until this week I had never written to an entire committee of them. Recently, Bill Nye (the Science Guy) asked members of
The Planetary Society to send testimony to the House of Representatives regarding NASA's budget. Below are some excerpts from my statement. They will be included in the written record of the appropriate subcommittee. If you would like to read the whole thing (three pages), you can view my Statement for the Record as a PDF document.

Excerpt One: NASA as Law




March 22, 2012

At the request of Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, I am providing testimony regarding NASA’s 2013 budget. My perspective is informed both from being a member of The Planetary Society and also from working for a small Michigan-based distributor of scientific supplies and equipment. NASA has from time to time been our customer. I am greatly concerned over a possible 20% cut to NASA’s Planetary Science program. ...

Speaking as a citizen who has read the amended National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, I am aware that NASA programs are not a matter of luxury. They are a matter of law. For example, mandates for NASA to study the atmosphere and monitor near-Earth asteroids are hardwired into the legislative code that governs the agency. NASA’s Planetary Science program enables it to engage in “long-range studies…for peaceful and scientific purposes.” Furthermore, NASA is a vital conduit through which you, as members of Congress, fulfill your Constitutional obligation “To promote the Progress of Science…”

Excerpt Two: Ebb and Flow


The Planetary Science program is like an advanced guard. Its missions tell us where to point our next heavy-lift rocket, and what conditions future astronauts will find when they arrive. Current missions are providing some of this essential knowledge. One duo of spacecraft merits special attention: Ebb and Flow. Ebb and Flow were cleverly named by elementary school students. These children not only have a keen sense of what passes for a cool moniker these days, they also grasp the purpose of the mission. Ebb and Flow orbit in tandem to study the moon’s gravitational field in unprecedented detail. To the next set of astronauts that land on the moon—their mission likely to be a search for natural resources—my generation can rightly say, “You’re welcome.”

However, if NASA’s Planetary Science budget is slashed by 20%, those fourth-graders who named Ebb and Flow may arrive in college with few if any missions to participate in. It takes years to shepherd even modest planetary missions from the brainstorming phase to the launch pad. The time to put the next generation’s missions in the pipeline is now.

Excerpt Three: Facing Extinction Threats


We are remarkably close to being a species that can mitigate the above clear and present dangers. To do so will require a long-term, multi-disciplinary effort that includes planetary science. The good news is we do not need a new agency. We just need to properly fund the one which has already proven it is up to the task. We will also need to partner with other space agencies now operating around the globe. However, some of them are understandably wondering if the U.S. has what it takes to lead the way. I mentioned the European Space Agency earlier as a collaborator on the Cassini mission. We recently broke our commitment to the ESA for two Mars robotic missions. If the current budget does not afford us the ability to carpool, how do we seriously expect to get there on our own?

I ask you, at a minimum, to fund NASA’s Planetary Science program at the level quoted in my first paragraph. In comparison to other expenditures made by this government, the allocation is modest. As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has pointed out in numerous public statements, NASA takes less than a penny of each tax dollar citizens pay. Count me as a citizen who believes that some taxes are worth paying. Among the returns we and future generations can hope to receive is the survival of life in this solar system.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Eyelid of the Storm

On Thursday, a tornado touched down near Dexter Michigan only a few miles north of where I work. Fortunately, my workplace was safely out of the twister’s path. I don’t think it came closer than about three miles. Before we lost power, I confirmed the tornado sighting through The Weather Channel's website. Then I grabbed the company's Nikon D7000 camera to take some shots of the storm cell. These pictures were taken right around the time the tornado was on the ground. You can click on the images to see larger versions.

This first view is looking north toward Dexter, Michigan.

Here's another shot. I augmented the clarity and contrast a bit in Photoshop CS5.

This last shot looks southeastward in the direction the storm front was heading. It dropped another tornado later on in Monroe County.

Though no loss of human life has been reported, damage to property in Dexter was extensive. Still, I puzzle over my reaction to the whole event. The storm's impact shocked me, but the mere fact that it was happening did not. As these ominous clouds rolled over, I wasn't the least bit surprised. There was a tinge of resignation. It's that time of year.

Tornadoes struck Denver, Colorado once when I lived there as a child. I was in kindergarten. I didn’t see them, but I have a vivid memory of our teacher frantically huddling us into a hallway with no windows. Those twisters were regarded as freak occurrences. To this day, I experience periodic tornado dreams that hearken back to that terrifying experience in kindergarten. Living in Michigan seems to ensure that I experience one or two real-life scares per year.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Cosmos Highlights for March 2012

I enjoyed some wonderful images recently thanks to being on the right space-related email lists. Here are three:

Image credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/IRAM

The above is a composite view of the Orion nebula. You are looking at infrared data from the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory. This has been combined with data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The different colors indicate temperature, with blue being the warmest and red the coolest. Beautiful! This is what results when you make the commitment to put telescopes up above the blurring atmosphere.
Click here for the full caption.

This next image may seem ordinary by Saturnian standards. But keep in mind you are looking at a picture taken in January from a spacecraft circling the gas giant
this very moment.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Titan, Saturn's rings and the Cassini spacecraft orbit the solar system's most photogenic world! The more we learn about other planets, the more we are able to understand our own through comparison and contrast. Can you find the smaller moon Prometheus in this picture? Click here for the full caption.

Lastly, let's take a look at the east coast of North America. I'm up for any opportunity to put the politics of the day in their rather tiny place.

Image Credit: NASA

Starting in the lower right at Long Island, can you venture on and find Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and also the Washington D.C. area? Were you, a friend, or family member in any of these places on February 6, 2012? If so, there you/they are! Thanks go to the Russian space vehicles for providing a nice foreground (not to mention getting us Americans and our camera up there).

Treat yourself to the full-size version by clicking here.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

In Praise of Men who Shut Up

I try not to favor people because of their gender. I find gender identity remarkable in a basically positive way, but I do not regard gender as a virtue. I see gender as…well, gender. And while I know I am sometimes guilty of chauvinism, I like to think I do a good job of reining it in and apologizing when needed. Furthermore, I am fortunate to know many men and women who afford me the same courtesy. That being disclaimed, I feel like putting in my two cents on a current hot topic.

I sincerely hope that the day comes when no woman ever finds herself at the mercy of a doctor, insurer, employer, prelate or politician who feels himself empowered to deny healthcare for reasons that at their core are non-medical—objections that stem unmistakably from male-dominated religious traditions in which women have effectively been told to just be quiet. It is weeks like this one that remind me I live in a country that took 132 years to guarantee women the right to vote.

This is just my two cents. And maybe it’s not even worth that to some people. Still, if there was even a sliver of doubt on how I plan to vote in the upcoming general election, that doubt is now gone. Just as I do not think any other person, including a future spouse, should have the final say on whether or not I get a vasectomy, I regard a woman’s reproductive healthcare as none of my damn business—unless she is being willfully denied reasonable access to that care.

Now for a photo that, by virtue of its depicting healthy modern values, seems at least peripherally relevant to the above remarks. I'm posting it because I should not have had to think twice about it, but did:

The above photo was obtained with a standard license from www.istockphoto.com