Saturday, August 28, 2010

Awe: Grand and Grandeur

Tuesday's APOD, "A Milky Way Shadow at Loch Ard Gorge." If you look carefully at the water at the base of the two stacks on the sides toward the camera, you can see faint shadows from the "bright" Milky Way. If, of course, you're not distracted by the lovely geology. The two stacks were, until very recently, the bases on an arch, as seen in this photo from Wikipedia:The top of the arch fell in June of last year. There was an arch at the north end of Nye Beach (the site of Thursday's giant soap bubbles, though that clip was shot at the south end of the beach) until the early 90's, eroded out from a relatively thin layer of tuffaceous siltstone. The first time I saw it, in the mid 80's, it was the size of a small window. Each time I revisted, it was noticeably larger. Finally, less than ten years later, I visited and there was a stack, but no arch.Sunday's APOD: "Hoag's Object: A Strange Ring Galaxy." Not only is this an extraordinarily beautiful object, it's the very best kind: no one has a convincing explanation for how it might have formed. One thing we can say for certain: it's not completely unique. If you look at about the 1 o'clock position inside the edge of the ring, there's another ring galaxy that looks eerily similar (queue The Twilight Zone theme music).As long as I'm on my much-beloved topic of astronomy+geology=teh awesome, blogger buddy Matty Boy points outs something I want to second. As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm pretty skeptical that talking to idjits is worth the time it takes, but this stupidity has been going around every August for years now. It hasn't panned out for the last six or seven rounds, and it won't pan out this time either. I received an e-mail the first go-round, but haven't since. Nevertheless, I've read news reports of scientists trying to debunk it every year for some time now. Matty's piece is one of many I've seen this year, but it was the one that made me realize I had something constructive (heh) to say about it.
There is an e-mail that says Mars will look as large as the Moon some time in August. Tell your friends, tell your children and grandchildren, tattoo the dog, burn an offering and give it to the gods, big big party and you are all invited.

Of course it isn't true, not even close. The math is easy. The radius of Mars is about twice the radius of the Moon, which means if they were the same distance away from the earth, Mars would look to be four times the surface area because the area is proportional to the square of the radius. If Mars was twice as far away, then the two would look to be the same size.

Mars isn't twice as far away as the moon, it's much, much farther away even at its closest. The Moon is about a quarter million miles away. At its closest, Mars is about 60 million miles away. So even when Mars is really close, the Moon is more than 200 times closer.
My position is this: if this really worries you after more than half a decade of false alarms, you should know that Mars will be so close that it's gravito-magnetic field will overpower Earth's. In other words, if you look up and realize that Mars looks larger than the moon, jump off a cliff (or tall building), and you could very well be the first human on Mars! Just make sure you wait until Mars looks bigger than the moon. This may require sitting outside staring at the sky for a week or two, but imagine the wealth and fame that will come from being the first Martian! I'm not sure how you'll get back, but if you do, you'll have a free pass to all the TeeVee Tok Shows! (NB: Venus is Brighter. Be careful you don't jump until you're certain it's Mars that looks bigger than the moon. You don't want to land on Venus by mistake.)
Speaking of Mars and enigmatic structures, above is a crop of an image from Orcus Patera, "an enigmatic elliptical depression located between the volcanoes of Elysium Mons and Olympus Mons." (full size image; 1.4 Mb- big but very, very cool) In some respects, it resembles a crater that might result from a low-angle impactor, but it others, it seems more likely to be a volcanic caldera. It has also been suggested that it might be a hybrid of the two. Its margins have features that suggest both tensional and compressional tectonics- even in the small version above, the ~top-to-bottom (I'm not sure this is oriented with north at the top) grabens are evident.

Pretty freaking amazing world I find myself in. And pretty freaking amazing that I can understand as much of it as I do. But I have to say, what really gets me going is when I realize how much more there still is to make sense of.

Miscellaneous Amusements

Some stuff that has amused me and entertained me in recent days has been piling up, and I finally have time to throw it together into some sort of online slumgullion.What Would Jack Do?
Sofa Pizza, and from the same post:
WASHINGTON – In what might be the most serious challenge to Barack Obama’s legitimacy as President, a new poll shows that one out of five Americans are not convinced that Mr. Obama exists.
(The Borowitz Report)
I love optical illusions. This is another where if you can hold your eye fixed on a particular point, nothing seems to be wrong. But if you allow your gaze to wander naturally, the apparent motion is downright freaky. FuckYeahAlbuquerque
Darius Whiteplume's Tumblr. Now look, we don't want kids to realize this. The fact that they don't is the only reason the human race still exists.
Darius Whiteplume's Tumblr, posted with the note, "Michael Ian Black Goes After a Racist Obama-Hater During his Set." I have mixed feelings; speaking truth to power is dangerous, but worthwhile. Speaking truth to "fucking idiots" may not be as consistently dangerous, but I'm afraid it's pretty pointless most of the time. Idiots, by their nature, cannot comprehend that they're idiots.
Pop culture ore deposits and where to find them. Blackadder
I may or may not have anything more to say about this travesty later. I've been waiting to see how it unfolds. So far, pretty much what I expected. (Clay Bennett, from The Chattanooga Times Free Press)
The Daily What... I find it seriously troubling that I can find young women slightly older than a third of my age so appealing.
EpicPonyz... will this become a regular Thursday post? I have regular posts for Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. There's no particular reason to have one for the other three days, but no reason not to. And I've loved Norse mythology since about second grade. We'll see.


The Clash, Atom Tan:

Madness, Our House:

Adam and the Ants, Antmusic:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Earth Colors

Etsy seller Queinteresante has come up with a very clever idea: alternate labels for Crayola crayons which, instead of naming the color, name a compound, ion or element that has that color.
I just love that some of the materials are minerals. I didn't recognize sugilite or rhodolite; the former is a rare mineral found in magnesium-rich rocks, and the latter is a particular composition of garnet. We didn't do enough coloring when I took minerology.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mapping Magnetic Fields

A couple of months ago, I posted a pair of pieces on an aerial geophysical survey intended to clarify seismic risks in southern Washington and northern Oregon, News You Can't Use and USGS Aerial Magnetic Survey. A resident of Boardman, OR, which is where I-84 turns off to the ESE and away from the Columbia River, just sent me a photo, apparently of one of the survey planes still at work. In the original press release, the survey was expected to be done during July. I guess it's taking longer than anticipated. Thanks for the photo, JMD!The first time I heard of the OWL was on a field trip in and around the Snake River Canyon with Tracy Vallier- I'm guessing that was about 1987. Just below one of the dams, there was a fault that he thought might be associated with that enigmatic structure. I just realized a moment ago, looking over the second post linked above, that the idea of the OWL being an optical illusion might not have been very clear. Essentially the question is, is there an actual large-scale structure that has created the various associated landforms and structures, or is it a bunch of smaller landforms and structures that just happened to be lined up with each other? Either way, it has important implications for the seismic risk in the region.

Bubbles at The Beach

Humongous Bubbles, that is, at Nye Beach, Newport, Oregon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Debris Flows

Just a couple of days ago I mentioned The Control of Nature, one of my favorite books ever. The third and final essay in that book is "Los Angeles Against the Mountains," and deals with the physical, economic, and human angles of debris flows. I have never witnessed a significant debris flow first hand, but I've seen many, many deposits from them, both in the geologic record, and in the soon-afterward (days to months) sense. In my current location, a high, flat Willamette river terrace (which means there is the modern floodplain and at least one lower terrace to absorb floods before they reach my favorite coffee shop or my apartment), the natural hazard I think about most is the great Cascadia Earthquake. But when I've been out and about- particularly in the rainy months- the hazard I pay closest attention to is the risk of debris flows. They can wipe out roads and bridges in seconds; I have seen innumerable examples of such destruction, especially during the spring after the February, 1996 floods.

Earlier today, Dr. Dave Petley at Dave's Landslide Blog posted this clip of a debris flow. Respect its au-thor-i-tie. This isn't even a very big one. The action gets wild at about 1:15.

A Simple Concept

...that an awful lot of people don't seem to get. (Indexed)I have a feeling that many of them were the business majors who needed the professor to re-explain how to read a simple line graph during nearly every lecture of the intro econ series I took as an undergrad.

Wednesday Wednesday

Tail end of summer... another ~95 degree forecast... yup, it's a good Wednesday for a swim. (From Enjoy Your Style, which offers some really fun background on the character, and how to dress up and act like her; this is a great post.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday Tits

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) from Wikipedia

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Control of Nature

I just finished rereading The Control of Nature, by John McPhee, for the umpteenth time last night. I have enjoyed every single piece of his I've read- including things that are seriously out of date, like The Curve of Binding Energy. The Control of Nature tops my list in terms of enjoyability and books I've recommended to others. In it, McPhee deftly explores the difficulties and uncertainties associated with trying to "control" nature. To a degree, this is part of what it means to be human: we shape our environment to fit our needs. But when we try to "control" one of the largest rivers in the world, a voluminous eruption of basalt, or debris shedding off one of the fastest rising and fastest eroding mountain ranges in the the world, only losing would be obvious and clear-cut. What would a "win" look like on anything but a temporary basis? Even if you're not a geologist, if you have an interest in "natural disasters," and the human condition, this is a must-read book. "History shows again and again how Nature points out the folly of men."

I tend to think of Godzilla as purposeful, having intention; my understanding is that in Japanese culture, he/it symbolizes a force of nature. In the latter sense, the above video clip does a fine job of illustrating McPhee's themes. (lyrics here)