The Frozen World of Bob

This from a recent NASA press release: “On New Year’s Day 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past a small, frozen world in the Kuiper Belt, at the outer edge of our solar system. The target Kuiper Belt object (KBO) currently goes by the official designation (486958) 2014 MU69. NASA and the New Horizons team are asking the public for help in giving “MU69” a nickname to use for this exploration target…

“After the flyby, NASA and the New Horizons project plan to choose a formal name to submit to the International Astronomical Union, based in part on whether MU69 is found to be a single body, a binary pair, or perhaps a system of multiple objects. The chosen nickname will be used in the interim.”

Well, well. The space agency directs interested parties here to suggest a name, or see what’s already been suggested. Such as Mjölnir and Camalor and Z’ha’dum. I might well suggest “Bob.” If it’s good enough for the cold, forbidding Northwest Territories, it’s good enough for space rock(s) in the cold, forbidding Kuiper Belt. I will not suggest some variation on Boaty McBoatface.

May Pause

Back to posting on Decoration Day, May 30, which happens to be the day after Memorial Day this year. By then I might have seen a thing or two to post about, but no promises.

I picked up a NASA public domain image recently while reading about the spacecraft Cassini’s grand finale. It’s one of those images that’s more beguiling the more you stare at it.

8423_20181_1saturn2016More images of the planet and its moons are here, including one of oddball Iapetus. That moon, and a number of other Saturnian things, come up in a video made featuring Sir Arthur C. Clarke about a year before he died. Glad he lived long enough to see Cassini-Huygens explore Saturn.

Godspeed, John Glenn

project_mercury_astronauts_-_gpn-2000-000651Occasionally, a public domain picture from NASA is just the thing. I opened up Google News at about 3 this afternoon to take a look at the latest outrages worldwide, and the page informed me of John Glenn’s passing. I knew he was still alive, but I wasn’t sure whether any of the other Mercury 7 astronauts were, so I checked.

The answer is no. He was the last one.

I don’t remember any of their flights, of course. I barely remember any of the Gemini missions. It wasn’t until Apollo that I started paying attention, but when I did, I made a point of learning about Mercury and Gemini too. I well remember my excitement at finding the July 1962 edition of National Geographic, which covered Glenn’s flight, about 10 years after it came out (because we saved them, like everyone). I read every word of the article. Early space flight was covered in other editions, too, and I read them as well.

Like all editions of NG, it was well illustrated. One in particular stuck with me: how John Glenn might have died in 1962 and not 2016. Reading that also meant that I knew how the dramatization of his flight in The Right Stuff movie would turn out (also, I’d read the book). Astronaut not incinerated.

The news set me wondering about how many of the Moon walkers are still around. Seven of 12, as it turns out, but every jack man of them are in their 80s. Buzz Aldrin’s the oldest, nearly 87, while Charles Duke is the youngest, at 81. Wonder if Aldrin would even have the energy these days to offer up a punch to a Moon landing denier who clearly deserved one (officialdom agreed; Aldrin wasn’t charged).

Summertime Hiatus

Time for a summer hiatus. Time to celebrate what ought to be a string of less-than-working days from Juneteenth to the Solstice to Canada Day to July Fourth to Nunavut Day (July 9), just to make it inclusive for all North Americans. Back to posting around Sunday, July 10.

Yesterday I learned more sad news, that my old friend Ed Henderson has died. I’ve mentioned him periodically in BTST over the years, and I believe he was one of a handful of people who read it regularly. Last year I visited him at his home near Bellingham, Wash., and we had a fine time — as fine a time as his precarious health allowed. I’m very glad I went. Sometime in the not too distance future, I will write more about him.

On the Solstice, I took a look at the full moon. First one on the Solstice since 1948, they say. Looked like all the other ones I’ve seen, but it was pleasant enough.

Closer to home, as in our back yard, the clover is lush.

Schaumburg cloverWho considers clover a weed? Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, this is my own, my native clover? Pleasing to gaze at, pleasing to lie on.
Payton dog 2016The dog knows that, too.

Western Ohio &c

We arrived in downtown Dayton late on a Friday afternoon, May 27, and from the look of things, Dayton isn’t an 18-hour city just yet. Municipal planners probably aspire to that: there’s been some nice infrastructure work at Riverscape Metro Park and Five Rivers Metro Park downtown, including walkways, an elegant garden, a pavilion and other public spaces that look fairly new. As for the private sector, I also spotted a few new apartment projects downtown.

But as a tertiary market, Dayton’s downtown still seems to close up at 5 pm. That’s almost old fashioned now, as the way things were in most smaller downtowns in the last third of the 20th century. Only a handful of people were out and about in the late afternoon/early evening of a warm late spring/early summer day in downtown Dayton, some at the riverfront, others outside the Schuster Center, an event venue.

The main river along downtown is the Great Miami River, which eventually flows into the Ohio. A tributary that meets the Great Miami near downtown Dayton is the Mad River. I like that name. Later, I drove by Mad River Junior High. Now that’s a name for your school.

Less amusing to learn about was the Great Dayton Flood of 1913 (part of the Great Flood of 1913), which is memorialized along the Great Miami. The Dayton flood spurred the creation of the Miami Conservancy District, established in Ohio by the Vonderheide Conservancy Act of 1914, which authorized levees and dams and such to prevent another monster flood. It was a great age of civil engineering, after all. So far, it seems to have worked.

Of course, no matter how obvious the public good, someone’s going to be against it.

Also downtown: Fifth Third Field, where the Dayton Dragons minor league team plays. In the plaza near field are large concrete baseballs. On these Ann proved herself to be more limber than the rest of us.

Fifth Third Park, Dayton 2016At the Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, I happened across Lookout Point, the highest elevation in Dayton. This is the view from there.
Dayton - View from Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum In 2010, the cemetery completed a tower and columbarium on the hill, along with landscaping all around. It’s a lovely spot.

Woodland Cemetery and ArboretumLookout Point, Woodland Cemetery, DaytonThe cemetery also put in a time capsule at Lookout Point, to be opened in 2141, the year of the cemetery’s tricentennial. Guess 2041 wasn’t far enough in the future.

One famed burial I didn’t see at Woodland: copperhead Clement Vallandigham. In reading a bit about him, I found out about his death in 1871, when he was working as a defense attorney after unsuccessful attempts to return to office.

“Vallandigham’s political career ended with his untimely death on June 17, 1871,” notes Ohio History Central. “While preparing the defense of an accused murderer, Vallandigham enacted his view of what occurred at the crime scene. Thinking that a pistol that he was using as a prop was unloaded, Vallandigham pointed it at himself and pulled the trigger. The gun discharged, and Vallandigham was mortally wounded.”

At least his client was acquitted. That’s further even than Perry Mason would go to get a not guilty verdict.

On the way home, we stopped in Wapakoneta, Ohio, a town south of Lima and hometown of moonwalker Neil Armstrong. Just off I-75 is the Armstrong Air and Space Museum. I’ve read the design is supposed to evoke a future Moon base. Maybe the sort of Moon base Chesley Bonestell would put in the background of a lunar landscape.

Armstrong Air and Space MuseumThe museum’s probably interesting enough, with Armstrong artifacts and other items related to space exploration. The Gemini VIII capsule is there, in which Armstrong and Scott almost bought the farm. But Ann wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the place, and we wanted to press on to Ft. Wayne for lunch, so ultimately the admission fee we didn’t spend went toward that lunch. I did buy some postcards at the museum.

The Armstrong Air and Space Museum’s web site stresses: “The museum is owned by the State of Ohio, is part of the Ohio History Connection’s statewide system of historic sites and museums, and is operated by the local Armstrong Air and Space Museum Association. Neil Armstrong was never involved in the management of the museum nor benefited from it in any way.”

Before leaving Wapakoneta, I wanted to find Armstrong’s boyhood home. It wasn’t hard; the town is small. The house is privately owned by non-Armstrongs, so the thing not to do is venture too close. No doubt occasional oafs do just that, though probably fewer as time passes and fewer oafs remember his achievements.

Another good-looking small town in western Ohio is Troy. We stopped there to obtain doughnuts at the local Tim Hortons. That part of Ohio is within the Tim Hortons realm; our part of Illinois is not. Troy has a handsome main street and a fine courthouse.

Finally, with this trip, I’m glad to report that I’ve been to Neptune. Neptune, Ohio, that is, an insubstantial burg in Mercer County along US 33. Far from the ocean, and far from the planet of that name, though no further (roughly) than anywhere else on Earth.

Curiosity made me waste spend a little time at the USGC Geographic Names Information System, and I discovered that there are five populated U.S. places called “Neptune,” not counting variants like Neptune Beach, Fla. Besides Ohio, they are in Iowa, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Someday maybe I’ll look up the other planets.

The More Common Kind of Transit

Transit of Mercury, eh? A few news sites were pumping up today’s transit as a “rare” celestial event, but something that occurs 13 or 14 times per century here on Earth doesn’t merit that adjective. The next one’s going to be in 2019, for crying out loud. A transit of Venus, now that’s rare in human terms.

Besides, Mercury’s annoyingly hard to spot in the sky under normal circumstances. Is it ever known to hang so bright in the morning or evening sky like Venus? Glimmer red-orange like Mars? Appear as a bright white dot late in the evening like Jupiter or even the dimmer Saturn? No, it hides in the glare of the Sun.

Even so, I might have taken my eclipse shades out — the ones I used during the transit of Venus, without harm to my retinas — and looked for it this morning, but for one thing here on my part of Earth: completely overcast skies. Ah, well. I’m glad that didn’t happen back in ’12 and I hope it doesn’t happen for the solar eclipse next year.

Curiosity observed a transit of Mercury on Mars about two years ago, the first time any kind of transit has been observed from anywhere other than Earth (by earthlings, I should add), and something I didn’t know until now. That should have been bigger news than today’s garden-variety transit. Also, should there be observers on Mars — people or machines — in 2084, a transit of Earth will be visible from that planet.

Here’s a take on the transit of Mercury I saw in Lileks, in the comments section of all places. Then again, his comments section tends to be a cut above the norm.

Guy Fawkes & Martians &c

One more warm day. Then no more. Unless the forecasts about next week are right. What kind of November is this?

It’s Guy Fawkes Day again, and not a burning effigy in sight. It’s really something we should import. Lately I’ve been reading What If? 2, a collection of counterfactual history essays that I picked up used for 50 cents, but “What If Guy Fawkes Had Succeeded?” isn’t one of the subjects. Naturally that question’s been taken up elsewhere.

All of us went to see The Martian on Sunday. All in all, a well done bit of hard SF. Titanium hard, though considering the story, the focus on the technology of space travel and survival in a hostile environment isn’t misplaced. The movie also managed to present its exposition — and there was a lot of it — in a way that didn’t goo up the narrative, which is no small trick.

One thing (which the author of the book has acknowledged): the Martian atmosphere is so thin that a raging storm of the sort that got the hero in his jam would be impossible. The planet does have dust storms, of course, but not hurricanes of dust. Never mind.

There’s no overt indication of when the story takes place, so I figured it was either 20 years or so from now — very optimistic indeed, considering the sluggish pace U.S. manned space exploration these days — or in a present-day world in which a program to send people to Mars got started in earnest in the 1990s (it was, after all, something the elder Bush proposed). The flags on the spaceships and shoulder patches, I noticed, had 50 stars. A nice detail would have been to use the 51- or 52-star designs.

I suspect the only way U.S. astronauts are getting to Mars in a few decades is if the Chinese decide to attempt it.

From a web site I’d never heard of before but happened across recently, purporting to cover real estate news (all sic): “According to Investor Daily, TIAA-CREF’s Phil McAndrews has recently stated that the United States economy is under fairly good state that tantamounts to the continuing optimistic forecasts for the commercial property segment.”

That’s a sample from an item laid out like a real article, but clearly not written by a native speaker of English. The item, in fact, is a little hard to read, and larded with advertising links and other annoyances. And then it crashed my browser with an irritating “Unresponsive Script” message. I’m not overly worried about competition from such Mickey Mouse efforts as this.

Does anyone use “Mickey Mouse,” as in amateurish, any more? I had a teacher in junior high, our band director Mr. Fields, who was fond of the term. Now it sounds like it belongs to an earlier generation — Mr. Fields’ generation, or about the same age as Mickey himself. Maybe in more recent years, Disney minions have made trouble for anyone who uses Mickey like that. I’d better watch out.

Thursday Tidbits

Cool air to begin October. Fitting.

I saw part of The Iron Giant on TV a few years after its 1999 release, coming away with the impression that I ought to see all of it someday. That day was Saturday: Yuriko, Ann and I watched it on DVD. Upon its theatrical release, apparently the studio dropped the ball in marketing it, so the movie didn’t do well, but it caught the attention of critics. I can see why. Not flawless, but high-quality animation and a fun story.

Occasionally we still discover another food that the dog will eat. This week it was refried beans. She was pretty enthusiastic about them, in fact.

NASA has just published remarkable images of Charon, moon of Pluto. Or are they considered twins these days? I haven’t kept up with those definitions. Anyway, how often do we see something that’s absolutely, for sure never been seen by humans before? Not often.

Around 30 years ago, when I bought my first car, I remember pricing some Volkswagens. As usual for a young man, I was looking for an inexpensive car. Volkswagens of the time weren’t as inexpensive as I thought they would be.

A decade earlier, when you wanted an inexpensive car, they would have been the thing. They were People’s Cars, after all. But somehow the brand had strayed away from the entry level by the early 1980s, and before long I owned an entry-level Toyota, a company that remembered to make models at a variety of price points. I’ve bought a number of other Toyotas since then, too, above entry level.

Now that Volkswagen’s been caught committing mass fraud, I imagine the talk a few years ago between two upper-level company managers (in cartoon German accents). After all, imagined conspiracy scenes can be fun.

Hans: Can we really get away with this?

Fritz: Ja, the Americans are too stupid to catch on.

Obviously they learned nothing from the history of the 20th century.

The Last of the Summer Weekends. Maybe.

On Friday afternoon, we took the dog for a walk at Poplar Creek Nature Preserve. A balmy afternoon. Most of the tree foliage is still green, but includes distinct tinges of yellow or brown. Goldenrod blooms profusely, and so do white daisy-like flowers, along with a larger version that’s lavender-colored, but not actually lavender. The tall grass is brown, the short grass green. The cicadas still buzz and the grasshoppers still hop.

The Woodfield Mall was busy in its own way on Saturday afternoon. I can’t remember the last time I was there, but it’s been a while. There’s a certain amount of renovation going on in the common areas, but nothing that affects the flow of people too much. A number of stores displayed Star Wars merchandise in highly visible ways. I haven’t been keeping track, but that must foreshadow a movie along those lines.

Sure enough, a line in the Sunday Tribune Arts and Entertainment section tells me that, “As a new Star Wars movie looms [interesting choice of verbs], many of the franchise’s original fans are as devoted as ever.” Guess the merch is partly for them and their offspring. As far as I’m concerned, the first three movies, while very entertaining in their time, need to go in a box labeled Things of the Past.

Most of Sunday was overcast, so I wondered whether I was going to see the lunar eclipse. A couple of hours before dark, however, the clouds cleared away, and at about 8:30 I went out to see the shadow of the Earth falling on the Moon. At about 9, Yuriko, Ann and I were out, and then again 15 minutes later for totality. The dog was out, too, but typical of dogs, she didn’t give a fig for the celestial phenomenon (no smell involved, I guess). The copper moon was a pretty sight, but it didn’t look any bigger than usual to me.

In time for the eclipse, the Atlantic posted these images, marvels of 20th-century manned space exploration. These images are more recent marvels of (mostly) unmanned space exploration.

Lilly was at a friend’s house on Sunday evening, so I did what you do these days, and sent her a text about the eclipse. Later she said she’d seen it. I’m also glad to report that at least two neighboring families on my block were out to see it, too. I noticed that while taking the garbage out under the dark copper moon.

July Back Yard Flowers &c.

Time for a summer interlude. Back to posting around July 19.

What this country needs is another summer holiday, sometime between Independence Day and Labor Day, and I nominate July 20, to honor the Moon landing. Or the fourth Monday in July, since the 20th is a little close to July 4 — a  Monday holiday to honor the astronauts’ return on July 24, recalling the bit about “returning safely to the Earth,” since the lunar mission wouldn’t have been complete without that.

To keep the accounting snits happy (we can’t afford another holiday!), Columbus Day can be de-holidayed. It’s truly the most insignificant of federal holidays anyway, whatever you think of the Admiral of the Ocean Sea.

New Horizons will fly by Pluto during my interlude. This week’s “glitch” was alarming, but the craft seems to have recovered. (I like the Wired caption: “Among with gobs of planetary science, New Horizons is capturing pictures of Pluto that are increasingly less crappy.”) I will be watching the news closely. Yesterday I came across theses proposed names for geographic features on the Ninth Planet and its moons. Interesting lists. The IAU might not be so keen on fictional explorers and their vessels, however.

Chanced recently across another musical act that I’d pay money to see (and there aren’t that many), namely the Ukulele Band of Great Britain. Pretty much on the strength of their version of the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Too bad the closest they’ll be to me this year is Muncie, Ind., and that isn’t close enough.

Here’s some speculation: Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s playing a deep game with the $10 and $20 bills. He proposed making Alexander Hamilton second banana on his note to elicit a wave of support for the first Treasury secretary — at the expense of Andrew Jackson. A common notion now seems to be, “Go ahead, get rid of Jackson, but not Hamilton!” Previously, the idea of tossing Jackson in favor of a woman wasn’t so warmly received. But now…

This is a recent headline that amused me: Google Self-Driving Cars Head to Austin, from PC Magazine, which further says that “the company has selected the city to be the next testing location for its autonomous Lexus SUVs…” Austin’s a very safe choice, I figure, especially if you turn the vehicle loose on I-35, where it won’t move very fast, if at all.

Just ahead of rain earlier this week, I went out to take some pictures of flowers. I went no further than my back yard.
July 2015July 2015July 2015July 2015July 2015O Summer,
Oft pitched’st here thy goldent tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.