Friday, July 29, 2011

Expeditions And Wilderness Parties

The ERTS camp had been designed under contract by a NASA team in 1977, based on the recognition that wilderness expedition equipment was fundamentally unchanged since the eighteenth century. “Designs for modern exploration are long overdue,” ERTS said, and asked for state-of-the-art improvements in lightness, comfort, and efficiency of expedition gear. NASA had redesigned everything, from clothing and boots to tents and cooking gear, food and menus, first-aid kits, and communications systems for ERTS wilderness parties.

The redesigned tents were typical of the NASA approach. NASA had determined that tent weight consisted chiefly of the structural supports. In addition, single-ply tents were poorly insulated. If tents could be properly insulated, clothing and sleeping-bag weight could be reduced, as could the daily caloric requirements of expedition members. Since air was an excellent insulator, the obvious solution was an unsupported, pneumatic tent: NASA designed one that weighed six ounces.

Using a little hissing foot pump, Ross inflated the first tent. It was made from double-layer 20-mil silvered Mylar, and looked like a gleaming ribbed Quonset hut. The porters clapped their hands with delight; Munro shook his head, amused; Kahega produced a small silver unit, the size of a shoebox. “And this, Doctor? What is this?”

“We won’t need that tonight. That’s an air conditioner,” Ross said.

“Never go anywhere without one,” Munro said, still amused.

Ross glared at him. “Studies show,” she said, “that the single greatest factor limiting work efficiency is ambient temperature, with sleep deprivation as the second factor.”


Munro laughed . . .

from “Congo”
by Michael Crichton

As I type this, it’s night, a little past ten o’clock.

There is a bright star almost directly overhead.

It’s hot and humid outside but my apartment’s cool
because of a small, efficient air conditioner.

Because I’m so comfortable inside, I don’t mind
taking my binoculars on an expedition
to the front lawn to have a close look at the bright star.

City lights obscure all but the bright stars around here
so without binoculars bright stars have no context
around them, no dim stars creating constellations.

I know, of course, that the bright star is the star Vega,
the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra,
the little harp, but without binoculars the harp
can’t be seen here and the bright star Vega is alone.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I lost track of the seasons.

Because I’m so comfortable inside, I don’t mind
taking my binoculars on an expedition
to the front lawn to have a close look at the bright star.

So I took my binoculars out to the front lawn
and had a look straight up. There was the bright star Vega,
with Epsilon Lyrae and Zeta Lyrae nearby
making a little triangle with Vega above
the little shifted rectangle Zeta Lyrae forms
with Beta, Delta and Gamma Lyrae, so easy
to see with a little help, so beautiful to see
glittering overhead, a shining harp in the sky.

Now I’m sitting here typing these expedition notes.

Although the weather’s awful outside—hot and humid—
my little air conditioner keeps my bedroom cool.

It will be nice sleeping tonight. I’m under the stars,
even if there is a roof between me and the stars.

And the stars up there make the shape of a little harp.

It’s not a real harp. It’s only a pretend harp. But
I can pretend, too, it will play a beautiful song
and I’ll listen to that melody from overhead
instead of my air conditioner’s compressor noise.

City lights obscure all but the bright stars around here.

But it’s only pretend. All the stars are still up there.

You just have to be cool, and know how and where to look.

12:30 am Update — Actually I see that it has now cooled off very nicely outside. It’s down in the seventies. I can switch off the air conditioner and not listen to compressor noises at all. Tonight it will be just me and the stars.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Scraps For Alison With Love And Squalor

Hi! I’m Alison. I do rebellious

magazine collages. They’re rebellious

because when I cut up a magazine

I’m not only cutting up pop culture,

I’m cutting up the invisible world.

You know, the political and social

alchemy stuff. All the subliminal

embeds in the photography and text.

And I’m not just cutting up all this stuff.

Oh, do you get the cutting up business?

Anyway, I also reshape content.

For my own purpose. I’m making my own

messages. My own invisible world.

I glue down my worlds, damn it, and frame them.

That’s what real rebellion is all about.

The Pilgrims didn’t just exit England.

They built America. Or, well, you know,

they moved around some pieces, glued down stuff

for their own purpose. In both of the worlds—

the visible and the invisible.

Just because something is invisible,

just because I can’t identify it,

doesn’t mean I can’t play with it. Photos,

text columns, pop culture. Hell, cut it up!

Reshape and rearrange it. Glue it down.

Frame it. Yes! Magazine collages rule

in the monolectic New World Order!”

This is kind of a silly and pointless post, but it was kind of fun to do, so I’m going to let it stay.

This is about magazines. And Alison.

I don’t read as many magazines as I once did, but I still read, I guess, comparatively, a lot of magazines. By the end of a month I usually have a sizeable pile of magazines I’ve accumulated during the month.

I usually have, for instance, the monthly issues of Sky and Telescope, American Cinematographer, Acoustic Guitar Player, Guitar Player, Keyboard, American Artist, Black Belt, Elle and Vogue. Then there will be random things I picked up. Robot magazines. Fishing magazines. Maybe something like a Star Wars magazine, just because I can’t believe they print such a thing.

Lots of magazines.

Now, one of the coolest women I’ve ever known was a woman named Alison and she used to read a lot of magazines, too. But instead of just reading a magazine, she would carefully tear up magazines and save the pages in particular folders sorted by subject matter or color or other criteria that were meaningful to her.

Every month she would make—just for fun!—a really amazing collage from the torn up scraps of magazines. Sometimes they were abstract, sometimes they had themes. But they were always cool and sometimes they were just amazing and, amazingly, they all just ended up in a pile in her closet.

Now, at the end of the each month I tear up all my magazines. I used to give them away to libraries, but I’m not as fond of libraries as I once was and, besides, it’s just a lot of fun to rip up an entire month of pop culture.

(To be fair, I do collect tear sheets. If there’s a good article, I tear that out and save it. But, these days, there isn’t as much good stuff in magazines as there used to be.)

So tonight I was tearing up magazines from July and throwing out the scraps but when I came to Elle and Vogue I got to thinking about Alison and, before I threw away the colorful, torn up scraps from this month’s fashion world, I bunched them up on my notebook and randomly shifted around some scraps and—all by themselves!—they made a little found-art collage.

I didn’t glue anything down and gloss it over with acrylic. But I did take a picture.

So here is me indulging in a kind of blast from my past, remembering a time when I knew a very cool woman and making a little magazine collage of my own, giving a little kiss on the cheek myself to Alison’s monolectic New World Order:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What Is Electric Sugar?

Redmond resident and Borders regular Jon Brown said all these factors — the rise of eReaders and fall of the economy — seemed to have happened at the same time and it is disappointing to see Borders go. He added that he hates to see bookstores close because there aren't enough around and e-books are not the same.

"There's still a place in your heart for books," he said.

Brown's daughter Sarah Brown agrees.

"I'd rather read out of a concrete book than a Kindle," she said.

Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., the operator of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shops ... with 6,800 U.S. locations, enticed investors with plans to more than double its U.S. store count in 20 years after outpacing McDonald’s Corp. (MCD)’s revenue growth last year. Recently, the Canton, Massachusetts-based chain has sought to draw customers in the afternoon with snack foods including pepperoni-stuffed breadsticks.

“We have room to move across the whole country,” Chief Executive Officer Nigel Travis said in a telephone interview today. “We have, in the West, a number of customers who try our brand -- they like the taste of our coffee, they like our speed.”

The stock was priced higher than the top end of the marketed range, with 22.3 million shares selling at $19 each yesterday after being offered for $16 to $18, Dunkin’ said in a statement.

“Investors are just excited about a new, hot IPO that they think has room to grow its unit count,” Peter Saleh, an analyst at Telsey Advisory Group in New York, said today in an interview. “There are probably a lot of people who are investing in this name for the long-term growth and the free cash it generates.”

Concrete is the stuff sidewalks are made from.

And it means real instead of virtual.

So children these days speak of concrete books.

This is the world children are playing in,
electric books, electric libraries
you can stick in a backpack and carry
with you—more virtual electric books
than a concrete library has on shelf.

Now everybody knows they’re not the same—
kids say they would rather read concrete books—
but the jackhammers and the sledgehammers
are demolishing all the concrete books,
reducing them to rubble and book dust.

The librarians are throwing them out.

(A writer once thought that job would fall to
the “firemen” but he should have realized
librarians were already on call.)

Bookstores are yesterday’s news. Donut shops
right now are a hot ticket on Wall Street.

Electric donuts will never replace
concrete ones. What is electric sugar?

Sugar is the stuff donuts are made from.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Borders stores around here are closing and they’re currently having a going-out-of-business sale. I visited one recently.

I bought a movie. Ha.

I bought a copy of the special edition DVD of one of my favorite films of all time, Joe Dante’s great, low-budget werewolf movie, “The Howling.”

There are many great scenes in this film. One of my favorites is toward the middle.

A woman’s husband gets attacked by a werewolf. He survives, however soon he starts turning himself, changing into a monster. But instead of being terrified, he embraces the change, enjoys the animal thrills.

When his wife realizes what’s happening, she tries to leave him.

He grabs her.

He says, “You don’t know what it’s like.”

She shrugs free from his grasp.

She says, “I don’t want to know.”

Then she does walk away from him. She’s the hero of the movie.

Concrete is the stuff sidewalks are made from.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Anal Sex And Death In Los Angeles

So I’m sitting at a table in a famous LA restaurant jammed with a lunchtime crowd of famous LA people. Everyone at my table for some reason—maybe just because it’s Los Angeles—is talking about prostitution.

A beautiful young woman across from me says it sometimes seems to her that she could make a lot more money working as a prostitute than as an actress.

I say, “Robin, you know, right, that it’s not like the movies. There’s a lot more to being a hooker than just wearing skimpy clothes and collecting a paycheck.”

“I know that,” Robin says. “But I’m not a child. I’ve had sex, you know. More than once, even.”

Everyone at the table kind of chuckles.

I say, “Yes, well, you know, there is a test you can take, right now, a kind of test we can give you, right here at the table, to see if you have what it takes to be a hooker.”

Everyone at the table kind of grins.

“What kind of test?” Robin asks.

I say, “Okay. Everyone here is going to watch your face. We’re all going to look at you very carefully. And while we watch you, you just have to say two words with a straight face. You just have to say two words without laughing or smiling or showing any kind of emotion at all. Hookers have to be good at blank face.”

“I’m an actress,” Robin says. “Of course I can do that.”

“Okay, are you ready to take the test?” I ask.

Everyone at the table stops eating and leans forward a bit, to get a good look at Robin’s face.

“I’m ready,” Robin says.

“Okay,” I say. “We’re going to watch you. You just have to say the two words. While we watch you, you just have to say the two words, ‘anal sex.’”

It seems as if everyone at the table holds their breath.

Robin purses her lips to start speaking, but then she giggles and exhales and blushes a deep, deep red.

Everyone laughs and a couple of people point at Robin.

“No, no, no” Robin says. “I can do it. I just got distracted. No. This is so easy. Watch. I’m going to do it right now.”

Robin clears her expression and looks at everyone with a blank face. She starts to speak, then cracks up laughing and puts both her palms against her forehead.

“Don’t worry, Robin,” someone says. “You’re still a great actress. Other girls can work the sidewalk.”

Everyone laughs and turns their attention back to their food.

Robin takes a deep breath and clenches both fists. She says, loudly, “Anal sex! Anal sex! Anal sex!”

But when she forces out the words, she forces them out just a tad more loudly than she’d anticipated and—as often happens at such moments—a natural lull in the room’s conversations amplifies her words even more. The entire restaurant full of people turns to look at Robin as she finishes almost shouting the words ‘anal sex.’

Everyone at the table stops eating, again, and gives a round of applause to Robin.

Robin puts her hands up, again, completely covering her face.

I stand up and address the restaurant. “No, it’s not what you think,” I say. “She’s just pitching a new reality show idea to some Discovery Channel executives.”

A famous comedian at the next table says, “That’s exactly what I thought it was.”

And everyone in the restaurant laughs.

“And let me say,” he adds, “that’s a reality show I’m going to watch.”

And everyone in the restaurant laughs.

A famous leading man one table over says, “I’m going to watch that show, too. For about three minutes. Then I’ll have to take a nap.”

And everyone in the restaurant laughs.

I sit back down and Robin spreads her fingers just enough to peek out at me. Her eyes—even in the shadow of her fingers—are so bright and so angry that she looks like a special effects shot in a movie where a woman is about to turn into a werewolf. A really angry werewolf.

Through her fingers Robin glares out at me and growls, “I am going to kill you. I am going to kill you.”

But, you know, it seems a fair trade. Everyone dies. At least I got some laughs.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is for Karen Kilimnik

Karen Kilimnik

The Abandonment Of Meaning

“Kari Loses An Underwire From Her Bra...”

Los Angeles, Nonetheless, Is

Monday, July 25, 2011

This Woman From The Canals Of Mars

What I thought was most interesting, however, about the great debate a hundred years ago is that Percival Lowell often photographed Mars and—to his eyes—his photographs “proved” that the canals were real. Other people looked at the photographs and told him they saw nothing. When popular magazines and book publishers reproduced Lowell’s photographs, back then, Lowell suggested that he should hire somebody to “enhance” the photographs to “bring out” the linear detail that he could see but which printing had difficulty reproducing. Back then, publishers and editors adamantly refused to create such re-touched photographs because they argued the manipulations would “spoil the autographic value of the photographs themselves.”

Every time I try to start a drawing
I make a few marks, sometimes just guidelines,
and then I stop and look at the paper.

In my mind’s eye I see the piece finished.

And I can’t bring myself to make more marks.

Because in my mind’s eye the piece I see
looks like a copy of a photograph
or a parody of a photograph
or a storyboard for a photograph
and I think, “Why not take a photograph?”

And I don’t know how to answer myself.

I like to draw and I have cool pencils
and I have lots of paper, both free sheets
and sketchbooks, cheap ones and expensive ones.

But I can’t look away from photographs.

Photographs have shapes, values and colors,
all the things marks add up to in drawing.

Photographs, too, have what people once called,
autographic value—reality,
sort of, excerpted, fragmented, but real.

What is a drawing but marks on paper?

When you can have something that is like real
what’s the point of making marks on paper?

I like to draw and I have cool pencils
and I have lots of paper, both free sheets
and sketchbooks, cheap ones and expensive ones.

My hand just stops. It’s like pissing me off.

Photography is like this cool woman
smiling, yawning, not covering her mouth,
and then looking at me watching her yawn
knowing I think she should have raised her hand
to cover her mouth and that makes her laugh
so she laughs still without raising her hand
and sticks out her tongue at what I’m thinking.

She’s so pretty I wish I could draw her.

My hand just stops. It’s like pissing me off.

If I had an articulated doll
I would take fifteen hundred photographs
and assemble a stop-motion movie
of this amused woman and her rude yawn.

I can’t look away. And it’s not the yawn,
it’s this thing, this autographic value.

I’m so tired of not doing a drawing.

And when I yawn this woman laughs harder.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Red Bull, Hershey’s And A Woman Yawning

A Cartoon Can’t Buy A Yawn

The Best Reason To Study Astrophysics

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Winehouse Makes It Official

Singer Amy Winehouse, who achieved worldwide fame with her album Back to Black, has been found dead at her flat in north London.

The body of the 27-year-old Grammy award-winner was discovered at the property in north London by emergency services at around 3.54pm on Saturday afternoon.

It is understood her death is being treated as "unexplained".

Her death comes just a month after she called off some European tour dates after she was jeered for a shambolic performance during a concert in Serbia.

Winehouse's 2006 breakthrough album Back to Black won five Grammy awards, but her music has since become overshadowed by her chaotic lifestyle and run-ins with the law.

Look at the tangle of pretty blue flowers.

And behind the green, what a dark background.

I increased the saturation a bit,
and adjusted the midrange, lights and darks.

Maybe the tangle of pretty blue flowers
is a little prettier here, glammed up,
than out in the wild, uncropped, uncomposed.

I don’t know. Maybe the pretty blue flowers
were trying to run away from the dark
and they got all tangled up. Now the dark,
the wild dark, will be able to catch them.

Getting cropped and composed, getting glammed up,
is a moment of freedom from the wild,
a moment when the wild dark is held back,
reduced to just a trivial background.

The pretty blue flowers tried to run away
from the wild dark but the flowers got tangled.

I just took the picture. Even without
the glamour, the flowers still were pretty blue.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Big Clouds, Big Scorpions, Doing Stuff

When the Sun sets below the horizon, big clouds and high clouds can sometimes remain in direct light for quite a while after the ground-level landscape goes into shadow. When clouds are big and high, the effect can be extraordinary.

I saw this today to the southeast after sundown.

I didn’t think I had time to fiddle with setting my camera manually, so I just let its automatic sensors do their best. It was a pretty extreme lighting situation and I think the camera did reasonably well.

In this shot, the whole top ridge of the cloud formation is illuminated.

I moved south a little, to get past the power lines and grabbed another shot with more of the foreground. Already the illumination has risen to include just the top of the clouds.

I walked about half a block east and zoomed in a little to frame just the bright clouds and some dark, low clouds. The illumination is at just the tip of the massive cloud bank.

I should have taken one more picture, with the giant clouds completely in shadow, but I didn’t think to do that.

When I was taking the pictures I wasn’t thinking about the sequence of the illumination moving, I was thinking of the great contrast between the illuminated area and everything else. Once the shadow spread over the entire cloud that contrast was lost and I put away my camera.

I wish I had taken one more picture, with the whole cloud in shadow. It would have been a cool sequence. A real photographer would have gotten that final picture.

It really bugs me that I didn’t take a final picture with everything in shadow. It really bugs me that I let my thinking in the moment—my thinking about the great contrast—distract me from the larger, more interesting reality of the sequence of illumination moving up the cloud.

A real photographer would have grabbed more photos regardless of his thinking “in the moment” because a real photographer would have taken for granted that there’s always more going on than you’re thinking about at any given moment.

This really bugs me. But it nicely sets up what I wanted to talk about today.

Even before I saw those clouds, I’d planned on today’s post being about the value of doing stuff even if you’re doing stuff that isn’t done perfectly.

This is a topic close to my heart.

I like writing, and I think I’m reasonably good at it. However, I also like making music and drawing and photography and amateur astronomy and doing little movies and even a couple of other things that don’t make it onto this blog. Since I know I’m not particularly good at any of this other stuff, I spend a lot of time wondering if there is any value—in the larger sense that word—in my doing any of this other stuff, beyond the personal satisfaction, I mean.

And I think there is.

Here is one of the ways I think about this.

Back around 1957, an old-time Hollywood producer—a guy named Jack Deitz—financed a low-budget monster movie called, “The Black Scorpion.” Deitz wasn’t looking to make art or fulfill any personal ambition to make a fine monster movie. He was just trying to crank out the most low-cost product he could manage to crank out to cash in on the popularity of “giant bug” movies back then.

Being a cagey, resourceful Hollywood type, Deitz hired a bunch of fringe people who couldn’t really find work at the big studios, but who could be counted on to deliver acceptable product. His leading man was a little too old to be a leading man, but experienced. His leading lady was attractive but not necessarily a great actress. The script was almost laughable. His main special effects technician—Willis O'Brien—was a famous guy, an extraordinary talent who had created “King Kong” decades earlier. But Willis O’Brien, in 1957, couldn’t get much work because studios didn’t want to pay for his proposed projects. So O’Brien was forced to take low-paying jobs where he couldn’t really create special effects the way he wanted to. And, since he was getting on in years, he hired an assistant who did almost all the work, a young man named Pete Peterson. Peterson had some health issues which made it hard for him to work fast enough to suit the big studios, but he was conscientious and skilled and, like O’Brien, willing to take what he could get, willing to do low-budget work.

It’s tempting to think the result of this penny-pinching and compromise would be a disaster. But that would be a mistake. The movie “The Black Scorpion” is actually a lot of fun to watch.

Almost every particular aspect of the movie is awful, but the end result—somehow—is kind of fun.

I saw it as a kid and even as a kid I realized that the special effects weren’t very special. And I realized the movie had a “thrown together” kind of look to it. But the filmmakers had put together a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. They had crafted one or two reasonably well-made scenes that were exciting. And the whole thing just worked at some weird, low-budget level. It scared me and entertained me and I had a lot of fun watching it.

It’s still fun to watch even if “professional” types are very critical of it. Here is how Tony Dalton and Ray Harryhausen—a close friend of Willis O’Brien (referred to as “Obie”) write about “The Black Scorpion” in their book “A Century of Stop Motion Animation:”

Viewed today, “The Black Scorpion” is most definitely not a classic of model animation; in fact it would be fair to say that it is positively sad. Coming five years after Ray’s innovative “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” which also had a miniscule budget, the film is made up of stock footage, bad acting and sub-standard effects. It has all the marks of an attempt to cash in on a cycle that by then had almost run its course. It is also apparent that Obie found it difficult to come to terms with using cheaper effects to achieve spectacle. His 3-D sandwich method of animation had been tried and tested over many years but the problem was that nobody could afford it any longer. Certainly not the sort of producers who made films like “The Black Scorpion.”

They’re certainly right, it’s not a “classic of model animation.” But, in its own way, it is a classic. Many low-budget films like “The Giant Gila Monster” or “The Killer Shrews” are as fun to watch today as they were when they were made. These films were not made to be “social documents” or “statements” of any kind. There were simply created to be stories with a beginning, a middle and an end and they were created to be as entertaining, maybe even thrilling, as their filmmakers could manage with whatever meager resources they had available.

These filmmakers certainly knew they weren’t doing anything “good” by traditional Hollywood metrics. But they went ahead and made their films anyway.

And these films—awful by any metric imaginable—have entertained generation after generation of monster-movie fans.

These people tried. They did the best they could do. And though they themselves were almost certainly unhappy with the results, what they created was wonderful.

I love this stuff.

This stuff isn’t “serious.” And, at the same time, this stuff isn’t “parody.” These people knew they didn’t have the resources to do perfect work. But they didn’t set out to poke fun at or trivialize what they were doing. They just did the best they could do with the resources at hand.

I love this stuff.

Regardless of its flaws, I’d rather watch “The Black Scorpion” than just about any big budget Hollywood production that’s come out recently.

It’s something about fun.

It’s something about a creation that was made because a person wanted to make it, rather than a creation that was made because it was a person’s job to make it.

I’m going to end today’s post with a few stills from “The Black Scorpion.” These aren’t the monsters. This is one of the “love scenes” in the movie. It’s awful, but it’s wonderful at the same time.

Here’s the backstory. Giant scorpions are killing people. The hero, a geologist, is about to get lowered down (“I love it when they go down into things”) by a crane into a vast cave where the monsters might be hiding. So he’s in a silly cave costume and “the girl” is all nervous about him going down into the cave. She tells him not to go, to leave it to the police or the army.

He says, “Listen, Doc and I know more about caves than anybody else here.”

She grabs him and gives him a kiss on the cheek.

He grabs her and plants one right on her lips.

She says, “Why did you do that?”

He says, “Maybe I just wanted to see what you would do.”

She says, “What did I do?”

He says, “You did alright.”

It’s awful, not matter how you look at it.

But it’s wonderful, too. At the same time!

I love this stuff.

It’s good to do stuff. I don’t understand exactly why. But if you want to do something and you are serious about doing it, there is something wonderful there. I don’t understand it. Even if something is awful. It’s wonderful, too.

It’s good to do stuff.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sex With A Monster: The Musical

Harps And Flutes, Swans And Monsters

Moths, Scorpions And Unreal Women

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Sketchbook Page With No Sketches

There are twenty-four different pencil colors
in the Derwent line of pencils called Graphitint.

Twelve come in the small tin. To acquire the others
you have to buy the full-size, twenty-four tin set.

Along with white, these are the eleven colors
that aren’t included in the small, twelve tin set:

Along with black, these are the eleven colors
included in the tin with a dozen pencils:

These are graphite pencils. They can be smudged, erased.

They can be worked like a simple drawing pencil.

And they can be brushed with water to flow like paint.

All the colors capture the subdued, glowing hues
a watercolor painter achieves with careful
application of the mixed-pigment paint, Payne’s Gray.

As a medium, dry colored pencils often
are used for detailed, realistic renderings.

So far as I know, water-soluble pencils
haven’t yet established a canonical style.

It’s the unknown. It’s the wild you hold in your hand.

It’s the wild you hold in your hand and think about
and you turn it into the opposite of wild.

This is the start. A sketchbook page with no sketches.

I’m going to try giving this sketchbook some thought.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Weather, Fringe Talk And Debunking

CHICAGO (AP) — For millions of people enduring this week's extreme heat and humidity, it feels like they're living in a pressure cooker. And in a sense, they are.

Much of the United States is trapped under a heat "dome" caused by a huge area of high pressure that's compressing hot, moist air beneath it, leading to miserable temperatures in the mid-90s to low 100s and heat-index levels well above 100 degrees.

"It's hot no matter what you're doing or where you are," said Tim Prader, a 50-year-old construction worker who was taking a break Tuesday at a job site in St. Louis. Although his huge Caterpillar excavator has air conditioning, he couldn't entirely escape. "When you're done for the day, you're ready to eat, drink and hit the couch."

The oppressive conditions extend from the northern Plains states to Texas and from Nebraska to the Ohio Valley. And they're expanding eastward.

When a high pressure system develops in the upper atmosphere, the air below it sinks and compresses because there's more weight on top, causing temperatures in the lower atmosphere to heat up, said Eli Jacks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, Md.

The dome of high pressure also pushes the jet stream and its drier, cooler air, farther north — it's now well into Canada — while hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico circulates clockwise around the dome, traveling farther inland than normal.

(more at the link)

Weather here in the Midwest lately has been HORRIBLE!

And it’s really getting to me. I like peace and quiet. I really like peace and quiet. But this hot weather has been so hot that even at night temperatures only go down a few degrees. Normally in the summer I run my air conditioner during the day and switch it off right before I go to sleep. The cool air usually stays cool until the morning and I can sleep comfortably cool and in a quiet bedroom.

But now the air conditioner has to stay on all night. Humming, clinking, buzzing.

This heat—and the endless humming, clinking and buzzing—is getting on my nerves.

And I’m a guy who perspires. I mean I sweat. So for the most part I need to keep two tee shirts around—one I wear when I go out which pretty much stays soggy from sweat, and one I wear when I get back home which stays pretty dry thanks to the cool air from the noisy air conditioners.

This weather doesn’t work for me. Somebody needs to do something about it. This is the 21st century. This is the George Jetson world. I read science fiction when I was a kid. By now cities are supposed to be under giant glass domes and climate-controlled and all that. We’re supposed to be comfortable all the time.

Damn it, people are working on the flying cars but nobody—so far as I know—is working on the giant glass domes to cover major cities and create climate-controlled wonderlands.

Damn it!


I’m not going to link to any fringe sites, but I want to talk about some fringe speculation about the current weather and some debunking that was done even before much of the fringe talk started.

Here is a paragraph from the AP link at the start of this post about the current weather:

“The dome of high pressure also pushes the jet stream and its drier, cooler air, farther north — it's now well into Canada — while hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico circulates clockwise around the dome, traveling farther inland than normal.”

So the accepted mechanism behind the current HORRIBLE heat is that hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico is the culprit.

Well, some people are wondering if this relates to the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf.

The general fringe belief is that temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico are anomalously high because the huge influx of oil into the Gulf from the Deep Water Horizon spill has “de-coupled” the Gulf from the currents circulating in the Atlantic. That allows the Gulf simply to accumulate heat and, so to speak, simmer. A more convoluted fringe belief is that, also, at the same time the Gulf has been de-coupled from the Atlantic, oil continues to leak from deep water fissures and the upwelling oil melts frozen methane hydrate deposits and that process adds to the heat accumulating in the Gulf waters. (Here is some background info on methane hydrates: Methane hydrates and global warming)

So, the fringe thinking goes, the gradually heating Gulf waters change the weather patterns across the US, keeping the jet stream abnormally far north. (There are other suspected consequences of the Gulf “de-coupling” from the Atlantic, but these are the most interesting speculations right now.)

I have no idea if any of that is true.

It all sounds vaguely reasonable to me in an Oliver Stone sort of way, but I’m one of those people who just likes cause-and-effect. I sometimes see causation when the only thing really going on is just random, emergent changes, normal patterns of variation within chaotic (deterministic but non-periodic) complex systems.

And it turns out when some people first talked about the temperature of the Gulf of Mexico possibly impacting US weather, a reasonably smart fellow did a remarkably detailed and data-centric analysis of the suggestion and the current temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico SEEM to be within normal variations which have held steady for decades and decades. Check out the debunking here: Are Gulf Of Mexico Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies Near To Record Levels?

Now, I have just one observation about this. The fact that the current high temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico are consistent with past examples of the high range of the temperature variations doesn’t mean that these current high temperatures AREN’T caused by geophysical changes to the Gulf. It is a strong indication that they’re not, but only time will really tell. If the current temperatures remain high for a longer period than the high temperatures existed in the past that would be an indication that something odd is happening.

It’s interesting that the fellow debunking the Gulf speculations threw tons of numbers at his readers, but he never derived an expected periodicity to the past excursions into high temperatures.

That would have been an interesting and testable number.

Everyone interested in this issue could have watched to see if the current high temperatures declined (or remained high) after this-or-that number of weeks as they have in the past.

Still, time will tell.

There are so many smart activists on all sides of the climate-change debate that someone with access to and knowledge of these databases will fire up their copy of Mathematica and create a post, somewhere, with some interesting charts and graphs.

If I hear about them, I’ll re-post them.

Now I’m going to go put in ear plugs and get some sleep.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Hot Red Earth, Cold Blue Jazz

The Application Of Beyond Understanding

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Posh People Squabbling

“Ahem. My Lord. I’d like to volunteer myself
for this task. I want to kill the boy.”

Okay, this is going to be me talking briefly about “Harry Potter.”

I’ve read at a show business site that the concluding movie of the Harry Potter storyline—or, the original storyline as I’m sure it someday will become known, since almost certainly there will be more movies made for the ‘franchise’—is setting all kinds of records. So I’m just going to do one post about this saga of ‘witches’ and ‘magic.’


First of all, a disclaimer: I’ve never read any of the Harry Potter books and I’ve never seen any of the Harry Potter movies.

However, various people have been enthusiastic enough about them to talk at me about them and tell me about Harry Potter, and I’ve read enough second-hand stuff about them to be able to have content for this one trivial post.


Second of all, another disclaimer: I’ve never read any of the Twilight saga books, either, and I’ve never seen any of those movies, either. So I’m not going to be talking about that stuff. And I’ll probably never do a post about that stuff: Hey, it’s a sad, lonely teenage girl who decides she’d rather be a monster than a human and there are good monsters and bad monsters [sighs] and the author presents the troubled girl’s choice as a good thing and it leads her to love and a fulfilled life. Nice story, “author.” NEXT!


Anyway, I more or less like some real-life witches and alchemists so I decided to rent a Harry Potter movie and just do the very least I could do to stay current with the real world.

So I rented “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Pt. 1.”

I bought a can of Redbull and a bag of candy and sat back to watch.

Oh my God. I made about ten minutes before I hit the fast-forward button. And then even that was too much and I kicked the fast-forward into its high-speed mode.

At one point—only one point!—I dropped out of fast-forward. The beautiful (and passionate! hey, a passionate British person!) Bellatrix Lestrange, I guess the evil witch of the Harry Potter saga, was “torturing” someone or another.

Basically it was Helena Bonham Carter squabbling in a mean voice with someone. It was better than nothing.

Then that the scene ends with Beatrix Lestrange killing a Hobbit—or something like that—and the movie gets back to its real plot and I hit the fast-forward button again.

So I feel I still can say I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie since I watched the vast bulk of one mostly entirely in fast-forward mode, except for a scene with Helena Bonham Carter, which I did watch.

(To be fair, I did enjoy Bellatrix Lestrange in that scene. I would have been all in favor of her knife killing the Potter boy instead of the “elf” or whatever it was and then just make the rest of the movie about the pretty, energetic crazy witch played by Helena Bonham Carter.)


I hate this stuff.

I don’t regard it as corrupt, like the horrible Twilight saga. I just see the Harry Potter stuff as boring. In a typically British way.

Brits often seem to see all of existence as just people squabbling.

And it’s always posh people squabbling.

It’s never, say, drunk sacks of wet newspapers like Amy Winehouse and Kate Moss squabbling. It’s always posh, well-educated, clean, polite, energetic and interesting people squabbling.

Forever. Even when British people turn their attention to metaphysics, they typically just embrace some Greek gods scenario or something similar where you have omnipotent immortals who are also posh, well-educated, clean, polite, energetic and interesting people squabbling. Literally forever.

I liked the books of the “Lord of the Rings” saga. There was a lot going on there. Certainly there were people squabbling, but there was a lot going on around the squabbling and, for the most part, even the squabbling was minimized. As it should be. But Tolkien was a real writer.

Now we get just endless rip-offs of the Tolkien stories that rip-off only the trivial squabbling and put endless fluff around the squabbling.

I hate this stuff.

But I wanted to say something about Harry Potter and now I have so I am done with it.


However, just as a kind of afterward, I’ve always been looking for an excuse to link to this little YouTube clip. I very much liked “The Blair Witch Project” and I even liked—not as much, and just in passing—the sequel, “Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.”

Now, as bad as “Blair Witch 2” was, the evil witch—more or less—of that movie was really good and INFINITELY more interesting than ANY of the characters of the Potter saga. (To my eyes and to my thinking.)

Anyway, someone put up a little selection of excerpts of Tristen from “Blair Witch 2” gradually bringing the dark side out into the real world. It is a great part of a mediocre movie and here are just some clips of it:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Too Beautiful To Comprehend

Can’t you just feel the Moon shine?
Ain’t it just like a friend of mine?

Sunday morning I had some stuff on my mind and I was walking through a parking lot thinking. Not the parking lot where I saw the cool birds or the pretty wild flowers. And not the parking lot where I once saw a fox. This was a different parking lot. Anyway. So I was walking, thinking, not really paying attention to the world around me. I was thinking about people I used to know. Suddenly a grasshopper flew up away from my feet in front of me, flew to the side and landed on a concrete divider. That got my attention and for better and for worse I’m the kind of guy who stops to look at bugs so I stopped to look at the grasshopper.

It was an orange grasshopper!

I’ve seen grey grasshoppers and green grasshoppers and even bright yellow grasshoppers, but I’ve never before seen an orange grasshopper.

This orange grasshopper was friendly enough to let me walk around him or her and get some photos.

I don’t know a lot about grasshoppers. I think this was a type of grasshopper called a “Carolina Locust” or “Carolina Grasshopper.” Despite their very specific name, they are wide-spread and appear in many different colors.

It might be something else. But my first thought was that it was a “Carolina Locust” and—of course!—I was immediately gone. Even more so than normal.

In my mind.

Hello, thank you, yes I see you and think about you
and I appreciate you making this trip for me.
The Carolinas mark the western edge of the sea
called the Bermuda Triangle. I wouldn’t argue

with anyone who said the mystery isn’t true
and everything can be explained. I’d even agree.
I’m glad you’re here anyway. You know I want to flee,
know I need a triangle to disappear into.

I wish you could collect me and take me back right now
but you’ve already done more than enough. You’re a friend.
I have energy. I hop around a lot myself.

I’ll get from here to there—I mean chemistry—somehow.
That girl’s flute song is too beautiful to comprehend.
I’ll be along. After I put this book on a shelf.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dinosaur By Moonlight: A Puppet Show

I don’t think we would learn more if we sent
robot spacecraft to orbit the people
we tried to understand with our science.

I don’t think we would learn more if we went
into space ourselves naked and aroused
instead of the robot spacecraft we send.

The green witch said, “Cryptic riches
come from intercourse with witches.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Library That We’ve Made Of Ourselves

Sometimes we get so close to each other
we can even recognize someone’s face
and hear their voice without a telephone.

Sometimes we get so close to each other
we can extend a finger or a hand
and touch someone or be touched by someone.

Sometimes we are scientists and study
a person’s features, everything they do
and say and we ask specific questions

and catalogue all the things we find out
about this person so close we taste them
and smell them and become experts on them.

Then one day like an apple that falls up
when we’re sitting under a tree thinking
the person so close walks away from us,

does something our science cannot explain,
contradicts all identifications,
undermines our epistemology,

and we look at all the books around us—
the library that we’ve made of ourselves—
and we throw away each one of those books.

I don’t think we would learn more if we sent
robot spacecraft to orbit the people
we tried to understand with our science.

I don’t think we would learn more if we went
into space ourselves naked and aroused
instead of the robot spacecraft we send.

As I type this—put these words on a page—
the almost full Moon is high in the sky
and it’s not falling or walking away.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Enceladus Was A Child Of Gaia

The Wind, Here In The Sea Of Clouds

Scientist At A Hamburger Stand

Expedition To Amy

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Scientist At A Hamburger Stand

An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass ("go") between electrodes in a solution, when an electric field is applied. It is from Greek ιον, meaning "going."

Dawn is a robotic spacecraft sent by NASA on a space exploration mission to the two most massive members of the asteroid belt: Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres. Launched on September 27, 2007, Dawn is scheduled to reach Vesta on 16 Jul 2011, which it will then explore until 2012. It is scheduled to reach Ceres in 2015. It will be the first spacecraft to visit either body.

Dawn is innovative in that it will be the first spacecraft to enter into orbit around a celestial body, study it, and then re-embark under powered flight to proceed to a second target. All previous multi-target study missions—such as the Voyager program—have involved rapid planetary flybys.

A total of three ion propulsion engines are required to provide enough thruster lifetime to complete the mission and still have adequate reserve. However, only one thruster will be operating at any given time. Dawn will use ion propulsion for years at a time, with interruptions of only a few hours each week to turn to point its antenna to Earth. Total thrust time through the mission will be about 2,100 days, considerably in excess of Deep Space 1's 678 days of ion propulsion operation.

The thrusters work by using an electrical charge to accelerate ions from xenon fuel to a speed 10 times that of chemical engines. The electrical level and xenon fuel feed can be adjusted to throttle each engine up or down. The engines are thrifty with fuel, using only about 3.25 milligrams of xenon per second (about 10 ounces over 24 hours) at maximum thrust. The Dawn spacecraft carries 425 kilograms (937 pounds) of xenon propellant.

At maximum thrust, each engine produces a total of 91 millinewtons -- about the amount of force involved in holding a single piece of notebook paper in your hand. You would not want to use ion propulsion to get on a freeway -- at maximum throttle, it would take Dawn's system four days to accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour.

As slight as that might seem, over the course of the mission the total change in velocity from ion propulsion will be comparable to the push provided by the Delta II rocket that carried it into space -- all nine solid-fuel boosters, plus the Delta's first, second and third stages. This is because the ion propulsion system will operate for thousands of days, instead of the minutes during which the Delta performs.

Well, she's got her daddy's car
And she cruises to the hamburger stand, now
Seems she forgot all about the library
Like she told her old man, now
And with the radio blasting
Goes cruising just as fast as she can, now

And she'll have fun, fun, fun
Til her daddy takes the T-bird away

The Dawn spacecraft goes from-zero-to-sixty
in four days and cruised to the asteroid belt
to do science, playing the cards it was dealt,
looking at rocks to see what there is to see.

If the Dawn spacecraft could nix tranquility,
toss away its cards for something more heartfelt
than watching, maybe, ice on a big rock melt,
should it spark off to play in complexity?

A witch could summon storms, though they might not come,
an alchemist transmute lead to gold, or not.
Both kept watch, too, on the planets, Moon and Sun.

There’s an engine. Some hear it rumble and hum.
There’s a library, and there’s another spot—
hamburgers, donuts. What if Dawn turned to fun?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dawn Spacecraft at JPL


“The Librarian And The Painter”

Enceladus Was A Child Of Gaia

The Wind, Here In The Sea Of Clouds

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Wind, Here In The Sea Of Clouds

“You find in this industry that the simpler things are, the better off you are in the long run. We believe in the fulcrum, and we believe in the inclined plane. The wheel we’re not sure of.”

An engineer from the nuclear energy
industry, quoted by
John McPhee

I’m working industriously
on a science fiction romance
about an astrophysicist
and her theory that when the Moon
transits the Earth’s magnetosphere
small electrostatic effects
repeated for thousands of years
play a key role in creating
the smooth features called lunar ‘seas’
which don’t dominate the far side
but which do dominate the face
of the Moon exposed to the Earth.

I suspect when the story’s told
it will involve two scientists,
one dinosaur and a love song.

I can type the story. Film it.
Sing it. Draw it. I really can’t
perform an interpretive dance
to communicate the content
of the characters and the plot
but I’m hoping someday to meet
a brave Russian ballet dancer
who’ll try out stuff like this with me.

I suspect I’ll be better off
in the long run if my story
gets told simply, with simple tools.

I believe in graphite pencils
on archival drawing paper.
Stop-motion animated films
on computers I’m not sure of.

But my philosophy’s not clear
on how long the “long run” might be
and I am equally unclear
on what’s better in “better off.”

Stop-motion animated films
are more fun than static drawings,
even drawings made with fancy
high-tech graphite pencils that flow
like subtle watercolor paints
when brushed thoughtfully with water.

I believe that unless I meet
a brave Russian ballet dancer
who’ll try out stuff like this with me
I will ignore this “better off”
and I will ignore this “long run”
and this science fiction romance—
about an astrophysicist
and her theory that when the Moon
transits the Earth’s magnetosphere
small electrostatic effects
repeated for thousands of years
play a key role in creating
the smooth features called lunar ‘seas’
which don’t dominate the far side
but which do dominate the face
of the Moon exposed to the Earth—
will get told as a puppet show
about two pretty scientists,
one dinosaur and a love song.

I think it’s good not to be swayed
worrying which way the wind blows.

A very bad nuclear-power-plant accident could kill tens of thousands of people. The plants are so carefully engineered, however, that the possibility seems remote. The reactor core would have to melt down, and the outer containment shell would have to be breached. Then an invisible, odorless, imperceptible cloud would drift downwind. How many people died would depend on how many people were downwind.

John McPhee

Monday, July 11, 2011

Enceladus Was A Child Of Gaia

Today’s post is going to be a little strange.

I’m working on a bunch of stuff right now. Unfortunately I have no idea exactly how or when everything or even anything will come together. Maybe late this week I will have some new music or a new video (or some new drawings!). Or maybe next week. Or maybe later. I’m just not sure right now.

(An aside: Today’s post talks about Enceladus. Gaiaamong other things—is the name of a cool synthesizer. I’ve more or less decided not to buy a synthesizer—On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #1 and On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #2—but if I were going to buy a synthesizer, I’d probably buy a Gaia.)

Anyway, I want to do a post to start setting up something of what I will be posting about later. That’s what today is about. So here goes.


First, here is a story from NASA about one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, interacting electrically with Saturn’s magnetosphere:

Electrical Circuit Between Saturn and Enceladus

This artist's concept shows a glowing patch of ultraviolet light near Saturn's north pole that occurs at the "footprint" of the magnetic connection between Saturn and its moon Enceladus. The footprint and magnetic field lines are not visible to the naked eye, but were detected by the ultraviolet imaging spectrograph and the fields and particles instruments on NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The footprint, newly discovered by Cassini, marks the presence of an electrical circuit that connects Saturn with Enceladus and accelerates electrons and ions along the magnetic field lines. In this image, the footprint is in the white box marked on Saturn, with the magnetic field lines in white and purple.

A larger white square above Enceladus shows a cross-section of the magnetic field line between the moon and the planet. This pattern of energetic protons was detected by Cassini's magnetospheric imaging instrument (MIMI) on Aug. 11, 2008.

The patch near Saturn's north pole glows because of the same phenomenon that makes Saturn's well-known north and south polar auroras glow: energetic electrons diving into the planet's atmosphere. However, the "footprint" is not connected to the rings of auroras around Saturn's poles (shown as an orange ring around the north pole in this image).

The Cassini plasma spectrometer complemented the MIMI data, with detection of field-aligned electron beams in the area. A team of scientists analyzed the charged particle data and concluded that the electron beams had sufficient energy flux to generate a detectable level of auroral emission at Saturn. Target locations were provided to Cassini's ultraviolet imaging spectrograph team. On Aug. 26, 2008, the spectrograph obtained images of an auroral footprint in Saturn's northern hemisphere.

The newly discovered auroral footprint measured about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) in the longitude direction and less than 400 kilometers (250 miles) in latitude, covering an area comparable to that of California or Sweden. It was located at about 65 degrees north latitude.

In the brightest image the footprint shone with an ultraviolet light intensity of about 1.6 kilorayleighs, far less than the Saturnian polar auroral rings. This is comparable to the faintest aurora visible at Earth without a telescope in the visible light spectrum. Scientists have not yet found a matching footprint at the southern end of the magnetic field line.

The background star field and false color images of Saturn and Enceladus were obtained by Cassini's imaging science subsystem.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The ultraviolet imaging spectrograph team is based at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The magnetospheric imaging team is based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. The Cassini plasma spectrometer team is based at the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas.

Now the situation in local space, here, around the Earth, is quite a bit different.

The Earth is much smaller than Saturn, and the Earth’s magnetosphere is also smaller. It is still, however, interesting. Here are some tid-bits about Earth’s magnetosphere from Wikipedia. Most of these excerpts will use the radius of the Earth as a measure. For scale, the Moon generally orbits at around 60 times the Earth’s radius. This is an interesting distance, in this context, and I’ll discuss that a little below.

Here is a general diagram of the Earth’s magnetosphere:

Notice that the magnetic field lines are “compressed” on the side of the Earth facing the Sun, and extended on the side of the Earth away from the Sun.

On the Sun-ward side, the magnetosphere typically extends for about twelve times the radius of the Earth.

The magnetosphere of Earth is a region in space whose shape is determined by the Earth's internal magnetic field, the solar wind plasma, and the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). In the magnetosphere, a mix of free ions and electrons from both the solar wind and the Earth's ionosphere is confined by electromagnetic forces that are much stronger than gravity and collisions.

Despite its name, the magnetosphere is distinctly non-spherical. All known planetary magnetospheres in the solar system possess more of an oval tear-drop shape because of the solar wind.

On the side facing the Sun, the distance to its boundary (which varies with solar wind intensity) is about 70,000 km (10-12 Earth radii or RE, where 1 RE = 6371 km; unless otherwise noted, all distances here are from the Earth's center). The boundary of the magnetosphere ("magnetopause") is roughly bullet shaped, about 15 RE abreast of Earth and on the night side (in the "magnetotail" or "geotail") approaching a cylinder with a radius 20-25 RE. The tail region stretches well past 200 RE, and the way it ends is not well-known.

The outer neutral gas envelope of Earth, or geocorona, consists mostly of the lightest atoms, hydrogen and helium, and continues beyond 4-5 RE, with diminishing density. The hot plasma ions of the magnetosphere acquire electrons during collisions with these atoms and create an escaping "glow" of energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) that have been used to image the hot plasma clouds by the IMAGE and TWINS missions.

The upward extension of the ionosphere, known as the plasmasphere, also extends beyond 4-5 RE with diminishing density, beyond which it becomes a flow of light ions called the polar wind that escapes out of the magnetosphere into the solar wind. Energy deposited in the ionosphere by auroras strongly heats the heavier atmospheric components such as oxygen and molecules of oxygen and nitrogen, which would not otherwise escape from Earth's gravity. Owing to this highly variable heating, however, a heavy atmospheric or ionospheric outflow of plasma flows during disturbed periods from the auroral zones into the magnetosphere, extending the region dominated by terrestrial material, known as the fourth or plasma geosphere, at times out to the magnetopause.

Earth’s magnetosphere provides protection, without which life as we know it could not survive. Mars, with little or no magnetic field is thought to have lost much of its former oceans and atmosphere to space in part due to the direct impact of the solar wind. Venus with its thick atmosphere is thought to have lost most of its water to space in large part owing to solar wind ablation.

Due to the size of Jupiter's magnetosphere there is a possibility of very weak and very brief seasonal head-tail interaction between Earth's and Jupiter's magnetospheres. The magnetospheres of the outer gas planets may weakly interact, although their magnetospheres are much smaller than Jupiter's.


A magnetic tail or magnetotail is formed by pressure from the solar wind on a planet's magnetosphere. The magnetotail can extend great distances away from its originating planet. Earth's magnetic tail extends at least 200 Earth radii in the anti-sunward direction well beyond the orbit of the Moon at about 60 Earth radii, while Jupiter's magnetic tail extends beyond the orbit of Saturn. On occasion Saturn is immersed inside the Jovian magnetosphere.

The extended magnetotail results from the energy stored in the planet's magnetic field. At times this energy is released and the magnetic field becomes temporarily more dipole-like. As it does so that stored energy goes to energize plasma trapped on the involved magnetic field lines. Some of that plasma is driven tailward and into the distant solar wind. The rest is injected into the inner magnetosphere where it results in the aurora and the ring current plasma population. The resulting energetic plasma and electric currents can disrupt spacecraft operations, communication and navigation.

So when the Moon is waning, or new, the Moon is quite outside the Earth’s magnetosphere. When the Moon is waxing, and full, and just starting to wane, the Moon is often within the Earth’s magnetosphere.

Now the Moon is believed to have a very weak magnetic field. But there are local magnetic fields on the Moon, and Sun light/shade on the surface dust can generate electrostatic effects that we’ve seen in an earlier post, Flying Saucers And Beethoven.

This is one of the very few interesting astronomical topics that almost never gets covered on the internet or in the hobby press. There are sometimes articles written about what are termed “transient lunar phenomenon,” but those articles are usually just quick summaries of suspected strange light effects on surface features or, more rarely, speculation about out-gassing from active geology on the Moon.

However—and I’m not a physicist!—this seems like a very interesting area to speculate about.

During the three or four days per month when the Moon is within the Earth’s magnetosphere, the Moon will be cutting through magnetic lines of force tied to the Earth’s north and south magnetic poles. If there is out-gassing on the Moon and the gas interacts electrostatically and becomes plasma, I believe one would expect atoms (or molecules?) to transit along the magnetic lines of force all the way to the Earth and disperse into the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Similarly, if lightening from storms or other high-energy events generates plasma on Earth, atoms or molecules could be carried out into space along the magnetic lines of force and—if the Moon is within the Earth’s magnetosphere at the time—interact in some way with lunar dust or lunar surface features.

These would be, of course, tiny, tiny interactions. But over large stretches of time even tiny interactions could add up.

The distances in astronomy are vast, very hard to imagine sometimes. But, nonetheless, one of the lessons of modern science seems to be that everything is more inter-connected than one would suppose.


To me this is one of the three most interesting topics in astrophysics right now. I’m most interested in what is going on in the outer system; I’m also interested in what is happening at Jupiter and Saturn and just how small a dwarf star can be; and then this stuff, I’m interested in wondering about just how inter-connected the Earth and the Moon may be or may not be.

I’ll be talking more about this stuff, but I wanted to get this topic started. And so I did.