THE COMMON OBSERVER UNCOMMON OBSERVATIONS

Sunday Haiku

tattle in the sky
ten days after the full moon
the lion attacks

 

the universe sees
you float outside the airlock
gentle with love

 

the sky pours out
who can say where it begins
yet where it peels back

Haiku contributed from Nite Rote.

Sunday Haiku

the whole moon knots up
when it tries to tell us a tiny truth
we already know

 

we make our harvest
of gravitational waves
from the worm moon

 

see you tomorrow
the moon says to the pale blue dot
when gravity strains

Haiku contributed from Nite Rote.

Pale Terraqueous Globes

Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/Tim Pyle

Imagine the closest star beyond the Sun has a planet orbiting it about the size of Earth. Visualize what your sunset would look like on this distant planet. Perhaps there would be two stars at the center of this solar system. Your sunset would be breathtaking. You could even visualize what the Sun would look like from this planet – just another unassuming star in the sky. You don’t have to merely imagine that such a planet might exist. A planet like this really does exist – of course you’d still have to imagine the part where you are on the surface of this world. The Alpha Centauri star system, which is essentially a triple star system of Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri has just such a planet. There is a planet in the sky waiting for us at a distance that is just two hundred and seventy thousand times further than the Earth is from the Sun. This planet is near 1500 degrees on the surface, so we wouldn’t want to be there, but nonetheless the fact is that astronomers are finding similar planets commonly. There may be a planet just the size of Earth at a nice temperature quite near us galactic speaking. We are searching.

 

Most planets don’t seem to be much like Earth. In fact so far we haven’t found a single planet that has a temperature and size similar to Earth, but part of the problem with finding planets is that finding big giant planets – like Jupiter is easy – while small rocky planets like Earth are elusive. But we are on the edge of discovery. All in all Earth-like planets likely abound. In fact with 95% confidence there is an Earth size planet in the habitable zone of a small star within 23 light years of us. The habitable zone is the place where a planet would not be too hot or too cold. A place where a planet wouldn’t see its oceans boiled off or frozen into desolate ice tundra. Habitable planets are common in our galaxy and by galactic standards not very far apart. On average Earth-like planets are only 13 light-years apart.

 

Continue reading my essay on planets over at 3 Quarks Daily…

Sunday Haiku

full snow moon carves space
in the eye of a hurricane
the sun’s tradition

 

the wind shakes the mountains
water pulls up the sky’s roots
wings hold the dryad

 

that time of day
when the sun is at its weakest
tries to act casual

Haiku contributed from Nite Rote.

The True Cost of Food

Honest discussions about the future reveal daunting challenges. A reoccurring theme that everyone from the President of the United States of America, the pope, and occasionally even wall street bankers agree on is that the economic system we have in place often does not account for the true value of goods and services. This leads to wealth inequality and resource exploitation. These repercussions present a lurking danger to all humans on earth. Summarily, we are mortgaging the future of our own health and environment for cheaper prices today.

 

In particular food is a special. Food sustains our breathing life, it carries cultural traditions, and it literally absorbs the environment around it. The way we consume food resonates in all chambers of society. The intention to be healthy, share food with those we love, and have a bounty for today and tomorrow—these aren’t merely things to feel good about, these are actions we can manifest. Of course, to begin with it matters what we eat if we want to be healthy. Research is mounting showing that factory farmed diets high in red meat are particularly damaging to health. Second to share our bounty food we must recognize that globalization means fluctuating market forces can mean starvation for those most vulnerable (we already have enough food to feed the world, right? But it isn’t evenly distributed). Finally, in order to have a bounty for food today and tomorrow we must conserve our environment that produces the food. All of these issues can be ameliorated if the true cost of food was taken into account. Personally, I believe that taking time to prepare food, eating with intention, and sharing food with those we love is important, but I don’t have a lot of numbers on how to express that. I do have numbers showing how factory food production is harmful to the environment in one particular way: green house gas emissions. Actually it turns out that numbers on this subject vary a lot depending on many factors (for example green house gasses include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor; these gasses can be weighted in different ways with respect to their total contribution) so I present here some rough numbers of approximation. A recent study in the European Union found that 15% to 28% of a nation’s total green house gas emissions came from food production. The breakdown:

  • Around 6% of the total green house gas emissions (in the form of nitrous oxide) comes from ammonium nitrate fertilizer production used in farming.
  • Around 5% up to 14.5% of the total green house gas emissions (in the form of methane)comes from cows. Or livestock in general. No joke.  That is right about half of all global methane emissions comes from belching livestock.
  • Around 10% to 20% of the total green house gas emissions comes from deforestation. Here the impacts are compounding. Deforestation takes away the environment’s ability to absorb CO2 and it releases CO2 and methane when burned.

The cost of these green house gas emissions is not taken into account in the cost to consumer of most food. A telling solution to this problem can be seen by asking a simple question. Should we even be eating anything with a face? The arguments come fast from both sides of the debate. With respect to green house gasses, the reduction of meat consumption is cited as one of the highest impact actions possible in some studies. When you ask experts this question, as was done in this excellent Intelligence Squared debate on vegetarianism, the answer if of course debatable, however there is universal agreement that factory farming is abhorrent. It fails ours morals, our environment, and our health. Food it a touchy subject. Some maintain that organic food will save us and some say genetically modified food will doom us, but these claims are hotly debatable and dubious at best. The consensus opinion is that factory farmed food that places low costs above all other concerns is a recipe for individual and environmental disaster. Let us consider the true cost of food for ourselves and the future.

Sunday Haiku

a star casts a shadow
of neutrinos on the earth
just to say farewell
 

a supernova
arrives holding the echos
of the moon and earth
 

Janus tilts his faces
February’s denial of spring
forged in the arctic

Haiku contributed from Nite Rote.

The Balloon Highline

“I crossed, I crossed!”
“How many seconds?”
“3”

Ashes and Snow

Gregory Colbert’s Ashes and Snow is a film about people and animals that evokes a poetic fantasy world where some boundaries dissolve.

Space and the Stature of Man

Hannah Ardent’s 1963 essay on The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man is a bit dated and a bit timeless…

reflection of earth and self in visor of astronaut Clayton C. Anderson, image from NASA

“Has man’s conquest of space increased or diminished his stature?” The question raised is addressed to the layman, not the scientist, and it is inspired by the humanist’s concern with man, as distinguished from the physicist’s concern with the reality of the physical world. To understand physical reality seems to demand not only the renunciation of an anthropocentric or geocentric world view, but also a radical elimination of all anthropomorphic elements and principles, as they arise either from the world given to the five human senses or from the categories inherent in the human mind. The question assumes that man is the highest being we know of, an assumption which we have inherited from the Romans, whose humanitas was so alien to the Greeks’ frame of mind that they had not even a word for it. (The reason for the absence of the word humanitas from Greek language and thought was that the Greeks, in contrast to the Romans, never thought that man is the highest being there is. Aristotle calls this belief atopos, “absurd.”) This view of man is even more alien to the scientist, to whom man is no more than a special case of organic life and to whom man’s habitat — the earth, together with earthbound laws — is no more than a special borderline case of absolute, universal laws, that is, laws that rule the immensity of the universe. Surely the scientist cannot permit himself to ask: What consequences will the result of my investigations have for the stature (or, for that matter, for the future) of man? It has been the glory of modern science that it has been able to emancipate itself completely from all such anthropocentric, that is, truly humanistic, concerns.

Read the rest and commentary from some great thinkers…

The Myth of Earthrise

Earthrise Is the Earthrise image the begning of a modern myth? Perhaps explores Craig Chalquist where he writes that, “To tell a myth is to tell a culture’s dream about its inner workings and truths.”