Philae Lands on Comet

The robot probe Philae touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at about 1605 GMT.

An enormous achievement for human kind that will be barely noticed by most people.

For 99% of human history comets were thought to be portends if not the cause of disaster, disease, and death, sent by a god or demon to warn or punish mankind. Every society on Earth known for its supposedly divinely inspired holy texts thought so.


photo: ESA/Rosetta/Navcam

Now these dusty snowballs from the edge of the solar system, formed billions of years before humans evolved, are known for what they really are. And should stand as a symbol of the power of science, reason, and enlightenment to sweep away the destructive veils of ignorance, prejudice and superstition masquerading as “belief” that is sadly influencing most of the world still. And that is not just referring to barbaric hoards like IS.

In an episode of the television series Cosmos, host Neil deGrasse Tyson mentioned that most of us could name more serial killers off the top of their heads than scientists responsible for the greatest advancements of our civilization. And continually we hear politicians and other civic “leaders” declaring that verifiable truth like global warming and the evolution of species from earlier forms can be believed in or not with equal validity, like other things they choose to believe in or not based on what they wish was so.

You want prophesy that actually comes true? Nothing outside of science comes close to Edmund Halley using Newton’s Laws of Gravity to predict in 1705 that a comet would appear in 1758, 16 years after his death, and every 76 years thereafter.

And yet it took until the twentieth century before we learned with certainly what comets actually are and where they come from.

And now we have successfully landed a man made machine on a comet! But it has taken the collective courage and investigation of centuries of scientists to get there.

The Historic Comet Landing

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft was launched on March 2, 2004, and traveled 6.4 billion kilometers (3.97 billion miles) through space to reach the comet on August 6, 2014. After studying the comet from a distance, Rosetta moved within 10 kilometers for closer inspection. And today the Philae probe made a successful landing on the comet’s icy surface – a first in human history.

The decent took 7 hours, without propulsion and with no certainty that it would not crash into a cliff or end up swallowed by a fissure.

“After more than 10 years travelling through space, we’re now making the best ever scientific analysis of one of the oldest remnants of our Solar System,” said Alvaro Giménez, Director of Science and Robotic Exploration at the ESA.

It will take some hours before they know exactly where it landed and to start receiving photos and data of the chemical composition of this ancient piece of the solar system, which likely formed before the planets were born some 4 billion years ago.

Comet_over_London ESA

Comet 67P Over London – photo: ESA/Rosetta/Navcam; Map data ©2014 Google, Bluesky

Related Links

Official ESA Press Release

Edmund Halley entry at

I cannot post a link to Episode 3 of Cosmos, which focuses on comets, Newton and Halley. But it is currently available on Netflix, and I highly recommend it. It is inspiring and entertaining, and has some breathtaking visual effects.


Exoplanets – Monday Map

A place to call home? The location of known exoplanets relatively near Earth appear in this map.

Exoplanets, or extrasolar planets, are planets orbiting stars other than our own Sun.

Someday the Sun will evolve into a red giant star, swallowing the inner planets. Our distant decedents will need to seek other worlds to inhabit before the Earth can no longer sustain life. Already, people are exploring which galactic neighborhoods may be most appealing.

Exoplanets near Earth

click to enlarge

A hi-res, poster-size version of this map is available HERE

On Wednesday the following image was released showing planets forming around a star, captured at the international astronomy facility in Chili, known as ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array.) At 450 light years from earth, star HL Tau is approximately one millions years young.

HL Tau planetary disc formed by expoplanets

Never before has such a clear image of an accretion disc been captured, showing where definite gaps have been cleared by new planets, collecting material with their gravitational fields.

“When we first saw this image we were astounded at the spectacular level of detail. HL Tauri is no more than a million years old, yet already its disc appears to be full of forming planets. This one image alone will revolutionize theories of planet formation…”  – Catherine Vlahakis, Lead Program Scientist for the ALMA Long Baseline Campaign.

Verified reports of the initial exoplanets appeared in the journal Nature in 1995. At present over 1800 exoplanets have been discovered in over 1100 different planetary systems. Most of these are giant gas planets, like Jupiter. But many smaller planets have been verified as well.

The earliest finds were detected by their gravitational tug upon their home star, which “wobbled” slightly as the planet orbited around it. This technique was first suggested by astronomer Otto Struve in 1952. But it took another 40 years before the instruments required were perfected to accomplish the task. Many other methods of detection have been used to discover or confirm other exoplanets.

A survey by the Kepler space telescope of a small portion of the night sky has already identified a few thousands stars likely to harbor exoplanets. And that is but a drop in the galactic bucket.

Related Links About Extrasolar Planets

Official ALMA Press Release

University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo’s Habitability Planetary Laboratory – other cool exoplanet maps

Scientific American’s interactive map of exoplanets – see the Earth-like planets, compared to the gas giants.

NASA’s Quest for Another Earth page

NASA’s Kepler telescope page


America’s Shameful Lack of Maternity Leave

So much for Family Values, here in the old U.S.A, Unbridled Selfishness of America, where Maternity Leave is denied too many

Monday Map

Maternity Leave Map small

Greed Costs Us All

Here, in richest land the world has ever known, full of selfish people who rail against the government regulation responsible for decent wages and humane working conditions, and sold the baloney that having a social contract where everyone insures all our neighbors have proper healthcare, as in civilized nations, is somehow a bad thing, we have an appalling rank among the peoples of the world in child mortality, childbirth-related fatalities, and of course, providing proper paid leave for parents when their newborns need them most.

As per the excellent website, we could learn a lot from the Finns.

“The United States ranks merely 30th in the Mothers’ Index, bested by such countries as France (16th) and Italy (17th), Canada (22nd) and United Kingdom (23rd), Israel (25th) and Belarus (26th). The relatively low ranking of the U.S. is based on several factors. One of the key indicators used to calculate the index is lifetime risk of maternal mortality. The maternal mortality in the United States is the highest of any industrialized nation: a woman in the U.S. is more than 10 times as likely as a woman in Italy or Ireland to die from pregnancy-related causes. The United States has the least generous maternity leave policy of any wealthy nation, both in terms of duration and percent of wages paid (except Australia, see the map on the left). Similarly, the U.S. does not do as well as most other developed countries with regard to child mortality. The U.S. under-5 mortality rate is on par with the figure of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Forty-one countries performed better than the U.S. on this indicator. A child in the U.S. is three times more likely to die before reaching age 5 than a child in Iceland, and twice as likely as a child in Denmark. Only slightly more than half of children in the United States are enrolled in preschool—making it the fifth lowest country in the developed world on this indicator. The United States also lags behind in regard to the political status of women: only 18% of its congressional seats are held by women, compared to 45% in Sweden and 40% in Iceland. Whether legislative representation accurately reflects the position of women in society is dubious, however, in light of such figures as 45% in Cuba, 39% in Mozambique, 31% in Guyana, 26% in El Salvador or Ethiopia, or 25% in Iraq.”

Read their full article

Flu, Flu, Flu Away Don’t Come Back Another Day

The current flu is widespread, highly contagious,
and no fun at all

Monday Map

Latest view of this year’s flu

Flu map February 2014

Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Get The Flu Shot

That is what they always said. And for the past ten years, I did get the flu shot, at the annual “autumn health fair” where I worked. And I did not get the flu.

My job was outsourced over a year ago. So I did not get a flu shot this year. Instead, I got the flu.

I used to get the flu each and every year, at some point, basically since my college years. The flu shot changed all that. I would still get colds, including the one in 2012 that had me starting 2013 with pneumonia. I have even had West Nile Virus, six years ago or so. But I never got the flu.

Actually, since recovering from the pneumonia and leaving that job, I embarked on a year-long fitness and health regime, consisting of enormous amounts of vegetables, typically steamed or simmered in coconut milk and curry, supplemented with sauteed chicken breasts and other such things. And began and kept with an exercise program of my own devising, focused on my wonderful rowing machine, made by WaterRower, low impact dumbbells, and basic pushups and ab exercises.

On February 1st I considered myself to have lived for a full year without getting sick. This may be my longest streak of wellness ever. On Tuesday I started feeling a bit odd.

By that night I was feeling achy, and my throat was feeling prickly. I told myself it was probably nothing, I was far too healthy to get sick these days, and I went out to dinner as an emotional pick-me-up. All that positive thinking and endeavoring to ignore it all didn’t help.

Bed Rest and Plenty of Fluids

Chills and headache were constant, as my fever peaked at 101, which is not too bad for a flu. But my tonsils turned into enormous monstrosities, swelling to the point they came forward every time I coughed or cleared my throat, and would sit on the back of my tongue, like twin Jabba the Huts that had to be swallowed back down.

After two days of insanely painful swallowing and unmerciful insomnia, my tonsils and body temperature returned to normal size. I still remember the old Bayer Aspirin commercials extolling the virtues of “bed rest and plenty of fluids.” Who has time for bed rest, even when they are home sick? It is too boring. Well, this time I had little choice. Fortunately I was able to go to bed and stay there, for basically 48 hours. I believe that helped a lot in allowing my body to fight against the virus.

So, after two wretched days, the ride through the Fun House From Hell was over. But I was marooned on a plateau a long way from Vitality, where I have remained ever since. The sore throat got better each day, but it has been replaced by one of those scratchy throat coughs that only gets worse when laying down. The fatigue and sinus inflammation remain as bad as ever, so I am still spending a lot of time on my back, coughing. Many people claim to have the flu when they just have a bad cold. And I tried to tell myself that was my fate as well. But a cold does not last this long with this kind of soul-crushing fatigue.

I was supposed to attend two rehearsals and perform at a dinner later this week. Unfortunately my voice sounds something along the lines of an elderly Jeromy Irons doing a bad Tom Waits imitation. Perhaps some instrumentals are in order.


Earliest human footprints outside of Africa found in England

In a thrilling discovery, detailed in a paper published February 7 in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, the earliest human footprints found outside of Africa appeared in May, in ancient sediment along the English coastline at low tide, near Happisburgh, in Norfolk.

The ocean washed them away, but not before they could be studied by scientists and preserved on video, which is scheduled to be shown as part of the new exhibit, Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story. The exhibit opens at the Natural History Museum in London on February 13, and continues through September 28, 2014.

The paper’s abstract is as follows:

Investigations at Happisburgh, UK, have revealed the oldest known hominin footprint surface outside Africa at between ca. 1 million and 0.78 million years ago. The site has long been recognised for the preservation of sediments containing Early Pleistocene fauna and flora, but since 2005 has also yielded humanly made flint artefacts, extending the record of human occupation of northern Europe by at least 350,000 years. The sediments consist of sands, gravels and laminated silts laid down by a large river within the upper reaches of its estuary. In May 2013 extensive areas of the laminated sediments were exposed on the foreshore. On the surface of one of the laminated silt horizons a series of hollows was revealed in an area of ca. 12 m2. The surface was recorded using multi-image photogrammetry which showed that the hollows are distinctly elongated and the majority fall within the range of juvenile to adult hominin foot sizes. In many cases the arch and front/back of the foot can be identified and in one case the impression of toes can be seen. Using foot length to stature ratios, the hominins are estimated to have been between ca. 0.93 and 1.73 m in height, suggestive of a group of mixed ages. The orientation of the prints indicates movement in a southerly direction on mud-flats along the river edge. Early Pleistocene human fossils are extremely rare in Europe, with no evidence from the UK. The only known species in western Europe of a similar age is Homo antecessor, whose fossil remains have been found at Atapuerca, Spain. The foot sizes and estimated stature of the hominins from Happisburgh fall within the range derived from the fossil evidence of Homo antecessor.

(footnotes appear in the actual paper)

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

The assumed species of human kind squishing that ancient mud between their toes may have reached Norfolk some 800,000 years ago via a land bridge. At many times in the distant past, Britain was a peninsula directly connected to Europe, and that is believed to be true of the era when these footprints would have been made, possibly by a family searching a riverbed for food. But a cooler climate would have removed such peoples to Southern Europe shortly afterwards. The earliest record of human artifacts in Britain dates from about 500,000 years ago, belonging to Homo heidelbergensis, the species believed to have evolved into the Neanderthals, our distant cousins who thrived in Europe and Britain until shortly after the arrival of our own species, Homo sapiens, some 40,000 years ago. And since our own recorded history, including all our various legends and creation myths only goes back a scant 6,000 years, we are still talking about a verrrrrrry long time ago.

 earliest human footprints outside Africa PLOS ONE  earliest human footprints outsid of Africa PLOS ONE

Dr. Isabelle De Groote of John Moores University in Liverpool concluded they were indeed human footprints, nearly 1 million years old, belonging to multiple individuals who stood between 3 feet to 5 feet 9 inches in height. How many more there were and how permanent was their stay remains a mystery. As the Natural History Museum’s Professor Chris Stringer told BBC News:

“This discovery gives us even more concrete evidence that there were people there. We can now start to look at a group of people and their everyday activities. And if we keep looking, we will find even more evidence of them, hopefully even human fossils. That would be my dream”.

And that is one man’s word on

The earliest human footprints found outside of Africa

Read the paper on PLOS One’s website, HERE

Other Interesting Things

Hubble Telescope discovers ancient galaxies behind Pandora’s Cluster

Monday Map – An American Contemplates the Metric System

Early American Guitars at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Impressionists and the Evolution of Modern Fashion

Felix Baumgartner Red Bull Stratos Video

The Hi-Def Red Bull Stratos Video of the world record free fall, by Felix Baumgartner

“Because it was there…”

In the spirit of intrepid explorers everywhere, those that failed and those that conquered, the Shackletons and Scotts, the Norgays and Hillarys, the Nungessers and Lindberghs, Austrian parachutist Felix Baumgartner entered the rolls of immortal men on October 14, 2012. On that day, he entered the stratosphere in a helium balloon, rising to a height of 24.2145 miles (39.9694 kilometers) with the intent of plummeting to earth.

Exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier in a piloted plane, Baumgartner became the first to break the sound barrier outside of one, reaching a maximum speed of 843.60 mph before deploying his parachute.

I am not even going to embed a post of this, as you simply must see this on Youtube, in full screen mode, in the highest definition your computer and monitor will allow!

Beautiful, thrilling, simply amazing!

Metric System Usage

Monday Map
Countries That Do Not Use The Metric System

 January 13, 2014

Countries That Do Not Use The Metric System

Source: Wikimedia Commons

As a proud American, I join with my countrymen as I dig my heels in, fold my arms and say, “Nope. I am not budging one inch.”

Okay, while I might budge an inch in some instances, I will certainly not budge a centimeter. I do not even know what a centimeter is. I mean, I know it is a unit of measurement and that 10 of them is a decimeter and that 100 of them is a meter (or a metre, as those perplexing foreigners insist on putting it.) But how long is that? Don’t ask me; I am an American.

I can instantly project my thought out exactly one mile. I can picture the distance and multiply it so that I have confidence in just how far away from my present position is a point 3 miles off, or 5 miles.

I haven’t played football in maybe 20 years, more like 35 years when it comes to suiting up in pads. But if it were Second Down and 4 yards to go, I know exactly where I would have to make the cut on my passing route, to catch the ball beyond the First Down marker.

But how long is 4 meters? I have not a clue.

I have always taken quiet satisfaction that a kilometer was not quite as long as, and therefore wimpier than a good old mile. So I am a bit miffed when reminded that a meter is actually longer than a yard. The very idea!

But it is okay; this time next week I will no longer remember that.

Why would I? Like all right-thinking people, such as we Americans, along with Liberians and those staunch defenders of traditional values living in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, no effort to brainwash us with logical Base 10 measurements can penetrate, let alone sink in. None of this newfangled metric nonsense for us. No sirree bob.

The metric system got its start in the French Revolution, that mob of malcontents who were inspired by long-haired radicals with names like George Washington, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. Apparently the French had been using all sorts of measurement systems, many not all that easy to translate into others. So in 1799 these proto-terrorists scrapped the whole shebang and forced their single system on the people. The English, on the other hand, already had one set of measurements for the entire realm, which for some reason is perfectly all right. And the English handed that system down to us, their more highly evolved cousins, before it was too late.

Unlike the ludicrous metric system, where the meter is a Base 10 fraction of the circumference of the earth, and the liter is based upon the weight of water at its melting point, and with centigrade temperatures based on the freezing and boiling points of water, our superior system is based on things that actually make sense.

The mile, as everyone knows, is 8 furlongs in length, a furlong being 1/24 of a league. A furlong, sensibly enough, is the length of one furrow of ploughed earth in a typical English field, or 40 rods. The fact no one could quite agree on the length of a rod, let alone the cupids making up a rod, or that such fields might vary from place to place is beside the point.

And when it comes to temperature, in 1724 Mr. Fahrenheit stuck a mercury thermometer into some icy saltwater and decided that was 0 and then he stuck one into a human armpit and decided that was 96, which was later refined to 98.6. See? Isn’t that so much better than having water freeze at 0 and boil at 100?

The metric system was officially recognized for use in the USA in 1866. It was refined and revised for the international community in 1960. Concerted efforts were made in the 1970s to indoctrinate the youth of America so that they would be ready for full conversion by the turn of the century. And while various Poindexters may have picked up some metric-savvy skills in Science class, the conversion rate of us true Americans has come nowhere near estimates.

Not by a mile.

And that is one man’s word on…

Countries That Do Not Use The Metric System

Monday Map is a new series at One Man’s World, where we will post interesting maps showing various aspects of our world, and the trends, distributions, and the past, present and future of everything in it.

Hubble Unveils Pandora’s Blue Galaxies

Hubble image of Pandora's clust Abell 2744

Hubble Space Telescope (HST) peered through the veil of  Pandora’s Cluster and discovered a provocative sight.

So named because it is thought to have formed from a violent colliding of several galaxy clusters, Pandora’s Cluster is officially named Abell 2744. The scientists with their eye on Hubble’s peep hole used the cluster’s immense gravitational effects as a lens to magnify far deeper, older galaxies hiding behind it.

Each point of light in the image is an entire galaxy, containing many billions of stars. Those in the background have never before been detected. Because light travels at 700 million miles an hour, the farther away the galaxy the farther back in time we see it.

Found lurking behind Pandora’s cluster were 3,000 of the earliest galaxies yet discovered, many of which appear in the image as blue arcs and blobs. At least four of these new galaxies are seen as they were 13.5 billion years ago, a mere 500 million years after the Big Bang that gave rise to our current universe. And all of this, in one small patch of the night sky that appears blank to the human eye.

In a paper made available through the Cornell University Library, a team led by astrophysicists Hakim Atek and Johan Richard presented the findings from their deep field observations of galaxy cluster Abell 2744 combining newly acquired near-infra red data with optical images taken from the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and those acquired though the Spitzer Space Telescope, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, at the California Institute of Technology.

According to the paper, which can be read HERE, “The Hubble Frontier Fields (HFF) program combines the capabilities of the Hubble Space Telescope with the gravitational lensing of massive galaxy clusters to probe the distant Universe to an unprecedented depth.” This is only the first attempt at this new method of peering into the secrets of the early Cosmos, and is basically a test run. “Although based on a shallower observations than what will be achieved in the final dataset” this first attempt to combine the multiple observations of Abell 2744 have provided results “generally in agreement with the most recent blank field estimates, confirming the feasibility of surveys through lensing clusters.”

Among the many new discoveries within the initial findings include the fact that many of these early galaxies are considerably brighter than they expected, up to 20 times more luminous than predicted. “There are strange things happening… we’re suddenly seeing luminous, massive galaxies quickly build up at such an early time… They were much larger than we expected to find. Only 1% of our Milky Way. But that is a big galaxy for that early era,” said Dr. Garth Illingworth from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

The image at the top of this post is the first to come from Hubble’s Frontier Fields observing programme, which is using the magnifying power of enormous galaxy clusters to peer deep into the distant Universe. According to NASA,  Abell 2744 is but the first of six targets that the Hubble’s Frontier Fields observing programme will focus on. “This three-year, 840-orbit programme will yield our deepest views of the Universe to date, using the power of Hubble to explore more distant regions of space than could otherwise be seen, by observing gravitational lensing effects around six different galaxy clusters.”

Hubble space telescope view of Pandora's ClusterAbell 2744 combining viable light, X-rays, and artist enhanced dark matter


NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, official site

Scientific American

BBC Story

Washington Post