Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Eclipsing the Earth - with the Moon

The Deep Space Climate Observatory or DSCOVR spacecraft, designed to maintain a real-time view of the solar wind to enable a better understanding of solar weather alerts and forecasts, took a look backwards at the Earth. The spacecraft is about 1.5 million kilometers (about 1 million miles) from Earth and is in an orbit between the Earth and the Sun at the Lagrange-1 (L1) point.  The L1 point is gravitationally stable position directly between two orbiting bodies - the spacecraft is always between the Earth and the Sun which enables the spacecraft to monitor the Sun and send back data/information/alerts to the Earth as quickly as possible.  But it also enables a unique view of the Earth and Moon system.  

When the spacecraft looks back at the Earth, the Earth is fully illuminated by the Sun (from the point of view of the spacecraft) - and as the Moon passes in between Earth and the Sun as the Moon orbits the Sun, the side of the Moon that faces away from the Earth is also fully illuminated by the Sun - as seen from the spacecraft.  The side of the Moon that faces the Earth is dark (in shadow) and we see this as New Moon on the Earth. 

The DSCOVR spacecraft captured a unique video of the Moon, with its fully illuminated far side, passing in front of the fully illuminated Earth - a view never seen by humans and not recorded by previous spacecraft.  

A couple of things to note: the rotation of the Earth and the relative motion of the Moon to the Earth as the Moon orbits the Earth.  The images were taken over a span of about 5 hours - the Moon covered about 0.7% of its 28 day orbit around the Earth. At the distance of the spacecraft from the Earth (1.5 million km), the Earth has the same angular size as a US 5-cent coin (the nickle) viewed from a distance of 4 km.   

Notice how much brighter the Earth is as compared to the Moon.  The Earth is highly reflective - particularly, the oceans and the clouds.  On average, the Earth reflects about 30-40% of the light incident upon it.  In contrast, the Moon is very dark with an average reflectance of only about 10% (it's actually more complicated than that, as the angle of the light to the reflector to the viewer matters quite a bit).  Also notice, before and after the Moon passes the Earth, a bright spot in the center of the Earth image: this is the mirror-like (specular) reflection of the Sun light straight back from the planet to the camera.

Even when we look at something as familiar as the Earth and the Moon, we can gain a new appreciation of the beauty and a new understanding just by looking at things in a slightly new way.  Besides all that - how cool is this movie!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Food for Thought ...

videoA friend of mine passed this along to me.  While there is an enormous amount to this simple video, I do like his messages at the end.
  • Knowledge does not equal understanding
  • Truth is truth, no matter what I think about it
  • Be very careful how you interpret things because you are looking at the world with a bias whether you think you are or not.
Just some food for thought ... and goofy bike riding.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Live Long and Prosper

Last week, the actor Leonard Nimoy passed way.  Nimoy is publicly known for his portrayal of the character Spock from the science fiction series Star Trek, but like most people, Nimoy was much more than what people saw of him.  Just professionally, he was an actor, a director, a poet, a singer and songwriter, and, of course, he had a personal life of which most of us know little. But, he will always be connected to his role as Spock. 

My social and professional circles were filled with references to Nimoy and Spock upon the announcement of Nimoy's death, but people would ask me if I was in mourning over the loss of Spock (yes, Spock not Nimoy). This made me wonder why were so many people tied to the notion of Spock?  What was so important about this character?  After some thought, I realized it came down to acceptance - within ourselves and within society.  

Spock represented an intellectual and socially-detached person that had been socially accepted by the populace both within the Star Trek world and the real world.  Spock was the popular and (dare-I-say) mainstream 'nerd'.   The character enabled a group of people, that are often ostracized or marginalized by society, to connect with mainstream society via popular culture.  As a result, Nimoy will forever be linked to Spock and vice versa.  But there is something deeper here that I realized while I was contemplating these questions.

Nimoy wrote two autobiographies: one in 1975 titled "I Am Not Spock" and then in 1995 titled "I Am Spock".  The first book came after the the original Star Trek series had ended but the movies had not yet been created; the book was an attempt by Nimoy to distinguish and separate himself from the character Spock. The second book came after the last of the motion pictures to star the original cast and was more of a discussion of how Nimoy and Spock grew together and separately - how Nimoy had matured partly because of his connection to Spock and Star Trek and how Spock had matured as a character from the growth and maturity of Nimoy.  The books are fascinating peeks into human psychology.

When we are young(er), we often rail against societal expectations and pressures without always realizing that as we mature and grow and learn, we become who we are, partly, by deciding how to merge with and co-exist with these expectations.  However we overlap with societal and cultural norms and expectations, true maturity and contentment comes from an acceptance of who we are inside with a recognition that truth to ourselves is fundamental to our well-being.   Nimoy gave a nice interview where it is very clear that later in life, he viewed Spock as a part of himself and that Spock reflected some of Nimoy.

Nimoy saw the power of Spock, even back in 1968, and how he could use his character to help.  A young girl wrote to Spock to ask advice on how to live life as a 'Half-breed'.  The girl was the child of a mixed-race family (black and white) and saw Spock as someone who might understand (human and vulcan).  Back in 1968, mixed-racial couples were not common and were often the pariahs of society. Today, such a situation is much more socially accepted, and I am happy to say that I am not sure that I know what that label 'mix-raced' even means.  Nimoy's answer to this young girl is marvelous and really comes down to "you have to be true to yourself".

For me personally, when I was younger, I struggled for a long time trying to understand who I was and what was important to me.   It took me years to accept within myself that a significant part of my personality was, as society would call it, 'nerdy'.  For a long time, I hated that word.  To me, it was an insult and a reminder that I had a difficult time fitting in with the rest of society - that I could only socialize with other 'nerds'.  But, in fact, it was this rebellion against 'nerdiness' when I was younger that helped me grow and mature and become a more well-rounded man with compassion and insight into others that I had not previously harnessed.

Now in my mid-life (whatever that means), I have re-embraced the nerdy side of my personality, partly because it is a piece of who I am, but partly because I have reclaimed the word for myself and made the word mean something to me. The word is just a word, but learning to accept myself (and accepting others for who they are), that is the true measure of maturity.  Accepting others (or yourself) does not have to mean accepting poor behavior, but it does mean accepting that each person is different, and it is the differences that make up the richness of our culture and society.

Interestingly, I see the word 'nerd' being re-claimed by the nerd-community in a much more public way, similar to the manner in which the word 'gay' has been re-claimed by the homosexual community.  Owning the word prevents the word from being used in an offensive manner, but more importantly, it marks an ownership and acceptance by the gay community of themselves.

Do I use the word 'nerd'?  No - mostly because I still detest stereotypical labels.  To me, labels convey the wrong connotations in that they pigeonhole individuals into groups.  Instead of viewing people by their actions, labels enable judgement of people by their appearance. I am not a nerd; I am simply me.

And with that, Mr. Nimoy (and Mr. Spock), you will be missed.  Thank you and Live Long and Prosper.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The End is Near ... well, maybe not.

In the past few years, I have tried to make a concerted effort within my life to build upon my success and give back to my community - to live my life in a positive way with the belief that within the power of positive living, there is a positive feedback on the world around us.  When we treat ourselves and others with dignity and respect, when we take responsibility for ourselves and our communities, when we recognize the good and shun the evil, when we understand that the convenience of our lives does not mean that there are no more problems to solve, when we comprehend that ignoring an issue because it is inconvenient does not solve that issue, and when we pass these ideals down to our children, we can work together towards a better world for all of us - a world where evil will find it difficult to live. I've written about this multiple times (here, here, here), but then I found this video.  And to be honest, he expresses the idea so much clearer than I have - and I really like his voice.  Enjoy this - I did.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This Made Me Laugh ...

On a day where the news from around the country and the world is depressing - on all sides - I needed a laugh.  So not in anyway to diminish the seriousness of what is happening today around the country and elsewhere, I thought I would share a small smile.

A boy is getting ready for prom and is trying to get up the nerve to ask the cutest girl in school to the dance. After a day or so he finally musters up the courage and asks her and she says yes! He’s bouncing with excitement and starts planning to get ready for prom in a few weeks.

Later that week he goes by the local florist to get a boutonniere for himself and some flowers for her. He gets to the shop and there’s a line out the door of boys all getting flowers as well. After waiting in line for a few hours, he gets the order placed and goes home.

The next day he goes out to rent a tuxedo. Driving up to the shop, he sees another line out the door, all boys getting ready for prom as well. He patiently waits his turn and after a few hours gets fitted for a tux and goes on his way home.

Lastly, he realizes he needs to rent a limousine to take his date to prom in style. But of course, when he gets to the rental company, there’s another line of boys trying to rent cars for prom night. The boy waits in line and gets one of the last limos.

So prom night comes, he picks up his date in the limo he rented, gives her the flowers he bought, and they take pictures. They go to prom and have a great time. Halfway through the night, his date tells him that she’s thirsty and would like something to drink. So the boy walks over to the refreshments table and there’s no punch line.