Friday, December 28, 2007

Gravitational ripples

The small moon Prometheus pulls and deforms one of Saturn's rings with its gravitational influence.


Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute. Read more about it here.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

And to all a good night.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday sonnet: William Blake

I include this sonnet from William Blake, written in 1783, because it haunts me a little with its divine and pastoral imagery. And because it is in blank verse, which is a bit unusual for a sonnet.

"To the Evening Star"

Thou fair-hair'd angel of the evening,
Now, while the sun rests on the mountains, light
Thy bright torch of love; they radiant crown
Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!
Smile on our loves; and, while thou drawest the
Blue curtains of the sky, scatter thy silver dew
On every flower that shuts its sweet eyes
In timely sleep. Let thy west wind sleep on
The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,
And wash the dusk with silver. Soon, full soon,
Dost thou withdraw; then the wolf rages wide,
And the lion glares thro' the dun forest:
The fleeces of our flocks are cover'd with
Thy sacred dew: protect them with thine influence.

Rhyme scheme: blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"NASA Names Next Generation Moon Lander 'Altair'"

The name lacks pizzazz and prestige, but I suppose it will do.

Move over Eagle, the Altair has landed.

NASA today introduced a new name and logo for its next generation lunar lander, which was previously referred to as the Lunar Surface Access Module, or LSAM for short.


"Altair is the brightest star in the constellation Aquila and is the twelfth brightest star in the night sky," wrote Lauri Hansen, NASA's Altair project manager, in an e-mail sent to Hanley this morning, a copy of which was obtained by "The word 'Altair' finds its origins in Arabic and is derived from a phrase that means 'the flying one'," she continued.

"In Latin, 'Aquila' means Eagle, tying our new lander to the historic Apollo 11 Eagle," concluded Hansen, referring to the vehicle that brought mankind's first two men to the lunar surface in July 1969.

The Altair project logo emphasizes that connection, using the major design element from the Apollo 11 patch as its own. Both emblems depict a bald eagle clasping an olive branch in its talons, an image chosen by Michael Collins, Apollo 11's command module pilot, based on a photo in a 1965 book published by National Geographic.

Just get those landers up there, whatever you call them.

Oh, and here's the logo. I suppose it will have to do, too.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday Sonnet: Gerard Manley Hopkins

And now, a dense sonnet written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877, a poem marvelous in its compact complexity.

"The Windhover"

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
- dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
- Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
- As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
- Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,---the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
- Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

- No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
- Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdc dcd
It looks at first as if the rhyme scheme should be aaaa aaaa bcb cbc, but a closer examination reveals the a rhymes to be words that end in "-ing" and the b rhymes to be words that end in "-iding."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Scientists cure mice with sickle cell"

Wow, this sounds like incredibly good news.
WASHINGTON - Scientists have the first evidence that those "reprogrammed stem cells" that made headlines last month really have the potential to treat disease: They used skin from the tails of sick mice to cure the rodents of sickle cell anemia.

Let's hope this pans out and leads to much more.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sunday sonnet: John Keats

Today, I offer a fantastic expression of the awe a poet feels when reading an exceptional work of literature (in this case, a translation of Homer's works done by George Chapman). Keats's experience was written down in sonnet form in 1816, and I include this poem because I like it, and because it contains a well-known goof on the author's part.

"On First Looking into Chapman's Homer"

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,
- And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
- Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
- That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
- Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
- When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
- He stared at the Pacific--and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise--
- Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdcdcd