.: Blood Moon
I really enjoyed tonight's total eclipse of the Moon. It was a warm and clear night, perfect for moongazing. I had both the binoculars and the 4.5" reflector telescope out, but I think the latter needs a good clean as the binoculars provided the superior view.
Watching the shadow of the Earth creep across the Moon gives you an appreciation of their relative sizes. During a total solar eclipse the Moon just covers the Sun (it's remarkable!). However, the Earth's shadow easily covers the Moon with plenty to spare.
When the shadow had almost entirely covered the Moon it was like looking at red Mars with a bright white ice cap. The red darkened greatly as the shadow obscured all Sun. It also reduced the glare in the sky. As I gazed around other areas of the sky with the binoculars I could see two of Jupiter's own moons, the smudges of nebulae and the many bright pinpricks of light from the young stars in their birthing regions. The whole sky tells a wonderful, epic story and after studying astronomy I can read it a lot better now.
After what seemed like a very long time the Moon started to brighten once more and the red retreated, as if a sunrise on the Moon.
Tonight's sky was amazingly dark and clear for Sydney so I brought out the binoculars, and just looked up. There was Jupiter in Scorpius, near red giant Antares. I saw nebulae and groups of bright young stars against a Milky Way still faint from city lights.
It is so easy to forget that the universe is full of so many wonders when you are enclosed by a city that tries its best to hide the night sky.
Researchers have discovered that the Streptococcus bacterium acquired its "flesh eating" toxic shock power after an infection of its own from a bacteriophage, a form of virus that attacks bacteria, about 30 years ago. The bacteriophage inserted a gene into a strain of the strep bacteria that allows it to take the human plasminogen protein and convert it into the protease enzyme. This enzyme destroys the human tissue, enabling the rapid invasion of the body that characterises the vicious nature of this strain of strep.
The mutation also produces an enzyme which allows the bacterium to escape capture and death by the host body's white blood cells, or neutrophils. This selects the mutated bacteria over their less virulent cousins without the gene. It's a gruesome example of evolution in action.
The Sydney Morning Herald recently carried an article entitled High altitude flights spark symptoms. It referred to a study of the Effect of Aircraft-Cabin Altitude on Passenger Discomfort published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study found that the reported rates of discomfort increased greatly at simulated altitudes above 2100 metres and durations between 3 to 9 hours. The onset of acute mountain sickness did not appear to depend on the altitudes studies (between 198 to 2438 metres) in those that experienced it (17.4%).
I believe that I experienced altitude sickness on flights with Malaysian Airlines and Asiana with severe headaches and nausea that improved upon descent to lower altitudes. It is interesting that this did not occur with all airlines (eg Qantas, Cathay Pacific) leading me to suspect that some airlines cycle cabin air more often (perhaps affecting the oxygen and carbon dioxide ratios) or keep their cabin pressure lower (although the study would seem to discount that). Both strategies save fuel.
I have just finished watching the ABC documentary Crude about the origins and history of oil and the consequences of its use. The thought provoking video is available from the above linked website. By looking at the conditions that produced the major oil reserves the documentary ponders whether our burning of oil and other fossil fuels could once more trigger a global ocean anoxia event, only much more rapidly than in history.
Global warming as a product of humankind's large-scale release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is not a new concept for me. I can remember Earth Watch on television in the mid-80's warning of the greenhouse effect and was aware of literature pre-dating this. Change can be both wonderful and scary, but I fear for the consequences on world societies of climate change and the increased consumption of other resources by developed and developing nations. One of my excuses for travel is to see the world while I still can, before the Barrier Reef is gone, or social unrest destroys a country or even the cost of fuel makes air travel unaffordable once more. Will these things happen? I don't yet know, I hope not. And I am bad for flying so much, a highly polluting form of transport (well, I do catch trains and other public transport, where possible - except in China!).
It's amusing that, since I wrote the last post, I have been watching the movie The Day After Tomorrow on television. I've posted previously about the stupid science of the movie, although it's useful for stimulating some public thought about the unpredictable consequences of climate change. Most ironic is that the movie was produced by 20th Century Fox, owned by News Corp, publishers of the Daily Telegraph and MX. I guess I can't accuse News Corp of being entirely anti-climate change.
In the last few days I've noticed some vehement views against the existence of human caused climate change in a couple of arms of News Ltd owned newspapers. The highlighted letter of the day in one of this week's issues of MX was David of Cronulla stating strongly that climate change was a lie, followed up by a couple of other letters saying "everyone knows that water from melted ice takes up no extra space" and "it's all part of a natural cycle". My answer to these two statements is:
- Whilst the melting of sea ice has little impact on sea levels, it's the melting ice that sits on top of land (such as the Antarctic and other glaciers) that can cause sea level rises. Furthermore, water has a lower albedo than ice, so reflects less sunlights back to space and further contributes to the heating. The differing density and temperature of fresh water compared with the salt water of the oceans can also impact ocean currents and climate (the El Nino cycle is related to ocean currents, for example).
- Our understanding is that natural cycles tend to take longer. The climate appears to be changing very rapidly.
It wasn't just the arguments which were disappointing, it was the vehemence with which they were written. Who is influencing these letter writers?