To the Ends of the Earth

By cjohnson | May 29, 2006 1:34 pm


One of the reasons I like this blog is the extended community that we have been able to build, due to all of you who read us, spread the word about us, and carry on the discussions offline. Thanks. We have readers from quite a diverse set of walks of life, careers, ages, and locations. I think that the letter I received a few days ago was from one of the most remote locations I can think of on this planet. I find it quite exciting! The writer, Denis Barkats, permitted me to reproduce it here:

I browse you guys’ blog now and then and I have to admit I really enjoy it. I decided to write to you today about the post named Jacaranda time, because I know exactly the feeling when those start blooming in the LA area and given my current situation, It has a special ring to me right now. I am a postdoc at Caltech with Andrew Lange’s observational cosmology group. And I clearly remember the time when I came to interview for the position during the Month of Mai. I could not belive the intense color of those trees (Jacaranda trees whose names I did not know at the time). I absolutely loved it and eventually accepted the postdoc offer ( not just for the trees). And right now, seeing your post on your blog, I am reminded at how beautiful spring can be in Pasadena. Right now, I am at the South Pole at the US Amundsen-Scott South pole station. I’m the winterover for the BICEP experiment (a CMB polarization telescope aiming to look for B-mode polarization).We are in the middle of the austral winter. It’s -80F outside on average although it can dip down to -100F sometimes. It’s pitch dark. And we are in the middle of a sterile, arid, desertic, moon-like landscape, at 11000ft, on the polar plateau. So the sight of the deep purple trees, strikes a special string in my memory. Anyway, so enjoy the spring there.



Wow! Antartica! I don’t know why, but it’s just great to know we’re helping a little bit to spread some warmth to the furthest corners of the Earth. It is nice to be contributing to global warming in a positive way!   😉

Denis was kind enough to share something with us as well:

PS: Here are some sights you probably don’t get, a few aurora australis photos.

aurora aurora

aurora aurora

(Click for larger versions. Two are from Denis, and another two are from Robert Schwarz who is another winterover, working on another CMB polarization experiment, QUAD. I already used the second one at the top of this post, by the way.)

Denis invited me to ask him about some of the physics of the BICEP experiment, and also life in Arntartica. He has a blog about some of this and his adventures down below at this link, and I must say that it is fascinating. You can also find links to other blogs from Antartica visitors there too, such as that of Robert Schwarz, here. I suspect that several of you might have questions too. Feel free to ask Denis via the comments thread, and I hope that when Denis (and others) get a moment or two, they might get a chance to reply. Then we’ll all learn some really exciting stuff!

Thanks Denis, and Stay Warm!


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cosmic Variance, Science
  • citrine

    Wow! The internet has extended its tentacles to Antarctica. :)

    We have become quite the Google village.

  • Ted

    What?!? Why isn’t anyone doing anything to try and rescue this poor man?

    ‘Wow, look how far the internet has spread…such a small world…’

    How about calling 9-11 or something and rescue this person! Sheesh!

  • Aaron

    Ooooh! Pretty! Antarctica is a craaaaaaazy place… I’d love to visit it someday, although I wouldn’t want to live there. :)

  • chimpanzee

    Try this combo:

    Solar Eclipse (arguably the Grandest Spectacle from planet Earth)

    My recent solar eclipse expedition to Egypt/Libya border gave CV readers a sample of seeing eclipses from “distant lands”. My friend Fred Bruenjes went to Antarctica on a *land* expedition to see the eclipse. Blog is here & here.

    Briefly, he flew to S. Africa & hung around waiting for weather report. Note: Antarctica is like Mt. Everest..really TRICKY weather issues, to fly in & out. ( few yrs back a woman researcher was trapped, & needed a life-saving operation to save her.) They were on the last stage of their window & got clearance. A big Russian jet took them to Antarctica (landing on snow, with skis), whereupon a *biplane* (Russian make I think) took them to the E-site. There, they hiked a bit & found a spot..unfortunately, a berm occluded some of the sun. Try doing photography under these extreme conditions of cold..a real challenge! I knew a group who went to Siberia in ’97 for the solar eclipse (the time of Comet Hale-Bopp), cold conditions there were a challenge for film photography (film can break, motordrives can freeze).

    Most people did the airline jet over Antarctica, Dr. Glenn Schneider (U of Arizona/Steward Observatory, instrument scientist for NICMOS for HST) did the planning/navigation, see here. He & I have collaborated on a few eclipses, like to Zambia in 2001.

    Another group I know (Dr. Fred Espenak/GSFC..the NASA eclipse prediction guy & others) went on a ship (icebreaker I think!) to Antarctica. They had weather problems, & I think they got wiped out.

    I waived off Antarctica, because it simply was too expensive for the benefit..i.e. bad Return on Investment. I like eclipses..but I’m not THAT crazy!

  • chimpanzee

    I have to throw this in for the sake of CV reader “security”, since the topic is titled “To the Ends of the Earth”.

    “Danger & Delight grow on the same stalk”
    — Scottish Proverb

    “Today honey, tomorrow onions”
    — Egyptian proverb

    Did you hear about the Dahab “terrorist bombings”? I was there for the March 29 solar eclipse (the UC Berkeley social sciences major who sat next to me on my Egypt flight recommended going there), & was AT the restaurant area where “body parts were flung into the bay”. 18 people killed, incl some Russian tourists. I hope some of those nice Egyptian kids didn’t get caught up in that mess, see here. I was right AT the restaurant area where the bombings happened. I bet some of those people there were casualties.

    The world can be Beautiful & Dangerous at the same time. I realized that in Egypt (Red Sea, across from Saudi Arabia..the origin of the 9-11 “terrorists”). Antarctica is very tricky in terms of weather..if it’s bad, you’re stuck. There was this rumor that Osama Bin Laden was going to try something at Sallum/Egypt (eclipse site, where Mubarak even came to observe). At the time it seemed like a joke, but given the Dahab seems less so.

    This is what my friend Daniel Fischer (German science writer, eclipse-chaser) emailed me:

    “What a world.”

    after our 2002 solar eclipse trips to S. Africa. Now, THAT place is dangerous!

    “If you are alone in the bush, you will be EATEN. If you are alone in the city, you will be ROBBED”
    — local S. African advised me, when I asked about venturing out alone

    Violent crime is very common. Some female tourists were raped/murdered, & someone in an adjoining group went back home & was robbed: shot several times & killed. My hosts kept me in a house with locked gate & *electrocution* fence..downtown Johannesburg is a no mans land. You WILL get car 17 yr old guide had to pull out a gun from under the seat to prevent from getting jacked.

    Another data-point:

    When I went to Turkey in ’99 for the solar eclipse, the PKK (Kurdish separatist group) “terrorist” activity began to peak with Ocalan’s capture. A man & woman posing as a couple with a stroller went into a cafe in Elazig (my destination for the Scientific Group in Harput), took out AK47s & shot up the place killing a bunch of people. They got chased by the police, got cornered, & blew themselves up with grenades! When I got there, it was a really nice pleasant place..families enjoying themselves in the park, Kurdish teenagers taking me around sightseeing. But, there was a lot of Turkish military prowling around: tanks, soldiers, military boats

    Hopefully, my experience will be useful to CV readers as they travel the World. Make sure your Defense Shields are up, you never know when a lightning-bolt can strike you out-of-the-blue. 2 people I knew died last year, 1 of them in a plane accident (he was from a famous S. California family). His wife just emailed me.. His sister went on TV & said “it was his time to go”. I.e., a bit of fatalism..our fate can’t be changed. What was the deal with David Schramm/Univ of Chicago (astronomer?) who was killed in a plane crash in Aspen (?)

  • Denis Barkats

    Hi all,
    to reply to citrine and Ted about the internet in Antarctica. At the South Pole (close to the center of the continent, there is obviously no cables, so we get all our communications with the outside world– including internet– via satellite. We actually use a set of 3 old geo-synchronous satellites which are old enough that they have drifted a bit off their orbits and because of their slightly inclided orbit are thus visible from the Pole. When you combine all three ( Goes, TDRS, MARISAT), that enables us to get about 10 hours per day of communication. Of crouse , it’s not lightening fast but hey ” It’s a harsh continent”.

    And Ted, don’t worry too much about me. First I accepted the position as a winter-over at the South Pole because…. well for lots of reasons, but mainly because it seems like an awsome adventure and was it indeed is extra-ordinary. Then I’m definitely not here alone. There are 64 people winter over, so it’s a pretty good community.

    Anyway, the mid-winter is arriving soon ( June 21) and then the station should open around October 21.
    Cheers all.

  • Plato

    How appropriate Sean’s posting, “The Moon’s an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the Sun” in context of cosmic particles and “identifying” the “microstate blackhole as the beginning of secondary particle creation?”

    While here above, we see the effects of Sun’s interaction in the aurora borealis, with earth’s atmosphere. You had to know that the lines of force are being detailed around our planet, and at the very poles, this gentleman is writing from. Wonderful.

    When is it safe for where cosmic particle to be less to worry about, while space is being explored while here the Sun’s energy, make’s it safe for a time?

    Forbush Decrease

    Scott E. Forbush discovered the surprising inverse relationship between solar activity and cosmic rays

    This is a very good post entry Clifford.:)

  • Plato

    oh, and I do get these images in the winter months, and have seen some pretty fantastic displays.

    The swirls are really amazing sometimes when coordinating and watching the activity on the sun. “Soho” (helioseismology) is really quite useful in this regard?

    Away from the city lights, and the expanse of the terrain, makes this for wonderful viewing, I bet?

  • Zomerpeer

    Stupid question maybe, but can you see those aurora australis move or are they static?

  • citrine


    Thanks for the clarification. I’ve always wondered about the physiological effects of living near the Poles. How does it affect the human sleep cycle, for instance? It just seems that people pretty much take their cues from the position of the Sun, to structure their day. Most people (excluding Astronomers on observation shifts and other ppl doing night rounds) generally wake up at dawn and wind down when the Sun sets. What happens to your natural biorhythms (?) when you are in perpetual darkness for months on end?

  • Ted

    “And Ted, don’t worry too much about me. First I accepted the position as a winter-over at the South Pole because…. well for lots of reasons, but mainly because it seems like an awsome adventure and was it indeed is extra-ordinary. Then I’m definitely not here alone. There are 64 people winter over, so it’s a pretty good community.”

    Don’t people understand what’s happening here? Someone has kidnapped Denis and coerced him to reassure us that he is okay, when clearly he’s not because he’s in Antarctica! He needs are help! Why won’t anybody call the police or something?

  • Amara

    I haven’t seen the Northern/Southern lights yet. The last time I was in a place where aurora borealis is common, it was unfortunately in August, and there are strange things done in the midnight sun

  • Denis Barkats

    Do I know you ?? You seem to have the same goofiness as another Ted I know. Ted Kisner, but anyways thanks for worrying about me. Hahaha.

    Yes, being in continuous darness for ~6 months does affect your natural cycle. More or less depending on people. I know I have some problems sleeping. Either too much or not enough. Most people on station work an 8 to 5pm schedule and keep in sync with the meals. But I don’t. My schedule is pretty much regulated by that of the experiment, which makes for a pretty messed up schedule. And certainly the fact that there is no sun to regulate bio-cycles makes it hard.

    No, not stupid question at all. It turns out auroras are dynamic. I was actually surprised at how dynamic they were. It turns out that the more intense they are (or the more energetic the particles striking the atmosphere), th faster the auroras move. One of the first auroras I saw at the South Pole was amazingly fast. It would move and dance, and change shapes in a matter of seconds.

  • Amara

    Dear Denis,

    Have you noticed any correlations between Mt. Erebus’ volcanic activity and the intensity or other characteristics of the aurora? I understand that the Erebus style of eruptions are ongoing and strombolian. I would think that the smallest (much less than 1 micron)) dust particles would follow the field lines spectacularly where you are, but I wonder how low the field lines must be or at what altitude the volcano dust must reach to be picked up. We already have the beautiful example of Io’s volcanoes + plasma torus + Jupiter’s magnetic field giving us the Jovian dust streams. It would be cool (!heh! in Antarctica) to find a similar phenonmena occuring on our home planet.

    Here is the page of the Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory (MEVO) :

  • Denis Barkats

    Hi Amara

    That is a very good question ( relation between Erebus’ activity and aurora activity), but I would not be able to answer that because I am located at SOuth Pole Station and that Erebus is right next to McMurdo, on the Coast of Antarctica. YOU might want to try to contact someone in Mcmurdo, but even then I doubt they’d be able to tell you . One because McMurdo is almost as brightly lit as the LA skyline ( as opposed to South Pole station where we keep the light pollution down both for our enjoying pleasure and for some aurora experiments). And two because there aren’t that many scientist who study sky-related ( ie astrophysics or space weather) phenomena.

    At the South Pole, we are ~800 miles from McMurdo, located on a flat, arid, windy polar plateau at 10000 ft ( between 11000 and 12000 feet barometric altitude). So no volcanos around here.

    Personnally, I am guessing that auroras are typically happening much higher than the height at which Erebus spews out its dust ( I am not a pro but I am guessing Auroras happen around 60 to 100km up, maybe some one can confirm). It would be interesting though to check if Erebus ever has larger eruptions which cause some of its dust to interact with our magentic field. Maybe you can propose a study of it. After all they are looking for more science proposal for the IPY ( international polar year IPY link)

  • Amara

    Hi Denis,
    Thanks for responding and giving me more info! The IPY link gave me more links to maps and resources for the Antarctic, especially for precise volcano locations. I like my idea too (alot!), but I might be too late for proposing as IPY science proposals are due June 7 (yipes). As of two weeks ago, I have a new job position as a long-distance PSI researcher, so my being the PI of an NSF research project is possible, but I must have a serious talk with my workplace if I/we have time to write and submit a proposal. Simple things like getting the signed cover sheet in letter-sized format to the proposal committee in time (from me in Italy) could doom such an effort.

  • Amara

    Dear Denis,

    I was being dumb by thinking that I could write a proposal to look for a correlation between Erebus activity and aurora. I have to find a hint/link _first_, and then ask for funding to look for the reason. Your suggestion to get me to look into this idea and formulate it for a proposal was pretty neat anyway.

    To explain. Can there be a connection between volcanic eruptions and auroral activity?. Not sure yet, but maybe. The heights of the gas and dust plumes from energetic volcanic eruptions reach up to about 20 km, however there are rare eruptions where the plumes reach three or four times that height. The bottom of auroral activity (when you see the pinks) is at about 100 km. Between the two is the middle atmosphere (stratosphere + mesosphere) and a large temperature drop. I don’t know if there is a temperature inversion but the vertical transport mechanism through the region is via atmospheric tides.

    My first try to learn how high and far volcanic ash clouds from an Erebus eruption might travel was via an online program running the “Volcanic Ash Forecast Transport and Disperson Model”, In a couple of minutes, I had my output which showed me that the dust/gas dispersed over a wide area in only an hour after an eruption, but the program maximum height goes to only about 60 km. Perhaps it was written only to help predict dangers for aircraft. Or perhaps the physics is predominately lateral, but I don’t know if further vertical transport via the atmospheric tides is possible or not. This is the main question remaining before I look at actual data to see if there could be coincidences in time. I shouldn’t limit myself to the Antarctic either; the Arctic region has aurora and active volcanoes (in Iceland) not too far away too.

    For a hint that the middle atmosphere below auroras has interesting electrodynamic properties, I did learn of another cool phenomena involving dust and gas at 80 km, occuring seasonally over the polar regions called noctilucent clouds. Have you seen these? Noctilucent clouds are a relatively recent phenomena on Earth, it was first recorded in 1885, perhaps not coincidently soon after Krakatau had a major eruption. The orange background in Munch’s “The Scream” painting is thought now to be linked to the unusual atmospheric phenomena at that time. They have a charged electrodynamical component, as well, because they are seen in radar echoes. The mystery of noctilucent clouds’ existence is that it is too dry for clouds to form that high. Clearly water vapor succeeded to reach that altitude, so one way it is possible is for methane to rise in the atmosphere, be broken apart by solar UV radiation, and then form water molecules. Perhaps the theory has changed, but I read in another source that a seed is necessary and for the seed we have meteoritic ~10 nanometer dust raining down from above (40 tons of dust fall on the Earth every day, after all). And on APOD, they say that at least some of the clouds result from freezing exhaust of the space shuttles! So noctilucent clouds are a fun mystery, that could well be solved when the “Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere” (AIM) mission is launched this September. So fun stuff! Thank your aurora pictures and words that triggered all of this.

  • Denis Barkats

    Hey Amara,

    How funny that you started looking into this, I was just serching today the height at which auroras occur and the height at which volcano ashes go. Got about the same number as you did. I am however curious about one think. How sharp is the bottom limit of the aurora activity. Often when I see auroras down here and when they are really intense ( I’ve seen intense ones twice now and by intense I mean that you see the colors very brightly and the auroras movie very fast timescales of seconds), it really looks like the upper atmosphere lights up first and then the aurora seems to come down and come closer to you as it evolves, sometimes making it scary for an instant as it seems like if it were to continue it would come down all the way to you– somewhat liek firworks exploding. It might just be an optical effect.
    As for noctilucent clouds., I haven’t seen any here in Antarctica, but I remember seeing something that looked like it on October 19th 2005, just before I left CA, when Vandenberg had a rocket launch of their last Titan rocket.
    Anyways, if you want to write to me directly, don’t hesitate (dbarkats at caltech dot edu).


  • Amara

    Hi Denis,

    >How funny that you started looking into this, I was just searching today
    >the height at which auroras occur and the height at which volcano ashes

    Probably you noticed that the ‘business’ of the dispersion of volcanic ash clouds is large, funded by both governments and companies because of the aviation hazards. That’s why I could easily find several advanced online software tools to try hypothetical Erebus eruptions. But that ‘business’ seems to stop at about 41000 ft, the upper limit of where normal airplanes fly! Above 41,000 feet much less is known.

    >I am however curious about one thing. How sharp is the bottom limit of
    >the aurora activity.

    I don’t know. My understanding of auroras is pretty basic. As I understand the physics, solar wind (charged) particles travel along Earth’s magnetic field and collide into molecules in Earth’s atmosphere which then fluoresce in colors dependent on their molecular properties. The colors are an indication of the height at which the fluorescence occurs, I think because of the dominant molecule in that strata (?). An observers sky book I have (“Out of the Blue” by John Naylor) says that green indicates a height between 100 and 300 km, and red tends to be between 300km and 1000km. I scanned quickly more colors at web sites and saw that pink is considered a relatively low altitude color.

    The important details are that the energy of the solar wind particles is high, and when the particles enter the Earth’s magnetotail, the large electric potential between the poles and the magnetotail pushes the electrons at high speed into molecules in the polar ionosphere. The atmospheric/ionospheric gas atoms are energized, they glow, and provide a less energetic current for the particles to flow back (‘bounce’) out of the polar region.

    I guess the lower edge to the aurora would be a cutoff in the preferred density of our Earth’s atmospheric molecules, at the same time dependent on the energy of the solar wind particles, which are, in turn, dependent on the activity of the Sun. My book (_Out of the Blue_) did say, however, that ‘some reports speak of aurorae occurring very close to the ground so that they partially veil high mountains, but that expert opinion tends to dismiss such sightings as visual illusions (!) because of the difficulty in explaining how the aurora can form in the dense air of the troposphere’. It sounds like you are experiencing a hell of a visual illusion!

    I have to study to learn what are the exact atmospheric density conditions to trigger aurora, but the magnetic field goes to the ground. I wonder what determines the height at the pole where the electrons/protons ‘bounce’? I have to study this too. Erebus is beautifully situated very close to the southern magnetic pole, so if there are unusual volcanic dust+dust-cloud-particle-accelerations along magnetic field lines, there would be the place to look!

    I’ll give you another neat visual ionsophere phenomena; do you remember the Leonids showers? In the display in 2001, Tom Polakis took this beautiful Leonids time exposure, image, which floored our Heidelberg dust group. Notice that the brighter meteors change color from green to orange to magenta. Our group’s home-brewed explanation was that the largest particles are ‘probing’ different composition layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. The ionized trail of green would be due to oxygen, for example, and then the color changes as the particles move deeper. These are the same colors you see in the aurora. When I talked to one of the Leonids meteor experts, he told me that the reason for the colors in the meteor trails is not that simple, but I didn’t get his full explanation, so maybe you can use our dust group’s idea as only a working hypothesis.

    I posted online because I thought some others would like to hear some of this, but we can take future discussions offline. Thanks for your email address.


  • Amara

    I had a funny thought that the time zones at the different Antarctica stations could be very differerent, and indeed they are!

  • Plato
  • Denis Barkats

    Hi Amara,
    thanks for the hypotheses and even more for the Leonids shower photo. That is really an amzing one.
    Indeed the time zones are pretty random down here. My guess is that they are chosen for the conveniance of their departure point. For exemple, we get to Pole from New Zealand so we have a new Zealand time zone. However, we also switched time for daylight savings like New Zealand which bugged the hell out of me because at the same time USA pacific time switched too and we went from them being 3 hours ahead ( minus a day) to 5 hours ahead ( minus a day) which makes phone calls som much harder. Arghh. Anyway, I think I will be even more boggled to get back to a day night cycle than the 24-hour darkness out here.
    The dark makes it really cool to go see the stars any time ( when it’s clear outside). I got to see the two magelanic clouds really clearly, the southern cross with its thick cloud next to it ( which makes it the darkest stop in the sky) and the milky way so bright you sometimes feel like you are seeing individual stars in it.
    On windless nights, the best thing to do it to bundle up, walk out towards the dark sector ( where the CMB telescope are located) and lay down on the ground to look at the sky. You’ll unvariably see auroras and some iridium satellites and very rarely some shootings stars ( very rare indeed).


  • Amara

    Thanks for the article, Plato! And it is a funny coincidence about the locations described in the article, isn’t it?

    Denis: Your night sky meditations will probably stay in your memory for the rest of your life. I remember all my own special sky locations. The first times for me to encounter the sky as a kid on Oahu probably influenced my later choice of career. These were the times when my sisters and I slept on the deck of our boat, and if we were out at sea, then the Milky Way was spectacular robe of jewels, reflecting on the water and I felt that I was drowning in the stars.

    I remember several nice locations after that, but nothing as spectacular as my boat memories until I visited Etna in September 2004. The volcano was experiencing a flank eruption, and by odd circumstances, my two companions and I were the only people at the eruption after about 10pm, so we had Etna to ourselves. The two were away, busy taking photographs, and I was meditating on the lava and the stars. That’s me, the tiny blue-dot in other side of the flow. It’s easy to be poetic in such circumstances. The photos taken by my friends make it look like the sky was light, but in reality, the sky was dark. I saw the Milky Way above me, sparkling, while below me was the city of Catania, also sparkling, and then the wonderful volcano. I sat there meditating on the whole scene for about 4 or 5 hours that night.

    I’m very surprised about the lack of meteors. I realize that half of the year you would not have a dark sky to see them, but during the other half? The ecliptic goes through your view. The AMOR station near Cristchurch, New Zealand records 1000 radar meteors a day (now more than 1 million in their database), their sizes are in the tens of microns. In addition, Antarctica is a prize location to pick up meteorites and micrometeorites (cosmic dust) from the ice. For example, ALH94001 (the “Mars rock“) was picked up from Allen Hills, and there is an active micrometeorite collection effort by Maurette, Kurat, Duprat and others at Dome C/Concordia Station (this is a nice presentation by Duprat). The larger meteorites like the Mars Rock have ablation signs, so surely they are visible in the atmosphere when they land. The micrometeorites, though, probably not, they are “fluffy” and gently float through the atmosphere before they land. I wonder if from your viewing geometry you would see only retrograde meteors..I don’t know, I must think about this. I’m also curious how the interstellar gas flow would look from your location, so then you might see mostly interstellar meteors. (The AMOR station typically record 2 as interstellar out of very 1000.)

    If I were you and if I had extra time, I would try to observe comet(s) 73P-B,C/Schwassmann-Wachmann now. It is supposed to be visible in binoculars in the southern sky, relatively high in the early “morning”. The link gives a sky chart.


  • Plato

    When I referred to this here, I was of course acknowledging the “profound change in thinking” that follows, from what we had thought was never possible before?

    The announcement by McKay et al. [1] that evidence of biological activity may be present in the Martian meteorite ALH84001, has resulted in a reassessment of how to search for life on Mars and elsewhere. In the case of the Mars meteorite report, all of the key pieces of evidence presented were identified in abundant, zoned domains of calcium—iron—magnesium carbonate

    Reaching understandings of the geometries of expression within the cosmos, it is hard not to think of the outer periphery of the planet’s extensions and the “relations in space.”

    Looking up and seeing “this auroric painting” and all the physics of education associated, I tend to see a much more dynamical relation to the grand scheme of things? Don’t any of you? :)

    Maybe this is the romance with nature, as one learns, become’s increasing complex yet simply, beautiful?

    I can’t imagine being in the “great while south though,” while polarities are being defined in such beautiful ways.

    For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that precise measurements of Earth’s changing gravity field can effectively monitor changes in the planet’s climate and weather.

    Maybe these swirls are “indicative of things on the earth,” while holding onto the thought of “time variable measures?” I was thinking of “Grace” since it may be all inclusive?

  • Cynthia

    Like a star athlete, is Clifford on suspension or simply on probation?

  • Amara

    Plato: Not sure I understand all what you wrote, but –
    >Reaching understandings of the geometries of expression within the
    >cosmos, it is hard not to think of the outer periphery of the planet’s
    >extensions and the “relations in space.”

    The boundaries of the heliosphere is the location of the limits of my experimental range. I step outside of that arena to see bigger pictures, but don’t feel as qualified to say as much. So from my planetary science perspective, I get a ‘wow’ sense when I read news of Voyager beginning its venture into interstellar space (wow! Our robot is among the stars) Or when I read news that the sun’s magnetic pole flipped (wow! interstellar dust will be deflected away instead of focused inward) Or when I visit volcanoes, ignoring their aesthetic qualities (wow! look at the remaining energy of Earth’s formation and subsequent impacts).

    Jack Baggaley’s AMOR measurements of interstellar dust showing an enhancement in the beta Pic direction (see page 3 of my Sky and Telescope Dust article) also gives me a tremendous wow! sense. [On the latter, we need another AMOR-like station to confirm his data!]. The poetry I wrote at my MPI-K website (bottom of the page) does a reasonable job to sum up my wild “relations in space” perspective. When I included this text in my dissertation, none of my PhD committee complained.

  • Denis Barkats


    thanks for the photos of Etna, those are absolutely amazing. The photos seem like they were taken from pretty close up. How dangerous is that ?

    I’ll try to look for that comet. We have binoculars and a small optical telescope but none of it is set up with any kind of electronic pointing, and the temperature outside ( -80F usually) makes it prohibitively hard to fuss around with equipement. Plus the comet looks like it may be a bit low on the horizon.Winds create a constant band of blowing snow up to ~15 deg up.

    As for the meteorites, I thought the reason we saw few of them was the same reason bugs hit the front windshield of teh car as opposed to the side windows. Because Earth’s motion makes the equator sweep through a larger area in space than the poles. But you’re right Antarctica is a prime spot for collecting meteorites.

    On a completely different subject, did you red the book “Deception Point” by Dan Brown, author of the now famous Da Vinci code. I found it in the small library we have down here and despite the clearly unreal statement that all the statements in the book are facts, I really enjoyed it. I has many “scientific” scenes regarding meteorites. You should read it.


  • Plato

    Nice poem. Why would they complain?

    Or when I read news that the sun’s magnetic pole flipped (wow! interstellar dust will be deflected away instead of focused inward)

    ….if you have time, could you explain what you know of this?

    Scott E. Forbush discovered the surprising inverse relationship between solar activity and cosmic rays

    I might be confusing things in thinking about Forbush Decrease?

  • Amara

    Plato: The Sun’s pole flipped in February 2001. What that means for people who write and run models of the heliosphere is that you must flip the sign since the dynamics that involve the Sun’s magnetic field/solar wind will have a different behavior.

    For interstellar dust coming into our solar system, the particles are focused now, instead of deflected away from the inner solar system. It takes about 10-20 years for dust particles to travel from the heliosphere edge to our inner solar system, anyway, but in about 5 years after the flip, (i.e. approximately now), at the Earth, we should start seeing an increase in the number of interstellar dust particles detected.

    I commented that ‘no complaints’ because I’ve not seen poetry inserted in a PhD dissertation before. Maybe I have not read enough theses, but since my committee didn’t complain, I can assume that it was acceptable to them.

  • Plato
  • Plato


    One more question if I may? If you click on “name” I have been doing some thinking here.

    Any corrections that you may see?

  • Amara

    Denis: The lava flow was close enough, you can see from the photo of me as a blue dot that it was less than five meters. It’s toasty enough that you don’t need a coat, even though it’s bitter cold at the top. The sounds from that close distance are fantastic too, someone who succeeds to make a good recording could become rich selling to the New Age market. The flow itself was not particularly dangerous, it’s more important to make sure that your feet are standing on something solid, and not on a thin layer over a lava tube. However, hornitos are pretty dangerous, you would be seriously injured by one of those pieces hitting you. When the hornito started, we needed to move quickly much further because the projectiles can fly some distance. My companions had telephoto lenses on their cameras, so that helped make it look closer.

    With Etna, the danger to people is (usually) its imposing characteristics as a high and large mountain (mountaineers make lots of mistakes) than its characteristics as a volcano. I had an accident hiking down the mountain that night that had nothing to do with the volcano/lava but everything to do with the fact that my companion took my flashlight and I couldn’t see my feet and the trail and fell down the hillside of an old extinct cindercone.

    Plato: you need someone with a lot of spare time to read and analyze all of that (and the topic is sufficiently out of my area that my time investment would be large). I’m sorry I cannot comment.

  • Plato

    Thanks anyway.

  • Denis Barkats

    Hey Amara,
    well, those photos sure made me want to hike up Etna next time I am in Italy. How high is it ? Are there determined routes ?


  • Amara

    Denis: Etna is 3323 meters. There must be regular routes at Etna but on that night, the people I was with were taking shortcuts, so I didn’t see the normal routes. I don’t think it is permitted to go to the top freely (I was invited by people who had been to the top ~50 times and were known to the volcanologists and other guides.), but I don’t know the rules. I suspect the rules are variable, anyway, but perhaps the Stromboli Online people can give you more details on the current situation. In any case, I think that guides can be hired at the next town (Rifugio Sapienza) from the top.

    If you want to see Etna’s eruptions and lava, you must wait because Etna is sleeping now. Her last activity was in September 2004. You can watch for news of Etna at this web site that offers volcano tours, scroll to the far right where it says: “Latest news”. Sometimes the INGV has their webcam interface working, which would be a better source to check (presently, it is not functioning). To check the INGV webcam, go to the INGV page. From the “Rete di telecamere” part where you see Etna, Stromboli, an Vulcano, put the mouse over the word “Etna” and you’ll have a popup/hierarchical menu, choose the location and then Webcam (for example: “Cuad visible/WebCam”).

    If you want to hike up an active volcano, Stromboli is active all of the time, sometimes more active than other times. It’s a hard but short hike to the top and from that position you have the advantage to look vertically and down towards the crater. There are many guides one can hire in Stromboli town, which might be recommended for the first time, especially at night, when the volcano eruptions are easiest to see. During the high activity times they close off the top, but I think it is open now. For border and historical reasons, the Guardia di Financia are the people who patrol the volanoes, they are easy to recognize with their freshly pressed uniforms. When access to the Stromboli top is forbidden, if you are caught, the Guardia di Finanzia can fine you a few hundred euros, so if you want to try anyway, wait until a soccer match, and the Guardia di Finanzia will likely be on the other island: Lipari, watching the game.


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