Icarus Reborn

The Parker Solar Probe, photo simulation by JHUAPL in Nature.com.

In the decade that I grew up, Americans went to the moon. Then, we flew reusable planes into space, a couple of which turned into spectacular disasters. Since then, most of NASA’s activity has been relegated to the back sections of newspapers or museums. Astronauts dying have a tendency to turn off people’s appetite towards science. Add in the politics of government financing, and when you can’t even agree to spend money on providing food or medicine to people, then funding decade-long programs to shoot a few people off towards a distant planet seems pretty impossible.

But a couple of stories this week in those science sections caught my eye, and I am pleased to report that NASA, as well as international space exploration, is alive and well. Humans have been going into space, one small research grant at a time. Well-played, NASA.

Barbecue Spacecraft

What’s the fastest human-made object that’s ever traveled? The Parker Solar Probe zipped near the sun in September of this year at 213,000 miles per hour. In comparison, the escape velocity of rockets leaving earth is only about 30,000 mph, which is still hundreds of times faster than we’d experience in a plane. Parker, which was named for University of Chicago (my alma mater) scientist Eugene Parker, who first hypothesized about solar winds, was launched two years ago to explore the sun. Apparently, it’s finding out some really cool things.

Of course, the probe has to get very close to the sun to do this, and in its third dive around Sol, Parker was about 15 million miles out—halfway between Mercury and the sun. Plans are for it to make another couple dozen circuits, which should generate speeds nearly twice as fast and bring it twice as close. On the surface of the sun, the temperature runs around 10,000 o F, although at the corona, the thin covering around the sun, the temperatures can be millions of degrees, up to 300 times hotter. Parker won’t get quite that close, but it’s built to withstand up to 1400 o C, which is steel-melting territory.

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Zombies, Reese’s & Candy Corn Will Live Forever

What kind of candy would zombies eat? Photo at SFFuncheap.

The Halloween holiday, Samhain, dates back centuries to Celtic festivals, and many cultures pay respect to the line between living and dead. In contrast, zombies and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are only about fifty years old, while candy corn is a little older, dating back to the 1880s. All of them reflect a fascination with blurred lines, with candy and people that cross over, which explains why candy corn, Reese’s, and zombies are so popular and will likely remain so for decades.

Love It or Hate It

A recent Monmouth University poll suggested a sharp divide in American attitudes about Halloween. 45% said that the October festivities were among their favorite holidays. Another 53% don’t particularly like it at all. That kind of polarization isn’t surprising in today’s divided populace, although who doesn’t like dressing up in costumes or eating candy? (Answer: lotsa people).

Who could do this to a child? Photo from huffpost.

Know what else divides the populace? Orange. Not the orange head you might be thinking of, but the orange and yellow corn syrup and earwax combination known as candy corn. As Lewis Black and others have pointed out, it’s neither candy nor corn.

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Here Comes that Rain Again (Day 13 of Left Coast Mosey)

I’m ba-a-ck…

We took a three day pause from our three week trip around the northwest to cavort with my brother and family in Sammamish, a foresty suburb east of Seattle, wherein I ate all of my popcorn allotment for the remainder of 2019. Downton Abbey and Ad Astra, both highly recommended.

Our first day on the road again, we drove south to Portland, but the long way, around Mount Rainier. Spoiler alert: it rained steadily all day so that we did not see Rainer. Not a whit. It begs the question of whether it was worth spidering around all the curves and loops in fog and clouds when we couldn’t see the main attraction. Why not just take the interstate?

Above the Clouds

The rainy roads around Rainier. Photo by kajmeister.

The weather is the weather, especially in the Northwest. While residents often tell you that it really isn’t as bad as the statistics say, and that it’s great when it’s sunny, the region is famous for rain. On this trip, we lucked out on a lot of clear skies in Victoria, Tofino, and along the coast, so time’s up. It’s just going to rain, as it often does.

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Driving Back (Day 9)

Tofino Sunrise. Photo by kajmeister.

Tofino was the apex of the trip, the land’s end for Vancouver Island and the land’s end for us. It was as far as we were going, north and west. Next, we boomerang back through Victoria, Washington, Oregon and the boring part of California.

Toddler-sized Wetsuits

Since most of the day would be in the car, we started with a hearty walk along Chesterman Beach. There were surfers, which was impressive enough, but I was gobsmacked by the daddy with his two-year-old, rolling around in the surf. It’s 47-freakin’ degrees outside, or 8 degrees as the metric people would say. The water is decidedly frigid. I checked.

It’s 8 degrees (47F) outside. Time to frolic in the Northern Pacific!. Photo by kajmeister.

I didn’t know you could acquire toddler-sized wetsuits, but clearly you can and, apparently in Tofino, you must.

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Wilder Coasts (Day 7)

Wild Pacific Trial in Ucluelet, Vancouver Island. Photo by kajmeister.

The beaches in Ucluelet, the site of today’s adventures, do not resemble the surfer’s paradise of California. Nor are they the long spits of sand from Oregon, the kite-flyer’s runways. These would fit the dictionary definition of rugged, full of rocks and treacherous tides. Welcome to Canada.

Walking the Wild Pacific Trail

Driving over to Ucluelet from Port Alberni was adventure in its own right. The roads were twisty, which was to be expected, but it rained steadily and there were two long stoppages for construction. While we wanted to cast aspersions on the traffic annoyance, we were forewarned, and the views were spectacular. Even the rainwater falling off rocks at the construction site was dramatic.

Steady rain on the road makes amazing waterfalls. Photo by kajmeister.

At last, we were in Ucluelet, a little fishing? tourist? village, on the southwestern inside edge of Vancouver Island. There are a series of trails that wend along the side, the easiest being the Wild Pacific Trails near Ucluelet beaches. We started with the loop that took us through a bog, past a tsunami warning, and out to a small lighthouse.

Squatter Lighthouses

They take their tsunamis seriously here, so seriously that your first stop off the parking lot is a lengthy warning of exactly what to do in case of… I’m trying to imagine if you got off the tour bus at Fisherman’s Wharf and the first thing you saw was a large display discussing what to do in the event of an earthquake. Might be handy, actually. Might put some of the tourists back on the bus.

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