Adventures Neato People


There’s no official birth certificate, but tradition has it that Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564.

It is certain that, today, April 23, 2021, in the wee hours of the morning, a SpaceX Falcon rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Four astronauts were onboard. They’ll spend the next six months working and living in the International Space Station.

Today’s launch represents the continued advancement of the partnership between NASA and privately-owned space flight companies. Among the achievements realized through this work is the development of a reusable rocket.

The rocket used in today’s launch is designed to return to Earth and land on a platform that is floating in the ocean. There won’t be a splashdown or broken bits and pieces falling into the sea. Instead, the intact rocket will gracefully touch down and will eventually be used once again on future launches.

Understandably, Shakespeare didn’t write about space flight. But he did write about doing things we think we cannot do, about imaginary worlds and seemingly impossible dreams. So perhaps there’s a little symmetry between his birthday and today’s space launch. A bit of a cosmic connection.

Men at some time are masters of their fates;
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2

Neato Science


Yesterday, I learned of two very cool, kind of mind-blowing events in the world of space travel and science.

The first is a newly-released photograph of a black hole. A photo was released in 2019; this is a follow-up image. What’s special about this newest photo, aside from the fact that an image of a supermassive black hole is pretty wow in and of itself, is that it reveals the activity of the magnetic fields surrounding the void.

Scientists who analyzed the image discovered that some of the magnetic fields are doing what’s expected, meaning they loop around the black hole, influenced by enormous gravitational pull. Other magnetic fields, however, are pointing away from the center. This is the surprising part.

These magnetic fields must be incredibly strong to be able to compete against and resist the black hole’s overwhelmingly strong draw. This knowledge is not only fascinating; it creates brand-new perspective about what’s going on out there, billions of miles away. Who knows what other discoveries could come from this new information?

The second piece of news I learned yesterday is that a small piece of fabric from one of the wings on the Wright brothers’ plane is on Mars right now, waiting to fly again. It’s attached to the underside of a solar panel on the space helicopter, Ingenuity, that traveled to Mars with the rover, Perseverance.

Perseverance landed on Mars on February 18 and is currently doing its Mars investigation work along with prepping for Ingenuity’s launch. The goal is for Ingenuity to fly in early April. If everything goes as planned, it will make a total of five short aerial trips on Mars. And on those trips, the first of their kind on another planet, it will carry a tiny piece of material from the first airplane flight here on Earth. The thought of it gives me goosebumps.

Here’s to scientific discoveries and historic parallels and all the moments of wow they provide.

Nature Neato


Yesterday, I learned that Eucalyptus trees sometimes have gold – real gold – in their leaves.

Eucalyptus tree roots grow extremely deep. At times, they grow deep enough to encounter water sources that contain gold. When the trees draw the water up, the gold, in minuscule measurements, comes with it.

Gold is toxic to the Eucalyptus, however. Therefore, the trees don’t retain it. Instead, they move it through their roots, up into their branches and out to their leaves, where it can be naturally discarded.

Nobody’s going to get rich by collecting these Eucalyptus leaves. The amount of gold contained in them is tiny (one estimate I read said that it would take all the leaves from 500 trees to get enough gold for one small ring). Analyzing the leaves, however, makes it possible to find underground gold deposits without exploratory drilling and excavation, which minimizes damage to the environment. And, the process used to analyze the Eucalyptus leaves can be applied in other circumstances, with other trees, to potentially discover additional minerals deep within the ground. From a purely practical perspective, that’s what makes this discovery meaningful.

Setting practicality aside, however, it’s fun to imagine golden trees. It’s the stuff of fairy tales and fantasy. It’s a reminder that the magical stories we humans invent sometimes pale in comparison to what happens quietly, without fanfare, in Mother Nature’s everyday life.

Nature Neato


Yesterday, I read about the discovery of a new species of whale in the Gulf of Mexico.

The new species has been named Rice’s Whales. They were originally thought to be Bryde’s Whales, but some scientists suspected there were differences. These scientists collected genetic data a few years ago, which gave preliminary confirmation of their suspicions. Then, a dead whale was found in 2019, and the scientists were able to verify their hypothesis.

At first, it seems surprising that these whales have been swimming around, unidentified, for so long. Scientists estimate, however, that there are fewer than 100 Rice’s Whales left in the world; they are in danger of extinction. Combine that with the size and depth of the ocean as well as the challenges of locating specific types of fish and animals in the sea, and it’s not so surprising after all.

The discovery of this new species isn’t going to make much, if any, impact on the lives of most of us here on Earth. We would have gone on with our human existence even if we’d never learned about these whales. Likewise, the whales would have gone on living their watery lives regardless of our awareness. With that in mind, maybe this news isn’t such a big deal, especially considering everything else that’s happening these days.

On the other hand, maybe it’s the type of news we need right now. It’s a reminder that, as smart as we are and as much as we know, there is still so much for us to discover. So, here’s to curiosity, to riddles and mysteries, and to all that we have yet to learn.

On the other hand, maybe it’s On the other hand, maybe it’s a nice little reminder of what can happen through a combination of curiosity, perseverance, and the belie

Life Neato


Today, Jupiter and Saturn will appear to meet in the sky, the result of an alignment in their orbits as viewed from Earth.

This event is being called the Great Conjunction, and the reason it’s getting so much attention is because the two planets will appear to be closer together than they’ve been in hundreds of years. There was a conjunction when Galileo was alive in 1623, but it was virtually impossible to view because of the sun. The most recent conjunction that was visible and similar to today’s occurred in 1226, almost 800 years ago.

Tonight’s Great Conjunction will be visible without a telescope; all that’s necessary is a clear view of the horizon. The event will occur shortly after sunset.

When it’s over, the planets will continue their journeys, as they’ve done for billions of years and will do for billions more. Here on Earth, our human existence can’t compare. We can, however, look forward to the next Great Conjunction, which will be visible in 2080.

Barring a scientific miracle, I won’t be there. But perhaps my sons will, and perhaps their children will, as well. A simple moment in time, in celestial terms – but an amazing human connection through time and space.

Food Neato


During the past month, astronauts aboard the International Space Station have been growing a small batch of radishes as part of ongoing research into plant life in space.

The radish crop is fully-grown now and will be placed in cold storage. Once returned to Earth in 2021, the radishes will be evaluated as part of NASA’s work to understand the best options for space crops.

I’m all for these kinds of experiments. Although the likelihood that I’ll ever fly in space is zero, it’s still exciting to think that, one day, astronauts might take trips to other planets and that average folks will live and work in space. These experiments affirm the possibility that future generations of space travelers will need food sources beyond the short-term options that currently exist.

However, I’m not a fan of radishes. So, the thought of astronauts dining on a combination of pre-packaged meals and radishes is somewhat disappointing.

Hopefully, NASA’s plans and experiments include other vegetables. Carrots or cucumbers, perhaps, or some tasty tomatoes.

I also hope they’ve locked down a way to make condiments available in zero-g. I doubt that somebody who is living in a vacuum-sealed tin can for long periods of time, eating their veggies without any ranch dip, is going to be a happy camper.

Life Neato


Yesterday, I read an article about a bridge in Utah that was constructed as part of an overpass widening project. The bridge is intended to give a safe “paw passage” for wildlife across the interstate highway.

According to the article, the plan is working. Deer, squirrels, and other wildlife are using the bridge. The article included video showing daytime and nighttime views of animals making their way from one side to the other. The end result is a safer journey for them as well as for the humans who are less likely to encounter a critter on the road.

“Innovation” can be a daunting word; it’s often associated with expectations of grand actions and never-before-seen results. It’s nice to be reminded that successful innovation, the kind that brings meaningful change, can be as simple as building a bridge.

Life Neato


Happy birthday, Carl Sagan.

I watch this video at least once a year. It makes me think, makes me cry, and makes me smile.

Here’s to our lives together on this tiny, blue dot.

Adventures Neato


I first heard about the Nazca lines when I was a child. My mom grew up in South America and learned about them in school. As far as I know, she never actually visited them, but when I was growing up she’d talk about them from time to time.

One of the things that she’d talk about, the thing that fascinated me the most, is why they existed. I grew up in a time when aliens were a hot topic, and there were books and tv shows that speculated about the link between the Nazca lines and visitors from space.

My mom and I would talk about the theories, about the fact that the figures are best seen from above and of how difficult it must have been for people who couldn’t fly to envision and complete the designs. Back then, it made perfect sense to me that the symbols were some type of navigation system that was used by alien astronauts.

Today, I’m skeptical, because, well…logic and reality. While it hasn’t been proven, some scientists and historians believe that the lines were created as a means of locating and communicating about water supplies. Others speculate that the lines were part of religious rituals, similar to Stonehenge and other ancient man-made creations. We may never know for sure, but what has been proven is that it’s possible to design and create the symbols without aerial views, even though the lines are designed to be seen from the sky. So, a down-to-earth explanation for the creation and existence of the lines seems most likely.

Still, it’s fun to imagine that, just maybe, the lines have some otherworldly origin or purpose, especially with the latest discovery, the one made this year. I read about it yesterday and woke up thinking about it this morning.

On the side of a hill, eroded but still faintly visible, is an image of a cat. Efforts are now underway to restore and preserve the design.

I imagine cats all around the world took in the news with a knowing, wise look on their whiskered faces.

Life Neato


I read an article yesterday that explained that sucking on a piece of ice can be a good means of quelling anxiety.

There are two reasons why this works. First, the cooling sensation in your mouth can be a distraction from whatever is making you anxious. Second, the melting ice activates the parasympathetic nervous system in your brain, increasing saliva production and eliminating dry mouth, thereby switching your body from a “fight or flight” mode to a “rest and digest” mode.

Here’s the article if you are interested in more details:

I have two last thoughts to go with my cuppa today. I didn’t realize that there’s such a thing as a Nutritional Psychiatrist; you learn something new every day, I suppose. And, I can’t think of the information in this article without hearing Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby in my head. It’s kind of fun, makes me wanna dance, but earworms can get old very quickly. My apologies if you are now in the same boat.