Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Looking for some cool images?

Hi, I’m Pat and I’m a social-media addict. I really enjoy Pinterest. If you haven’t already done so, please check out my “Science Photos and Images” board on that site:

I add to the collection when I remember to do so (which isn’t every day … but I’m trying to get better at it). Of course, some of the images link back to my own writing, but others are just fascinating and beautiful in their own right.

Today I even added an image from the BICEP2 collaboration — you know, the so-called “smoking gun” of cosmological inflation theory. Polarization diagrams may not mean much to the average person, but that figure might be really famous someday. Heck, I even “pinned” the video showing Andrei Linde getting the news. It’s just so sweet.



Happy New Year!

First of all, I would like to wish my friends and readers a very Happy New Year! I wish you inner peace, good health, much happiness, and at least enough prosperity to keep the metaphorical wolf away from the door.

I also wish you much light, especially in the darkness of the Northern Hemisphere. It’s easy to feel the “winter blahs” without actually connecting them to the shortened hours of daylight and the increased time spent indoors under artificial lighting. Here’s a New Year’s resolution you may not have thought of making: Get in touch with your circadian rhythm; make sure you get some natural light into your eyeballs during daytime hours, and sleep in a nice dark room (after you’ve done some stargazing, of course!).

Some six or seven weeks ago, I wrote a short Optics & Photonics News article about a small Norwegian town that, for its entire existence, has gone without direct sunlight for six months in every year, because it is located in a deep valley. That’s right — for six months, every day feels like a cloudy day, even if the sky is clear overhead. To brighten up the town square, the town of Rjukan installed a mirror array atop one of the nearby mountains, with solar-generated electricity running a computer system to move the mirrors to track the sun.

When I did the article, I must have gotten on Rjukan’s press mailing list. Just before the winter solstice, I got this notice:

52 days of winter sun in Rjukan.
Since the unveiling of the sun mirror 30th of October this year, the sun mirror has brought light and attention to Rjukan. For the first time the sun shines on the Christmas tree at the market square.

The square has become a meeting place for both young and old residents, as well as for tourists. Several shops and cafes have increased sales. Krossobanen, the cable car that still carries people up to the sun, drove filled carriages the first weekends after the sun mirror opening. It is not usual in November.

– People have been curious about the small town between Gaustatoppen and Hardangervidda ,” says tourist manager Karin Roe. We hope the curiosity takes over and that they visit us as well. – Because we have so much to offer to visitors, especially our exciting history now nominated for UNESCO World Heritage List, she concludes.

Mayor Steinar Bergsland has been busy on other areas after the opening. In late November he presented the news that Green Mountain Data Centre establishes in Rjukan. 2 weeks later the mayor and Rjukan population mobilized against plans to close down parts of the local hospital. However, he still has the great pleasure of the sun mirror.

 – The Sun mirror has become a natural part of life. Even when the clouds are low down the mountainside we are looking up at the sun mirror as we walk past the square, says the mayor who believe that citizens have been more proud of their city and what they have managed to achieve.

Here is a photo of the sun mirror shining down on the Christmas tree in Rjukan’s town square:

Photo credit: Terje Prestaarhus

Photo credit: Terje Prestaarhus

I think that’s a beautiful image, don’t you? I hope the people of Rjukan are having their happiest winter ever.

Light in the season of dark

Once again I feel the need to apologize for not keeping this blog as up to date as I had intended long ago. This month began roughly, with the deaths of two friends, followed swiftly by the terrible school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which I drive by every December on the way to visit New England family and friends. We are all challenged to find the holiday spirit this year.

Our moods are not lifted by the shortness of the natural daylight in the Northern Hemisphere and the length of time we spend under our imperfect artificial lights. One recent study links our exposure to bright lights during the night hours to depression and even learning impairment. (Here’s the link to the original paper in Nature.) In other words, to lift our mood and improve our cognition, we should put down the computers and tablets after sunset and put our eyes and brains back in sync with the natural world. I’ve personally never been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, but I do know one thing: when I go camping during the summer, the bright sunlight all day long, coupled with the lack of artificial glow at night, makes me surprisingly ready to go to sleep early and get a full night of rest.

Whether or not you have “the blues,” check out science writer Natalie Angier’s lyrical “ode to blue” that was published in the New York Times back in October. I recall reading, in a parakeet-care booklet I had as a kid, a passing reference to the fact that a blue-chested parakeet’s feathers would not look blue if they were plucked off the bird. In recent years scientists have been paying much more attention to the structural basis of bright biological colors, including blue, as my colleague Yvonne Carts-Powell noted recently.

To change the subject … If you’re like me and most of my friends, you’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Even though the movie was quite long, I stayed through all of the closing credits so that I could catch the name of Luca Fascione, one of the software brains behind Weta Digital’s amazing visual effects. I interviewed Fascione for my January 2009 OPN article on photorealistic rendering, which explains why a deep understanding of the physics of light absorption and scattering is necessary to create computer-generated beings that look plausibly real. I’m glad the full text is available to all, because it’s a fascinating topic.

Whether you dwell in the solstice-darkened lands of the north or the summer-kissed lands of the south (like Middle-earth — New Zealand, I mean), and whatever your spiritual beliefs are, I wish you much peace in the coming year.