Pluto Flyby

On July 14th, the NASA/JHUAPL spacecraft New Horizons flew by Pluto, nine years after its launch. Traveling too fast to slow down into orbit, New Horizons zipped past Pluto and its moons with cameras and sensors intensely trained on them to gather science and imagery, then turned around to beam the data back to earth over weeks and months to come, while piercing farther into deep space to explore the outer solar system.


Pluto, it turns out, is a stranger world than we thought: tinted beige by hydrocarbons, adorned with a giant heart-shaped feature (dubbed Tombaugh Regio after Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh) sporting mountains of frozen methane and carbon monoxide thrusting up from a young, un-cratered surface, all wrapped in an expansive atmosphere of rarefied nitrogen. Pluto and its moon Charon seem geologically active and surprisingly varied, a far-flung cryo-geo-chemical mishmash that is worth additional exploration, along with other potentially more fascinating worlds in the Kuiper Belt and outer solar system.

First Ever High Resolution View of Pluto's Surface
It’s a long, slow trip for the data gathered by New Horizons: 4.5 light-hours at 1-4 Kbps, so new images and observations from that short flyby interval will be trickling down for a while yet.

Stunning Nightside Image Reveals Pluto’s Hazy Skies

Also, Tombaugh Regio might not be a heart.

More from the JHUAPL Pluto site, which will update constantly over the course of the next year or so as more data trickle down from the New Horizons spacecraft.

Also see How Pluto’s most spectacular image was made—and nearly lost, and some commentary from Wired on NASA’s social media strategy for the Pluto Flyby — most notably the exclusive preview on Instagram.

Folklife Festival 2015: Peru

First and foremost: alpacas. Thanks to Andrès for informing me that day.

Hi! We're Alpacas.

Due to National Mall preservation issues, the 2015 Smithsonian Folklife Festival was a slightly smaller event than previous ones: limited to one theme, Peru, set at the farther east end of the National Mall, with the Marketplace moved into the American Indian Museum.

2015 Folklife Festival: Peru #throughglass
2015 Smithsonian Folklife Festival #throughglass

The reduced festival was by no means lower-key than previous ones, though, and had just as much art and craft and food and song and dance and narrative as any one previous folklife pavilion.

2015 Smithsonian Folklife Festival #throughglass

More Folklife 2015 photos here.

Peacock Room Remix

We recently visited Darren Waterston’s Filthy Lucre, an art installation at the Smithsonian Freer/Sackler Gallery based on the Peacock Room and the related conflict between James McNeill Whistler and Frederick Richards Leyland. Core to the installation is the “Peacock Room Remix”, a twisted clone of the original Peacock Room, altered, smashed, shattered, bent and broken. I tried taking panoramas of both rooms to show the differences.

Peacock Rooms

My pano doesn’t do the Remix justice, however. It’s an immersively unsettling experience to be there — and not just because you have to be careful not to step on the broken porcelain. I think the Smithsonian should totally acquire “Filthy Lucre” for their permanent collection and just randomly swap out the original Peacock Room with the Remix at random times of year.

Marriage Equality

As a US citizen born under the 14th Amendment and as a socially liberal progressive Baptist who came around to an egalitarian view on LGBT rights, I was happy to hear of the Supreme Court’s decision on
Obergefell v. Hodges
legalizing marriage equality nationwide, for the sake of friends who’ve dealt with discrimination on this front. I won’t retread lengthy old arguments on how being LGBT-friendly is compatible with Christianity; suffice it to say that modern homosexuality is very different from that condemned in Scripture, and acceptance of equality is undoubtedly the loving act in this context. I do want to update my old links on this topic with some fresh material:

Slow Motion Metro

Inspired in part by Adam Magyar’s slow motion videos of people on subway platforms, I tried pointing my iPhone 5s slow motion camera at passing trains while waiting for transfers on the DC Metro. Mobile slow motion is nowhere near the quality of Magyar’s hardware, so there’s blurring as the train gains speed, but the scene of people standing almost still while the train is in movement gives the impression of statues going places.

I also caught the new 7000-series WMATA train on the Blue Line:

Cat Licks Apple in Slow Motion

Amelia Cat likes apples and will eagerly lick at an apple slice or core if offered one. (Don’t let cats at the apple seeds, though; they can be harmful to pets if eaten.) Here’s Amelia licking an apple in slow motion, recorded at 120FPS with an iPhone 5s.

Older video, same thing, from last year:

On the Harassment of Women and Dwarves

“Don’t Look Down On Me” is Jonathan Novick’s documentary about the social travails of living with achondroplasia, or dwarfism. Passersby call out disparaging names, random strangers strike up conversations to bring up predictable stereotypes, and of course the “m-word” is addressed.

“10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” a viral video for Hollaback, documents just how much casual harassment a woman tolerates constantly in the city: a relentless texture of cultural pressure and male dominance all masquerading as “just saying hi”, again and again and again.

Don’t harass people.

Shenandoah National Park (May 2015)

Saturday was a perfect day to go back up to Shenandoah over the weekend for a few short hikes: the super-easy Limberlost Trail, a walk around Big Meadows, and the upper trail to Hawksbill Summit.

The Limberlost Trail is a flat crushed-gravel path through what used to be a hemlock forest, a very accessible hike through some lush nature, with lots of wildlife if you walk at the right time. We were there in the late morning so all we saw were a chipmunk and a duskywing butteryfly on some wildflowers. Lots of ferns, too.

Continue reading Shenandoah National Park (May 2015)

Amtrak Derailment

Deadly train derailment in Philadelphia has brought US rail infrastructure into focus again, and why Amtrak cannot thrive in a culture and political environment that values individualism, cars, and highways over train travel — a collective action that somehow threatens personal liberty.

Washington Post’s derailment map visualization shows where the train sped too fast around a curve. Ongoing NTSB investigation here.

A survivor’s story.