Mean Mermaids Are A Thing


Most of us think of mermaids as sexy sirens of the sea. There seems to be a new mermaid fad with gals and guys both living mer-folk fantasy lifestyles. There are mermaid performers, mermaid weddings, mermaid blankies, and all sorts of other mermaid related stuff. But guess what mermaids are really about? Murder and mayhem, folks, murder and mayhem. Hate to spoil it for all you romantic mer-folk but your fantasy heroes were really mean in the mythos of old. And I mean REALLY mean!


The animated Little Mermaid movie by Disney, that inspires little girls to be sweet and hopeful and determined, is based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale from the 19th century. But the original story was far from a child-appropriate fairy tale.

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Yes, there was a mermaid princess and a drowning prince. But there was also romantic rejection and an ensuing plot for a blood bath. Once the prince turns the little mermaid princess down, she begins to die of a broken heart. But mermaid’s have no souls so they don’t go to heaven. Instead, they are transformed into the sea foam that tips raging waves and breakers.


But the transformation takes awhile. It’s a process. So, for awhile, there’s a chance to save the little mermaid from this terrible destiny. In the early stages, while she is tail-less and mute, she places her hope in someone, anyone, to take action to save her.


Seeing this horrible fate come upon their sister, the little mermaid’s faithful sisters do not disappoint. They become enraged. They swear vengeance. They negotiate a deal with a sea hag. 


She demands their mermaid hair in exchange for a poisoned, cursed dagger that can only be used while the human prince sleeps. His blood must be collected and washed over the little mermaid’s feet which will cause her tail to grow back. The sisters return with the blade and tell their sister what must be done. 


With the dagger in hand, the little mermaid stands over the unsuspecting prince who jilted her while he sleeps. She struggles silently with her conscience. Much time passes. In the end, the little mermaid can’t go through with it. But is she still destined to become lonely sea foam? Not so fast.


It seems that there are still heavenly rewards for soul-less mer-folk who opt out of murder. Angels suddenly appear and give her an option. Instead of becoming meaningless sea foam, she can remain human. It will just cost her a few centuries of good deeds. Then, she will have earned an immortal soul.


Now, that doesn’t seem like too mean of a mermaid, does it. Well, on the flip side, there are tales of much meaner sirens of the sea.


Like Japan’s sea-vampiress Nure Onna who’s mer-body resembles a sea snake more than a fish. She also has fangs amid the human teeth in her lovely smile. She likes to sit on the shore pretending to hold a baby as she cries in distress. What sympathetic human wouldn’t offer assistance? 


She asks them to hold her baby which becomes a weight pinning them down so she can drain their blood at her leisure. And if death by exsanguination isn’t bad enough, if you happen to have long hair she might just strangle you with it. Bad, bad mermaid.

And don’t forget about mer-men. Those are some bad boys, too. The Scots tell of the Blue Men who make friends with sailors. When ships get close enough to recognize the un-natural blue skin, it’s too late. The Blue Men attack, drag the sailors into the water and eat them. Great Scott! Cannibal Mer-men! Who knew?!

The Odyssey, of course, shares the most familiar mean mermaid story of sexy sea sirens who lure sailors to their deaths. They sing songs that hypnotize them, drawing them ever closer to the source of the song… Mermaids sitting atop rocks, rocks that will wreck their ships. Then, BOOM, you’re dead.


But where did the first mermaid come from? Who is the Eve of the seas? Ancient Syrians tell of Atargatis, a goddes who fell in love with a human. This story again? 


While loving him she lost control of her super-human goddess strength and killed her lover. Overcome with guilt and grief, surprise, she drowns herself in the sea. 


But didn’t she know she was a goddess? Like, immortal? Well, it seems that immortality is not the only rule gods and goddesses live by. It seems that there is a rule that when they jump into the ocean they automatically turn into fish. But the magic works out strangely on those who are incredibly beautiful, like Atargatis. She kept her human beauty and only became half-fish. The first mermaid.

Russians have their own lore about the mer-people, rusalki. They believe them to be the reincarnated souls of vengeful women who have died tragically, like from pregnancy, suicide or murder. So you can imagine that these kind of mermaids would be really, really mean. 


They lure you near with their gorgeousness. They put you at ease with soothing words. Then, WHAM! They grab you and drown you. But a few have an even more demented way of killing their victims. They tickle them so that their victims drown by laughter. Sick. Very, very sick.


The Irish have their selkies seal-women and the French have their mermaid dragons called the melusine, as well as fat mer-monk creatures. There are also tales of mer-zombies. The Arabian Nights includes a story featuring a terrifying mermaid kingdom. 


It seems that the entire ancient world has been fascinated with the prospect of beautiful but deadly mer-people. It seems that sweet, adorable, kindly little mermaid princesses are only a modern creation. Does that mean that, as a race, humanity is taking a turn for the better instead of a turn for the worst? Could be. The gringa remains hopeful yet firmly a land-lubber. Just in case. 


Image Credits:

Deviant Art

Good Reads


Video Credits

Creepy World

NightTerrors

Lethe’s Artwork

Forget Trump – What About Fukushima?


(Originally posted 7/27/17 on Read With The Gringa.)

While the world has been distracted with all things Trump, everyone seems to have forgotten that the world’s worst industrial disaster is still unfolding. Yeah, remember Fukushima? That nuclear reactor that had 3 cores melt down after a 9.0 earthquake triggered a 15-meter tsunami that devastated Japan? Would you, dear reader, like the gringa, like to know what the heck is still going on? Well, Ima gonna tell ya. First, the basics on the history:


March 11, 2011: After said earthquake and tsunami, 3 of the 4 cores of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors melted down over the course of three days. 


The World Nuclear Organization (WNO) rated the disaster a 7 on the INES scale. What the heck is that, the dear reader asks? And what the heck does it mean? 


The INES is an international standard used to measure the significance of a nuclear event primarily determined by the amount of radiation ionization exposure. There is no higher rating than a 7. That being said, the gringa would like to know is Fukushima a true 7 or is it listed as a 7 simply because there is no higher rating to assign? I mean, would an INES rating of 9 or 15 or 28 be a  more honest reflection of what happened? But I digress. Back to what a 7 actually means as we know it.


Fukushima was given a 7 because during days #4 through #6 a total of 940 PBq (1-131 eq) was released of radioactive material.  But what does that mean? 


PBq does not stand for “Please Be Quiet” with regard to Fukushima. It refers to the metric measurement of radioactivity. It is shorthand for Petabecquerel. It’s root word, becquerel, is defined as:

“… the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second.”


When the prefix “peta” is attached it becomes a measurement equal to 10 to the fifteenth power becquerels. In other words, one-thousand-billion. Crazy number, huh? So Fukushima released 940 thousand billion radioactive nuclei into the sea and atmosphere. Sounds pretty awful, right? So why is the world’s media and national leaders seemingly unconcerned? Are they correct in their “no big deal” assessment? Should we just move on and continue letting the Trump circus and side-show dominate our attention?


Fukushima’s atmospheric radioactive releases had 2 primary contaminants: volatile iodine-131 and caesium-137. The iodine has a half-life of 8 days. No big deal there. The caesium, on the other hand, is a really big deal. It is easily carried throughout the atmosphere, has a 30-year half-life, so wherever it finally lands it’s going to be there for a very long time, a silent and invisible invader. But is it deadly?


Caesium is soluble. That means the human body can absorb it. The good news is that it does not concentrate within internal organs. After about 70 days the body is rid of the substance. 


The most highly concentrated atmospheric releases were detected around the end of March 2011. The good news is that in mid-March Japan had already anticipated this problem and taken preventative measures. 


A dust-suppressing polymer resin had been applied around the nuclear plant to suppress fallout, preventing the iodine and caesium from becoming mobile through wind and rain. By 2012, effective permanent covers were in place to contain fallout from atmospheric releases. Nearby crops of rice have been tested and reveal that caesium levels are one-quarter of the allowable limit. That means there is Fukushima rice for sale. Yum.


The worst news from Fukushima is that run-off of contaminated water into the sea was profuse and well above allowable levels of radionuclides. Although storage tanks for contaminated water were eventually erected, they began leaking in 2013. In addition to this is the more than 10,000 cubic meters of “slightly” contaminated water purposely released into the sea by Japan. This was a deal with the devil. They had to release less-contaminated water in order to make room for storing highly-contaminated water.


All sorts of new technology has been quickly developed by innovators eager to help Japan clean-up radioactive water quicker and more effectively. The gringa finds it sad how catastrophe inspires innovation. But I won’t knock it. Better to be desperate and have options than to be desperate and hopeless.


Concrete panels were constructed to prevent further leakage of contaminated water into the harbor surrounding Fukushima. These were later reinforced with steel shielding that extends one kilometer through rock strata. Testing of harbor waters in 2013 indicate that contamination levels are below acceptable standards. But is this good news? Who decides what is safe when it comes to contamination?


When it comes to interpreting contamination results for the harbor, Japan refers to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) standard for drinking water. The harbor surrounding Fukushima tests consistently lower for caesium contamination that the WHO requires for safe drinking water. Sounds pretty safe to me. But what about the fish and stuff? Can you eat what you catch?


The gringa thinks so. You see, prior to 2012 the Japanese national standard was for food sources not to exceed 500 Bq/kg of caesium contamination. After the disaster, this standard was dropped to 100 Bq/kg. What this means is that although they dropped the measurement standard they raised the standard for expectations. In order for fish caught off of Japan’s shores to be eligible for sale and dining pleasure, they have to test for less caesium now than before the disaster. And what do the fish say?


Within the months immediately after the disaster, more than 50% were too contaminated to eat. By the summer of 2014 things had changed dramatically. In about 3 years 99.4% of fish caught in the harbor surrounding Fukushima were safe to eat. Not bad, Japan, not bad.


But what about the doom and gloom reports about a wave of sea-borne Fukushima radiation that is finally reaching the shores of other nations? Well, first keep in mind that there are pre-existing levels of caesium radiation in the earth’s oceans. That would be the caesium-137 isotope contamination caused by nuclear weapons testing decades ago. Thanks, United States. 


But there is another caesium isotope, #134, floating around the Pacific. It can only have originated from Fukushima. The good news is that instead of having a half-life of 30 years, like #137, it only sticks around for about 2 years. But here it is 2017, 5 years after the disaster. Why is it still floating around in the Pacific? Well, to understand that you have to understand what half-life means. 


Having a 2-year half-life doesn’t mean that #134 will disappear or become non-radioactive in 2 years. It means that it takes 2 years for it to lose half of its radioactive value. So, let’s do the math:

  • 5 years ago # 134 is full strength
  • 3 years ago #134 is half strength
  • 1 year ago up to present #134 is one-quarter strength

But is the Pacific Ocean deadly? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regularly tested and monitored west coast waters, fully aware of the potential for deadly radioactivity due to Fukushima. The results of Fukushima radiation off the coast of California average to about 2 Becquerels per cubic meter. 

Since 7400 becquerels per cubic meter are the standard for safe drinking water, it seems California beach bums are safe. Even if a beach bum stays in the water non-stop for an entire year, their radiation exposure would be about the same as sitting for an x-ray at the dentist. So surf at your pleasure, beach bums.

So what does all of this mean? The worst man-made/natural combo disaster a human could imagine occurred 5 years ago. Amazingly enough, human ingenuity was up to the task. Fukushima is not going to kill the planet. And according to the latest findings recovered by robotic explorers, Fukushima will most likely be officially de-commissioned. Now who is inspired to become a scientist?

Sources: 

World Nuclear Organization


International Atomic Energy Agency


IFL Science


Image Credit: Suffolk University Blogs


Video Credit: New Scientist

Forget Trump – What About Fukushima?


(Originally posted on Read With The Gringa 7/27/2017)

While the world has been distracted with all things Trump, everyone seems to have forgotten that the world’s worst industrial disaster is still unfolding. Yeah, remember Fukushima? That nuclear reactor that had 3 cores melt down after a 9.0 earthquake triggered a 15-meter tsunami that devastated Japan? Would you, dear reader, like the gringa, like to know what the heck is still going on? Well, Ima gonna tell ya. First, the basics on the history:


March 11, 2011: After said earthquake and tsunami, 3 of the 4 cores of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors melted down over the course of three days. 


The World Nuclear Organization (WNO) rated the disaster a 7 on the INES scale. What the heck is that, the dear reader asks? And what the heck does it mean? 


The INES is an international standard used to measure the significance of a nuclear event primarily determined by the amount of radiation ionization exposure. There is no higher rating than a 7. That being said, the gringa would like to know is Fukushima a true 7 or is it listed as a 7 simply because there is no higher rating to assign? I mean, would an INES rating of 9 or 15 or 28 be a  more honest reflection of what happened? But I digress. Back to what a 7 actually means as we know it.


Fukushima was given a 7 because during days #4 through #6 a total of 940 PBq (1-131 eq) was released of radioactive material.  But what does that mean? 


PBq does not stand for “Please Be Quiet” with regard to Fukushima. It refers to the metric measurement of radioactivity. It is shorthand for Petabecquerel. It’s root word, becquerel, is defined as:

“… the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second.”


When the prefix “peta” is attached it becomes a measurement equal to 10 to the fifteenth power becquerels. In other words, one-thousand-billion. Crazy number, huh? So Fukushima released 940 thousand billion radioactive nuclei into the sea and atmosphere. Sounds pretty awful, right? So why is the world’s media and national leaders seemingly unconcerned? Are they correct in their “no big deal” assessment? Should we just move on and continue letting the Trump circus and side-show dominate our attention?


Fukushima’s atmospheric radioactive releases had 2 primary contaminants: volatile iodine-131 and caesium-137. The iodine has a half-life of 8 days. No big deal there. The caesium, on the other hand, is a really big deal. It is easily carried throughout the atmosphere, has a 30-year half-life, so wherever it finally lands it’s going to be there for a very long time, a silent and invisible invader. But is it deadly?


Caesium is soluble. That means the human body can absorb it. The good news is that it does not concentrate within internal organs. After about 70 days the body is rid of the substance. 


The most highly concentrated atmospheric releases were detected around the end of March 2011. The good news is that in mid-March Japan had already anticipated this problem and taken preventative measures. 


A dust-suppressing polymer resin had been applied around the nuclear plant to suppress fallout, preventing the iodine and caesium from becoming mobile through wind and rain. By 2012, effective permanent covers were in place to contain fallout from atmospheric releases. Nearby crops of rice have been tested and reveal that caesium levels are one-quarter of the allowable limit. That means there is Fukushima rice for sale. Yum.


The worst news from Fukushima is that run-off of contaminated water into the sea was profuse and well above allowable levels of radionuclides. Although storage tanks for contaminated water were eventually erected, they began leaking in 2013. In addition to this is the more than 10,000 cubic meters of “slightly” contaminated water purposely released into the sea by Japan. This was a deal with the devil. They had to release less-contaminated water in order to make room for storing highly-contaminated water.


All sorts of new technology has been quickly developed by innovators eager to help Japan clean-up radioactive water quicker and more effectively. The gringa finds it sad how catastrophe inspires innovation. But I won’t knock it. Better to be desperate and have options than to be desperate and hopeless.


Concrete panels were constructed to prevent further leakage of contaminated water into the harbor surrounding Fukushima. These were later reinforced with steel shielding that extends one kilometer through rock strata. Testing of harbor waters in 2013 indicate that contamination levels are below acceptable standards. But is this good news? Who decides what is safe when it comes to contamination?


When it comes to interpreting contamination results for the harbor, Japan refers to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) standard for drinking water. The harbor surrounding Fukushima tests consistently lower for caesium contamination that the WHO requires for safe drinking water. Sounds pretty safe to me. But what about the fish and stuff? Can you eat what you catch?


The gringa thinks so. You see, prior to 2012 the Japanese national standard was for food sources not to exceed 500 Bq/kg of caesium contamination. After the disaster, this standard was dropped to 100 Bq/kg. What this means is that although they dropped the measurement standard they raised the standard for expectations. In order for fish caught off of Japan’s shores to be eligible for sale and dining pleasure, they have to test for less caesium now than before the disaster. And what do the fish say?


Within the months immediately after the disaster, more than 50% were too contaminated to eat. By the summer of 2014 things had changed dramatically. In about 3 years 99.4% of fish caught in the harbor surrounding Fukushima were safe to eat. Not bad, Japan, not bad.


But what about the doom and gloom reports about a wave of sea-borne Fukushima radiation that is finally reaching the shores of other nations? Well, first keep in mind that there are pre-existing levels of caesium radiation in the earth’s oceans. That would be the caesium-137 isotope contamination caused by nuclear weapons testing decades ago. Thanks, United States. 


But there is another caesium isotope, #134, floating around the Pacific. It can only have originated from Fukushima. The good news is that instead of having a half-life of 30 years, like #137, it only sticks around for about 2 years. But here it is 2017, 5 years after the disaster. Why is it still floating around in the Pacific? Well, to understand that you have to understand what half-life means. 


Having a 2-year half-life doesn’t mean that #134 will disappear or become non-radioactive in 2 years. It means that it takes 2 years for it to lose half of its radioactive value. So, let’s do the math:

  • 5 years ago # 134 is full strength
  • 3 years ago #134 is half strength
  • 1 year ago up to present #134 is one-quarter strength

But is the Pacific Ocean deadly? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regularly tested and monitored west coast waters, fully aware of the potential for deadly radioactivity due to Fukushima. The results of Fukushima radiation off the coast of California average to about 2 Becquerels per cubic meter. 

Since 7400 becquerels per cubic meter are the standard for safe drinking water, it seems California beach bums are safe. Even if a beach bum stays in the water non-stop for an entire year, their radiation exposure would be about the same as sitting for an x-ray at the dentist. So surf at your pleasure, beach bums.

So what does all of this mean? The worst man-made/natural combo disaster a human could imagine occurred 5 years ago. Amazingly enough, human ingenuity was up to the task. Fukushima is not going to kill the planet. And according to the latest findings recovered by robotic explorers, Fukushima will most likely be officially de-commissioned. Now who is inspired to become a scientist?

Sources: 

World Nuclear Organization


International Atomic Energy Agency


IFL Science


Image Credit: Suffolk University Blogs


Video Credit: New Scientist

Get Your Ticket To Ride To The Stars


NASA is not the only power player in US space exploration. SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are all making a name for themselves. The difference is that NASA is concerned with public service and pure science. The private sector space agencies are more interested in the almighty dollar. That means they will be staging projects geared toward profitable exploration, like mining interstellar bodies for lucrative minerals and space tourism. And whenever there is a buck to be made competition is sure to arise. Americans only need to look East to find competitor nations joining the profitable space race. Who will the gringa be rooting for? Read on and find out. Here are the Asian contenders who have certainly got game:

JAPAN: PD Aerospace acknowledges that the company is lagging behind their US counterparts. However, Shuji Ogawa, the company’s CEO, doesn’t seem at all disheartened by this. He believes there is enough consumer and investor interest to go around. Pretty much every single Earthling would love to realize the dream of a trip into space. Even if PD Aerospace is dead last in the race to launch cosmic tourists, there will still be plenty of money to be made.

PD is looking to use a re-usable spacecraft that resembles a plane. It will have an alternating propulsion system using jet and rocket technologies. Passenger capacity of 8, crew capacity of 2, will make for a very personalized tour. Flight limitation is 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. That is where outer space and Earth’s atmosphere meet.

So when will this bird get off the ground? First flight is expected to launch in just 3 more years. Trials are scheduled for another 3 years. So, in less than a decade the non-average Joe, with an extra quarter million of disposable income, can take to the highest heavens.

It will take some time for revenue to affect the company’s bottom line and lower the cost of a ticket. Eventually, a space flight will become affordable enough for even the regular average Joe. PD hopes to eventually bring ticket cost down to the $3,600 range. That’s a relief to the gringa!

CHINA: Kuang-Chi Science has a bit more swagger to their space travel chatter. They believe Asia is a better market for space tourism than the US. This means that even though they got a slower start than private American space firms, they are confident they will become more profitable much quicker.

The gringa loves their space flight plan to use a giant helium balloon to lift a capsule to the same dizzying heights as PD. With the same passenger capacity the main difference between the two trips will be that PD’s flight will have the fireworks and noise of rocket propulsion while Kuang-Chi will deliver a steady, peaceful glide. A quiet ride is very appealing to the gringa.

The chairman of the company, Liu Ruopeng, points out that passengers have no need of skills training or to be physically fit. The Kuang-Chi balloon trip to the edge of the cosmos is open to everyone. The gringa appreciates this sense of inclusiveness.

Another cool aspect to China’s space tourism model is that it will double as a scientific data gathering mission. On board is a platform that collects meteorological and agricultural information that is transmitted to networks on the ground. Being a tourist means also being a passive citizen-scientist. Your ticket to ride funds research and environmental monitoring that can help make the world a better place.

Kuang-Chi is also determined to be competitive. Although they haven’t announced how much a ticket will be, they have made it clear that it will be significantly less than what their competitors will offer. So start saving up your money. They have already begun test flights with their spacecraft “Traveler” and a turtle was the first passenger! Tourism is scheduled to begin in 3 years.

MALAYSIA: Although one might not equate this southeast Asia nation with innovative technology, with the creation of Independence-X, it is changing people’s minds about the who’s who in space travel. Look for this company to have a robotic spacecraft on the Moon’s surface sometime this year. If successful, it will certainly catch the eye of investors. A successful lunar landing will hopefully spur funding for space tourism technology development. So, although they are not yet in the race, they are definitely warming up in the batter’s box.

So who is the gringa rooting for? Kuang-Chi Science. I must admit my soft spot for positive business modeling that features inclusiveness, consumer affordability, environmental activism and… is pet friendly! I would like to join that turtle in space flight that will not just be a thrilling vacation of a lifetime but will also perform a service to my fellow Earthlings!

Sources:

Kuang Chi Science

PDAS

Independence-X

Image Credit: Cosmos TV

Video Credits:

PD AeroSpace

Bloomberg

Digi Telecommunications

A Wave Making Waves & Suction Storms


(Originally posted 2/3/17 on Read With The Gringa)

An enormous gravity wave is making waves in space exploration circles. The wave of excitement began when Akatsuki, a space probe that is the handiwork of JAXA, Japan’s space agency, observed a 6,000 mile long gravity wave. That’s the longest gravity wave ever recorded by humans in outer space. But why is this a big deal? What does it mean? I mean, after all, gravity waves have been discovered before. Is this just a big deal because this is the largest one scientists have observed?

What a gravity wave does is affect a planet’s atmosphere. It can cause weather disturbances. What kind of weather does Venus have? With an atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide, 3% nigrogen, a tiny speck of water vapor (about .003%), and a density nearly 90 times greater than Earth’s, things could be very interesting on Venus should a storm begin to brew.

Picture peeking out the window of your Venus habitat and seeing golden, yellow clouds billowing that stink of that rotten egg stench of sulfur. Imagine watching as they raced across the sky at more than 200 mph. And consider that you would have to be looking through glass several inches thick to withstand the atmospheric pressure outside. Sounds kind of cool, doesn’t it! But, really, is there more to this excitement than just discovering the longest gravity wave ever?

December, 2015, JAXA’s Akatsuki observed the largest gravity wave ever over one of Venus’ mountain ranges. It looks like a whitish, bow shape in the image below:

akatsuki-venus-jaxa.jpg

When the probe made its journey once again over this region a month later, the wave wasn’t there. The original thought that the wave was stationary had to be discarded. What scientists now theorize is that the gravity wave formed in Venus’ lower atmosphere and was then gradually pulled into the upper atmosphere by the rapid rotation of clouds. Once it reached the upper atmosphere it dissipated. So, on Venus, a storm is really like a great big gravity vacuum rather than wind and rain like Earthlings are accustomed to. Instead of stuff falling down, stuff is sucked up.

For scientists, this gives them more clues to understand what conditions are like on the surface of the planet. Instead of a lower atmosphere that is stable, quiet and boring, scientists are more inclined to believe that life on Venus’ surface could be quite thrilling and dynamic. It also means that any plans for a surface mission would require rovers that could withstand the possibility of a massive gravity suction storm. The gringa envisions the tornado scene that the “Wizard of Oz” opens with. That would be life on Venus if things weren’t “nailed” down really, really well. Or, Venus colonists could all just live in bouncy castles. When a massive gravity suction storm approaches you batten down the hatches, ride out the storm and who knows where you end up! New neighbors and new landscape when it all blows over. How exciting!

Sources: JAXA

CalTech

Whip It & Whip It Good


Japan has created a solution for space litterbugs: an electric whip. No, we are not going to be subjecting engineers, scientists and astronauts to high voltage public floggings. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is going to become the garbage collectors of outer space with their newly deployed trash collecting tether system. Sounds cool, huh? Yeah, the gringa thought her dear readers would get a kick out of this technology.

Guess how long this baby is? Six football fields… 600 yards and about the size of a clothesline. Incredible. But how does it work? Well, we’ll find out once it gets unpacked from the goodie package onboard the Kounotori 6 spacecraft that was scheduled to deliver its payload December 14 to the International Space Station (ISS).  Called EDT (for electrodynamic tether), its mission is to lasso about 20,000 pieces of space debris that are classified as hazardous on Earth-bound tracking systems.

What makes space junk dangerous? Well, in and of itself a single piece may eventually fall to Earth. Depending on its size and the materials it is made of, it could cause serious damage and possibly even fatal injuries once it impacts Earth. In addition, multiple pieces of debris could collide. That might cause space garbage to change trajectory and possibly collide with the ISS. Such an event could kill our astronaut crews. So, JAXA’s space garbage collection mission is a noble cause. But why the electricity?

The electricity is not for zapping space junk into submission. It is how the tether is directed and guided. Astronauts will use the tether to guide garbage into a trajectory that will destroy it before impact by traveling through the fieriest (is that a word?) path possible.

What kind of stuff is out there that we should be worried about? Well, there is space junk the size of a school bus. Something that big could become very problematic. Coolest of all is that the whip has cameras mounted so we will eventually get to see it in action. But you can see it get launched on its way to the ISS in the video below:

The next video below was posted on JAXA’s YouTube channel in anticipation of the live use of the EDT. At the time that the gringa penned this post there was no video available. However, by the time the scheduled post is on the blog, hopefully you will get to see some live feed of astronauts whipping outer space clean!

Sources:  JAXA

Image Credit:  www.npr.org

The Perzog of Mayhem, Or Not


The gringa sees that the conspiracy theorists are at it again and now they are dragging our wonderful little Moon into their tales of mayhem and destruction. So, dear readers, mark your calendars for November 14. It will either be the greatest Moon-viewing experience of your life or the moment you decide to run for your lives and head for the hills.

Conspiracy theorist gong clanging should reach epic decibel levels the closer we get to what scientists commonly call a “supermoon” event. Conspiracy theorists are making sure their innertubes are patched and lifejackets are in order as they are expecting horrific tidal waves and earth-splitting earthquakes. The gringa says, “Are you guys out of your minds or is there some real science to back up your fears?” I mean, living near the Gulf of Mexico the gringa is well-stocked with innertubes and lifejackets but considering the season, they have been relegated to the bottom storage tub with boxes of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations stacked on top in the most convenient order of when I will need them. I would much rather not go to the trouble of rearranging my convenient storage closet system unless the prospect of danger and possible death is real.

Gringa question number one: What the heck is a supermoon? It is technically called a perigee-syzygy. Perigee means: the point in the moon’s orbit when it is nearest to the earth. Syzygy means: when two connected things line up in perfect opposition. The gringa is torn whether to refer to the super-cool term “supermoon” or to come up with my own version of the scientific moniker such as “perzog”. I’m sticking with perzog cuz that’s how I roll. The term supermoon was coined in 1979 by astronomer Richard Nolle. The gringa is the first, however, to use perzog.

So, back to the question of what a perzog is. Every now and then the time is right for a full moon to occur at the exact time it reaches its closest approach to Earth. Remember, orbits are not perfect circles but, rather, elliptical, or egg-shaped or oval. At some point a planetary object will be closer to its neighbor than at other times. The last time perzog happened on the scale expected in November was in 1948. It won’t happen again until 2034. Astronomers have our current perzog showing up next month.

Since worldwide destruction didn’t happen in 1948, the gringa feels pretty confident we should all be just fine. But, just to be on the safe side, I did a little checking on any reports of weather related catastrophes immediately following the perzog of January 26, 1948, paying particular attention to coastal cities and regions.

Seeing as how the 5th Winter Olympic games opened in Switzerland without a hiccup on January 30, 1948 and the 36th annual Men & Women’s Australian Championships in tennis went off without a hitch, the gringa’s convinced that the perzog of 1948 was no big deal, other than being able to view a spectacular Moon.

If there was any imminent disaster it was of political consequence and not weather related. Four days after the 1948 perzog, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. Now, the gringa is more likely to believe that mess and mayhem would come from human created disasters rather than massive tidal waves if the Moon is involved.

Is there any increased emergency room activity during full moon events or is this simply an urban legend? The human body is 75% water. If the Moon is powerful enough to push and pull the waters of the ocean, might a similar affect agitate the heck out of a human who is really nothing more than a bag of water? The most interesting medical tidbit to the gringa is that studies produced in 2004 conclude that there is no correlation to the full moon and seizures. The gringa has no excuse for bad behavior on a monthly basis. Despite anecdotal affirmations by ER doctors and nurses that full moons mean a busy night, the data simply doesn’t support their beliefs.

As the perzog shines 30% brighter than ever (at least since 1948), reaching its full glory around midnight between November 13 & 14, coastal dwelling conspiracy theorists will be strapping themselves into their rescue rafts and those living near fault lines will be donning their helmets and hunkering down in doorways awaiting catastrophic earthquakes. They expect tidal forces to reach a zenith that will put an extreme strain on low and high tides worldwide, possibly causing deadly tsunamis. As the Earth’s oceans are trapped in a massive tug of war between the gravitational pulls of the Earth and the Moon, conspiracy theorists propose that the Earth’s crust could very well snap at the strain. California could be lopped off at the San Andreas fault-line with its westernmost extremity falling into the Pacific. Right?

Conspiracy theorists point to the lesser supermoon event of March 19, 2011 as the cause for a Japanese earthquake, resulting tsunami and 5 ships that ran aground in the Solent strait between the U.K.’s mainland and the Isle of Wight. Interestingly enough, the gringa did find two British news reports attributing the groundings to lower than normal water conditions due to the lunar event’s affect on tidal conditions. Maybe there could be some truth to this after all. The British Coastguard, after all, expected extremely low tide conditions because of the lesser supermoon. They were courageous enough to admit that they fell down on the job of managing shipping lane traffic on a new temporary schedule that would account for a change in expected tidal conditions.

But what about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami? Astronomy experts said that it was just silly to blame those terrible events on the Moon. Seeing as how those tragedies happened a week earlier than the lunar event, the perzog of 2011 had nothing to do with the preceding disasters in Japan. The tsunami was caused not by lunar activity but by the largest fault slip ever recorded in modern history.

Clay was to blame, not the moon. The Japanese tectonic plates are lined with clay. The plates are always moving. As they move small portions of clay smear along the area of movement. Natural ground water seepage will moisten the clay. The event of Japan’s massive earthquake was a recipe of water and clay and timing. The plates slipped an historic 5 feet, a massive distance for a tectonic plate. This was the trigger for the tsunami.

So, after a close look at real science and statistics, the gringa is going to enjoy the pleasure of an amazing Moon. While conspiracy theorists miss out on all the fun, cowering in fear, the gringa will be moon-gazing without a backache from rearranging the storage closet or tell-tale distractions wondering if an axe murderer may attack me on my front stoop at midnight, inspired by the super-full-supermoon. I hope my dear readers will enjoy the coming perzog as well. If you do, just imagine, we will all be doing the same thing at the same time if we happen to be in the same time zone! Cool.

Sources:

www.onthisday.com

Wikipedia

www.telegraph.co.uk

www.dailymail.co.uk

National Geographic

Live Science

Image Credit:  www.telegraph.co.uk

The Hi’s & Lo’s of JAXA


Back in February space agencies around the world were cheering on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as it launched a new space observation satellite that was going to get us all some darn answers about black holes. This joint effort between JAXA and NASA caused a bit of confusion among outsiders because the satellite went by different names depending on if you were an Eastern space enthusiast (Hitomi for you) or a Western space enthusiast (ASTRO-H for you).

The gringa prefers the moniker Hitomi. This Japanese word has several meanings, all of which the gringa likes much better than the anacronym ASTRO-H. Hitomi literally means the “pupil of the eye”. However, when you break the word down into its phonetical language parts “hito” and “mi” it becomes “beautiful history”. As I look into the vastness of space and the stars that are kazillions of years old, the cosmos most certainly is the most beautiful history I have ever beheld.

Unfortunately, however, Hitomi’s story is not so pretty. Launched back in February, space fans everywhere were so excited that soon the satellite would be orbiting about 300 miles above us and collect data on X-rays emitted by black holes as well as galaxy clusters. Scientists have been eager for any means to gather more information since the detection of gravitational waves were announced which are directly related to black holes.

After a successful launch the evening of February 16, JAXA and NASA announced that Hitomi’s solar arrays were operating properly and began anticipating the arrival of data and images. Japan’s sixth satellite for the research of X-ray astronomy, the science community waited with bated breath for what they were certain was going to be groundbreaking information from the latest state of the art space satellite technology.

By March 26, contact with Hitomi was lost. By April the announcement came that finally, all hope was lost as well. Bye-bye Hitomi.

Once Hitomi reached its orbit things began to go wrong. Scientists reported that communication was lost within days and that their only conclusion was that the satellite had most likely disintegrated. A quarter of a billion dollars converted to space junk in a matter of weeks. How terribly disappointing. The director general of JAXA, Saku Tsuneta, officially announced the abandonment of the project with his deepest regrets.

Researchers believe that the solar panels that control the instruments may have broken away from the satellite. This would have basically transformed the satellite into a rudderless ship adrift in space. It will be about twelve more years before anything matching Hitomi’s capabilities will launch when the European Space Agency (ESA) completes a similar project.

On a side note, the gringa is surprised that conspiracy theorists haven’t jumped all over this story. When communication was first lost with the satellite, hope was revived when JAXA detected three signals they believed originated from Hitomi. However, after more scrutiny, it was discovered that the signals were not from the spacecraft. Hmmm. The gringa wonders just where, or whom, those signals came from. Could it have been some very clever and covert space aliens who captured human technology? Only time will tell!

Sources:

www.japantimes.co

www.nasa.gov

phys.org

www.bbc.com

Image Source: i.dailymail.co.uk

 

 

 

 

India’s Space Explorers


The gringa has done innumerable posts on NASA, several on the European Space Agency (ESA) and even the space programs of Russia, China and Japan. Were my dear readers aware that India has its own space program? They do. It is called the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and they are now on the brink of exploring the galaxy with their own re-usable shuttle.

To India’s credit, they have accomplished the feat of designing and constructing a reusable launch vehicle for a fraction of what SpaceX spent on their reusable rocket. If their shuttle model is a success, the world may have to turn its eyes to India as the next world leader in space program development and exploration. Not only are they getting things done, but doing so extraordinarily efficiently.

On its virgin flight, the 21 foot long shuttle, weighing one and three-quarter tons, reached Mach 5 as it zipped through space 39 miles above Earth. The craft successfully splashed down right on target at coordinates in the Bay of Bengal. This prototype is much smaller than NASA shuttles but if the design is right and all goes well, India plans to enlarge the shuttle’s length by one hundred feet by the year 2030. By designing a re-usable shuttle, India will realize a 90% savings with every single launch. Cost was the very reason NASA’s shuttle program was discontinued.

Aerospace experts around the world view India’s achievement with great interest.  By drawing upon the successes and failures of other space agencies around the world, India has developed a space program that has avoided costly mistakes. They have also been able to model their inspirations upon the successes that have been accomplished. India is managing a successful and growing space program with a budget that, on average, is about three times smaller than their Western counterparts. One reason is that they have eliminated much of what we Westerners call pesky bureaucracy.

Going red tape free, however, is not without its risks. Only time will tell if lack of regulation results in a more hazardous space program. Re-usable shuttles should translate into multiple launches annually. This will mean more money for the space program by infusions of cash from investors and contractors who want their payloads delivered to the International Space Station and other countries paying cab fare for their astronauts to hop a ride.

At the rate India is clipping along with progress at a significant lower price, they may just boot SpaceX out of the space transport market altogether. Who knows, it may be India that gets to Mars first. And according to the stock market, investors seem to have the same suspicion. The companies involved in supplying ISRO with the materials they need have become quite attractive for foreign and Indian investors.

The gringa has always wanted to visit India. It’s rich history and beautiful culture has always intrigued me. Now, I have hopes that in yet one more country on this grand globe, this astronaut hopeful has just one more option of space programs that, one day, may be interested in sending a gringa into outerspace.

Source & Image Credit: http://www.fool.com

 

 

Suicide Forest


Every weekday the gringa looks forward to 4pm.  That’s when my oldest son calls me as he drives home from work. He is a bit of a political revolutionary, young, passionate, ready to change the world. Although he loves to talk politics, current events and debate solutions, the very first thing he asks me is, “How was your day?” I usually tell him boring, just the way I like it since I am a “no drama mama”.

Although he doesn’t read my blog, he always asks me what I’ve been writing about. In a recent conversation, when I told him about my underwater Japanese mystery city post, he said, “You should write about the Suicide Forest.” I had never heard of such a thing so, of course, it totally piqued the gringa’s interest. Although I usually like to keep my stuff focused on science, mysteries and the interestingly inane, a dark, macabre cultural piece has begun a creative itch that simply must be scratched.

In Japan there is Aokigahara which, roughly translated, means “Sea of Trees”. Sounds romantic, right? Well, it is more commonly known as the Suicide Forest and is situated near the northwest base of Mount Fuji, covering almost 14 square miles of raw woodland. Thick with foliage and set against the backdrop of a majestic volcano, it would seem to be the perfect spot for a picturesque photo safari for a tourist until you realize what the locals do here, the hike of no return.

Why is Aokigahara such a select place for suicide? Perhaps it is because the undergrowth is so dense a corpse can go undiscovered and undisturbed. Local officials estimate that roughly 100 persons kill themselves in this forest annually. However, because many go undetected, the suicide victim count could be much higher. Despite instituting prevention methods such as surveillance cameras  and posting encouraging signs throughout the paths that have messages reminding folks how precious their life is to loved ones, Japanese people determined to take their own lives still succeed in their mission.

The favorite method of self-inflicted death is hanging. However, ingesting poison runs a close second and then there’s option number three, a drug overdose.  But why here? Officials point to a popular romantic tragedy written by Japanese author Seicho Matsumoto. His 1960 novel  depicts a failed love story. The heroine ultimately ends her life in the Sea of Trees. She chose the Sea of Trees, according to the story, because, referenced within the tale by the author, she reads the book The Complete Suicide Manual which describes the forest as the “perfect place to die”. This novel has been found with many of the victims.

Every year volunteers gather to roam the thick stands of old trees and deep undergrowth to search for human remains. Officials have ceased to publicize the results of these grisly corpse hunts. Curious people like the gringa can only refer to earlier published reports that clearly indicate an average of 75-100 bodies returned to families for burial annually.

In the West, suicide is stigmatized. This is greatly due to our religious conditioning. Even if a person is not a practicing Jew or Christian, Western culture still considers suicide as anything but honorable. Some consider it self-murder. In fact, that is how it is considered by much of Western law. It is against the law to kill a human being, including yourself. Many religious sects believe a suicide victim’s remains have been desecrated by the act. Such bodies are not allowed to be buried in hallowed church cemeteries. But suicide is considered very differently in Japan.

In the Japan of old, ubasute was considered an honorable solution to ignoble suffering. In other words, desperate times called for desperate measures. If years of famine or drought rolled around, a head of a household would have to consider the effect it was having on his family. How many mouths were there to feed? How much food was there to go around? In order to survive, the least productive family member with no future, basically the old folks, would be led up into the mountains and abandoned to their natural fate of a slow death by exposure. Whether or not ubasute was ever widely practiced is irrelevant. All that matters is that it is a strong feature of Japanese historical myths and legends which has helped to shape their cultural practices and beliefs. Suicide is noble if it preserves the honor, integrity and prosperity of the family.

Although ubasute may be the stuff of legends, noble Samurai suicides are well documented throughout Japan’s feudal history.  It was the honorable way to go out. Seppuku culture views it as a way of taking responsibility of a situation that has gone bad.

Because suicide is considered a virtuous solution and is not stigmatized the way it is in Western culture, Japan ranks the world’s leader in suicide. When the entire world became mired in an economic crisis in 2008, over 2,000 Japanese chose suicide over living a life of financial ruin.

Should you, like the gringa, find the disturbing allure of Aokigahara irresistible and mark it as a place to visit and satisfy your own curiosity, or perhaps meditate in an effort to bring peace to a place that must be saturated with anguish, there are a few things you may want to know before you arrive:

  • Hauntings – It is said that the Sea of Trees is filled with yurei, or, ghosts. And these are not your average ghosts. They are mourning and vengeful. They desire company, your company. Legends go that they attempt to lure you off the beaten path so that you become lost in the wilderness and die like the ubasute victims of old.
  • Camping – Overnight camping is allowed. Be aware that local forest patrols are trained to consider tents as a sign that someone is taking their time about contemplating suicide. Don’t be surprised if a ranger shows up and begins conversing with gentle words of affirmation and encouragement. If he suspects you are engaged in a mental suicide debate, he will probably urge you to pack up and leave.
  • Tape – As you explore the forest on nature hikes, you may see tape looped in the branches of trees and bushes. These are the signs left behind to mark the path of corpse searchers in their attempt to not become lost.
  • Demons – What is attributed to demonic interference by local legend is more likely the result of geology. The area is rich in iron which affects magnetics. GPS systems, ye olde compasses and cellphone are pretty much useless. If you can’t navigate by the stars, for heaven’s sake don’t get off the trail!
  • Be Prepared – Like a good boy scout who is prepared for anything, mentally brace yourself for the very real possibility that you could stumble across a decomposing body, skeletal remains or personal effects of a victim of the forest.
  • More Than Death – Despite the ghastliness of the Sea of Trees being called Suicide Forest, there is still much more to be appreciated. Don’t let a macabre history put you off as a tourist. There is, of course, the fantastic opportunity to be near Mount Fuji. Great photo opportunities also await on the lava plateau, ancient centuries-old trees and the bewitching ice-scape of the Narusawa Ice Cave.

The gringa would love to go there and contemplate respectfully. Although I am a bit of a prankster and once staged a tragic fall down a rocky cliff when the caveman and I hiked about the Smoky Mountains, I’m certain this knowledge of Aokigahara will keep me in a more subdued state of mind.

Source:  www.mentalfloss.com

image: www.jennyjinya.deviantart.com