Sun Worship

Earlier this month celestial lovers throughout south and central Africa got to enjoy a spectacular solar eclipse that produced a ring of fire as the Moon transversed across the pathway of the Sun. The peculiar occasions when the Earth, Moon and Sun all line up together doesn’t happen too often. Such a rare event has historically been linked with all sorts of predictions and paranormal expectations.

The funniest recording of a solar eclipse is, perhaps, also the earliest record. Occuring in October of the 2137 B.C., two royal astronomers, Ho and Hi, offended the fourth Emperor of China’s Hsia Dynasty,  Chung-K’ang. The eclipse was an unexpected event. The poor astronomers were unprepared to perform the customary rituals that should have taken place. The pair of official stargazers were drunk and failed to launch the traditional arrows and beat out the right rhythm on the gongs and drums so that the Sun could be delivered from the mythical beast that was attempting to devour it.

Convinced that chaos would soon consume the empire, the astronomers were summarily executed as an appeasement sacrifice for their drunken dereliction of duty.  A public record of their death was translated in 1839 by scholars to reveal an amusing verse indicating that, although brutal in enforcing their expectations, the ancient Chinese did have a sense of humor:

“Here lie the bodies of Ho and Hi,

Whose fate though sad was visible –

Being hanged because they could not spy

Th’ eclipse which was invisible.”

In November of the year 569 an eclipse was recorded before the birth of the Prophet Mohammad in 570. There are many religious historians who link this eclipse as the moment of Mohammad’s conception. Interestingly enough Mohammed’s son Ibrahim died at the age of two-years-old during the occurrence of a solar eclipse. Mohammed wrote of this event as a sign sent from his God, Allah, of personal condolences. Muslims today still consider eclipses significant religious events. When the recent eclipse occurred mosques throughout Africa had special calls to prayer for safety and deliverance from harm.

Perhaps the most significant solar eclipse in modern history is the one of May, 1919. Commonly called “Einstein’s Eclipse”, it is considered to be the solar eclipse that changed the universe. For more than 200 years scientists had accepted Isaac Newton’s principle that the space of the Universe was as inflexible as mathematical principles.  Einstein set out to challenge this longheld belief. Einstein believed gravity was curved and flexible, affected by the mass of planetary bodies. He proposed that warping of space allowed planets to remain in their orbital paths, gravity distorted by the mass of a celestial body, the greater the mass, the stronger the force, which would result in more bending of light. This was to become known as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

When the 1919 eclipse occurred, British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington led the charge for an experiment to take advantage of the expected eclipse. Eddington traveled to Principe which is in the Gulf of Guinea off of Africa’s western coastline. A horrible thunderstorm threatened to ruin Eddington’s chances but, fortunately, by afternoon the skies had cleared. Eddington’s celestial photographs and measurements were compared with photos and measurements recorded by Andrew  Crommelin at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. The findings were announced by Britain’s Royal Society’s Astronomer Royal Sir Frank Watson Dyson. It was announced in London on November 6, 1919 that Newton’s theory had been disproven by Einstein’s new Theory of Relativity.

To make sure that you are ready for the next opportunity to view a solar eclipse, log on to and keep a watch on the countdown clock for eclipses listed under their Sun & Moon tab. It seems we are only about 5 months away from the next big event.  There is a handy search window everyone can use to see if their city or country is going to be in the most fortunate position of being able to see the eclipse.

To view a solar eclipse it is important to wear protective eyewear. A homemade viewbox can also be created called a pinhole camera. All you need is a box with a small hole on one side for light to pass through and project an inverted image of the eclipse on the opposite side.  Below is a video with an example of how to make and use a homemade pinhole camera. One tip: The bigger the box the better the view.




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Tech & Nature – NOT Mutually Exclusive

Common sense might tell you that technology and nature are mutually exclusive. However, the reality is that with climate change poised to revolutionize where humans farm, technology innovators are poised to revolutionize how we farm. And there are all kinds of ideas out there that are as fascinating as they are practical.

Aquaponics is something the gringa would like to try. I have a small tropical fish aquarium I have experimented with over the past year. I feel ready for a greater challenge.  This method will not only provide me with vegetables, but they will be fertilized by the poop produced by the food fish I will also farm in the same tank. An added plus is that my pint sized vegetable patch and fish farm can be an interesting decorative addition to my pint size apartment. This may be the future of urban farming for apartment dwellers.

Easy DIY aquaponics project:

5 best fish for an aquaponics aquarium garden…


If you want to take your urban farming further than an apartment patio garden or indoor aquaponics garden, maybe the FarmBot is for you. If you live in a house with outdoor spaces, the FarmBot, which operates on a track system, can easily manage a backyard farm from beginning to end and provide enough fresh fruits and vegetables for a family of four each growing season. It plants seeds, waters and fertilizes each plant according to its variety needs, weeds the garden, and can be controlled from your smartphone or laptop just like playing a video game. The gringa thinks this sounds fun.


For larger scale operations, artificial intelligence is taking over all sorts of chores that were once managed by humans. By using cameras and sensors, technology responds to climate conditions to optimize water usage. There is more to collected data than just evaluating rainfall and soil moisture levels. Plants are analyzed down to individual leaves for health and nutrition needs. Clouds are analyzed to predict potential rainfall which might result in delaying a watering activity that might otherwise have been performed, thus conserving one of Earth’s most precious natural resources. For farmers and gardeners interested in the latest sustainable methods. Some of the biggest retailers of agricultural products are being supplied by growers using this kind of technology: Wal Mart, Aldi and Tesco.

A promising future in agriculture awaits our youth who are interested in robotics, technology and saving the world.


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Drones, UFOs, and Saving The Planet… They Are ALL Connected

UFO enthusiasts got a thrill recently when news agencies all over the United States were sounding the alarm of a strange light seen hovering, then moving about, near the famous St. Louis Arch. The YouTube video posted below, sourced from streetview citycams, begins by speeding up the video 1000 times so as not to bore the viewer with several minutes of nothingness. Throughout the hi-speed progression lightning can be observed. As viewers watch, they can see the light dim and sometimes disappear because of cloud cover. The video records a strange light approach the Arch from the left side of the screen and do some interesting acrobatics. The gringa has provided a play by play script to refer to as the dear reader views the video.

Video begins 2:19:49 streetcam time (SCT)/0:00 YouTube Time (YTT).

2:25:13 SCT/0:15 YTT First arrow indicates the appearance of the light in the top middle portion of the screen with light becoming visible at 2:25:19 SCT/0:17 YTT and approaches the Arch.

2:26:20 SCT/0:39 YTT Light appears to hover over the Arch, “wink out” a couple of times only to reappear in relatively the same place, indicating it was hovering the entire time.

2:26:41 SCT/0:46 YTT Light winks out.

2:28:06 SCT/0:52 YTT Light reappears as indicated by arrow and seems to be in same position above the Arch which would make it seem that it was hovering the entire time it was not visible.

2:28:54 SCT/0:56 YTT Light appears to be hovering above the Arch.

2:29:36 SCT/1:00 YTT Light winks out.

2:30:01 SCT/1:02 YTT Arrow directs attention to higher point above the Arch, indicating that the light has climbed higher. However, it is not visible.

2:31:00 SCT/1:08 YTT Another arrow indicates the light to be in the upper left corner of the screen but the gringa does not see it appear.

2:31:18 SCT/1:14 YTT The gringa begins to click through each second at the rate of 2 clicks per second so I get to see half of a second in each frame. I see a flash of the light at a higher point above the arch as I begin my second click of 1:15 YTT, going into my first click of 1:16 YTT. There is no arrow used in the video here to direct you to the flash of light. If you are not prepared you will miss it.

2:32:08 SCT/1:22 YTT Arrow again indicates that the light is seemingly flashing in the top left corner of the screen. Then there is a clear winking on and off of a light in the far left top corner of the screen as the light begins a rapid descent, disappearing behind cloud cover, but can clearly be seen descending.

2:32:25 SCT/1:28 YTT The arrow draws the viewer’s attention to the light whose rapid descent has been abruptly arrested and it once again begins to hover.

2:32:39 SCT/1:33 YTT Light brightly blinks out after a short rapid descent. If you begin once again to click through frames, 2 clicks per second/frame, the light can be seen faintly descending, angling off to the left, then hooking sharply right and descending quickly and can be viewed practically all the way to its landing on the ground in the lower left portion of the screen, its final landing at about 2:32:47 SCT/1:36 YTT.

Summary of the mystery light’s activity:

  • About 45 seconds of hovering above the Arch.
  • For about 1 minute the light continues to climb and hover above the Arch.
  • Within about 50 seconds the light manages to travel the distance in the view screen from seeming to hover above the Arch to the upper left corner of the view screen.
  • Within 30 seconds light makes a rapid descent that includes a brief hover before two radical left/right maneuvers, like a zig-zag, and appears to land on the ground.

So what was it? The gringa believes it was a drone, not an extra-terrestrial vehicle. It is pretty obvious by the final descent and apparent landing on the ground that it is a very small vehicle and very much Earthling technology. The gringa doesn’t know all the details on speed and distance relative to the camera and the Arch, but that doesn’t change my mind that it is a drone. And the gringa warns her dear readers to be on the lookout for many more videos and hoaxes to come with drone technology becoming more and more affordable for technology enthusiasts.

Other than making interesting UFO hoax videos, what are some actual practical uses for drones? Well, for one thing, drones may very well help save the world, and the gringa’s not talking about how military personnel are already putting them to use in battle. Using them to target and kill fellow human beings is not the gringa’s idea of saving the world.

Using them as a research tool to monitor dolphin and whale populations is more what the gringa considers saving the world. And that is just what marine biologists are doing in Hawai’i. Ocean Alliance is taking advantage of how drones can monitor wildlife without intrusion by humans. With drones capable of being equipped with high resolution cameras, researchers can get close up views and real time video of what dolphin pods and whale families are doing. Even if weather is bad and ocean conditions rough, the drones can still go out and do their job when a human outing would otherwise get postponed.

Drone technology has allowed researchers to compile a more accurate catalog of whale groups and monitor their health conditions with more detailed analysis. Results from boat-based surveys simply do not compare and marine biologists are excited to go even further with drones.

Now, while some people may be excited at the thought of drones delivering pizza or their mail order of retail goods, the gringa is more excited about drone delivery of medicine to hard to reach vulnerable people around the world.

With successful deliveries to earthquake ravaged Haiti in 2012, Doctors Without Borders were inspired to test drone delivery of  a group of dummy TB test samples in remote villages in Papua New Guinea. The Mayo Clinic recently announced that drone medical delivery is poised to take off and revolutionize healthcare for people around the world where access has continued to be a problem.

So what might be the niche technology career of the future for our youth interested in STEM? Development of drone technology and drone piloting. So, don’t get left behind! Get on board to save the world with a joy-stick, a laptop and a map! That’s all you need today to be a superhero!


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Anyone Can Be A NASA Scientist

If the gringa were to attend a NASA recruitment conference, she would be sitting front and center. When the question was asked who would like to work for NASA the gringa would be the first to raise her hand and wave it like a madwoman. When the next question was asked, which would most certainly have something to do with appropriate qualifications and credentials, the gringa would then have to shamefacedly shrink into the background. No prestigious college degree here. But do all of us science fans have to live a life of utter disappointment and complete disenfranchisement of being a contributor to the world’s bank of scientific studies? The gringa is happy to announce that, no, we science buffs who, for whatever reasons, never achieved the glory of a diploma can still participate. NASA has many “citizen scientist” programs from astronomy observances to laboratory inventions of innovative technology. Take your pick. And, if you happen to live in the northeastern United States, you can be a part of a program that monitors algae blooms that develop in Lake Erie.

Your point of contact would be NASA’s senior scientist, Dr. Rafat Ansari. As the originator of the citizen science campaign, Ansari, along with airplane pilot Terry Schubert, work to mobilize citizen volunteers to monitor Lake Erie’s water quality as well as its coastline and conditions in related tributaries and waterways.

The goal of the program is to alert the coastal communities surrounding Lake Erie of conditions that contribute to algae blooms when they are in the early stages of development. Who could be a citizen scientist and participate in scientific service to their community?

  • Pilots
  • Folks handy with a GPS
  • People who can operate wing mounted, infrared cameras
  • Detail whizzes that can collate data
  • Computer savvy geeks for uploading data
  • Anyone who has a cellphone with a camera and likes to take nature walks

Who, in particular, uses the data collected from the images?

  • Students
  • Teachers
  • Researchers
  • Water quality experts
  • Legislators

What’s the point? I mean, the gringa likes to look at cool pictures and read interesting facts and trivia, but how is the data actually useful?

  • Determine quality of a community’s water source
  • Predict if fish and game need protective measure to be taken to preserve environmental integrity and their survival
  • Alert the public if water conditions are unsafe for recreational use

Why is a citizen scientist program preferred to the amazing technology of satellites in orbit? The real time factor is the main reason. It takes data about three days to travel from satellites to Earth. Then there is more time involved in disseminating the data into usable information. Citizen scientists in low flying aircraft and on the ground can provide usable information within hours. They can also obtain images at lower altitudes that escape the abilities of orbiting satellites. Volunteers can also reach areas in rivers and streams that are simply not on a satellites “radar”, so to speak.

So, if you feel the need to contribute, this is a great opportunity. Even if you are not a pilot and don’t know any pilots to partner with, if you have a cellphone with photo capability, you are sufficiently equipped to engage. If you have snorkeling or scuba gear along with an underwater camera, that, too, is an angle of participation. For more information visit the NASA page for this program. Dear readers can take their time and read all the interesting information posted and then scroll down to the bottom for contact information to begin your new adventure as a citizen scientist.

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A New Moon For A New Age

Most people think Earth’s moon is old news. However, what the public may not realize is that NASA has a rover active on the Moon, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LRO). The gringa will call the rover “Elroy” for your reading pleasure.

Elroy has a new exhibit on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. that reveals that our Moon is anything but boring. What with Mars and black holes and parallel universes getting so much attention, it’s easy for our little ol’ Moon to get lost in the mix. The gringa wants to give it some glory that is long overdue.

One thing that is interesting about the Moon is that it undergoes such frequent change. It seems to get blasted all the time by meteors and such. The images on display in the exhibit show the formation of new impact craters (kind of scary when the gringa considers its proximity to home! The Moon may very well be our shield!). Recent volcanic activity has also been detected. And, most curious of all, is evidence that the Moon’s core may be cooling which has caused it to shrink and crack the crust of the Moon’s surface.

Elroy is a busy little rover. So busy, in fact, that there are too many images for this single exhibit. So, in addition to the favorites that were selected for display, there is a large screen which projects lunar images that are updated daily.

Since 2009, in addition to a fabulous photography collection, Elroy has also collected environmental and geological data with the seven other instruments he is equipped with. Elroy’s mission is to map the entire surface of the Moon. Even the legendary “dark side” of the Moon.

You see, one reason the Moon remains so mysterious is because it has a “backside”. Yes, we never get to see the Moon’s rear-end. We always see only one physical side of the Moon. Now, this is not because the Moon hangs suspended in space and never rotates. It’s just that it has a rather peculiar rotation cycle.

Millions of years ago the Moon spun around much faster. The pull of Earth’s gravity has caused it to slow down. So much so that its rotation cycle now matches its orbit cycle.  These cycles take 27.3 Earth days. However, observed from Earth it takes 29.5 days. (Don’t expect the gringa to get into that mystery here! You can research it yourself by clicking on… Understanding the moon phases). So, since the orbit and rotation cycles are exactly matched, as the Moon travels about the Earth, at night, when we see it, the same side is always presented to Earth.

However, for serious stargazers with top-notch telescopes, you can get a peek at a sliver of the hidden aspects of the Moon. Since the Moon is not “round and flat” like a coin but is actually elliptical, like a ball, at just the right time there is a speed differential when the Moon is farthest from Earth, thereby its rotation speeds up a bit because of a little less gravity drag. This causes what scientists call a “rocking” motion and an extra nine percent of the Moon’s surface is visible. But now, thanks to Elroy, all Earthlings can see just exactly what is on the Moon’s backside which is not “dark” after all, except during the cycle of a full moon when the Earth is blocking all sunlight.

Only two years into its mission NASA declared Elroy a complete success. Over four billion measurements were used by Elroy to complete a topographical map of the entire Moon. Elroy’s instruments determined that the coldest spot in our entire solar system is right smack on the Moon. It is found inside the shadows of Hermite crater which is located near the north pole. It is a bitter minus 415 degrees Fahrenheit. The gringa hopes Elroy was wearing his mittens.

Elroy is not just taking photos and temperature readings. The rover is also looking for water deposits, such as ice, and searching for fuel resources such as hydrogen. In preparation for future manned Moon missions, environmental radiation levels are also recorded.

So, the next time you gaze up at the Moon, give Elroy a salute. He is still on the job!




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Space For Europe IS the ESA

With ESA Astronaut Tim Peake performing a spacewalk this week on the International Space Station, the gringa thinks it’s only fitting to turn the limelight toward Europe’s space agency and their long history of achievement. The European Space Agency (ESA) is to Europe what NASA is to the United States, JAXA is to Japan and Rocosmos is to Russia. ESA is comprised of 22 member states who collaborate with their financial resources and intellectual talents to provide a gateway to the stars for all of Europe. Members are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia all make their own contributions as well through contractual agreements of cooperation.

The goals of the ESA are to discover more about Earth and its surrounding Solar System, as well as the entire Universe. These goals are met while at the same time promoting development of European technologies and sharing these with the world’s other space agencies.

Paris is the location of ESA headquarters. Germany is where ESA’s Astronaut Centre and Space Operations Centre are located. Astronomy Centres are found in Canada and Spain with the Earth Observation centre in Italy. The UK houses the centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications and launch bases are scattered throughout Belgium, the U.S.A., Russia and French Guiana. It can be rather dizzying with all of these operational centres spread all over the world. So, to keep things simple, because the gringa likes simple, for more information about ESA, simply go to their website,, or drop them a line or pick up the phone:

Communication Department
European Space Agency
8-10 rue Mario Nikis
75738 Paris
Cedex 15

Tel: + 33 1 5369 7155
Fax: + 33 1 5369 7690

ESA desires to explore space for peaceful purposes. While doing this it wants Europeans to benefit economic growth from the support services required to travel to the stars. Since its conception over thirty years ago, ESA has focused on long-term goals that are adaptable to a world that changes rapidly. The gringa wishes to highlight just a smattering of successful ESA missions:

  • ESRO-4, 1972: The ESRO-4 (European Space Research Organisation) satellite carried five experiments concentrating on Earth’s ionosphere, atmosphere, radiation belts and penetration of solar particle radiation into the magnetosphere. It was launched on 22 November 1972, on a NASA Scout rocket from the Western Test Range in California, and reentered Earth’s atmosphere after a successful mission on 15 April 1974.
  • 1977-2002 Mission Meteosat: launched multiple weather satellites
  • 1979 Mission Ariane: first launch of commercial launcher to secure Europe’s independent space access
  • 1983 Mission Spacelab: launched laboratory module for NASA’s Space Shuttle
  • 1985 Mission Giotto: intercept of Halley’s Comet and Comet Grigg-Skjellerup
  • 1990 Mission Hubble Space Telescope: ESA contribution of solar arrays and Faint Object Camera for Hubble Space Telescope
  • 1998 Mission ARD: launch of first European experimental re-entry vehicle
  • 2003 Mission Mars Express: launch of Europe’s first Red Planet orbiter
  • 2005 Mission Venus Express: launch of Europe’s first Venus orbiter
  • 2008-2012 Mission ATV: launch space truck for ISS re-supply
  • 2015 Mission Lisa Pathfinder: launch of technology to detect gravitational waves

Which brings the gringa to the current ESA Mission, “Principia”.  This six month mission is named after Isaac Newton’s book on physics, “Naturalis Principia Mathematica”. Peake’s mission objectives are to maintain the weightless research laboratory, conduct over thirty scientific experiments, and perform a spacewalk with fellow crewman Astronaut Tim Kopra, working together to replace a Solar Shunt Unit.

Preparing for the spacewalk involves breathing pure oxygen for two hours (to purge nitrogen) before embarking. Once spacesuits are donned, the astronauts enter an airlock where air pressure is gradually reduced until they can safely exit the ISS.

Upon successful completion of Mission Principia, ESA will then turn its attention and efforts to the next scheduled mission, Mission Exomars. Later on this year ESA will launch a Mars orbiter, rover and surface platform to the Red Planet. The gringa is so excited! To Mars! To Mars!


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