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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A One Way Ticket To Tomorrow – Time Travel

Ever really screwed things up and wanted a do-over? Yeah, the gringa does that all the time. That’s what makes time travel so appealing. But is it possible? Theoretically, sure it’s possible, but only if you want to see the future. To start the day all over again in order to get it right the second time around means travelling faster than light and that, theoretically, is impossible. But, actually, that’s good news. That means a spiteful ex can’t travel back in time and take out your grandfather, thus wiping out your future existence. It also means that adventurers who travel to the future have to stay there (maybe). For a trip to tomorrow, it’s actually relatively easy, according to scientific formulas (although no one’s actually done it yet, I think).

You see, if a person hopped on board their spaceship and zipped away into the cosmos at even a fraction of lightspeed, for a journey of say a year or two, they would return to an Earth that had aged perhaps by decades. So, technically, the galactic pioneers traveled to the future. But Einstein offered another option to travel to the future in the blink of an eye, wormholes.

A wormhole is a time tunnel that connects different parts of the universe. By using the wormhole as a direct route across the universe, rather than taking the long route of flying through the curved mass of space, a person would emerge, within moments, in a completely different time zone, perhaps an entire era altogether, hundreds of years in the future. The furthest a person could then go back in time would be to simply use the wormhole to return to the point they started from. However, a Caltech physicist by the name of Kip Thorne believes that quantum theory suggests that once a person traveled through a wormhole it would collapse behind them. A wormhole to the future might be a one way ticket to tomorrow.

So, if you want to have a time traveling adventure, you just have to find a wormhole. Or go to China. Yep. That’s what the gringa said. Go to China. Interesting reports have been in the news for a few years now about a time travel tunnel in China. Located in Guizhou Province, time travelers can break all the rules and travel back in time. You don’t even need a spaceship. You can use the ancient technology of cars.

It only takes, technically, about five minutes to travel the 400 meter length of the tunnel. However, when drivers emerge on the other side of the tunnel their electronic devices indicate that they have traveled back in time about one hour. However, time is a jealous mistress. It seems to not appreciate being lost and chases down evaders like a jilted lover turned crazed stalker. Once people travel some distance from the tunnel their lost hour catches up with them.

What the heck is happening here? It’s a mystery. One that is absolutely adored by science fiction fans, conspiracy theorists and alien abduction proponents. However, China is not a fan of wacky explanations. They have offered a few boring theories as to why this is happening:

  • A transmitter in the tunnel is resetting everyone’s electronic clocks which reset once again when they receive new GPS signals from a different transmitter after emerging from the tunnel.
  • A localized magnetic anomaly messing about with electronic devices

The gringa doesn’t really care why. It seems harmless and loads of fun. The gringa would like to go back and forth several times, perhaps hundreds of times, maybe thousands just to see what might happen. Maybe I’ll lose a wrinkle or two.




Amazing Italy, From Art to Astronauts

My cosmic sister, Bea, hails from Italy and therefore has a special interest in the Italian Space Agency (ASI, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana). So, the gringa dedicates this post to Bea.

Since its inception in 1988, ASI has consistently made significant contributions to space technology development. ASI is part of the European Space Agency (ESA) and works closely with NASA as well. Italy has been, and will continue to be, a key player in the international space exploration community. Whether it is technology that gets a manned mission to Mars or technology that helps Earth observers intervene to prevent or respond to environmental disasters, the world can all extend a “brava” to Italy.

Italy has three active space centers. Ten kilometers east of Matera is ASI’s “Space Geodesy Center”, which opened for business in 1983. Earth observation and imaging is the primary mission of the programs at work at SGC. The “Luigi Broglio” Space Center, in operation since the 1960’s, is located on the coast of the Indian Ocean near Malindi, Kenya. It has an Earth segment base and an ocean segment base which launch and control satellites. The center that manages and analyzes all collected scientific data (ASDC) can be found at ASI headquarters in Rome. Not only is data analyzed here but mission monitoring is also conducted at this center.

The primary missions Italy’s has high involvement with are:

  • Created Multi-Purpose Logistic Modules (MPLM) Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello for transporting scientific research necessities to the International Space Station (ISS)
  • Space Habitability – March 2001, Italy became the 3rd nation to launch an element integrated into the ISS, the logistics module “Leonardo”
  • Life Sciences – Biotechnology research to improve knowledge of: the aging process and effective countermeasures, immunology, technologies to enable the colonization of space by humans, therapeutic studies for improving the quality of life for all humanity
  • Bioregenerative Environmental Control Project (CAB) – to put it in plain English, gringa language, scientists learn how to recycle and repurpose just about everything into something useful such as: plant based life support system, water purification through transpiration, space greenhouses, etc.
  • Motor and Cardiorespiratory Control Disturbances Project (DCMC) is a program with the goal of improving the quality of life for people who suffer from neuromotor and cardiorespiratory disabilities.
  • Osteoporosis and Muscular Atrophy Project (OSMA) is of particular interest because of how conditions of reduced gravity cause these debilitations, that are typically linked with aging, to affect young, healthy, physically fit astronauts. The research goal is to understand how gravity controls the functions of bone and muscle.
  • Bed-Rest is a study that simulates the effects of zero gravity by having volunteers stay in bed for 7-120 days in a head-down position so that studies of the cardiovascular and renal systems can be conducted.
  • Earth observation and telecommunication with satellites: Miosat, PRISMA, ROSA, COSMO-SkyMed, PRIMI, and COPERNICUS
  • High Energy Astrophysics study is an Italian only programme that conducts research on the most violent space phenomena that occurs throughout the Universe. Satellites involved in this programmed: GLAST/Fermi, SIMBOL-X, SWIFT, PAMELA, INTEGRAL, AMS, AGILE
  • Cosmology and Fundamental Physics programme studies the evolution of the Universe. Satellites involved in the programme: BOOMERANG, GAIA, EUCLID, GALILEO GALILEI, HERSCHEL, LARES, Olimpo, Planck, Plato, Lisa Pathfinder

Lisa Pathfinder is the most recent success of Italy’s space agency that has made worldwide headline news. Lisa’s purpose is to detect gravitational waves in space. Italy designed the overall architecture of Lisa and is managing the project with the cooperation of Italy’s National Institute of Physics as well as ESA partners.

Lisa launched successfully last month and will lock into its final orbit around mid-February. This is phase one of the future construction of a space observatory that will continue studies of gravitational waves. Project completion is expected to be around the end of 2034. Italian scientists are beside themselves with pride that finally, after Einstein published his theory of general relativity over a century ago, the search for gravitational waves has, at last, begun, thanks, in huge part, to Italy.

And what else does the world have to look forward to from Italy? Of course, the gringa’s favorite space subject, GETTING TO MARS! Italy boasts leadership of both phases of ESA’s two phase EXOMars mission. In 2016 a probe will launch to orbit Mars and study methane and other gases as well as attempt to detect any presence of life. Later, in 2018, a rover will land on Mars and begin analysis of the soil. One more objective is to study any possible risks for future manned missions.

So, Italian suits, Italian shoes, Sophia Loren, Galileo, Michelangelo, and… astronauts, scientists, researchers, technology mavens. THAT IS AMAZING, ITALY!

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Alice & Albert

Could it really be that it’s been one hundred years since Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity? The science community refers to Albert so often, I often feel as if he graced this earth just yesterday. But, indeed, November is the one hundred year anniversary of his publication of this theory.

Even though the gringa has heard many times someone say “the theory of relativity”, um, what the heck does it really mean? I mean, how the heck can it be used for something useful or even for something interesting or fun?  Well, this is the basis for all the time-warp fodder for great (or even lousy) literary works of science fiction, which the gringa loves, even the “lousy” ones.

The first time Albert’s theory was successfully put to the test in real life was during the observation of a solar eclipse. A prediction was made, based on the theory, of how much “bended” light would be deflected when a particular star passed near the sun. The theory supposed that the sun’s mass would cause the light of the star to bend. And the prediction, based on Albert’s theory, was spot on.

So? Now what? Thus became the  established phenomena that is known as “gravitational lensing”. Astronomers now know that this appearance of bended light is not an optical illusion but something that actually happens. This allows astronomers a method to delve into galaxies that would otherwise be off limits for research even with humanity’s most powerful telescopes.

One such galaxy that fits this description is commonly called the “Cheshire Cat” galaxy because it’s appearance reminds one of that particular elusive character from the “Alice In Wonderland” story.  What exactly causes the smiley face? Well, the theory explains that these are distant galaxies whose light is stretched and then bent by objects of great mass which are most likely made up of dark matter. Why dark matter? Well, since no large mass objects are visible but the evidence of their presence is there in the bent light, the mass must then exist in the form of  invisible dark matter.

Scientists claim that there are six galaxies that make up the outer space smiley face. Each eye and the nose are individual galaxies and there are four other galaxies that create the arcs which are bent light created by gravitational lensing by some mysterious dark matter object with great mass. Scientists view the “Cheshire Cat” through NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The eye galaxies are the brightest and are zipping through space on a collision course with one another at over 300,000 miles per hour. NASA uses the Chandra X-ray Observatory to determine that hot gas, millions of degrees Fahrenheit, is the evidence that these galaxies are indeed colliding. And that’s not all the mayhem that the “Cheshire Cat” is out and about doing. Aside from the bumper car routine,  the cat’s left eye has a very hungry supermassive black hole right at its center which is gobbling up all sorts of things.

Astronomers classify this cluster of galaxies as a fossil group. A fossil group has a dominant elliptical galaxy surrounded by smaller galaxies. Fossil groups are considered to be just one stage that almost all galaxy groups go through as they evolve. Perhaps it’s kind of like the teenage years for galaxies. Horrible driving and collisions and they eat everyone out of house and home.

So, once it grows up a bit, then, what’s the next stage? That would be the Cyclops group, when they merge into one mega-galaxy. Yeah, the gringa thinks that sounds about right. Just like a teenager then develops into  a mature senior who gets a bit fat and needs reading glasses.  But it will probably take a billion years or so. Looks like we will be enjoying the smiley face for a long time to come.

If any of the gringa’s dear readers happen to be passing through Huntsville, Alabama, they can check in at Marshall Space Flight Center. That’s headquarters for the Chandra program that studies the “Cheshire Cat”. Or, even better, if you find yourself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, see if you can take a peek at the cat yourself. That’s where you’ll find The Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory that controls the Chandra program’s science and flight operations.


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1940 Nationality Act – Hypocrisy and Double Standards

In the late 1930’s the United States was once again scratching away at the parchment writing out the legal parameters of the Nationality Act of 1940. The problematic parts of the legislation are certiain conditions that, if not met, a person’s citizenship “automatically expires”, with no due process.

What was going on in the country that had lawmakers going to such efforts as to write new laws? With the country in the throes of the Great Depression, its economic effects rippled throughout the world. People from other countries did not have the means to emigrate. Also, because of the restrictive immigrant laws of 1924, many immigrants had been deported. As the threat of a second World War intensified throughout Europe, refugees began to challenge America’s restrictive immigration policies, although rarely successful. The gringa wants to know the facts. Digging a little deeper is required.

By the 1930’s, the religious landscape of the nation had changed. America has been historically viewed as a nation founded by, created by and governed by Christians. By the year 1930, however, the population of Jews outnumbered the ranks of the Episcopalians and Presbyterians combined. Eastern European Judaism was the predominant Jewish culture in the U.S. They assimilated into American culture but designed community programs in order to maintain their distinctly Jewish heritage. Despite their “Americanism”, many schools and colleges blatantly discriminated against Jews. With public figures like Henry Ford openly criticizing the patriotism and character of America’s Jewish population, it’s no surprise that violence was commonly visited upon Jews during this period of U.S. history.

America was becoming infatuated with it’s own national identity. Folk culture became popularized with the Library of Congress even beginning to collect American folk songs. American intellectuals churned out thoughtful manifestos such as “I’ll Take My Stand”, by the Southern Agrarians who desired a return to the simple way of life of agriculture. In direct contrast was Lewis Mumford’s “Technics and Civilization” which was more forward focused on developing technology to advance U.S. capitalism through a new age of modernism.

Such modernist ideas were reflected in the architecture and art of the 1930’s. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York made it clear to the world that America wanted to leave behind the anorexic economy of the Great Depression and this would happen through the development of “the world of tomorrow”. This “world of tomorrow” was pictorialized in America cinema and television shows of the era. This was the birth of the superhero, like Superman and the Lone Ranger. Hollywood also played a critical role in producing forms of entertainment that also served as propaganda to lift American spirits out of the defeatist spirit of the Great Depression. This was when the world was introduced to an American original comedy genre, slapstick and screwball. The financial disaster of the Great Depression gave way to fantasy and longings for a modern, futuristic world.

The nation’s economic solution for the people’s relief from the suffering of the Great Depression was the New Deal. This was not specifically a cure, but more of a stabilizing plan. This would enable people to get their feet back under them so they could focus on what Americans do best, make money. Because social and economic salvation came through the government, American perspective toward the government began to change. Americans who previously were suspicious of too much government control and power were now more inclined to believe that the intentions of Big Brother had the citizens’ best interest at heart.

As people in the United States are looking forward, the Japanese are looking back. After years of chafing at the political insults America meted out to Japan through immigration policies, on December 29, 1934, Japan renounced the Washington Naval Treaty it had entered into with America in 1922.

Five years later, 1939, Germany invades Poland. After a year of appeasement fails, aggression by Nazi Germany begins the Second World War. September 5th of that same year, the United States declares its neutrality. The U.S. had complete confidence in its isolationist position because by that time we already had the A-bomb thanks to refugee Albert Einstein that America welcomed to its shores in 1933 as he fled from the Nazis. And thus begins a flood of European immigrants seeking to escape the horrors of war which inspired the nation, known as the great hope of the hopeless, to once again reveal its true capitalist colors and reform the nation’s immigration and citizenship policies with the 1940 Nationality Act.

Section 201 of this act declares citizenship at birth for any child born outside the U.S. of at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen. This parent must have lived within the U.S. or any of its territories for a minimum of ten years, with at least five of those years being after the age of sixteen years. In order for the child to maintain U.S. citizenship status the child must live within the U.S. or any of its territories for five years between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one years. These, of course, being the formative years of primary education and higher education. The nation wanted assurance that during those critical years the child was in the U.S. being indoctrinated with educational propaganda in the public schools in order to shape the mind of the child into a good patriot. If these residential conditions are not met, the child’s U.S. citizenship automatically expires without due process.

Section 401 contains wording that provides for the revocation of U.S. citizenship if a person votes in a political election of another country. This particular requirement created legal challenges that resulted in inconsistent action by the U.S.

In 1958, U.S. district courts ruled in Perez v. Brownell. Clement Martinez Perez was a U.S. citizen born in El Paso, Texas who traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico, residing in either country for extended periods of time. At some point he voted in a Mexican election. Perez lost his U.S. citizenship based on the court’s finding that Congress can revoke citizenship regardless if the action qualifying for the loss of citizenship is intentional or unintentional. The Supreme Court upheld the decision based on the Necessary and Proper Clause of Art. 1, 8, clause 18 of the Federal Constitution which states that voting in a foreign political election means a withdrawal of U.S. citizenship. The purpose of this clause is so that the U.S. can avoid international embarrassment by Americans getting involved in foreign affairs.

Nine years later the United States reverses its position. Beys Afroyim, who arrived in the U.S. in 1912, a Polish immigrant, and was naturalized in 1926, also became an Israeli citizen in 1950. He voted in six separate Israeli elections. He applied with the U.S. Consulate in Israel for an American passport. At first he was refused based on the same legal position attached to Perez in 1958. Taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court, the judge determined that Afroyim had not shown intent to lose his citizenship when he participated in Israeli elections. However, this was a direct contradiction to the published court opinion of the Perez case.

Due to the country’s special relationship with the nation of Israel, Americans can hold dual citizenship here and in Israel. That is not the case with Mexico. The gringa suspects the reasoning behind the special relationship with Israel is founded in religion and guilt.

Proof of the nation’s guilty conscience resonates in the words of President Truman after the war, “I urge the Congress to turn its attention to this world problem in an effort to find ways whereby we can fulfill our responsibilities to these thousands of homeless and suffering refugees of all faiths.” Now, if guilt is the reason for the special relationship between Israel and America, the gringa is okay with that. After all the United States should have a guilty conscience for not opening the immigration gates for the lambs who were trying to escape the slaughter.

However, if religion is the basis for this international special relationship, the gringa says, “We gots us a problem.” According to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” If religion is the basis for a special relationship between the United States and Israel, resulting in laws being applied in a prejudicial fashion between Americans of different ethnicities, I believe that is some pretty clear evidence of racism as well as a violation of the spirit of the Constitution.

The gringa thinks the District Court of 1958 and the Supreme Court of 1967 has got some splainin’ to do because it seems America’s “world of tomorrow” was one of racial double standards.


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