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

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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

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

Sparky & Boot, The Greatest Heroes of All Time


Although the gringa doesn’t often write about dogs, there is, indeed, a very soft space in my heart for them. In fact, I love them with all of my heart. I think dogs are just grand. In fact, in my own life I consider a dog named Sparky to be a hero. Alone on a rural farm with my oldest son who was about 5 years old at the time, Sparky took a bullet while keeping out an intruder. The gringa’s dear readers can only imagine how that dog lived a life fit for a king the rest of his days, even if he was left with one paw that resembled a flipper as a result of his wounds.

That being said, and after the gringa regained her composure and was able to type once again, I am moved to share the story of Boot.  He was the only retriever in a company of twenty military service dogs comprised of German Shepherds and Dobermans. Serving aboard an attack boat, he landed on the shores of enemy territory in Japan during World War II.

Trained at Camp Pendleton in California, Boot was actually the pet of a Sergeant and soon earned a reputation as playful, friendly and a bit of a character. When the ship was asea, the War Dogs were housed in kennels. Boot, however, got special privileges as a pet. He enjoyed more freedom as an on-board mascot and liked to cruise the decks, sneaking up behind unsuspecting sailors and grabbing their arms from off the railings. When forces landed at Iwo Jima, Boot was part of the invasion force and his later unexpected performance in battle made headlines in local papers.

The story goes that a Lieutenant arrived at camp and requested a War Dog to flush out some enemies forces who were hiding out in nearby caves. The Sergeant explained that all the War Dogs were currently out on duty and he would have to wait until their return. Noticing Boot, the Lieutenant asked why he could not be deployed. The Sergeant explained that, despite the fact that he had been fully trained as a War Dog, he was actually a pet, the troop’s mascot, but, since he knew all the battle commands, the Lieutenant could take him and give it a shot. The Lieutenant did just that and Boot was successful at clearing out three caves that were being held by enemy forces.

Because of Boot’s heroic actions, U.S. Marines were able to advance their battle line. Once Boot returned home, his fame followed him. He and his Sergeant made a guest appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The nation’s very first Marine War Dog Training School was at Quantico Bay. It opened in January, 1943 under the command of Captain Samuel T. Brick. Fourteen Doberman Pinschers and a single Boxer were the first recruits. The Boxer, named Fritz, was the first dog sworn in as part of the Marine Corp. By the time Boot joined the Marine Corp, the United States had several War Dog training camps, including the one he attended at California’s Camp Pendleton.

When training began, War Dog recruits were ranked as Privates. Within three months successful recruits became Private First Class. Corporal rank was achieved at one year, Sergeant at two years and Platoon Sergeant at three years. Four year War Dog veterans became Gunner Sergeants and one year later they promoted to Master Gunner Sergeant. It was not uncommon for a War Dog to have a higher rank than their handler who might be fresh out of boot camp.

As the gringa envisions Boot fearlessly chasing the enemies in the close confines of the caves, she is taken back in her memory to the day Sparky took a bullet. He started out as a stray taken in as a pup. The gringa can’t count the number of times he tore up the fence and caused any number of problems. At one time the man of the house became so frustrated that he ordered the gringa to “take that dog to the pound”. The gringa obediently loaded Sparky up into the car the next day, drove to the pound, read the documents that required a signature releasing the dog for euthanasia in the event an adoption never happened, then burst into tears and loaded that darn dog back into the car and returned home.

When the man of the house returned and growled, “I thought I told you to take that dog to the pound.” The gringa calmly replied, “I did. You didn’t say anything about leaving him there.” And that was that. Although one would have never known from all the trouble he caused as a one year old spunky pup, that darn dog grew up to become the most amazing dog the gringa has ever known.

We lived on a farm and had loads of chickens. That came about because the gringa had the bright idea of becoming a chicken farmer. What wasn’t expected was that when it came time to sell hens to become roasters on family tables or roosters that might end up in a soup pot or illicit cockfighting ring, the gringa could not bear to destine the little creatures to such a fate. So, the chicken farm became an egg farm and rooster bachelor haven. It also became the hub for local chicken hawks looking to score an easy meal.

Although Sparky had no training whatsoever, it did not take him long to realize that the chickens were part of the family and he became their self-appointed protector. He would go bananas barking and lunging upward as far as he could, threatening chicken hawks that seemed to be miles away in the sky. If the chickens got too spread out as they foraged, he would herd them closer to the barn where they could skedaddle to safety if a chicken hawk showed up.

Sparky wasn’t our only dog on the farm. Living out in the country meant that it was not uncommon for people to dump an unwanted dog, expecting it to somehow revert to its wild nature and survive alone. We also had Dot, a dumped deaf Dalmatian, Trixie, a golden chow the man of the house found as a homeless golden puffball that the gringa relentlessly shaved down to the skin all year round, and Scooby, a fat black retriever looking thing who revealed an amazing rapid weight loss overnight which caused us to realize that she was only fat because she was pregnant. So then we had 6 more dogs on our hands, which we eventually found homes for.

Out of all of these dogs who had a grand farm dog life, Sparky was the only one who exhibited remarkable intelligence. The others were all fine dogs in their own respects but there is no doubt that Sparky alone stood out as a hero.

For instance, there was the day a neighbor moved in about 5 acres over. She was a single woman who, the gringa believes, must have had a very tragic story. She was not just reclusive but obsessed with security. She installed an electrified security fence that was 8-10’ tall around her house. If that weren’t enough she put in a small shooting range and was outside all the time practicing her marksmanship with her pistols. Then she got some dogs. And not just any dogs.

You see, we lived on the flatland prairie north of Dallas at that time. A person could step outside and practically see for miles. And sound carried even further. It didn’t take too many trips to the barn before the gringa witnessed the new neighbor outside her secure perimeter with four full-grown German Shepherds and a professional handler in a protective suit training the dogs to attack. I tell ya, the gringa went from thinking she had a recovering victim next door to considering a full-fledged, dangerous lunatic was near at hand.

After weeks of training, the handler no longer came. The neighbor, however, continued to take the dogs outside the security fence and work with them on the open prairie. Her confidence in controlling them was misplaced.

One day, while I was outside working and our oldest son was doing his thing on the swingset, the gringa could hear the whistles and commands that indicated the nut next door was working with her dogs. Soon her tone of voice changed. The gringa heard crazy barking and turned to see her pack of attack dogs high-tailing it across the fields, making a bee-line for me and mine. I threw down my feed buckets, ran and scooped up my son, threw him through the back door of the house then hoped I had time to lock the gate on the pen to the barn where my donkeys were happily munching away on some fresh hay I had just laid out. I gave the chickens up for dead and started calling the dogs to me.

I locked up the pen and headed back for the house eyeing the distance that was quickly closing between me and the German Shepherds. I realized I had to make a decision. I might not even have time to make it into the house myself, there was no way to even attempt penning up my dogs. All of them were outside dogs, housed in the barn at night and during bad weather. These unmannered barn dogs were all going to have to go in the house with me. I didn’t care and they were more than happy to follow and see what the mystery was all about in this one structure they had never been allowed to explore.

As I turned to close and lock the patio door, seeing the German Shepherds lunge through the gap between barbed wire strands of our fence I realized that Sparky was still out on the deck barking like a maniac at the intruders. I called and called but he ignored me and stood his ground. In the midst of the chaos and fear it took some time before I realized that his refusal to obey me was because, in the confusion, Trixie, still quite young, had run under the deck instead of into the house. I could see her trembling in the gaps between the wooden steps. He was protecting her. Crap. Now what does the gringa do?

The gringa instructs her 5-year-old son to man the back door. The gringa runs to the front door on the other side of the house, slips out and under the porch, belly crawls under the house, grabs Trixie, crawls back to the front, puppy in tow, still listening to the ruckus Sparky is making, hoping he survives but grateful for the distraction so I can safely rescue Trixie. By now I can hear the shouts from my neighbor who has obviously been making her way across the pasture to get her crazed dog pack.

I get back in the house, dump Trixie and load my shotgun with birdshot. I get my son out of the way who has been cheering Sparky but then suddenly becomes very serious when he sees his dirty, cobweb covered mother with an enormous gun in her hand (and most likely a very mean, murderous gleam in her eye).

I walk out beside Sparky and yell at the dogs to get. They go bananas, even crazier, and the gringa is pretty sure that she has just poured gasoline onto a fire. I don’t dare touch Sparky and try to drag him in the house. He is so pissed he might just bite me. The German Shepherds are not listening to their master as she uses her stupid dog whistle from the other side of the fence. Finally, the gringa makes her most critical decision. I maneuver over to the side of the deck slowly and land a blast of birdshot on the behind of the dog in the most unfortunate position of the outside of the pack. I never in my life thought a dog could jump straight up like a cat. However, when they are shot with birdshot in the backside, they do.

For a split second everything was quiet. We were all in shock. It was like the dogs were saying, “Did she just shoot one of us?” And Sparky was thinking, “What should I do next?” And then it was all chaos again. The neighbor lady was about to stroke out in her madness that I had just shot one of her dogs, not realizing it was only a flesh wound. One of her dogs was wailing in pain, the others were circling the deck, eyeing the steps as they prepared to rip me apart, and the gringa took advantage of Sparky’s momentary lapse back into reason to grab his collar and back up to the door. Thankfully my son was still performing his door duty because it promptly opened when my own backside struck it.

When the man of the house returned home from work, true to 5-year-old form, our son streaked right out the door and before his father could set one foot out of his truck, he promptly tattled on his mother and said, “Mom shot the neighbor’s dog today.”

And who knows, Sparky’s future injury may have very well been payback. The gringa will never know. All she does know is that it was afternoon naptime for her and a very grubby 6-year-old boy about six months after the gringa shot the neighbor’s dog. We had been sound asleep for about one hour when there came a strange, repeating pound on the front door accompanied by whines and yips. Dog sounds, yes, but not the usual dog sounds our little pack made.

I went to the front door and found Scooby and Dot jumping up on the door and the side of the house in distress. Scooby, like a retriever, took my hand in her mouth and tugged. Dot just made circles and strange yipping sounds. I followed, puzzled. They led me to the front gate of our driveway that was about the length of a football field. It couldn’t be seen from the house because of a cluster of trees that surrounded a small watering hole directly in front of the house. When I got to the gate there sat Sparky, shivering in pain and shock as Trixie comforted him by licking his wounded paw that would become a flipper after removing all the pieces of shattered bone in order to avoid amputating the whole darn leg.

I rushed Sparky to the vet not knowing exactly what had happened. I wouldn’t learn the truth until I talked to our other neighbor. He was a horse trainer and almost always outside working on his property which was across the road from me. He only noticed what happened after he heard the shot. He saw a person, too far away for any other details, running down the road and eventually out of sight. By the time he had put up his horses and come over to check on us we were already at the vet’s office. He said he saw the enormous cloud of dust I left behind as I drove like a  bat out of you know where.

When the vet found out that Sparky had been injured in the line of duty, he was very impressed. He knew that saving Sparky was going to be very expensive and that the gringa was not made of money. He offered to save Sparky for free if I would let him keep my hero dog. The gringa said no thank you, that a certain little boy would never forgive me for such a betrayal, and chose to max out a credit card instead.

Despite my own notoriety with a shotgun, it was really Sparky’s fame that ended up stretching far and wide throughout the local high school. When he reached the end of his days at 17-years-old and the appointment was made with the veterinarian to ease his passing, for three days high school students that were classmates and friends with our children made their way over for one last visit with Sparky. You see, since our kids were school age, Sparky faithfully made the morning and afternoon pick-up and drop-off trips to the school. Often he was hanging out the window, mooching a scratch from any passerby. Everyone knew Sparky, the dog with a limping flipper who was a hero. And now the gringa is crying again.

Sources:

www.uswardogs.org

k9history.com

 

A Eureka Moment


The gringa thinks one of the coolest places to be would be sitting next to a scientist when a new discovery is made. Despite cartoons and caricatures that use the word, “Eureka!” the gringa thinks it’s more likely that a scientist would exclaim, “What the heck is that?!” And that seems to be exactly the case with some marine biologists who were observing the mysterious depths of the Pacific Ocean.

Using a robotic camera to explore the sea surrounding the Channel Islands off California’s coastline an unusual purple orb came into view and one scientist proclaimed, “I’m stumped!” Watch below and experience what it’s like to be a scientist who has no idea what it is that you have just discovered:

After successfully retrieving the mystery blob with a robotic arm using a remote suction device, the researchers brought the blob on board their vessel for further research. However, they are still at a loss as to what it is. Here are a couple of ideas of what it could possibly be:

Giant Japanese Spider Crab Egg Sac

Giant Japanese spider crabs have eight extremely long legs that can span 10-12 feet from the tip of one leg to the tip of the opposing one. Although its legs are enormous, its body is barely over one foot in diameter. Its scientific name, Macrocheira kampfaeri, uses the Greek “makros” (big/long) and “cheir” (hands/arms). Seems completely appropriate. In Japanese, if the gringa saw one of these, she would scream, “AAARGH! TAKA-ASHI-GANI!!!!”. No, that’ not Japanese for “scariest sea monster ever”. It means “tall legs crab”. With all that body armor a giant Japanese spider crab can weigh almost 45 pounds. For seafood lovers, don’t get excited. There’s really not much there to make a meal off of, most of the weight being the exoskeleton.

To see one up close you can visit a few aquariums that house their own crabby celebrities:

As these crabs grow and mature they regularly shed their exoskeletons just like how a snake sheds its skin. The wriggle around until the shell splits then back out of it. Watch the video below to see a giant Japanese spider crab go through the molting process:

As my dear readers can see in the above video giant Japanese spider crabs like to eat smaller crabs as well as shrimp, dead fish and even plants and algae. They’ll eat just about anything. They can live about 50-100 years. During that time they can also have lots of giant Japanese spider crab babies.

When these crabs get frisky they go very deep, probably as a means to provide a safer place for their eggs. Now, since crab experts know that the mom carries her eggs around until they hatch, the gringa suspects the scientists that saw the purple blob and thought it could possibly be a spider crab egg sac were just so excited that they spoke before they thought. Especially since there were spider crabs skittering around all over the place and one seeming to be a bit protective when the camera got a bit too close.

Pleurobranch

So, ruling out the giant Japanese spider crab egg sac as a possibility, the scientists also wonder if it might be a member of the pleurobranch family, or, to put it simply, a sea slug or sea cucumber. Sea slugs come in all shapes, sizes, colors and crazy imitations of surrounding oceanic critters and “stuff”. Take a look at the images below:

sea_slug6

So, considering how crazy the above sea slugs look, it’s quite possible the purple blob is a cousin.

So, for now, the purple blob remains a mystery and most definitely not a spider crab egg sac but maybe a sea slug (or an extra terrestrial for all you science fiction fans!).

Source:

ipfactly.com

Image Sources:

canadajournal.net

a-z-animals.com

Jens Petersen, Dino Sassi, Marcel Fayon, Mehrdad

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