Celebrating another stable orbit


As we move into the new year on the Gregorian calendar, it’s interesting to note a couple of achievements in space exploration that recently took place.

(Incidentally, the Lunar New Year is the beginning of a year whose months are coordinated by the cycles of the moon. Chinese New Year 2019 begins on February 5—it’s the year of the Pig.)


first photo of Ultima Thule

In a first, just at the close of the old year, NASA—our civilian space agency that sometimes conducts military missions—confirmed that their New Horizons spacecraft explored Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule, marking the first encounter with a celestial body this distance from the earth, and possibly the oldest space object ever explored.

Another first, just at the beginning of the new year, the China National Space Administration (CNSA)—a military agency that sometimes conducts civilian missions—landed the first space vehicle on the dark, or lunar farside, of the moon. It’s quite an achievement that will hopefully spur additional efforts. This side of the moon is blocked from direct communication with the earth, requiring a relay satellite for the lander to send data and receive commands. This unique position also blocks Electromagnetic interference (EMI), also called radio-frequency interference (RFI), offering a potentially pristine opportunity for deep space exploration if devices can be positioned to take advantage of this position while still being able to effectively communication with earth.

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China’s Chang’e 4 probe

From Space.com:

It takes the moon about the same amount of time to spin once on its axis as it does for the natural satellite to orbit the Earth: 27.3 days. Because of this “tidal locking,” we only ever see one face of the moon, which we call the near side.

The PBS NewsHour Science Correspondent, Miles O’Brien, offered interesting insight on this achievement.

While we are marking the transition of a year:

The Ten Best Science Books of 2018 according to Smithsonian magazine: These titles explore the wide-ranging implications of new discoveries and experiments, while grounding them in historical context.

Nine science stories to watch in 2019 according to the Los Angeles Times.

Stories likely to make headlines in 2019 according to Science.

Short Mindful, Benefits

A couple of recent studies about mindfulness meditation suggest “even a very small ‘dose’ can have beneficial effects in individuals with very little or no practice.” Meaning that even people who don’t meditate regularly can benefit from even one short session of mindfulness meditation.ocean-stone-pyramid-on-beach-fotolia_94897402_subscription_monthly_m.jpg

The suggestion is not that short, irregular meditation is preferable but that any meditation can be a benefit. There are also previous studies that point to the benefits of regular meditation.

I’m not regular enough about when I do it, but I try to be consistent about inserting meditative moments throughout my day. Some of the best practices start with sincere intention that build on even occasional meditation sessions.

Set an intention to make an opportunity to meditate soon! An audio of a guided meditation session might be a real asset to you. The version that works best can be a personal preference, so try a few out—you can find them through a web search, or in your online audio file source (like iTunes) including podcast sources, or even in app stores.

Read the full study.

Spider Might Civility?

spider-mite-webMy juniper bushes got spider mites, suddenly and extensively. They came seemingly out of nowhere and made a significant stand, claiming wide real estate over a number of the ornamentals lining the fence between us and the neighbors.

Spider mites are not true insects but a type of arachnid, relatives of spiders, ticks and scorpions, that can seriously suck the life force out of a plant. I knew I needed to act fast.  Having long been oriented to organic gardening, I was clear I didn’t want to spray a heavy miticide chemical, but I also knew that I had to intervene as each day seemed to bring a widening incursion.

After reading more on the issue, it was thought-provoking to note that spider mites often become a problem (or worsen) after broad-spectrum insecticides are sprayed since those applications kill off beneficial insects like wasps and other mites (like the western predatory mite) that naturally feed on spider mites. Over all, it’s best just to knock down the population of the spider mites and allow their population to be balanced by the common insect predators that limit pests—the “beneficials.”  It’s not an uncommon technique to introduce more or different beneficial insects to expand their population in the garden.

Integrated pest management, or IPM, is a process used to solve pest problems while minimizing risks to people and the environment. I’ve found such an approach very effective over the years. You can read about the approach from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Do what is needed to help resolve the problem, but strive to avoid making it worse—the gardener’s version of “do no harm.” And by all means, don’t kill off the beneficials, because without them the infestation only gets worse or rebounds quickly.

This got me thinking about incivility and the seeming explosive infestation of it we seem to be experiencing now in society. (Or is it better to say the wider culture?)  It seems to me that more and more, people are agitating for a broad-spectrum approach, which seems to be an attempt to respond to incivility with more of the same—a strange manipulation of “fight fire with fire.”

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This, of course, being linked literally to firefighting techniques of using backfires to remove potential fuel from the path of a larger fire.  Ironically, it’s more about removing combustible material from a terrain to lessen the intensity of the main fire, slowing or stopping it’s advance, hoping for it to “burn itself out.”  Its common use seems to have morphed into the idea that we return fire with more fire, which seems to defeat the original, more measured meaning.

If the infestation in my analogy is incivility, I’d like to think of the “beneficial” as being civility, which is a way of behaving though it’s often seen as weakness and possibility a form a capitulation.

I’m not implying that the initial infestation should be left unabated. Some intervention is required; however, again, the intent is to use an approach that minimizes risks.

In my case with the spider mites, it was a mild organic oil spray and a couple of regular rinses with water to wash away the tiny invaders to stop them from sucking the life out of the shrubs.  It took a bit more effort than spraying an intense chemical, but I think things are balancing out.

Homeostasis, from the Greek words for “same” and “steady,” refers to any process that living things use to actively maintain fairly stable conditions necessary for survival.

“So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is subject to proof.”

~JFK, at his inaugural address




Find some dirt

muir 2018

This quote from John Muir summarizes my perspective for the coming year, not only because it urges us to get into nature more, but also because it suggests that dirt can offer a rewarding and engaging experience.  Too often, too much, we expect neat, clean and orderly experiences.  Impossible to achieve all of the time, misleading much of the time, seeking to be always orderly and predictable can be far too limiting. This New Year’s Eve, I will be looking to release blocks that accumulated during 2017 and establish positive intentions for the coming year. I find great personal satisfaction in tying these to simple rituals involving the elements of fire, water, earth and air. Purge and cleanse with fire and water; establish intentions with earth—tie them all together through the cohesion of all four.  Make the transition from one year to the next significant and important in a way that is meaningful. Start the year with intentions that will focus action in a compelling and powerful way. Happy New Year!

December Hummingbird

Just a brief interlude in the backyard garden at the hummingbird feeder.

Curious about backyard bird feeding?  Checkout this great information presented by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Should I stop feeding birds in fall so they can start their migration?

Keeping your feeders up has no influence on whether a bird will start its journey south. A number of factors trigger the urge for birds to migrate…

Fill Your Feeders! Project FeederWatch and BirdSpotter Are Back

Feeder season. It’s one of the best things about fall and winter. With the cold weather and bare trees, your bird feeders become hubs of activity.

FeederWatch Staff Answers Your Feeder Questions In Live Q&A (previously recorded)