Thursday ReadsPosted: March 20, 2014
Good Morning and Happy Vernal Equinox!!
Today is the first day of Spring. Isn’t it wonderful? Soon those of us in the North will begin seeing the signs–little yellow buds on the forsythia bushes, crocuses, and robins hopping around outside. We’ve survived another winter. Sure, we could get a little more snow, but it won’t stick around as long because the days are longer and the sun is brighter.
In the most basic terms an equinox is when the length of the night and the length of the day are roughly equal. There are two equinoxes (one in March for the beginning of spring and one in September for the beginning of autumn) and the word itself comes from the Latin for equal (‘aequus’) and night (‘nox’).
The ‘opposite’ of an equinox is a solstice – another pair of biannual events which occur in the middle of winter and summer when the Sun appears at its lowest or highest point in the sky. Each of these four days occur at roughly equal time periods, marking major transitional points as the Earth orbits the sun.
These transitions (and the season themselves) are caused by the Earth’s axial tilt….This tilt means that different parts of the planet are exposed to different amounts of sunshine as the Earth orbits the Sun. The tilt itself is actually caused by the distribution of land masses and ice sheets on the planet – the Earth is literally top-heavy, meaning that it tilts as it’s spun.
Humans living thousands of years may not have known the details of this astronomy, but over generations they certainly learnt that the Earth gets warmer and colder in pretty regular cycles, with the spring equinox marking one point when the Northern Hemisphere begins to shrug off winter’s cold.
Read all about it at the link.
Late last night, news broke that two large pieces of debris had shown up on satellite imagery off the coast of Australia that could be from missing Malaysian flight 370. AP via ABC News: Australia Checking 2 Objects in Search for Plane.
Military search planes flew over a remote part of the Indian Ocean on Thursday hunting for debris in “probably the best lead” so far in finding the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, officials said.
The four planes were checking to see if two large objects spotted in satellite imagery bobbing in the ocean were debris from Fight 370 that disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board….
One of the objects spotted by satellite imagery was 24 meters (almost 80 feet) in length and the other was 5 meters (15 feet). There could be other objects in the area, a four-hour flight from Australia’s southwestern coast, said John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division.
“This is a lead, it’s probably the best lead we have right now,” Young said. He cautioned that the objects could be seaborne debris along a shipping route where containers can fall off cargo vessels, although the larger object is longer than a container.
Young told a news conference in Canberra, Australia’s capital, that planes had been sent to the area about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth to check on the objects. He said satellite images “do not always turn out to be related to the search even if they look good, so we will hold our views on that until they are sighted close-up.”
This morning, ABC reported that so far nothing has been found.
A nine hour search of the Indian Ocean by the world’s most sophisticated search plane failed to locate the objects spotted by a satellite that investigators believe could be from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, instead finding only a freighter and two pods of dolphins.
The hunt by the P-8 Poseidon airplane is an indication of how difficult it will be to find the objects spotted by a satellite or any debris in the vast expanse of the southern Indian Ocean.
The military airplane is considered so sophisticated that civilians’ cameras were confiscated so photos could not be taken on board.
The search area is so remote that it took the Poseidon three hours of flying to arrive over the area part way to the South Pole and 1,300 miles west of Australia.
More details at ABC News. Of course even if the objects are located and they are found to be parts from MH370, it still will be some time (if ever) before we learn what happened to the missing plane.
Meanwhile, the crisis continues in Ukraine. Even Angela Merkel has begun speaking out, saying there will be no more G8 meetings “until the situation changes.” Merkel also threatened more sanctions by the EU.
Kiev — European leaders were on Thursday to debate biting economic sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea as Ukraine tore up key ties with the Kremlin and drew up plans to evacuate its nationals from the rebel peninsula.
The European Union is under intense pressure to find a credible response to an explosive security crisis on the 28-nation bloc’s eastern frontier that NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Wednesday called “the gravest threat to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War.”
But the Kremlin has warned repeatedly that it would strike back hard if confronted with a new wave of Western punitive measures that EU nations — their energy and financial sectors intertwined with Russia’s — would keenly prefer to avoid.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU leaders would widen the list of people targeted by travel bans and asset freezes and warned of economic sanctions if the crisis escalates.
The EU Council “will make clear that we are ready at any time to apply third-phase measures in the event of a further worsening of the situation,” she said, adding that “it will, without a doubt, be a question of economic sanctions.”
USA Today on Russia’s actions in Crimea: Russia takes over Ukraine’s military bases, officers.
KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s government said Wednesday it will pull its troops from Crimea, where Russian troops and Crimean allies are seizing military bases and officers.
Masked armed men assumed to be Russian military seized Ukraine’s naval headquarters in the city of Sevastopol on the Black Sea in Crimea and took away a Ukrainian admiral.
Ukraine’s defense minister and deputy prime minister put off a trip to Crimea in what they said was a bid to avert an escalation in hostilities after the self-appointed prime minister in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, warned that they “are not welcome,” Interfax news agency said.
The hostilities follow a decree by Russian President Vladimir Putin that the former captive of the Soviet Union, Russia’s predecessor, is now part of Russia despite warnings from the White House and Europe that Moscow will pay “costs” for a takeover.
For anyone who wants to dig deeper check out this article at The Independent, Ukraine crisis: New face of Crimea revealed after naval base is stormed, and these opinion pieces:
Financial Times: Threat of future Russian aggression remains.
Finally, I thought this post by Carl Bialek at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight was kind of funny: Another Explanation For Crimea Referendum Landslide. Bialek discusses statistical explanations, but never mentions the possibility that the election was fixed. Not everything can be explained by statistics.
In other news . . .
Have you heard about the recently discovered dinosaur that has been nicknamed the “Chicken from Hell?” It looks like something out of a 1950s monster movie. From the WaPo:
Scientists have discovered a freakish, birdlike species of dinosaur — 11 feet long, 500 pounds, with a beak, no teeth, a bony crest atop its head, murderous claws, prize-fighter arms, spindly legs, a thin tail and feathers sprouting all over the place. Officially, it’s a member of a group of dinosaurs called oviraptorosaurs.
Unofficially, it’s the Chicken From Hell.
That’s the nickname the scientists have been using. It’s the term in the news release associated with the discovery. This dino-bird is not literally a chicken, or even a bird. It’s definitely a dinosaur, and it lived at the end of the Cretaceous period, from about 68 million to 66 million years ago….
“It would have been a cross between a chicken and a lizard,” said Tyler Lyson, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, who excavated some of the fossils on his uncle’s North Dakota ranch in 1999.
The fossils of three specimens of the new dinosaur were found in a sedimentary rock layer known as the Hell Creek Formation in three locations in North and South Dakota. The formation, the scientists said, helped inspire the nickname.
Here’s another freaky story for you. Have you heard about the scrap dealer who bought a Faberge egg at an antique fair in the Midwestern U.S.? The guy bought it for about $14,000 hoping to melt it down and make a small profit from the gold; but the buyers he talked to thought he was asking too much for it.
From the Telegraph: The £20m Fabergé egg that was almost sold for scrap (That’s $4o million in U.S. dollars).
The egg languished in his kitchen for years until one night in 2012, when he Googled “egg” and “Vacheron Constantin”, a name etched on the timepiece inside.
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The result was a Telegraph article published a year earlier, featuring a picture of his egg and the title: “Is this £20 million nest-egg on your mantelpiece?” The dealer – who wishes to remain anonymous, given his newfound wealth – contacted the Fabergé expert named in the article, Kieran McCarthy of Mayfair jeweller Wartski.
Mr McCarthy said: “He saw the article and recognised his egg in the picture. He flew straight over to London – the first time he had ever been to Europe – and came to see us. He hadn’t slept for days.
McCarthy then traveled to the U.S. to make sure the egg was genuine.
“It was a very modest home in the Mid West, next to a highway and a Dunkin’ Donuts. There was the egg, next to some cupcakes on the kitchen counter.
“I examined it and said, ‘You have an Imperial Fabergé Easter Egg.’ And he practically fainted. He literally fell to the floor in astonishment.” The dealer etched Mr McCarthy’s name and the date into the wooden bar stool on which Mr McCarthy sat to examine the egg, marking the day that his life changed forever.
The scrap dealer is hoping none of his neighbors find out how rich he is now. But how did the “egg” get to the U.S.?
I’ll end with some sports news that no one but my mother and I probably care about. Today is the first day of March Madness–the NCAA basketball tournament, and my parents’ alma mater North Dakota State is a 12 seed in the tournament. They will be playing number 5 seeded Oklahoma, so they probably won’t make it to the second round, but President Obama picked them to pull an upset. Sadly, no Indiana teams made it this year. Some Cinderella teams from my current home state are Harvard and U. Mass. I usually root for Kansas, but I wouldn’t mind at all if Michigan State wins the whole thing, as Obama predicted.