Monday, October 16, 2017

Kilonovas: Now the Evidence

Nature of Science 
History of Science

WaPo's Sarah Kaplan and Ben Guarino report on the collision of two collapsed stars that happened only recently when one thinks of time in terms of the universe. A mere 130 million years ago (mya). Like yesterday.

The result was a "kilonova," a merger of two neutron stars and is the first time this event has ever been observed, the "first cosmic event in history to be observed via both traditional telescopes...and gravitational wave detectors...". Unitl this event, kilonovas have been theoretical (This event demonstrates the power of a robust theoretical framework.). Neutron stars are composed of neutral particles and the collisons are the source of heavy elements such as gold, platinum and silver.

Julie McEnery, a NASA astrophysicist at Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, Md.) involved in this work is noted that this find is "transformational," and now scientists will be "able to combine dramatically different ways of viewing the universe, and I think our level of understanding is going to leap forward as a result." This new science is called "multimessenger astrophysics."

Kaplan and Guarino describe the fascination and excitement of the race to find the source of the signal. Scientists studying such events are constrained by the mechanics of the universe. First, it is a needle in a haystack event. Secondly, the haystack is on the move (as the universe races outward from us) so the signal grows more and more faint. There is a very short open window--about an hour--to observe this event before it disappears from view.

This place, the universe is big and fast.

Kaplan and Guarino  write that the "events... hewed closely to theories about the merger of neutraon stars based in nuclear physics, general relativity and research on the origins of elements." Ryan Foley, one of the scientists involved said that "'as a civilization (we) have been confined to the Earth, and almost all the information we've ever received from the universe has been through light. Yet we were able to predict...things as extreme as two neutron stars colliding when even the idea of neurtron stars was incredible.'"

McEnery put it this way. "While I'm not surprised that Einstein is right, it's always nice to see him pass another test." Here is the WaPo article which includes visualizations of the event.

Here are some of the numbers: 70 laboratories and telescopes around the world and ~ 4500 authors of the paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. They represent 910 institutions.This is not the largest collaboration ever.

There is also another report from NPR with animations that include how "it actually looked to astronomers." I especially liked this view. I think the two reports, WaPo and NPR complement one another and that both deserve a look so please at least scan them if you want to know more.

Nell GreenfieldBoyce, the author of the NPR essay calls attention to one thing most of us might be interested in: the gold, the platinum and the silver produced resulting from this mash-up.

She writes "Now to the scale of the debris.'That debris is strange stuff,' according to theoretician Daniel Kasen.'It's gold and platinum but it's mixed in with what you'd call just regular radioactive waste, and there's this big radioactive wast cloud that just starts mushrooming out from the merger site. It starts out small, about the size of a small city, but it's moving so fast--a few tenths of the speed of light--that after a day it's a cloud the size of the solar system.'"

GreenfieldBoyce writes that "according to (Kasen's) estimates, this neutron star collision produced around 200 Earth masses of pure gold, and maybe 500 Earth masses of platinum." 'It's a ridiculously huge amount on human scale.' Kasen wears a platinum wedding ring and notes that 'it's crazy to think that these things that seem very far out and kind of exotic actually impact the world and us in kind of intimate ways.'"

Earth masses represent a lot of tons, way more than I'm prepared to calculate. Atlas would struggle. One Earth mass equals 5.972x10^24 kg. The ^ represents to the power of 24.

Calculate away at heart's content!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Finish Lessons...Singapore Lessons

October 15, 2017

A few weeks ago Diane Ravitch posted a very short piece on Pasi Sahlberg, a well-known Finnish educator. He is the author of "Finnish Lessons."

Here is the link to Ravatch's post where you will find a link to seminar he participated in at Columbia University. Ravitch extracted four big ideas from this long seminar--more than an hour which is a lot of time for most of us. Here are the four ideas.

--All children should have ample time for unstructured play.

--Small Data, the kind that teacher collect daily through their observations has more value to teaching/learning than Big Data captured by yearly standardized tests.

--Equitable funding, i.e., sending money/resources where it is most needed.

--There are many urban legends about Finland, one is that they recruit the very best and brightest into teaching.  Instead, teacher candidacy is about a strong commitment to being a teacher in addition to being bright. "There is no Teach for Finland."

To give you an idea of Sahlberg's thinking, here is a link to a shorter talk Sahlberg made several years ago on the germ/virus affecting school systems. It is followed by a provocative talk by a Finish student who also spent some of her time in Hong Kong as a student which she described as the best of two educational worlds. 

She asks what the Finish education system can learn from Hong Kong/Asia and she makes some strong recommendations. You may skip ahead to the talk by Hannankina Tanninnen.

The presentation is very thoughtful, one that makes me think about schools and schools systems in general, as well as the contrasts between Finland and Hong Kong and, of course the U. S.

Friday Poem (on a Sunday)

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Events have a way of changing plans. I was out of the office unexpectedly Friday. I'll tell you what it was all about in one word used for all kinds of reasons in Minnesota and designed for this occasion.

It was INTERESTING. It was--it led to several new learnings, ideas and insights. I'll leave it there.

The idea of October continues in this poem.

Take care.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Puerto Rico: A Graphic

Edward Hessler

Hurricane Maria's aftermath can be seen in a startling Washington Post graphic.

You will also find information about the Puerto Rico Electric Authority (PREPA). I can't imagine ~3988 km (2478 miles) of downed powerline and replacing it if access was clear. It isn't. There are landslides, downed trees and brush covered roads.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Mathematics Education
Edward Hessler

We all know or have heard the rule that a correlation doesn't imply causation. By the way, not all people like this comic xkcd.  Here is a take-down on this particular panel.

Hmmm?  A correlation implies something and the trick is to separate promising leads from dead-ends. I like the way statistician Douglas Whitaker so beautifully and suggestively puts it in his short post about the xkcd panel. (Whitaker is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, just a hop, skip and a jump east of here.)

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing look over here.

You will have to scroll down quite a bit to find the quote. It is under "Association."  The entry includes links to quite a few comics/cartoons about stats which Whitaker thoughtfully comments on throughout.

Minute Physics doesn't miss much and here is a quick primer on correlation and causation (causal networks) and how one can winnow down possibilities.  If you don't get it all the first time, it is short enough (4 minutes) that it can be reviewed easily. These videos challenge notetaking, perhaps even discourage it, but I find there is time to scratch down questions if you decide to take another look.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Waking Up at Night with Worries About the Fate of the Planet

Sustainable Energy & Transportation
Water & Watersheds
Edward Hessler

What global problem is at the top of your mind when you awake at night and can't go back to sleep?

There were 151 responses and for each question they selected one submission from a listener.

The results are reported by Malaka Gharib. Before you take a look at the results of this informal and unscientific poll, what is the problem of most concern to you? If, like me, I don't lie awake thinking about global problems most of the time. If you have this experience think of the question as a hypothetical.

I agreed with the first choice on the list which was my choice before I looked. I wish now I had chosen the top three.. I was surprised by the position of some of the other answers.

In September NPR's Malaka Gharib asked Amina J. Mohamed, Deputy Secretary-General of the U. N. (# 2 position) at the Global Global Goals Award ceremony.  She wove her response into remarks she made at the ceremony. You may read her response and those of a few others on #Curious Goat.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Bunny's Goodnight

Edward Hessler

I didn't know that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was a fan of Goodnight Moon, so much so that he "occasionally long(s)" for someone to read it aloud to him. 

His wish comes true with LaVar Burton reading this story to him and to us.

So many things happening on the occasion of a rabbit going to bed.

Goodnight moon. Goodnight Dr. Tyson. Goodnight Mr. Burton. Goodnight bunny.

"Goodnight house, goodnight little mouse."

Goodnight to one and all.

What a lovely project.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rain gardens along the Green Line

CGEE Student Voice
Water & Watersheds
by Jenni Abere

On a rainy Friday afternoon, my Environmental Studies class went on a tour of some of the stormwater features along University Ave in Saint Paul. When the Green Line was constructed here five years ago, Capital Region Watershed District took the opportunity to integrate some rainwater best practices. This was possible due to CRWD's regulatory authority; the Green Line route in Minneapolis does not have the same features.

The first feature we learned about is the tree trench system. The Green Line project led to a much greener University Avenue: there are trees on both sides of the street. The bricks around the trees are pervious, allowing rainwater to soak through the cracks instead of running off into the street. The picture above also shows the informative signs that are on display. The sign, titled "Rooting Out Pollution," explains the many benefits of permeable land and plants; less water runoff, cleaner water, and cleaner air.

In this rain garden, water from a nearby parking lot is piped in, and water from the street runs through the decorative grate. The plants here, mostly grasses, are selected specifically for their ability to withstand high levels of pollution. In the time that we stood there, I watched the rain carry some oil from the road along the curb, and into the rain garden. Despite these tough conditions, the plants looked healthy. All things considered, it's better for pollution to end up in a rain garden than directly in the river. CRWD performs regular maintenance on rain gardens.

The above rain garden is located next to a McDonald's. Because of this, there is a fair amount of litter. But the plants and trees are doing very well. It's great to be more aware of rain gardens, because once you notice them, you see them in a lot of places. But after this field trip, every time I see a regular patch of grass I just want to plant a rain garden there.

The good news is, a large rain garden will be planted near Hamline this month! Seeing the nearby rainwater infrastructure made me very excited to participate in this project.

Stardust and Us

Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

"We are stardust," Joni Mitchell famously sang.

Everything is.

The general theme of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics was stellar evolution and two awards were made, one for theoretical studies of physical processes leading to structure and evolution of stars and one for theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe.

How this happened is nicely explained in a short video (4 minutes) by NASA astronomer, Michelle Thraller.

Reminds me of a Grook--aphoristic verse by Piet Hein.

I'd like to know 
what this whole show 
is about 
before it's out.
But none of us will be here to see that. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

It's October!

Octember, if you are of the Stan Laurel school of meteorological fall.

Robert Frost notes this event.

And here is a short biography although I may regret sending it or you may. There is an ad at the beginning before the speaking starts which is accompanied by pictures worth waiting for. There is text, too.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Edward Hessler

I once joined LinkedIn (for no reason) then tried to de-link. I've given up on that. I still receive mailings telling me about jobs, people and more. I don't respond.

If I ever decide to respond I think I might choose to this way.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Snowy Day

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

The Snowy Day (1962) by Ezra Jack Keats is one of my all-time favorite books.

This lovely book is about the pleasure snow brings to Peter, a young boy which is delightfully and beautifully expressed in the illustrations. These take me back to childhood and the wonder of a snow.

Today, October 4 2017 the U. S. Postal Service is releasing four stamps featuring illustrations from the book. They are, Peter forming a snowball, Peter sliding down a mountain of snow, Peter making a snow angel, and Peter leaving footprints in the snow.

The book was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963 for "most distinguished American picture book for children."

You may see the stamps here.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology 2017

Nature of Science
Nature of Science
Edward Hessler

The names Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash of Brandeis University and Michael Young of Rockefeller University apparently were not on anyone's list to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 2017. The so-called "smart money" was on others. But Hall, Rosbash and Young did just that. The award made October 2 acknowledges "their discovery of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm."

The earth rotates and life is adapted to this daily turning. Life has an internal "clock" that allows it to anticipate this regular cycle and to adapt to it through well-know processes of evolution.The press release (cited above) announcing the award notes that Hall, Rosbash and Young showed that "(a) gene that controls the normal biological rhythm encodes a protein that accumulates in cells during the night, and is then degraded during the day leads to remarkable regulatory functions."  The gene was given the name "timeless."

Jerome Groopman who writes about medicine and biology for The New Yorker wondered why these particular candidates were given the prize. After all their work was with fruitflies and one could ask (as many have about this kind of work) who cares how fruitflies make sense of this turning planet. Of what use is it?  Groopman recalled a conversation he once had with a member of a Nobel selection committee who told him that among the considerations is message, the message that is sent by making the award.

Groopman asked himself about the meaning of the award. This "announcement, and last year's, is that both are about the divide between basic research--the pursuit of scientific knowledge for its own sake--and applied research, which focusses on work with obvious, immediate effects." As Groopman  notes in the short essay linked above the award "is a kind of rebuke" to those who rail against the waste of this kind of investigation into nature. However, "the Nobel Committee made clear this morning, the science that informs and occasionally upends our understanding of human health and disease often comes from unexpected places."

An Ending I Wish Were Otherwise

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

You all know that Tom Petty died, age 66.

The end of an era.

In addition to his career in rock with his band The Heartbreakers--one of its great writers--he was also a member of the mega-group, the Traveling Wilbury's. Its members were Tom Petty, George Harrison, Ray Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne. The original group is now down to four following the deaths of George Harrison, Ray Orbison and Tom Petty.

Here is a favorite by them, aptly titled End of the Line.

See Urbanization Happen


Visualizations are very helpful in thinking about things that occur over time.  The History of Urbanization: 3700 BC - 2000 AD from Metrocosm, does just that.

Creator Max Galka notes that By 2030, 75 percent of the world's population is expected to be living in cities. Today about 54 percent of us do. In 1960, only 34 percent of the world lived in cities.

Galka tells us how the data before then were obtained.  In addition, Galka plots these data in Mapbox which allows further exploration. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Man Who Chose to Wait

Edward Hessler

On May 19, 2017 a former Soviet Union officer died whom I'd never heard one word about. Nothing.

His name was Sanislaw Petrov and he was 77 years old. He had been a lieutenant colonel in the Air Defense System.

It seems fair to say that he was the man who saved the world. 

From what?

As Greg Myre reported for NPR, Petrov was on routine duty monitoring the USSR satellite system. He was rudely interrupted by a what must have been a frightening siren alarm. The screen told him that the U. S. had launched "five nuclear-armed international ballistic missiles." The red screen had a single word on it, LAUNCH.

Petrov chose to wait. He was faced with a number problem. Five missiles, not the many he had been trained to expect in an all-out nuclear attack. Petrov once reported to the BBC, "I couldn't move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan." The window of time from launch to strike was about 20 minutes.

Petrov was working without a rule. There wasn't a rule that said after such and such a time you will report this to the commanders who would launch a counter attack. He checked on whether it was a computer malfunction and continued waiting. "Twenty-three minutes later I realized that nothing had happened," he said in 2013.

This is one way to express relief!

Myre's essay is a thriller and includes a link to a promotional trailer for a Kevin Costner, Robert DeNiro film titled The Man Who Saved the World. It was released in 2015. Rotten Tomatoes has information about the film and has assigned it 3 stars based on 14 reviews.

Movies are one thing; life quite another.