Saturday Morning Open Thread: Will the Eclipse Confuse the Beasts?

You think it drives just animals nuts? It’s causing thousands of otherwise sane humans to visit Hopkinsville, KY — WaPo commentor

Per the Washington Post, “During the solar eclipse, animals will be extremely confused“:

Margarita Woc Colburn’s childhood memories of a July 1991 total solar eclipse in Central America are of a social gathering for excited adult relatives who spent hours waiting for an event that was over in minutes.

But the future veterinarian’s gaze was drawn earthward.

“I was looking down on a valley in Guatemala, and I just remember the flock of birds, this massive thing going down to the trees getting ready for nesting, just like what you see at night,” Woc Colburn said, describing a short span when the moon completely obscured the sun. “Then, it felt like a new day. Birds came out and were singing.”

Today she is an associate veterinarian and researcher at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere — which is in the path of totality. During Monday’s total solar eclipse, Woc Colburn’s primary concern once again will be on the animals she has made her life’s work. She predicts birds are likely to provide the greatest spectacle this time around, too.

“We might see something similar with the starlings,” she said. “I’m interested to see whether they go to roost. It will get very noisy if they do.”

Woc Colburn thinks additional bird species and other zoo animals such as lemurs, clouded leopards and kangaroos may also begin to exhibit nighttime habits when totality hits, whether that’s waking up, going to sleep or lining up for a feeding.

It’s all speculation, however, which is something Woc Colburn finds quite surprising.

There is scant research on animal behavior during solar eclipses, owing primarily to the rarity of such events and the difficulty of recording enough observations. That’s poised to change…

Observers nationwide, including visitors to the Nashville Zoo, are being encouraged to join an ambitious and unprecedented attempt at crowdsourced scientific research by using the California Academy of Sciences’ iNaturalist app to document animal reactions.

Nashville researchers also plan to scrape social media postings that tag the zoo. Spokesman Jim Bartoo said researchers will accept any analog observations that are submitted…

Eclipse watchers are bracing for a major bummer should clouds obscure their view. While Woc Colburn agrees that would be a serious letdown, she also noted that clouds shouldn’t affect how animals react, so those who choose to spend the eclipse at the zoo won’t be wholly deprived of a unique experience…

From the earlier WaPo story on the iNaturalist app:

Created by the California Academy of Sciences, iNaturalist allows anyone to take a picture of an animal (or plant or fungi or whatever) and make an attempt to identify it. Then others, including experts, weigh in on whether your ID is correct or not…

On the day of the eclipse, the app will feature a special drawdown menu that allows you to record observations leading up to, during, and after the astronomical event. Simply keep an eye out for any interesting or unusual behavior and snap a few pics while you enjoy the show…

I’ve never tried to download any apps to my second-hand Galaxy S6, but I may have to encourage my ombraphilic Spousal Unit to do so for the big event. Since he plans for us to observe the partial eclipse from our back yard, this will put him into a Virgo dilemma — on the one hand, he could record any unusual behavior on the part of our little rescue dogs; on the other hand, he’ll be terrified that they’ll damage their retinas…

(For the record, I predict even Sydney, who is the youngest and most nervous of our pack, will pay absolutely no attention whatsoever to the Great Event. And even were he to notice, dogs don’t stare at the sun. But if I’m gonna be dragged out to watch the show, I might as well enjoy whatever side benefits I can derive.)
***********

Apart from eclipse-watching preparation, what’s on the agenda for the day?



Just Use Four Words

This is good news:

The man who wrote the book on password management has a confession to make: He blew it.

Back in 2003, as a midlevel manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Bill Burr was the author of “NIST Special Publication 800-63. Appendix A.” The 8-page primer advised people to protect their accounts by inventing awkward new words rife with obscure characters, capital letters and numbers—and to change them regularly.

***

The new guidelines, which are already filtering through to the wider world, drop the password-expiration advice and the requirement for special characters, Mr. Grassi said. Those rules did little for security—they “actually had a negative impact on usability,” he said.

Long, easy-to-remember phrases now get the nod over crazy characters, and users should be forced to change passwords only if there is a sign they may have been stolen, says NIST, the federal agency that helps set industrial standards in the U.S.

That’s nice to know.








Eclipses Make People Crazy, Daniel Defoe Edition

So:  some of y’all choked on Annie Dillard’s perhaps overly magniloquent response to her eclipse.  For you, then here’s something quite different for the more Augustan among us.

For reasons not relevant to this post, I spent this morning nosing around Daniel Defoe’s writing from the late 1710s; just a few minutes ago I stumbled upon this hoot of a passage from the second volume of The Family Instructor:

It happen’d once, that a Discourse began between the Father and Mother about the Eclipse of the Sun, which fell out in April 22. 1715.

The Eclipse of the Sun was the Subject of all Con|versation at that time, having been, as is well known, so Total, and the Darkness so great, as that the like had not been known in that Age, or some hundreds of Years before.

The Wife had enquired of her Husband, what the Nature of the Thing was, and he was describing it to her and the Children in a familiar way; and, as I said, that a kind of Reflection upon one another was the usual Issue of their common Discourse, so it was there; the Husband tells her, that the Moon was like a cross Wife, that when she was out of Humour, could Thwart and Eclipse her Husband whenever she pleased; and that if an ill Wife stood in the Way, the brightest Husband could not shine.

She flew in a Passion at this, and being of a sharp Wit, you do well, says she, to carry your Emblem to a suitable height; I warrant, you think a Wife, like the Moon, has no Light but what she borrows from her Husband, and that we can only shine by Reflecti|on; it is necessary then you should know, she can Eclipse him when she pleases.

Ay, ay, says the Husband, but you see when she does, she darkens the whole House, she can give no Light without him.

Ʋpon this she came closer to him.
Wife.

I suppose you think you have been Eclips’d lately, we don’t see the House is the darker for it.

Husband.

That’s because of your own Darkness; I think the House has been much the darker.

Wife:

None of the Family are made sensible of it, we don’t miss your Light.

Husb.

It’s strange if they don’t, for I see no Light you give in the room of it.

Wife.

We are but as dark as we were before; for we were none of us the better for all your Hypocri|tical Shining.

Husb.

Well, I have done shining, you see; the Darkness be at your Door.

It’s evident that both meant here, his having left off Family-Worship; and it is apparent, both were come to a dreadful Extremity in their Quarrel.
Wife.

At my Door! am I the Master of the Fami|ly! don’t lay your Sins to my Charge.

Husb.

No, no; but your own I may; It is the Retrograde Motion of the Moon that causes an E|clipse.

Wife.

Where all was dark before, there can be no Eclipse.

Husb.

Your Sin is, that my Light is your Darkness.

Wife.

That won’t excuse you, if you think it a Sin; can you not do what you please without me?

My advice to the husband? Don’t throw shade when your own wit is so poorly lit.

And yeah — this is kind of an apropos-of-nothing post, so have at what you will below.

Image: Edmund Halley, A Description of the Passage of the Shadow of the Moon over England In the Total Eclipse of the SUN on the Day of April 1715 in the morning.



Darkness At Noon (Well, A Little After 10 a.m. From Where I’ll Be Standing)

This is a follow up to Anne Laurie’s post of earlier this morning.  My family’s headed out for Oregon in a couple of weeks, basing ourselves with relatives in Portland before heading a little south and east in the very wee hours of the 21st.

We’re putting ourselves in the hands of the cloud-cover forecast as to how far east we go (or try to), and in those of our cousins for local knowledge of roads and routes. There Will Be Traffic, which is why my hunch is that we’ll be en route not much after midnight.

That’s my plan.  What follows is for those of you in or near the path of the partial eclipse, and said below that you plan to stay there.

Reconsider.

A total eclipse is a completely different beast from a partial one.  Partial eclipses are weird and cool.

Something comes along and takes a bite out of the soon, and the sheer wrongness of that is emotionally powerful, and produces its own truly odd visual effects:

 

BUT…

Totality is a completely different beast.

Here’s Annie Dillard, testifying:

I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970. A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane. Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it….

The sky’s blue was deepening, but there was no darkness. The sun was a wide crescent, like a segment of tangerine. The wind freshened and blew steadily over the hill. The eastern hill across the highway grew dusky and sharp. The towns and orchards in the valley to the south were dissolving into the blue light. Only the thin river held a trickle of sun.

Now the sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen. A dark sky usually loses color. This was a saturated, deep indigo, up in the air. Stuck up into that unworldly sky was the cone of Mount Adams, and the alpenglow was upon it. The alpenglow is that red light of sunset which holds out on snowy mountain tops long after the valleys and tablelands are dimmed. “Look at Mount Adams,” I said, and that was the last sane moment I remember.

I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte. The hillside was a nineteenth-century tinted photograph from which the tints had faded. All the people you see in the photograph, distinct and detailed as their faces look, are now dead. The sky was navy blue. My hands were silver. All the distant hills’ grasses were finespun metal which the wind laid down. I was watching a faded color print of a movie filmed in the Middle Ages; I was standing in it, by some mistake. I was standing in a movie of hillside grasses filmed in the Middle Ages. I missed my own century, the people I knew, and the real light of day…

From all the hills came screams. A piece of sky beside the crescent sun was detaching. It was a loosened circle of evening sky, suddenly lighted from the back. It was an abrupt black body out of nowhere; it was a flat disk; it was almost over the sun. That is when there were screams. At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world. We were the world’s dead people rotating and orbiting around and around, embedded in the planet’s crust, while the earth rolled down. Our minds were light-years distant, forgetful of almost everything. Only an extraordinary act of will could recall to us our former, living selves and our contexts in matter and time. We had, it seems, loved the planet and loved our lives, but could no longer remember the way of them. We got the light wrong. In the sky was something that should not be there. In the black sky was a ring of light. It was a thin ring, an old, thin silver wedding band, an old, worn ring. It was an old wedding band in the sky, or a morsel of bone. There were stars. It was all over. 

      — Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse”, from Teaching a Stone to Talk

My own experience was similarly uncanny, impossible to anticipate.  The first film that was really mine, the first on which I had sole producer and writer credit, was an episode of NOVA broadcast in 1992 called “Eclipse of the Century.”  It documented the 1991 eclipse whose a path of totality tracked directly over the Big Island of Hawaii — and hence over the deep-space telescopes placed atop Mauna Kea.

It was a hell of a first film to attempt — we ended up with a crew of over 20, 12 cameras, insurance from Lloyds of London against the possibility that clouds would doom the film — something like $5,000 against $250,000 on four minutes or so of clear skies — and so on.

I had a ton of help, of course:  a supervising producer, a proper director, a great assistant, and above all, wonderful camera people and their crews, in many ways a who’s-who of the top documentary shooters of the day.  Without them the whole farrago would have collapsed in hideous ignominy.

As it turned out, nature gave us great drama — clouds rising, threatening to cover the sun minutes before totality and then…

Well, take a look at this clip.*

For myself — I was with the crew that was filming the adventures within the control room of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.  That was headed by Jon Else, for those of you who follow documentary stuff, and though I was nominally his director, Jon needed no guidance from a rookie to do his usual brilliant work. About 90 seconds into totality he turned his head and told me to get onto the catwalk to see the matter for myself.

I did.

I’m not going to tell you what I felt.  As the Dillard passage above suggest, it seems to me, words can carry something of the emotional intensity of the moment, but the experience itself is unsayable.  Mimesis ain’t in it here; there’s no representation that captures the reality anyone other than the writer would perceive.

In purely descriptive terms, the shift in colors that Dillard describes is the overture, the phenomenon that alerts you to the strangeness under way.  But when the moon’s disc fully covers the sun you get something else altogether, a darkness that isn’t quite the darkness of night (especially if you’re high up, with a truly distant horizon, because you can then detect a kind of lightening all around you at the edges of your viewable frame).

And most of all, you get the corona, the solar atmosphere. The human eye can see it out to a distance of at least 10 solar diameters, maybe more.  But because the brightness falls off so sharply from near the limb of the sun to hte diffuse, outer corona, most  most photographs, and certainly in the video linked above, don’t begin to do justice to what you’ll see for yourselves.

Luc Viatour / https://Lucnix.be

All of which is (a) to prove the point that words are poor guides to what happens during totality and (b) if you have a chance, check it out.

*I can’t find the whole film on the web anywhere.  That’s no surprise — in 1992 we weren’t clearing rights for an internet that wouldn’t properly exist for years to come.  One cool thing about that eclipse that you’ll see if you do look at the clip were those two giant solar prominences.  Don’t see that every time. 

Images: George Stubbs, Eclipse at Newmarket with Groombefore 1789.

Photos of a partial eclipse of the sun taken in Yunnan province, China, 1999

Luc Viatour, Total Solar Eclipse, 1999



Saturday Morning Open Thread: “America’s Greatest [Tourist] Mass Migration”

Who’s getting set for the Big Event? I know some of you are located fairly close to the path of totality, and others have made plans to visit.

The Washington Post has a helpful consumer guide, especially concerning those all-important solar viewers:

You’ll find glasses online and in retail stores, including paper and plastic versions, starting at a few dollars for one pair up to about $20 for a multiple pack of glasses.

Read the consumer comments before you buy. When I did, several people who purchased from reputable manufacturers complained that their glasses arrived damaged. Do not use damaged eyewear to view the eclipse. Return them for a replacement. Even glasses that are scratched or wrinkled should be avoided, according to NASA. The agency also cautions against using eclipse-viewing eyewear that is more than 3 years old.

You can find a full compilation of NASA’s safety information at https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety. By the way, the agency will have live programming and interactive online content during the eclipse at https://www.nasa.gov/eclipselive…

And the Atlantic goes full, well, “spectacle”:

About 12 million Americans live in the path of totality, and some 200 million others live within a day’s drive, according to federal officials. Depending on weather and how many people are up for a Monday road trip, some 2 to 7 million of them are expected to travel to that narrow zone on August 21—meaning travelers may experience some of the worst traffic jams in American history, according to Martin Knopp, an administrator at the Federal Highway Administration. If it’s cloudy in some cities on the path, more people might try to move to areas with clear skies, clogging the nation’s arterial highways even more.

The eclipse is “a special event for which there has been no recent precedent,” the highway authority says. The days before and after the eclipse could see the greatest temporary mass migration of humans to see a natural event in U.S. history.

That means things could get dicey, especially in the West and Midwest, where summer temperatures spike to the upper 80s. Most of America is open land, so the problem isn’t space, but logistics. Twenty interstate highways are in the path of totality, but most towns on the path are only accessible by a few county or city roads. And most towns on the eclipse path have limited resources—and limited portable toilets—to accommodate a groundswell of visitors. Glendo, Wyoming, population 202, is soliciting donations via GoFundMe to help pay for sanitation and trash services to accommodate its expected 50,000 visitors. In Madras, Oregon, where scientists and tourists are flocking for its clear, high-desert skies, local officials are telling residents to stock up on necessities like medical supplies and water. State officials have called up the National Guard to help manage crowds, estimated to top 1 million across the state…

I dimly remember a great fooferaw about an earlier near-totality event, sometime in the early 1960s, when I was a kid in the Bronx. Though, to be truthful, I don’t remember the event nearly as much as I remember my parents, the nuns, and seemingly every newsperson on the black-and-white tv warning us that if we looked directly at the sun even for just the tiniest second, we’d immediately be stricken blind. (And then, or so I gathered, they would all take great pleasure in reminding the unfortunate victims that we had been warned… )



Mid-Evening Conspiracy Theory Open Thread

This is one of those stories that surfaces regularly.

In the middle of a Russian swampland, not far from the city of St Petersburg, is a rectangular iron gate. Beyond its rusted bars is a collection of radio towers, abandoned buildings and power lines bordered by a dry-stone wall. This sinister location is the focus of a mystery which stretches back to the height of the Cold War.

It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, “MDZhB”, that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.

Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as “dinghy” or “farming specialist”. And that’s it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz.

There’s a story about Russian spies in Britain in the 1920s and the invention of one-time pads, and then the latest theory. Um, I thought I recalled something about it being the support for Russia’s Doomsday Machine, and if the signal stops, well,

But it’s not there now. You never know when screenshots will come in handy.

Open thread for your theories and otherwise.

 



A Job Well Done

 

Two South Carolina utilities are abandoning two unfinished nuclear reactors, half of the new reactors being built in the United States today. A decision on the other two will be made later this month. The South Carolina project is far behind schedule and far over projected costs, the recurring story of civilian nuclear reactor projects in the United States. China and Russia seem to be doing better with reactor-building, but their state-run companies can cook the books in ways that private companies can’t.

Nuclear power has been floundering for some time. Low prices for natural gas have undercut existing reactors, which are being closed. But nuclear looks like it should be a part of a future in which carbon dioxide emissions must be limited. Many people can be credited with its failure. Read more