Category Archives: Just Having Fun

Sangria Night 🍒

Your glass looks different.

Hmm, do you think so?

Sangria’s origins probably date back to the Middle Ages, during a time when water was unhealthy to drink and drinking fermented beverages carried a much lower risk of causing illness. During this time, people would mix wine, which was much lighter and less potent than what we are used to today, with spices such as cinnamon.

Sangria is the Spanish term for a mix of fruit and wine that became popular in Europe in the subsequent centuries, and the drink emerged on the American culinary radar when it was served in New York at the Pavillion of Spain during the 1964 World’s Fair.

Pavillion of Spain
New York World’s Fair 1964
Pavillion of Spain
New York World’s Fair 1964

The word sangria is much more serious than the drink itself: it comes from the Latin word for blood, thanks to the original sangria’s reddish hue, a result of the red wine first used to make it. Since then, various European countries and hundreds of restaurants have created their own variations on the sangria theme. Spain alone offers quite a few traditional options based on region, with sparkling recipes coming from the areas that produce Cava, for example.

We have fun making our own version of cherry sangria 🍒

And enjoying it with a new cherry tart 🍒

¡Salud! Noroc! Salut! Cheers!

Orion Tales

We saw Orion in the night sky at the Pinnacles. He was standing on his head!

Photo by David Malin
It’s story time 🙂

Professor Neville H. Fletcher (1930-2017) once said: “In astronomy circles, it is often remarked that God, in creating the universe, perversely located all the most interesting regions of our galaxy in the Southern Hemisphere, but all the astronomers in the north.” As a result, it can be more difficult to pick out in the Southern Hemisphere the shapes for which the constellations were originally named.

Orion, the hunter, is not proudly standing on his feet, but rather doing a cart-wheel 🙂

Orion, one of the 48 Greek constellations listed by Ptolemy in the Almagest, is the most splendid of constellations, befitting a character who was in legend the tallest and most handsome of men. His right shoulder and left foot are marked by the brilliant stars Betelgeuse and Rigel, with a distinctive line of three stars forming his belt. “No other constellation more accurately represents the figure of a man”, said Germanicus Caesar.

Manilius called it ‘golden Orion’ and ‘the mightiest of constellations’, and exaggerated its brilliance by saying that, when Orion rises, ‘night feigns the brightness of day and folds its dusky wings’. Manilius described Orion as “stretching his arms over a vast expanse of sky and rising to the stars with no less huge a stride”. In fact, Orion is not an exceptionally large constellation, ranking only 26th in size, but the brilliance of its stars gives it the illusion of being much larger.

Orion is also one of the most ancient constellations, being among the few star groups known to the earliest Greek writers such as Homer and Hesiod. Even in the space age, Orion remains one of the few star patterns that non-astronomers can recognize.

Orion raises his club and shield against the charging Taurus as illustrated on Chart XII in the Uranographia of Johann Bode (1801). Orion’s right shoulder is marked by the bright star Betelgeuse, and his left foot by Rigel. A line of three stars forms his belt

In the sky, Orion is depicted facing the snorting charge of neighbouring Taurus, yet the myth of Orion makes no reference to such a combat. However, the constellation originated with the Sumerians, who saw in it their great hero Gilgamesh fighting the Bull of Heaven. The Sumerian name for Orion was URU AN-NA, meaning light of heaven. Taurus was GUD AN-NA, bull of heaven.

Gilgamesh was the Sumerian equivalent of Heracles, which brings us to another puzzle. Being the greatest hero of Greek mythology, Heracles deserves a magnificent constellation such as this one, but in fact is consigned to a much more obscure area of sky. Orion might be Heracles in another guise, for one of the labours of Heracles was to catch the Cretan bull, which would fit the Orion – Taurus conflict in the sky. Ptolemy described him with club and lion’s pelt, both familiar attributes of Heracles, and he is shown this way on old star maps. Despite these parallels, no mythologist hints at a connection between this constellation and Heracles.

According to myth, Orion was the son of Poseidon, the sea-god, and Euryale, daughter of King Minos of Crete. Poseidon gave Orion the power to walk on water. Homer in the Odyssey describes Orion as a giant hunter, armed with an unbreakable club of solid bronze. In the sky, the hunter’s dogs (the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor) follow at his heels, in pursuit of the hare (the constellation Lepus).

On the island of Chios, Orion wooed Merope, daughter of King Oenopion, apparently without much success, for one night while fortified with wine he tried to ravish her. In punishment, Oenopion put out Orion’s eyes and banished him from the island. Orion headed north to the island of Lemnos where Hephaestus had his forge. Hephaestus took pity on the blind Orion and offered one of his assistants, Cedalion, to act as his eyes. Hoisting the youth on his shoulders, Orion headed east towards the sunrise, which an oracle had told him would restore his sight. As the Sun’s healing rays fell on his sightless eyes at dawn, Orion’s vision was miraculously restored.

Orion is linked in a stellar myth with the Pleiades star cluster in Taurus. The Pleiades were seven sisters, daughters of Atlas and Pleione. As the story is usually told, Orion fell in love with the Pleiades and pursued them with amorous intent. But according to Hyginus, it was actually their mother Pleione he was after. Zeus snatched the group up and placed them among the stars, where Orion still pursues them across the sky each night.

Stories of the death of Orion are numerous and conflicting. Astronomical mythographers such as Aratus, Eratosthenes and Hyginus were agreed that a scorpion was involved. In one version, told by Eratosthenes and Hyginus, Orion boasted that he was the greatest of hunters. He declared to Artemis, the goddess of hunting, and Leto, her mother, that he could kill any beast on Earth. The Earth shuddered indignantly and from a crack in the ground emerged a scorpion which stung the presumptuous giant to death.

Orion is one of several constellations in which the star labelled Alpha is not the brightest. The brightest star in Orion is actually Beta Orionis, called Rigel from the Arabic rijl meaning ‘foot’, from Ptolemy’s description of it as ‘the bright star in the left foot’. Ptolemy also said it was shared with the river Eridanus, and some old charts depict it in this dual role.

Astronomy picture of the day – 15 Jan 2018
Rigel and the Witch Head Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Mario Cogo (Galax Lux)

Rigel is a brilliant blue-white supergiant, one of the rarest breeds in our galaxy. With their enormous brilliance — up to 100,000 times as bright as the sun — blue-white supergiants remain conspicuous over great distances. Rigel is one of the most intrinsically luminous of all stars and one of the hottest, apparently just reaching the prime of its life in the time span of a star and literally “burning the candle at both ends”. It has been computed that Rigel’s luminosity is something like 57,000 times that of the sun. The star is about 800 light-years away.

The star is only 10 million years old, compared to the Sun’s 4.5 billion, and due to its measured size and brightness it is expected to end in a supernova one day. It also has two known companions, Rigel B and Rigel C.

In contrast, red supergiants like Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis) are gigantic bloated globes of cooler gas. If such a star were to replace the sun in the solar system, it might extend beyond Mars’ orbit. It is located about 500 light-years away, but does not shine with a steady light. Bright red Betelgeuse is near the end of its career. When the core can no longer support the star’s vast weight, it will collapse, triggering a cataclysmic supernova explosion. Betelgeuse is in its final stage and could explode in only a few million years.

Stars produce their energy by fusing hydrogen into helium deep within their cores. When a star accumulates sufficient helium in its core, its energy output increases significantly, and it swells into a red giant or supergiant, like Betelgeuse. This is what Rigel will become in a few million years.

The red supergiant star Betelgeuse is seen here in a view from the Herschel Space Observatory
Image credit: ESA/NASA

Betelgeuse is a ‘pulsating’ star, expanding and contracting spasmodically with a diameter that varies from 550 to 920 times that of the sun, but so irregular are these pulsations that no one can predict exactly when it will expand or contract. In trying to describe Betelgeuse many years ago, Henry Neely, a lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium, once noted that it is “like an old man with his strength almost entirely spent, panting in the asthmatic decrepitude of old age”.

Betelgeuse is one of the most famous yet misunderstood star names. It comes from the Arabic yad al-jauza, often wrongly translated as ‘armpit of the central one’. In fact, it means ‘hand of al-jauza’. But who (or what) was al-jauza? It was the name given by the Arabs to the constellation figure that they saw in this area, seemingly a female figure encompassing the stars of both Orion and Gemini. The word al-jauza apparently comes from the Arabic jwz meaning ‘middle’, so the best translation that modern commentators can offer is that al-jauza means something like ‘the female one of the middle’. The reference to the ‘middle’ may be to do with the fact that the constellation lies astride the celestial equator. Ptolemy described it in the Almagest as ‘the bright, reddish star on the right shoulder’.

The Greeks did not give a name to either Betelgeuse or Rigel, surprisingly for such prominent stars, which is why we know them by their Arabic titles.

The left shoulder of Orion is marked by Gamma Orionis, known as Bellatrix, a Latin name meaning ‘the female warrior’. The star at the hunter’s right knee, Kappa Orionis, is called Saiph. This name comes from the Arabic for ‘sword’, and is clearly misplaced. The three stars of the belt – Zeta, Epsilon, and Delta Orionis – are called Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. The names Alnitak and Mintaka both come from the Arabic word meaning ‘the belt’ or ‘girdle’. Alnilam comes from the Arabic meaning ‘the string of pearls’, another reference to the belt of Orion.

Below the belt lies a hazy patch marking the giant’s sword or hunting knife. This is the location of the Orion Nebula, one of the most-photographed objects in the sky, a mass of gas from which a cluster of stars is being born. The gas of the Nebula shines by the light of the hottest stars that have already formed within; it is visible to the naked eye on clear nights.

Image of Orion Nebula captured by Hubble Space Telescope, 11 Jan 2006
Image credit: NASA, ESA

In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured an unprecedented look at the Orion Nebula. This turbulent star formation region is one of astronomy’s most dramatic and photogenic celestial objects. More than 3,000 stars of various sizes appear in this image. Some of them have never been seen in visible light. These stars reside in a dramatic dust-and-gas landscape of plateaus, mountains, and valleys that are reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. The Orion Nebula is a picture book of star formation, from the massive, young stars that are shaping the nebula to the pillars of dense gas that may be the homes of budding stars.

These beary sized cakes are very yummy. I’ll taste them some more 🙂

Road Trip On Australia’s Coral Coast

The very busy 🙂 Indian Ocean Drive
Mobile sand dune
Mobile sand dune

There are large, mobile sand dunes that occur between Lancelin and Cervantes. These dunes have no vegetation and are moving (with seasonal variation) in a northerly direction due to the South-West onshore breezes, which move the sand from the southern edge or “tail” of the dune and deposit it at the northern “head” or leading edge. As the dunes progress northwards, the southern edges are stabilised by new vegetation.

Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park

Thousands of huge limestone pillars rise from the shifting yellow sands and look more like something from a science fiction movie in the Pinnacles Desert. It’s believed the Pinnacles were created millions of years ago as seashells were broken down into sand and then eroded by water and wind.

Under the starry sky in the Pinnacles Desert (need to work on those raw images)
Lake Thetis Thrombolites, Cervantes
Lake Thetis Thrombolites, Cervantes

Lake Thetis is one of only five sites in Western Australia that features thrombolites which are closely related to stromatolites – the oldest ‘living’ fossil in the world at 3.5 billion years old; thrombolites are believed to be over 3,000 years old.

Various microbial communities live in Lake Thetis. Colonies of cyanobacteria that build these stromatolites are similar to the earliest organisms to appear on Earth that produced oxygen for subsequent life forms. Once widespread, stromatolites are now only found in isolated places where conditions are suitable with few marine animals to graze them.

Wirnda Ngadara Leaning Tree

The Leaning Trees of Greenough belong to a native Western Australian species Eucalyptus camaldulensis, River Gum. Their characteristic lean is caused by constant strong southerly winds that burn off growth on the windward side (flagging). This eucalypt is known to be a very hardy grower, though it has weak branches. The Wajarri name for these trees is Wirnda Ngadara.

Finally, a place to relax…

Welcome to Port Gregory
Time to relax
Pink Lake (Hutt Lagoon) outside Port Gregory

Is that pink?

Pink Lake (Hutt Lagoon) outside Port Gregory
Pink Lake (Hutt Lagoon) outside Port Gregory

Hutt Lagoon is a pink lake which boasts a pink hue created by presence of carotenoid-producing algae Dunaliella salina, a source of ß-carotene, a food-colouring agent and source of vitamin A.

Very relaxing… But for beary relaxing, little bears need elevenses!

On the jetty in Port Gregory

No elevenses in sight, anywhere around Port Gregory…

Port Gregory Road

Found a good spot for lunch in Dongara 🙂

Seaspray Cafe, Dongara
Yummy chicken souvlaki with chips
Seaspray Cafe, Dongara

The lunch was not enough to weigh down little bears so they wouldn’t get blown away by the ocean breeze…

Beach outside Seaspray Cafe, Dongara

Stopping to smell the Indian Ocean 🙂

Looking over Indian Ocean outside Leeman

Time to go home for elevenses. Vroom, vroom 🙂

Looking Up at the Super Blue Blood Moon

Blue moon, super moon and blood moon have combined to create moment not seen in the western hemisphere skies in more than 150 years.

A rare celestial event graced the skies last night – a blue moon and lunar eclipse combine with the moon being at its closest point to Earth, resulting in what is being called a “super blue blood moon”. On their own, a full moon, a total lunar eclipse, a blue moon and a supermoon are not that unusual. What is rare is that they happened all together on one day. The last time the elements combined at the same time was in 1866.

A “super blue blood moon” is the result of a blue moon – the second full moon in a calendar month – occurring at the same time as a super moon, when the moon is near perigee and about 14% brighter than usual (although the difference is not visible with the naked eye), and a so-called blood moon – the moment during a lunar eclipse when the moon, in the Earth’s shadow, takes on a reddish tint.

Like the Earth, half the moon is illuminated by the sun at any one time. The moon orbits around the Earth and as a result we see different amounts of the lit-up side.

The phases of the moon visible from Earth are related to its revolution around our planet

A full moon is when we see its entire lit-up side. This occurs every 29.5 days, when the moon is directly opposite the sun relative to the Earth.

The moon’s orbit is tilted by about 5 degrees relative to the Earth’s orbit. So, most of the time the moon ends up a little above or below the path Earth follows as it revolves around the sun, and the Earth’s shadow misses the moon, falling either above or below it. But twice a year, the moon crosses into our planet’s orbital plane.

A lunar eclipse happens when the moon is completely in the Earth’s shadow

If that crossing corresponds to a full moon, the moon will pass into the Earth’s shadow, resulting in a total lunar eclipse. Since the moon needs to be behind the Earth, relative to the sun, a lunar eclipse can only happen on a full moon.

When a lunar eclipse happens, the moon appears to darken as it moves into the Earth’s shadow called the umbra. When the moon is all the way in shadow it doesn’t go completely dark; instead, it looks red due to a process called Rayleigh scattering. The gas molecules of Earth’s atmosphere scatter bluer wavelengths of light from the sun, while redder wavelengths pass straight through.

This is why we have blue skies and red sunrises and sunsets. When the sun is high in the sky, red light passes straight through to the ground while blue light is scattered in every direction, making it more likely to hit your eye when you look around. During a sunset, the angle of the sun is lower in the sky and that red light instead passes directly into your eyes while the blue light is scattered away from your line of sight.

In the case of a lunar eclipse, the sunlight that makes it around Earth passes through our atmosphere and is refracted toward the moon. Blue light is filtered out, leaving the moon looking reddish during an eclipse.

A super blood moon tinted red by scattered light

By one definition (there are more than one), a blue moon occurs any time a second full moon occurs in a single month. Since there are 29.5 days between two full moons, we usually only end up with one per month. With most months longer than 29.5 days, it occasionally works out that we have two full moons. We already had a full moon on the 1st of January and yesterday was the second full moon of the month, making it a blue moon (in name only, not in colour 🙂 ). With this definition our next blue moon is in March, leaving February with no full moon at all this year.

Finally, to add the cherry on top 🙂 this was also a supermoon. The moon’s orbit is not perfectly circular, meaning its distance from Earth varies as it goes through one cycle. The closest point in its orbit is called the perigee. A full moon that happens near perigee is called a supermoon by some. The astronomical term for a moon at perigee is “perigee full moon” or a “perigee syzygy”, which means three celestial bodies in a line.

A lunar eclipse is a great opportunity for scientific learning. The details of how the sunlight we see reflected from the moon during eclipse has been altered, scattered and absorbed on its way through our atmosphere, and how this is affected by, for example, volcanic eruptions or even meteor showers, are still being studied.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in studying lunar eclipses from a surprising source, the discovery of planets orbiting other stars. If we see an “exoplanet” pass across the face of its parent star, a small fraction of the starlight we collect will have passed through the planet’s atmosphere. Looking at spectra – measurements of light broken down by wavelength – taken during such a transit with those taken out of transit can help determine the composition of the atmosphere. This could include biosignatures such as oxygen, ozone or methane – which might give away the presence of extraterrestrial life.

A lunar eclipse is a perfect opportunity to study the details of the same effect close to home – sunlight reflected from the moon during eclipse has passed through the Earth’s atmosphere and been imprinted with its characteristics. This means the Earth takes the place of a transiting exoplanet. Various lunar eclipse studies are being conducted ahead of observations with upcoming facilities – such as the James Webb Space Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope – which have the potential to study the atmospheres of distant Earth-like planets.

Gaze Up Tonight

Don’t forget to look up tonight. The times in Western Australia for watching the total lunar eclipse are beary social! 🙂 7:48pm to 11:11pm.

The eclipse will occur in the early evening, within an hour after sunset. The moon will be low to the eastern horizon at the start of the eclipse but will move higher in the sky and towards the northeast as the eclipse progresses.

If the weather doesn’t cooperate in your local area, you can also follow the eclipse via live streaming by the Virtual Telescope or timeanddate.com.

Glasses are optional 🙂