Making Room for the Traditional

A culture is defined by many things.. A language, a religion, a way of life, a racial identity, these and more tie together in an identity that define us. As these ideas are shared by a worldwide communications network, as so many emigrate from homelands wracked by war or economic strife these cultural identities are increasingly mixed and exchanged. Increasingly our modern world is converging on a single common culture.

While this process has been slowly occurring since the Age of Exploration and the dawn of worldwide trade, it has more recently been pushed into hyper-drive by the communications revolution created by the internet. In a historical instant almost anyone, living anywhere has access to and can interact with people across the globe. For recent generations this is now taken for granted and not just available, but a regular occurrence that is an integral part of everyday life.

Internet Backbone
The internet backbone, Wikimedia image
While many may see a set of dominant cultures developing, I would argue that there is really a single globe spanning culture that will result. There are a number of poles within this culture, driven by the major regional cultures, but increasingly there is a common set of values that are beginning to define a single entity.

The first culture to enter this new sphere was Anglo-American, home to the developing communications technologies that began the worldwide net. Being first on the scene allowed American culture to set the ground rules, to perform the first experiments in how these new communications possibilities could be used.

American culture is still dominant, but is increasing rivaled by the other major cultures. European, Latin American, and several Asian cultures have created their own spheres within the network. While somewhat isolated by language, or deliberate governmental restrictions, there is a great deal of interaction. Good, or often bad ideas that originate in one sphere spread to the entire network with increasing rapidity.

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More Than 100 Planets Confirmed in Single Trove

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

An international team of astronomers have discovered and confirmed a treasure trove of new worlds. The researchers achieved this extraordinary discovery of exoplanets by combining NASA’s K2 mission data with follow-up observations by Earth-based telescopes including the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, the twin Gemini telescopes on Maunakea and in Chile, the Automated Planet Finder of the University of California Observatories and the Large Binocular Telescope operated by the University of Arizona. The team confirmed more than 100 planets, including the first planetary system comprising four planets potentially similar to Earth. The discoveries are published online in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.

Image montage showing the Maunakea Observatories, Kepler Space Telescope, and night sky with K2 Fields and discovered planetary systems (dots) overlaid. Credit: Karen Teramura/IFA , Miloslav Druckmüller, NASA
Image montage showing the Maunakea Observatories, Kepler Space Telescope, and night sky with K2 Fields and discovered planetary systems (dots) overlaid. Credit: Karen Teramura/IFA , Miloslav Druckmüller, NASA
Ironically, the bounty was made possible when the Kepler space telescope’s pointing system broke.

In its initial mission, Kepler surveyed a specific patch of sky in the northern hemisphere, measuring the frequency with which planets whose sizes and temperatures are similar to Earth occur around stars like our sun. But when it lost its ability to precisely stare at its original target area in 2013, engineers created a second life for the telescope that is proving remarkably fruitful.

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Watching Mauna Loa

Being an inveterate volcano watcher, I have not only been watching the new flow on Kilauea, but keeping a wary eye on Mauna Loa as well. The USGS has steadily been increasing the alert level on this largest of the Hawaiian volcanoes over the last year.

On this unstable rock we live, we get a fair number of earthquakes. Of course not every bump you feel is seismic, sometimes it is just a big truck on the highway. You look on the USGS Recent Earthquakes page anyway, just to see what it was. Not this time, must have been a truck. While I have the page loaded I look about… Wait? What is that cluster on the NW flank of Mauna Loa? I do not remember seeing that before!

For the last year or more there has been a steady cluster of small earthquakes just to the southwest of the main caldera. This notable cluster is usually visible when you stop by the earthquake page and indicates magma motion below the summit. It is a big part of why the USGS has upped the advisory level. The cluster on the west flank looks new to me, a lot of small quakes, some deep, some as shallow as 600m.

I am sure someone over at the USGS is looking at the same cluster and asking the same questions. Maybe they have better answers, but they have not published anything yet. Maybe, like so many times before this cluster will fade away, not to appear again. It is however a reminder that magma is moving down there, the mountain is swelling, someday she will erupt again.

Today I will be driving up and down the mountain. I know I will be looking across the saddle at the looking bulk of Mauna Loa and wondering for the thousandth time. Will I see an eruption from her during my years on island?

HVO Earthquakes 15July2016
HVO earthquake plot for 15July2016

Hiking the Sealion Cove Trail

The Sealion Cove trail is a beautiful hike over remote Kruzof island north of Sitka, Alaska. The only way to access the trailhead is by boat or seaplane. The trail starts on Kalinin Bay, passes through a small pass between two mountains and then drops down to the Pacific Ocean and the beautiful beach at Sealion Cove. At the midway point, in the pass, is a small and apparently unnamed lake.

Sealion Cove Trail
The first section of trail along the top of Kalinin Bay
I have been to the lake and back years past, but the group I was hiking with was not ready to go the full distance to the beach at Sealion Cove. This is not a place to hike alone. We ended up turning around after enjoying the scenery at the lake. This time I really wanted to go all the way.

The first section of the trail follows the shore of the wide estuary that drains into Kalinin bay. The trail follows the treeline where the high tides and saltwater prevent the spruce from encroaching further. While there has been some effort to improve the trail here, with gravel spread and rock strategically placed at the many small streams, the effort looks to be futile. Deep mud pockets sucked at our feet and required careful footing. The dry socks in my pocket were obviously going to stay in my pocket, my river sandals often full of mud.

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Andrea Ghez at WHAC

Not a call I want to get just a few hours before our astronomy club meeting… My presenter for the evening? Tooth extraction?

Andrea Ghez at WHAC
Andrea Ghez talking at the July WHAC meeting
Yeah, we have no main lecture for the evening.

The West Hawaii Astronomy Club is not a large club, more than a dozen folks is a big meeting. Still, these are dedicated amateur astronomers that can be relied upon to help out with school star parties and observatory events. They have driven all the way to Waimea because I promised them a lecture from an astronomer. A few folks come from Kona 45 minutes to an hour away. I really want to give them something worth the effort of getting here.

They will just have to settle for a talk with Andrea Ghez.

Yes, that Andrea, the closest thing we have to a superstar in astronomy. Discoverer of the black hole at the center of our galaxy, winner of the Crafoord Prize and the Bakerian Medal… That Andrea.

I ran into Andrea at dinner next door to the observatory, we know each other from other outreach events and swapping photos. She is a regular Keck observer with research that concentrates on the massive black hole at the core of our Milky Way galaxy. I asked her if she could come talk with the club, or rather I begged a bit. Being the gracious lady she is, she said yes. Thanks Andrea!!

It was so much better than the warmed over presentation I had thought I would be giving this evening. The small group allowed something closer to a conversation than a lecture. There were some good questions too! We moved past the basics pretty quickly with a group that knew more than a little about the subject. I found the evening very informative, I think everyone did.