Friday, February 29, 2008


The word of the day is "dance." Thanks, Mona. Two gravitationally interacting galaxies, known as "the mice" because of the long tails. But they look like dancers to me.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mini moons

Interlopers. Hangers-on. Hitch-hikers. Parasites. Guardian angels. Extended family. Entangled relationships from which you will never escape.

Take your pick.

The earth has more than one moon.

Okay, technically they aren't moons, since they don't rotate the earth, but are instead "co-orbital objects," that gravitationally interact with us as we make our way around the sun. They don't shine, they're too small to reflect back much sunlight, they are dark chunks of rock, leftover from the birth of the solar system.

And there are several of them, but I wanna talk about the largest one today.

3753 Cruithne (pronounced "krooy-nyuh," named for a King of the Celtic Picts) is the coolest of all, because of its very strange horseshoe shaped orbit. Of course, all orbits are ellipses, but from the point of view of the earth, Cruithne's orbit is a set of spirals that, taken together, form a horseshoe (the picture below is a simplified version). I'd be lying to say I understand it fully, and I've been pondering it for weeks now, but the result is a stable and carefully choreographed two-body orbit where neither object will hit the other one.

Please don't this this as a sign of intelligent design, or some uber-mind in charge of a great celestial clockworks. It's not. The reason Cruithne is in such a stable (albeit intricately choreographed) orbit is simply because if it were in an unstable orbit, it would have been flung into space, the sun, or even the earth. Like that thing that killed the dinosaurs. It's the cosmic version of "last man standing," and if it is evidence of anything, it is evidence of endless possibility, of the bounty of patterns nature can form from such simple building blocks.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monster Monday

Zira: What will he find out there, Dr. Zaius?
Zaius: His destiny.

One of the best movie endings ever. God bless Rod Serling.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bergen Street

Irrelephant has given us "tattoo" as the word of the day, along with a stunning piece of prose you owe it to yourself to go and read.

The Bergen Street stop at 3 a m smells like urine and perfume. Floor to ceiling locked mesh gates like the bars of a cell, padlocks the size of fists blocking off huge shadowed sections of the subway. Buzzing fluorescent lights high overhead. I am at one end of the platform, sobering, waiting for the crosstown G train. She is at the other, curled into her raincoat like a slinky.

First a breeze, kicking up newspapers, then a full-bore wind as the bright unblinking eye rounds the corner into view. Train coming. I move to the edge of the platform, eager for bed. She stands. And though the raincoat envelops her like a sheath her bare calf and ankle peek out from under the hem. A tattoo circles her ankle. A crown of thorns? A snake eating its tail?

The train lurches to a stop. Doors shudder open. Before entering the car I turn to look and she is looking back, straight back, feline eyes meeting my own. She smiles a canary smile. She does not enter the car.

I slip in just as the doors wheeze shut.

I look out the window. She is gone from the platform.

On the train?


I look back into the shadows of the station and see her smiling from behind the locked mesh gates. The shuttered padlocks wink in the buzzing fluorescence. She slides into the darkness as the train pulls away. Still smiling.

The smile follows me home, into my dreams, into the next day and beyond.

I’ve seen her a few times since. Same feline eyes, same canary smile. She lives there, I think. On the subway platform. Perhaps a ghost. Perhaps an anonymous fragment of dream. Or perhaps real, merely lost, merely homeless, with an uncanny ability to navigate the recesses of this vast underground.

That tattoo around her ankle, though. I’ve looked more closely.

I’m pretty sure it is a chain.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Full Moon

There's a total lunar eclipse tonight, from 7 p.m. til 10 or so, Mountain Time. But that's not what I'm writing about.

Lunar eclipses always occur during full moons. And full moons always rise exactly at sunset (if that seems mysterious, a pencil and paper will help you figure out why). And that's what I'm writing about: that exact moment when the sun is perched on one horizon, the moon on the opposite. Happens once a month. It's a charged moment, as if the moon, sun and Earth are all in precarious balance for a brief instant. Time seems to slow down to accommodate it, balanced as well. Then the moon goes up, the sun goes down, the moment is over, time snaps back, life goes on. We try to experience it firsthand several times a year, by driving out to the bank of the Arkansas River to watch the full moon rise. The girls, predictably, are more interested in playing with the car radio than watching the moonrise.

In "Gilead," one of my favorite books ever, Marilynne Robinson does a much better job of of describing it than I:
"Then I realized that what I saw was a full moon rising just as the sun was going down. Each of them was standing on its edge, with the most wonderful light between them. It seemed as if you could touch it, as if there were palpable currents of light passing back and forth, or as if there were great taut skeins of light suspended between them. I wanted my father to see it, but I new I'd have to startle him out of his prayer, and I wanted to do it the best way, so I took his hand and kissed it. And then I said, 'Look at the moon.' And he did. We just stood there until the sun was down and the moon was up."

Such clear, simple writing.

So bundle up and go outside tonight (or stay in the car with the heater on like we do) and look up at the sky for awhile. See the moon and the sun and the Earth at play.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Monster Monday

I've actually seen this. Twice. Watch for the perky suburban housewife offering up the flying blood-sucking alien parasite like a plate of cookies.

Friday, February 15, 2008


A belated Valentine poem, for the lil Hucky. Again, to the Benevolent Overlord of Poetry Friday, we say thank you. We're not worthy!

Today's word is "time."

In the span of seconds
it took to kiss you
that first time
I heard the murmur and rustle
of our pasts, queuing up patiently
for our tilt-a-whirl future
our hopes lifted improbably aloft
like spinning plates balanced
on finger thin poles

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Blame love

I helped my youngest daughter finish her Valentine's box last night, and this morning I'm still finding bits of glitter on my face, my hands, my hair, my goatee. It won't wash off. I wear it like a badge of honor, a victory flag from some conquering army. I am happily vanquished.

Happy Valentine's Day.

I'll leave you with a quote about love (and regret, and transcendence), from the remarkable Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo, which I (finally) finished last night.

"...There is, despite our wildest imaginings, only one life. The ghostly others, no matter how real they seem, no matter how badly we need them, are phantoms. The one life we're left with is sufficient to fill and refill our imperfect hearts with joy, and then to shatter them. And it never, ever lets up.

Blame love."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Monster Monday

The oceans should be controlled by beautiful life-forms such as myself.

Dig that crazy theme song!

Thursday, February 7, 2008


When I first started this blog, about a month ago, I was pretty psyched about the possibility of an asteroid hitting Mars, perhaps right in front of one of the Mars rovers, giving us all a front row seat for the collision. Odds were at 1-in-75, then jumped up to 1-in-25, then down to 1-in-40, then, sadly, 1-in-10,000.

Turns out that it probably didn't crash into Mars.

Where is it now? No one knows.

It's lost.

The thing (it's in the little red circle in the middle of the picture) has been slingshotted by Martian gravity straight into the unknown (I can relate), and while Mars doesn't have enough gravitational muscle to sling it clear out of the solar system, it does have enough of an effect to seriously warp its orbit. So now it's adrift, untethered from its previous influences, and will slowly accumulate new influences, settling finally into a new orbit: stable, but very different. There are way too many variables for astronomers to calculate the new path.

Again, metaphors abound with this orbital mechanics stuff, which is why I like to write about it. And I won't belabor the metaphor, other than to say that I find the whole process oddly comforting; some random rock being wrenched out of a stable and comfortable orbit, thrust into a whole new family of gravitational influences, where, given enough time, it will settle into stability again. No collisions, nothing spilled. Just another trip into the unknown. Until gradually the unknown becomes, well, known.

I like that.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Have a nice day

Proof that dim-witted 70s culture (as opposed to actual intelligence) exists on Mars:

And this just in: apparently Mercury has been copyrighted....

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Of the people, by the people, for the people

Anyone else find it revealing that the same day the government announced the US economy had "shedded" 17,000 jobs, Exxon-Mobil posted the largest profits ever recorded in US history?

Who's in charge here?

Friday, February 1, 2008


Mona, the benevolent Overlord of poetry Friday, tells us the word of the day is "birthday." Make it so.

three guttering candles tilt drunkenly on the uncut cake
torn wrapping paper swirls like autumn leaves
balloons float as ghosts

the birthday girl runs in circles
around the toy-strewn room
laughing wildly
her crying little sister the center of her orbit

mom's orbit is straying these days
from its well established paths
as she retreats to the bathroom
and locks the door
for the rest of the afternoon