Freshly Unchanged

Arsia Mons, a Martian volcano last active around 50 million years ago

[Image: The Arsia Mons volcano on Mars; image courtesy of NASA, via Flickr. The original (very complete) page of information at the NASA site itself quotes a researcher, one Jacob Richardson, who says, “We estimate that the peak activity for the volcanic field at the summit of Arsia Mons probably occurred approximately 150 million years ago–the late Jurassic period on Earth–and then died out around the same time as Earth’s dinosaurs.” It built up slowly, very slowly: Richardson says, “Think of it like a slow, leaky faucet of magma… Arsia Mons was creating about one volcanic vent every 1 to 3 million years at the peak, compared to one every 10,000 years or so in similar regions on Earth.” The caldera is about 68 miles (110 kilometers) in diameter, and “deep enough to hold the entire volume of water in Lake Huron, and then some.” (For comparison, the surface area of Lake Huron, per Wikipedia, is about 23,000 miles; the Arsia Mons caldera’s surface area works out to less than 15,000 square miles — the caldera is much deeper than the Great Lake.)]

From whiskey river:

Theory of Memory

Long, long ago, before I was a tormented artist, afflicted with longing yet incapable of forming durable attachments, long before this, I was a glorious ruler uniting all of a divided country—so I was told by the fortune-teller who examined my palm. Great things, she said, are ahead of you, or perhaps behind you; it is difficult to be sure. And yet, she added, what is the difference? Right now you are a child holding hands with a fortune-teller. All the rest is hypothesis and dream.

(Louise Glück [source])


The Ordinary Life

To rise early, reconsider, rise again later
to papers and the news. To smoke a few if time
permits and, second-guessing the weather,

dress. Another day of what we bring to it –
matters unfinished from days before,
regrets over matters we’ve finished poorly.

Just once you’d like to start out early,
free from memory and lighter for it.
Like Adam, on that first day: alone

but cheerful, no fear of the maker,
anything his for the naming; nothing
to shrink from, nothing to shirk,

no lot to carry that wasn’t by choice.
And at night, no voice to keep him awake,
no hurry to rise, no hurry not to.

(Tracy K. Smith [source])


Buddhists say that thoughts are like drops of water on the brain; when you reinforce the same thought, it will etch a new stream into your consciousness, like water eroding the side of a mountain. Scientists confirm this bit of folk wisdom: our neurons break connections and form new pathways all the time.

(Caitlin Doughty [source])


Theoretically there is no absolute proof that one’s awakening in the morning (the finding oneself again in the saddle of one’s personality) is not really a quite unprecedented event, a perfectly original birth.

(Vladimir Nabokov [source])

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Curiosity’s “Seven Minutes of Terror”: Best Explanation

This video has been out for awhile, but I still find it entertaining. It’s a bunch of NASA folks explaining all the things that have to happen exactly right in order to get the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), a/k/a Curiosity, safely from space to the Martian surface. It’s way more complicated than the landings of earlier rovers: this one is the size of a small car, weighs about a thousand pounds, and is (per the device’s full name) chock-full of chemical-analysis and other testing instruments.

One of the cooler items on board: a rock-blasting laser. It can focus in on a rock several meters away, and vaporize it — filming the dust, which will tell it [something or other] about the material the rock was made of.

(On the other hand, I have a little science-fiction scenario in my head: say there are two single-celled organisms remaining on Mars, on the whole planet, following eons of extinction. Say these two have just successfully mated, and reproduced single-celled organism #3. The happy family is all excited, of course, and starts to plan for the future of their species on, oh no!, on exactly the wrong pebble…)

As you probably know by now, the landing seems to have gone off without a hitch. So, so cool.

Update, 2012-08-08: Just saw this cartoon in the e-newsletter for The Funny Times, which pointed out that both Gabby Douglas and Curiosity stuck their landings.


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At the Outset

From whiskey river:


Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,

then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best–
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso–

maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins–
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,

and, if necessary, the windows–
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.

(Billy Collins [source])


Whatever it is that pulls the pin, that hurls you past the boundaries of your own life into a brief and total beauty, even for a moment, it is enough.

(Jeanette Winterson [source])

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