March 2018

Posted by Ellen

The night owls who officially discovered–and named–Steve are the members of a Facebook group called Alberta Aurora Chasers. They are folks who like to stay up late and drive out to remote pastures and mountain valleys, even when the winter nights are insanely cold, which they often are in the prairies and Rockies of western Canada–all in hopes of a chance to enjoy big, unpolluted views of shimmery aurora borealis lights in the northern sky.

Steve is the name the aurora chasers borrowed from the children's movie Over the Hedge and applied to a particular, somewhat unusual aurora-like phenomenon, streaks of purple light that ripple vertically from the horizon instead of dancing horizontally along it like a normal, well-behaved, aurora. Normal auroras are produced when electrons thrown off by the sun approach earth, where they are pulled by our magnetic field toward the north and south poles. As they collide with gas molecules in the upper atmosphere, they can put on a bright light show.

Steve, scientists thought at first, could be generated by protons instead of electrons crashing into our atmosphere. But a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Calgary, Eric Donovan, suspected otherwise; proton collisions, he thought, wouldn't give off much visible light for aurora chasers to photograph and enjoy.

In 2016, Donovan was able to track down something he thought might be an instance of Steve that was picked up by a satellite flying right overhead in Alberta. So he went on Facebook and asked the Alberta Aurora Chasers if they'd seen anything that night, at that location.

They had noticed it and photographed it. Donovan correlated their photos with the satellite data and concluded that Steve wasn't technically an aurora at all; it was a ribbon of extremely hot gas flying through space, more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than its surroundings.

Donovan believes the Steve discovery demonstrates the potential of "citizen scientists" to leverage data from satellites and other instruments in our brave new world. Of course, it also demonstrates what happens, à la Boaty McBoatface, when digital anybodies are charged with coming up with names for stuff.

Posted by Ellen

Hundreds of women and children fled their homes in South Sudan in 2016 and hid in this cave for safety from bombs being dropped by warplanes of their own government. Civil war consumed the young country, founded in 2011, reducing almost all of it to rubble and ashes.

Recently, the fighting has mostly abated, but the government is still blocking delivery of food and medical supplies in regions destroyed by war. Famine and massive migrations have resulted.

More than four million refugees have left South Sudan; about 100,000 of them have resettled in the United States, including 3,000 in Portland and Lewiston, Maine.

Posted by Ellen

Louis and Robin enjoy a bit of screen time together during a recent reunion weekend in Nashville. The people reunioning were five friends from Central High School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, class of 1996 and 1997, who came in from Taiwan, Seattle, Indiana, Tuscaloosa, and Nashville, with spouses and kids. Louis's father and Robin's father have known each other since about the first or second grade.

Posted by Ellen

Four-year-old Rainer sits on one of the snow-covered rocks in a quiet, slushy cove at the edge of the Baltic Sea near Tallinn, Estonia.

Posted by Ellen

"I Stand Alone," an ink drawing by Janice Patterson, won an honorable mention in the winter 2018 exhibit at University House Wallingford, Seattle.

Posted by Ellen

A miniature SWAT team, heavily armed with miniature weapons and supported by a miniature helicopter, conducts a raid on a two-story house in the Norwegian Playmobil museum, housed in the old post office near the harbor in Kragerø.

Posted by Ellen

How the cooks dried the silverware in a Minnesota lumber camp, summer of 1937.

Posted by Ellen

Dancing in the dark, with bicycle.

Posted by Ellen

In Havana, if they send you out to get the coffee for everybody, you bring a glass to the coffee shop and tell them how many shots to put in it.

Don't go early in the morning, however. This shop didn't open till nine.

We note that in this picture, Joe is wearing the shoes he got married in.