night

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Drone's eye view of a state fair at night.

Posted by Ellen

Next to Tokyo''s famed neon nightclub district is Golden Gai, which we're told is the old nightlife neighborhood, packed with tiny dive bars, many of them up steep stairs from the street.

Somehow, Golden Gai escaped the urban renewal boom that destroyed almost all of old-timey Tokyo. These two staircases lead to two different bars. A patron with a furled umbrella descends from one of them.

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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.

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Dancing in the dark, with bicycle.

Posted by Ellen

Midnight in Salisbury, United Kingdom.  We don't want the world to be quite this way, but it is what it is.

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Until a couple of years ago, internet access in Cuba was a tightly restricted privilege; now, however, anybody can go online.

But two big obstacles remain. One is cost; a few minutes of wifi can eat up an entire day's pay for an average Cuban. Thus, although some people do use the web to check for news beyond official government reports, most internet activity in Cuba is focused on phone calls, often video calls, especially to friends and relatives abroad. 

The other obstacle to getting online is that wifi is not available in your living room; you have to go to a hotspot, which is often outdoors, in a park or plaza. So Cubans such as the Havanans in the photo above gather at hotspots around town with their phones and tablets.

In the evenings, when the tropical heat is letting up a bit, some hotspots get so crowded that the internet slows to to a crawl and may crash. The govvernment has promised to expand the wifi network and even bring it into people's homes, but little progress has been noted.

That's because of the American embargo, say Cuban officials. And they may be right.

Posted by Ellen

The sun sets on the other side of the International Date Line, in Teneriffe, a riverside suburb of Brisbane, Australia. Or so they say; this post is yet another in a long irregular series spouting off about places we've never seen and about which we know next to nothing.

But we persist.

In the early twentieth century, Teneriffe was the wool-export center of the universe, with warehouses that could store tens of thousands of bales of Australia's wool. During World War II, the country's largest submarine base was located here. But in recent years, shipping has moved to container facilities at the mouth of the Brisbane River, and Teneriffe has assumed more of a residential character.

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The bronze Ben Franklin standing atop City Hall's dome is said to be the tallest statue anywhere that's on top of a building. He's 37 feet tall and weighs 27 tons.

This picture of Ben from behind was taken from the new observation deck on the 57th floor of One Liberty Place a couple of blocks away.