Hole in the Clouds
Dec 1, 2011
At about 9:30 in the morning on September 23, 1999, the Landsat 7 satellite swooped southward over eastern North America and captured this image of Philadelphia and environs.
Three of the Landsat sensors detected energy in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, completely invisible to the human eye. Data from these sensors is displayed here, with each of the three infrared bands assigned to one of the normal red-green-blue color bands so we at least have something to look at, even though the colors have nothing to do with normal vision.
Clicking on the picture brings up a bigger version, which shows much more detail.
We can tell right away that the rivers are black; infrared energy is completely absorbed by water, reflecting back nothing for the sensors to detect. And if we look along the river at lower left, we can make out the airport, with runways that are bright cyan in color. This white-to-bluish hue is also the color of roads, railroads, parking lots, and other paved surfaces.
Infrared data is especially useful for studying vegetation, which shows up in this color scheme as red, orange, or yellow. The brightest red patches represent vigorous herbaceous growth, such as healthy cropland in the midst of the growing season. There's little or no farmland in and around Philly, however, so the red patches we see here, such as in between the airport runways, are probably healthy weeds.
Patches of red coloration with a touch of an orange tint and some texture are forested areas, such as in parks or between the fairways of golf courses. Extremely vigorous grass, such as on the golf course fairways themselves, looks bright yellow in this view.
The brownish-to-grayish-to-bluish areas show mixed land cover: Landsat's sensors are averaging out the infrared signals from house roofs, pavement, lawns, shrubs, and trees in varying concentrations. Brownish areas are suburban, with lots of trees and grass; dark green to gray-blue areas are more urban, with a higher ratio of rooftops and pavement to vegetation.
Philadelphia has changed since this image was captured twelve years ago. Another stadium has been built near where the Schuylkill River empties out into the Delaware. In my neighborhood just south of Center City, the forested patch of land near the Schuylkill, which in 1999 was an abandoned and overgrown Old Sailors' Home is now a heavily developed condo complex. Even though the population of Philadelphia has shrunk dramatically over the past half-century and has just barely started growing again, land use patterns as viewed from outer space show ongoing urbanization.
(Image credit: NASA Landsat 7)
Dec 3, 2011
Maybe the gingerbread man was in that Folger's coffee can?
Government photographer John Vachon immortalized this scene while he was doing his Farm Security Administration work in Minnesota and the Dakotas in the spring of 1940. But he didn't record any explanations.
(Image credit: John Vacon, Farm Security Administration, via Shorpy)
Dec 4, 2011
The stars of the Milky Way rise out of the Mediterranean in this time-release photo taken on the beach at the edge of the Greek village of Elia, near Molaoi. The earthly lights in the distance at far right are from the port of Gytheio, a few kilometers away. The brightest part of the Milky Way galaxy, in the right center of the picture near the constellation of Sagittarius, is about 27,000 light-years away.
(Image credit: Stavros Hios)
Dec 7, 2011
It's been a while since we've served up puppies or babies in this space, so here's the Dobster, hopping about on two wet feet.
Dec 8, 2011
I always thought they were called sycamores, but no, the people who know these things tell me that city trees that look like sycamores are actually hybrid variants called London planes. Real sycamores, we are told, are too crooked to serve well as street trees, so things are what they are, and now that the old elm trees are no longer among us, we are left with London planes as kings of the sidewalks, with their fine white bark and annoying seed balls. This one is on South 21st Street in Philadelphia, near the corner of Kater Street.
The picture was taken about a year ago, when December was decidedly more wintry than has been the case thus far in 2011. But last year's decorations are up again, and the dusk is just as dark and just as early as I remember from 2010. Season's greetings are probably in order.
Dec 9, 2011
The satellite view of Philadelphia in infrared, from a few days ago, led some people to ask for more false-color imagery of our planet. Here we've got a river delta in the tundra of eastern Siberia, where the River Lena empties into the Arctic Ocean. The image is from mid-summer, when the plants of the tundra were bursting with new growth, thanks to twenty-four hours a day of sunlight. The color scheme here is different from that of the Philadelphia scene but still not closely related to the colors a human eye would detect. The data displayed comes from three sensors on the Landsat satellite: one that detects infrared energy, another that detects near-infrared energy, which is very sensitive to the chemicals associated with growing vegetation, and a third sensor that picks up a part of the visible spectrum. Vegetation is green, exposed rock or soil is pink, wet soil (mud) is purple, and ice is blue.
Even in mid-summer, the sea ice floats close to shore. It will take another month or two for most of the ice to melt and/or wash out to sea, but as soon as it does freezing temperatures will return and ice formation will begin again.
The innumerable ponds and distributary streams are typical of flat places throughout the Arctic tundra, where permafrost just below the surface impairs drainage. Meltwater and rainwater sit on top of the permafrost all summer long, breeding mosquitoes...... which don't show up in the satellite imagery.
Dec 16, 2011
Some babies are just born to pay attention. Here in this 1892 portrait we have the future mayor of Wadena, Minnesota, Bernard Burch, and his sister, the future Mrs. Edna Chesnut.
Edna Burch Chesnut
Dec 17, 2011
At the end of November, when it came time to assess the results of a shaveless month, some of the 'staches sported by men of the USS Ingraham were of the Sharpie variety.
Dec 18, 2011
Visitors enjoy their reflections in the bean, in downtown Chicago's Millennium Park, near the waterfront. The couple pictured here can also be seen at lower right in the picture below, when they were first approaching the shiny thing and had not yet found themselves in it. But they're already there, if you look closely, along with the skyscrapers in the background and an ice skating rink in the middle distance.
Dec 19, 2011
When this picture was taken, the Wiggin family had included Vera the dog for about two hours.
(Image credit: Susan Wiggin)
Dec 20, 2011
This general store in Fort Covington, New York, a border town about 75 miles southwest of Montreal, was the pride and joy of Elsie and Charles J. Clarke, who are pictured here behind the counter in the mid-1920s. Charles Clarke, who had emigrated to Canada as a boy aboard one of the orphan ships from Liverpool, England, had somehow managed to save up enough money to buy his very own store. A few years later, however, during the devastation of the Great Depression, the Clarkes extended so much credit to their customers and had to conduct so much of their trade by barter that they lost the store.
Elsie and Charles J. Clarke
Dec 21, 2011
This species of duck is native to Africa and is ubiquitous throughout the continent, except in deserts and deep forest. It is not native but nonetheless ubiquitous in many parts of Europe, especially England, where it was introduced more than three centuries ago and has thrived in town and countryside to such an extent that it was added last year to the official national list of animal pests. This picture was taken recently in London.
The birds are known as Egyptian Geese, despite the fact that they are ducks, not geese. Apparently, they have a heavy-looking habit of flight that makes them look goose-like in the air.
Dec 22, 2011
As Debby and her daughter Lily lit the candles for the first night of Hanukah, Lily's Hanukah bear sat on the kitchen counter just beyond the right edge of this picture. Use your imagination: the Hanukah bear is a stuffed polar bear wearing a yarmulke, with a battery-powered voice. Push the button, and the Hanukah bear sings and sings about a dreidel made of clay.
After the candles were lit and the bear had sung, there were dreidels made of plastic and gelt made of chocolate, plus presents for Lily and latkes for all.
(Image credit: Hank Stein)
Dec 27, 2011
In this living-room scene, the tree may look all modern and artificial, but it was a completely natural blue spruce, spray-painted white with an air compressor. Mother and daughter are dressed for Christmas in 1954 in Miami Shores, Florida.
(Image credit: Grandfather Hall, via Shorpy)
Dec 28, 2011
The twins rolling around on the mat at lower left are imitating their father's winning wrestling moves at right, during Deering High School's annual alumni wrestling meet last week.
For many alumni of Deering's storied wrestling program, this meet is their only chance to lace up their old wrestling shoes and see if they've still got what it takes. Coach Kirk, who's been running the show at Deering for more than thirty years, matches up each alumnus against a member of the current varsity squad; the wrestling is vigorous but not particularly intense, because Coach always rigs the matchups to favor the old guys. This year, as in most years, the alumni won every bout.
Deering High School
Dec 29, 2011
Clear winners of the 2011 Christmas Vacation jigsaw competition are Olivia Horowitz of Bloomington, Indiana, and her grandmother Sandra Horowitz. They correctly assembled a 1,000-piece puzzle in less than 24 hours and would have finished even faster, according to spectators, had it not been for a break to watch a movie.
December 29 is Grandma Sandy's eighty-first birthday. Olivia, a junior at Bloomington South High School, is sixteen.
(Image credit: Carol Fuchs)
Dec 30, 2011
We have received another posting from The Ensign™, who is still bobbing around out in the Pacific Ocean aboard the USS Ingraham. This time, he confesses to taking up a habit that mama sez will ruin the headliner and upholstery and even the plastic of the dashboard in his car. . . .
So I thought it would be cool to buy a box of really nice Cohiba cigars when I was in Panama. All the engineering officers were doing it, and they told me that they could get a better deal if more people got in on the purchase. So I decided to get a box for myself. The problem with this is that I don't really like cigars, and now I have a $120 box of eight-inch-long, super thick cigars. I have tried to be a man and smoke them, but I feel like I'm being punished for something. I have already given a couple of them away. And I traded the Chief Engineer two of them for his old LTJG shoulder boards. (I know it is a bit presumptuous of me to assume that I'll get promoted, but I like my odds.)
Even though I do not enjoy the actual smoking of said cigar, I do take pleasure in the act of smoking on a ship. Today I got off the reveille watch from two to seven in the morning, and although tired I began my day. I went to quarters, did an electrical safety walk-through of Radio division, ordered some parts for a broken coffee maker (this thing is HUGE and apparently has a lot of electrical components), emailed our shore engineer to coordinate some post-deployment electrical work, validated a bunch of jobs that my guys have written up that came back to me for grammatical errors (Yay! My English degree is slowly paying dividends...), ensured that some of my guys helped to secure the electrical power to a food storage freezer that needs to have work done, went to departmental training on the mess decks, and located a ground in the B phase. It was a standard day.
Anyways, after dinner, and a short nap, I went out to the weather decks (the designated smoke area) and lit up a cigar. Watching the sun dip below the horizon, and talking to smokers as they came and went, I couldn't help but laugh. Even though I felt like I was smoking a flaming cucumber, it was pretty cool to be out there. As the breeze whipped back my hair and rippled through my grease stained coveralls, as I tried not to embarrass myself by coughing amongst veteran smokers, and as I contemplated how small we humans are as the stars started to poke needle holes through the clouds, I couldn't help but laugh. This deployment, this job, it's kind of funny sometimes for no particular reason.
Well, I'm off to stand the evening watch and to try and come up with more excuses to give away my expensive cohiba cigars.