Thursday, March 30, 2006
*Official guidelines on trademark use from TASER International, Inc. maintain that the word be in all caps, and that it is an adjective, not to be used as a noun or a verb. I wish them luck and hope their admin. assistant doesn't xerox the guidelines.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
New trailers are up for the more family-friendly upcoming animated penguin flick, Happy Feet. I still like the first trailer better.
We've all seen the obligatory scene in every submarine movie where the captain takes the sub below the calculated crush depth and the sub comes out OK. Now a Fairy penguin, smallest of all the penguins, has exceeded the calculated penguin crush depth. Scientists calculated that the maximum dive depth a one-kilogram penguin should be capable of reaching is 66 meters. The female Fairy went to 67 meters as recorded by the sensors she was wearing.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Monday, March 27, 2006
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Also, it helps to have a moon. Mercury and Venus do not experience solar eclipses because they have no moons to get between them and the sun.
Friday, March 24, 2006
The Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn mark the latitudes where the sun is directly overhead on the June and December solstices, respectively. Between those two latitudes, at some point during the year, the sun is directly overhead. North of the Tropic of Cancer and south of the Tropic of Capricorn, the sun is never directly overhead; its highest point at noon is something less than 90 degrees from the horizon. In winter, the angle of noon is lower, and in summer, the angle of noon is higher.
The word "tropic" comes from the Greek word "tropikos," meaning "to turn." Because the sun appeared to turn around on the solstices--on the winter solstice, the angle of noon stopped descending and headed back up in the sky, vice versa on the summer solstice--the word also came to be synonymous with "solstice." Hence, the latitudes of the solstices became the Tropics.
The reason they are called the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn brings us back to precession of the equinoxes. The two Tropics were named about 2000 years ago, when the sun appeared to be in the constellation Cancer on the June solstice and in the constellation Capricorn on the December solstice. Because of precession, the sun is now in the constellation Sagittarius on the December solstice and in Gemini or Taurus on the June solstice. The June solstice position crossed the official astronomical boundary into Taurus about 25 years ago, but the official and traditional boundaries differ; according to traditional boundaries, the June solstice is still in Gemini.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
To clarify the difference, Tropical is basically solar time, while Sidereal is based on observation of the stars.
The differences add up to about 21 minutes a year, meaning that Tropical and Sidereal observations of the sky sync up on a cycle of about 26,000 years--and we're back to precession of the equinoxes.
Precession also causes the equinox and solstice points to drift across the backdrop of stars, including the constellations that cross the zodiac. The zodiac is a line in the sky that one gets by extending the plane of the solar system (all planets except Pluto orbit on approximately the same plane) into space. Astrologers extend the zodiac zone about 8 degrees above and below that line for purposes of noting planetary alignments and such. That's about 16 times the width of the full moon.
Tropical astrology, the type used in most newspaper horoscopes, uses the solstice points of the first millennium. Since then, precession caused the astronomical solstice points to drift almost a full sign.
The dates of the Sidereal zodiac, practiced by Indian astrologers, adjust to account for precession. This adjustment means that a person’s sign under Sidereal astrology, which may not match the sign of the Tropical zodiac, more closely matches the actual position of the stars.
Both Tropical and Sidereal astrology divide the zodiac into 12 equal segments and assign each segment to a sign based on the constellation that is now or was in that general region of the sky. However, the actual constellations are not uniform sizes, and the amount of space on the zodiac is not equal. While astrology allocates 30 degrees for each sign, the constellations occupy more or less than that. In addition, a thirteenth constellation, Ophiuchus, lies on the band of the zodiac, a fact noted by Ptolemy in the second century and generally ignored by most astrologers.
This link has a handy chart of dates for the signs of the Tropical and Sidereal zodiacs, as well as the dates the sun crosses the official astronomical borders of the constellations on the zodiac.
“Zodiac” is good for 18 points in Scrabble. The word comes from the Greek words for “animal” and “circle.”
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Ten Gentoo penguins have been named and moved into their new homes at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina. The penguins--now christened Alex, Bosco, Caroline, Hallie, Harmony, Jack, Maddie, Oreo, Orlando and Zoey--originate from Sea World Orlando, and have just recently come out of quarantine to join the rest of the exhibit, which features Rockhoppers and Kings.
There is a south star, Sigma Octantis, but it is too dim to be of much practical use in navigation. In a couple millennia, the southern hemisphere will get a better pole star.
Mars currently has a south star, Kappa Velorum.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
This phenomenon has two practical effects for Earthlings. First, the pole stars change periodically as the axis traces out that circle. Second, the signs of the Tropical Zodiac (the one used for most newspaper horoscopes) drift out of sync with the position of the sun on the Zodiac. Details on both in future Beakfuls. Stay tuned to find out what your actual astrological sign is.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Nothing about the vernal equinox makes it any more amenable to standing an egg on end than any other day of the year.
The word "equinox" gets you 23 points in Scrabble.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Though there is some disagreement about who at the ad agency actually conceived of the idea of Poppin Fresh, one of the first people to commit Poppin to paper was Martin Nodell, better known as the comic book artist who created The Green Lantern.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Thursday, March 16, 2006
As for Nipper, he started off as a stray mutt from Bristol, England. He was owned by Francis Barraud's brother, and Francis inherited the pooch upon the brother's death. Later, Nipper went back to the brother's widow. Nipper is said to have gotten his name from his habit of nipping at ankles. He died in 1895 at age 11 and is buried at Kingston-upon-Thames, in what is now the parking lot of a bank.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Monday, March 13, 2006
Friday, March 10, 2006
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
A library in Missouri has moved the children's book recounting the true-life tale of male penguins Roy and Silo, residents of the Central Park Zoo, adopting an abandoned egg. Such egg adoptions are known to occur in the wild. In response to complaints by two parents while the juvenile fiction work was shelved in the juvenile fiction section, the book is now shelved in the nonfiction section, where children never go unless they are looking for references for a school report.