Oh, Hai – You Can Buy Our Book Nao!

There ’tis, on Amazon: The Best Science Writing Online 2012, with me and Chris Rowan right on the cover. We’re also inside. Scha-weet! It’s even available for Kindle. You can buy it today.

Open Lab 2012 cover

But, y’know, if you buy the paperback, and we meet in meatspace one o’ these days, and you happen to have that book upon you, I can, y’know, autograph it if you like.

Interviews will be coming up, and perhaps I’ll lay in a few copies for contests here and there, so watch this space. And, y’know, maybe possibly purchase the book. It’s stuffed full of really quite good science writing. And if you’ve got one of those cantankerous relations who likes to drone on and on about how useless blogs are, this might be just the book to hand them in order to effect a swift reappraisal. Every single essay in here started life as a blog post, ye know. And they’re just a sample, a bit of cream dabbed off the top of a towering mound o’ cream, as it were. The science blogosphere is one of the best parts of the internet. And now a small selection of it resides between covers, just waiting to be opened by someone who wasn’t expecting the strange new worlds they’ll find within.

Who needs science fiction when science fact is quite wonderful enough? Okay, well, most of us need our science fiction, too, admittedly, but as a seasoning rather than the main course.

Dig in!

Baby Bullfrogs. That Is All.

Sigh. Seattle’s doing this let’s-hold-on-to-summer thing that it rarely does. I want to be outside so bad it physically hurts. And, of course, it’s now that they’ve closed the vacation calendar and are making noises about mandatory overtime. Combined with some of the other stuff going on, it’s enough to make me scream.

So it’s nice to come home and spend a few minutes with frogs. I haven’t got time or energy for anything in-depth, but you won’t care. Baby bullfrogs. That’s all I need to say.

Let us begin with the tadpoles.

Bullfrog tadpoles, Meadowbrook Slough, Three Forks Natural Area, Snoqualmie, WA.

I shot these fat little fellows from the road over the slough. It’s a steep embankment, probably about six to ten feet tall, and these weren’t right below me. Even with 10x optical zoom, the fact you can see these little dudes at all means they’re actually huge.

Moar tadpoles!

And I figured, where there are tadpoles, there are probably froggies. I saw a little path leading down from the embankment along the slough, and headed down.

There were bullfrogs all right. I heard one give the startled gasp-squeak-scream that sounds a bit like a plunger having hysterics, and a plop, and grinned to myself. I tiptoed on down towards the water, but apparently wasn’t light enough – next I knew, it was plop-plop-plop in quick succession, tiny little splooshes like and yet unlike regular bullfrogs. It could mean only one thing. Bebbies!

And one mostly-grown bullfrog who just chilled, watching me lazily, as if to say, “Kids.”

Mister or Ms. Mellow – I’m not sure how to sex a bullfrog from a distance, actually.

I gave the Mellow One a companionable nod and settled in to wait on the bank, hoping the bebbies would get courageous enough to reappear.

Soon, a small head breached the oily surface of the slough like a periscope.

Bebbe bullfrog I

The instant it saw me, it was bam! back under the water.

A few moments later, bubbles announced the presence of concerned amphibians a bit further out from shore.


I bided my time, holding very still. And, eventually…

Bebbe bullfrog II

Up floated this wee one. You can see its dear little toeses under the water. We gazed at each other for a time, and then I apparently moved a little too abruptly, and it dove back underwater.

Meanwhile, off to the side, another one approached the surface, considering…

Bebbe bullfrog III. I’ve played a bit with filters to give you a better view – water was terribly scummy, and teh bebbe’s hard to see in color. It was fully submerged.

A bit later, it poked a cautious nose above the surface.

Bebbe bullfrog IV

And another one did the same a few feet away.

Bebbe Bullfrog V

You can see a leaf in the bottom left, there – sort of an aspen-sized leaf, nothing very large. Gives you a sense of how little these precious froggies are. I mean, for baby frogs, of course, they’re huge – they’re bullfrog babies – but they’re itty-bitty compared to what they’ll be should they survive to adulthood.

And all the while, the original Mellow One just stayed put, completely relaxed, watching the proceedings with mild interest while the babies bobbed. Adorable.

This, people, is why I’ve begun to look for jobs that might get me outdoors a bit. Not sure what I’ll find or if anything will come of it at all, but I’m hoping someone will be hiring a frog watcher at a decent salary. I could do this all day. Probably even in the rain. There’s something deeply soothing about frogs. I think part of the reason my blood pressure’s skyrocketing at work (aside from no longer being able to smoke out my frustrations) is that some absolute rat bastards went through the miniature wetlands-inna-ditch with weed whackers and destroyed the habitat our local bullfrogs had enjoyed so much this summer. Sigh. No more wandering down to the ditch on breaks to say hello to bullfrogs. All gone.

But I did hoof it over to the creek today, and saw fishies jump, so maybe there’s some hope for 15 minutes of nature after all…

And we’ll always have the babies in the slough.

Life is Short, and It Was Hot

Doctor Who fans will have begun grinning as they read the title to this post. I hope they heard it in a Jamaican accent.

It’s also part of my excuse for being absent without leave. Work became, how shall we say, challenging. I began to feel like Bilbo Baggins: needing a very long holiday. Wanted to see mountains again. And the bastards had closed the vacation calendar, but I finally said fuck it and took a mental health day. I wandered down to Snoqualmie for a look at the Falls in fall, when the volume of water is lower, because I plan to do you up a nice set of posts on the place. Eventually. And I dropped by Three Forks Natural Area whilst there. The views of Mount Si will make you sigh with happiness, even when the air is hazy from fires burning on the other side of the Cascades.

Mount Si and the Snoqualmie River (or a fork thereof – not strictly sure where I was)

That one isn’t the best. I’m saving the best for another day. Also, three stages of bullfrogs. Oh, my darlings. One of the happiest end-of-summer days is the one spent on the bank of a slough, watching baby bullfrogs.

Next day, it was off to the Snohomish Pumpkin Hurl and Medieval Faire to see Trebuchet live up to his moniker. I forgot to ask him outright how he feels about having his mug plastered all over the intertoobz. I know he gave blessings for the video I shot (which you will soon get to see), but as far as stills, he’ll have to let me know. So I’m holding back his triumphant photo and substituting moi with trophy for the mo’.

Yup. Holding Trebuchet’s trophy for the pumpkin hurl. Image courtesy Cujo359.

Got to pull the firing pin on a record, I did, because Trebuchet is awesome and lets other people play with his toys. His lovely machine hurled farther than it has ever hurled before, and Trebuchet won third prize – not bad, really, considering – we’ll, you’ll see what he was up against soon.

And yes, it is indeed a damned lot of fun launching pumpkins from trebuchets. I admit this. I don’t see any point to it, even now, but that’s all right because there is no point. It’s launching pumpkins from trebuchets.

Also, meeting one of my favorite commenters in ye real worlde was much fun. Trebuchet is a wonderful human being. If you get a chance to come help him hurl, do so. 412 feet is the number to beat.

I’m afraid I didn’t give him and my intrepid companion my undivided attention, however, because after the trebuchets finished launching, the jousting started. People. I am one of those folks who goes weak in the knees whenever horses are involved. I grew up with them, I miss them desperately, and these were so much more than the run o’ the mill quarterhorses I’d grown up with. I got to drool over, in person, an Andalusian. I have always wanted to see one. They are my favorite ever. Okay, after Arabians – I loves me some Arabians. However, I’ve met Arabians. Hadn’t met an Andalusian, and hadn’t even heard of a Warlander, which is an Andalusian with a Friesian boost. I abandoned my friends forthwith.

Got me picture with the winner of the joust, didn’t I? Here’s a lovely Warlander and a noble knight (Sir Charles, I believe, of the Freelancers).

Moi with the winning knight and his noble steed. My thanks to the kind gentleman who offered to take our photo, and kept snapping until he had this wonderful image.

You will be seeing quite a few photos and some video from that portion of the adventure, someday soonish. I got some beauts. And now I’m determined to go back next year, especially since the black powder folks didn’t get a chance to strut their stuff. Also, if I come into unexpected money, I’m taking up jousting. With horsies.

Today, I did a long wander up by North Creek, hoping for some early migratory birds. I didn’t get much on that front, but I did see a darling woodpecker, who was kind enough to star in a film for us, and who shall be premiered after I’ve cleared some of the reader UFDs. I got footage for our next installment of Odonata porn – this time, damselflies ensuring that next summer will have more damselflies in it. I spent a considerable amount of time down by that pond, part of it shooting some interesting water birds. They were at it the whole time. Bow-chica-wow. Good thing Eric granted me rights to use his song whenever. At this rate, we’ll need it often.

Other than that, I found a few items of interest. Also, this lovely heron:

Great Blue Heron, or the Greatest Blue Heron?

The gentleman was enormous, and showing off his plumage to good effect in between cleanings.

Got you this nice pea sort of thing, too, complete with the curly bits:

Lovely member of the pea family, I do believe.

I’d swear you’ve identified about a thousand of these, or at least close relations, but I’m buggered if I can remember the name of it just now. Anyway. There it is. Flowers.


Curly bits.

Curly Bits.

And some primroses getting ready to put on a grand finale.

Primrose buds

And that’s to say nothing of the gingko, the partridge family, and so many other things. We’ll get there. These brilliant, beautiful days don’t last. Soon enough, clouds will hide the sun, and it will be cold and damp and dark, and I won’t be tempted out of the house every thirty seconds to do something other than write.

Enjoy the last fleeting days of summer (except my southern hemisphere readers, who should be enjoying spring about now). And enjoy the scarcity of posting round here, because that’s not likely to last much longer.

Go. Adventure.

World Premiere: The Delectation of Dragonflies

When you return from an outing with a camera full of dragonflies in flagrante delicto, as it were, there’s really only one thing to be done: dust off the “Pornochz” track your dear friend Eric Kenning composed for your article on writing bedroom scenes and create a movie of surpassing educational interest. Eric has been kind enough to allow this retasking of his tune. The movie itself came together in a trice, as if it were meant to be. And now, after causing you to shiver with anticipa….tion, I click upload, and embed, and present to you, for your viewing pleasure:

The Delectation of Dragonflies

Thank you, Eric Kenning, for making this possible.

I hope you enjoyed our educational film, my darlings. Adult education, as it were, eh? And I have, for your further edification, included the stills below for those who couldn’t endure the film, or wish to study said stills at their leisure. I have also included a brief history of how this film came together for those students of cinematic history who live for such things.

The opportunity to create this film came to me as I ambled along the boardwalk through the wetlands at Juanita Bay. There I was, wandering happy as you please, when some large writhing something nearly sideswiped me. I confess a brief moment of anxiety. Was this some never-before-seen, enormous, and above all angry insect that would soon have my head off? Or simply two dragonflies so busy making more dragonflies they’d forgotten to look where they were going?

Monsieur et Madame Dragonfly ensuring the continued success of the species.


Usually, my only experience with dragonflies demonstrating their mating strategies has been with them in understandably erratic flight, making them difficult to photograph; or the passionate embrace ends before I can bring the camera into focus; or they inconsiderately give a public exhibition when I haven’t got a camera with me. This time, we have a couple who quite considerately landed, and whose passion did not flag for some time.

Love among the rushes.

I’m sure many of us used to wonder, as children, why dragonflies sometimes flew double. If your parents were anything like mine, they were too embarrassed to explain, and the thing remained a mystery until some considerate soul clued us in. It’s time we stopped blushing and started being honest with our children. This is a perfectly natural act. Nothing to be ashamed about.

I assume the have reached a peak of passion here.

We know from relative positions which is which here. The male is on top, holding the female’s head with the claspers on his tail. This, apparently, is quite stimulating to the female.

SF authors should study insects for new and interesting ideas as to how aliens might, ah, make more aliens.

Now, the male has prepared for this little encounter by depositing the stuff of future generations on his second abdominal segment. You’d think that, having produced it near the bit that goes in to clasping his chosen love close, it would stay put and find a more direct route to the female, but dragonfly evolution apparently developed some, how shall we say, kinks.

By this point, I was wondering if this was, perhaps, one of the species of dragonfly who can last for hours…

So, his spermatophores being where they are, mere head-clasping is not going to ensure the continuation of the species. I’m assuming here that head-clasping is quite stimulating to the female, because it goes on for a bit, and then, in what one can only assume is equivalent to an orgasm, she curls herself up, reaching lustily for her mate’s spermatophores. At this juncture, they may form a circle, or, more romantically, a heart shape.

Alas, I did not catch this portion of the program. All I seem to have got was either foreplay or afterglow.

By this time, my thoughts had begun to wander.

That portion of the program – the wheel formation – may last up to a solid quarter of an hour. Mind you, this sometimes happens in mid-flight. I’m assuming those aren’t the ones that last so long – the wheel formation can take place in the air, on the ground, in the bushes…

Being a spectator begins to wane in interest when the two insist on maintaining the same position with only minor adjustments for lengthy periods.

Once the happy couple has consummated their union, they may remain combined as the female goes about the serious business of depositing her eggs. Depends on the species. You can get quite a lot of detail about it here at this site, if you wish.

My feet have begun to ache, my back to stiffen, and my stomach to growl, and still Madame et Monsieur are preoccupied.

I would like to thank the dragonflies of Juanita Bay for their cooperation in the making of this film. Once again, my heartfelt thanks and undying affection go out to my friend Eric and his wonderful wife Lourdes, who I hope enjoyed seeing her husband’s mad keyboard skillz put to work in educational cinematography.

And I’m spent, although apparently they aren’t.

And thank you, my dear readers, without whom this idea may never have come to fruition. Most of the joy in doing things like this is imagining you might be entertained. David Attenborough it ain’t, but still, I do hope you enjoyed it.

A Further Update

Oh, my fuck, you guys, I just finished our dragonfly porn, and it is a masterpiece. Now all that’s left is to hope the musician checks his email and grants his permission to use his music for this purpose, as I’ve bloody well gone and lost his phone number. Sigh.

If he withholds permission, which I hope isn’t likely, I’ll need someone musically inclined to whip us up a bow-chica-wow soundtrack. Don’t worry. You retain all rights to your music, but you don’t have to reveal your real name if terminal embarrassment prevents you from using other than a pseudonym. I can help you think of a suitable ‘nym if you haven’t already done that “what’s your porn name?” game with your friends.

Either way, this will be brilliant, one of the most entertaining things we’ve ever done here at ETEV.

I can’t bloody wait!


Some of you have already noticed, but FreethoughtBlogs has been forced to put countermeasures in effect against various and sundry trolls who thought it the height of funny to pretend to be regulars saying disgusting things. If this has an adverse effect on your ability to comment, please let me know at dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com.

(Trolls need not let me know, because they’ll end up spammed whilst I laugh and laugh at their pathetic selves. Sad, really, that some people are such ineffectual losers they are reduced to lurking around blogs hoping their misbehavior earns them a cookie from other misbehaving dumbfucks. If I myself had such mad playground taunt skillz and the ability to lie with abandon, I wouldn’t be wasting them at FtB, but would be selling them to Fox News or the local Republican party for cash money. But I suppose that’s just because I don’t have the soul of a Troll Artist.)

Anyway. Onward.

A request has been made for the dragonfly porn to be displayed forthwith. But you cannot rush these things. Not when you have just the right soundtrack, and needs must only combine same with photos just so in order to create a masterpiece. Believe me when I say it will be worth the wait.

Also, interest has been expressed in the status of my nicotine habit. It has now, officially, been a month, and I am still smoke-free. Yes, I still want a cigarette at times. Yes, some people in my life have noticed my lack of patience with stupidity. But I think they’re putting irritations down to quitting that don’t belong there – I’ve always been like that, it’s just that they’re noticing for the first time because I no longer smell of stale tobacco smoke.

What I have wanted more of is solitude, and food, and Doctor Who, all of which I provided myself with in abundance over the weekend. Currently, I’m gorging myself on P.G. Wodehouse novels. Yes, while I’m supposed to be blogging. Yes, while my email lies horribly neglected, even so. It’s a reaction to work, which has decided they desperately need a weekly newsletter. Being run off my feet writing, I am. Not to mention fighting with recalcitrant text boxes in Word. Don’t talk to me about Word. Especially don’t talk to me about the fact that Word is, presently, the only publishing program I can weasel out of my employers. Do you understand now my anomie, my anguish, my desire to bury myself deep in British literature and television?

Don’t worry, I’ve also written some blog posts. They only need to be typed and pictures appended to make them complete for your viewing pleasure. But first, Wodehouse. And some more Doctor Who.

Don’t rush me, my subconscious is busy working on dragonfly porn.

The Exclusive ‘Things With Water Lilies’ Collection

I didn’t intend to write today – this was supposed to be my completely-off weekend, in which I didn’t nothing but watch Doctor Who and read and play in the sun. But I’ve just been going through my Juanita Bay photos from Saturday, and had a major squee moment that couldn’t wait.

This was a grand adventure, actually. Lots of delights. Some of the dragonflies were extremely obliging. I have got some dragonfly porn that will astound you. Birds even showed up for photo ops – and wait until you see the wee woodpecker I captured on video! I saw a spider having a bit of lunch, and some lovely flowers, and had an excellent time ambling through it all.

But the most pleasant surprise was the water lilies. I didn’t think they’d be blooming, but there they were. White and lovely, glowing in the sun. I have wanted to capture water lilies ever since getting this new camera, and for some reason, always miss them. I’ve compensated by shooting about ten billion photos of water lilies. As a small subset of the whole, allow me to present the Things with Water Lilies collection.

Some sort of water bird with water lilies

Those aching for a chance at a UFD can try your luck with this. I’m not sure what it is. The bill looks all wrong for a duck. It was the only water bird I saw gliding through the lily pads.

Wave and water lilies

This is a part of the bay over by the boardwalk through the wetlands that always has lovely views of the water, and I liked this wave stirring the lilies, as most of them were growing in dead calm spots.

Drumlin and water lilies

There you are, your bit of geology for the day: a view across Juanita Bay to a drumlin. Lake Washington was carved by the Puget Lobe of the Cordilleran ice sheet, you know. The same ice sheet deposited all these lovely little hills, called drumlins. I have still got a paper I have to write up on that. When I’m done mucking about with volcanoes, perhaps we’ll take up glaciers, eh? I’ve got lots and lots of glacial landforms, plus actual glaciers, I could do for you.

Turtle with water lilies

Might as well name this Turtle Cove: although this same cove hosts the Red-winged Blackbirds, they weren’t about. Turtles win. Besides, look at it resting its little chin on its little flipper. And those hind feet all sprawled out like that. Awwww. It’s like it’s contemplating the serene beauty of the water lilies. Very Zen, that turtle. Or possibly Tao.

Bee with water lily

It’s quite hard to see, but there is a bee poking round in there. I’d been wondering what pollinated these beauties, and then this darling crawled out and flew away. Ah-ha! One of the possible pollinators caught in the act, anyway!

But this, my darlings, this, is my pride-and-joy:

Frog with water lily

Because, you see, I’d stepped off the board walk at the end of the bay thinking that what would have made this day complete was a frog. And then, tonight, I see that there was a frog! Right there, true to stereotype on a lily pad, and I hadn’t even seen it, I’d been so focused on lilies. So this shot is accidental, but what a wonderful accident it is.

If you enlarge the photo to its full glory, you’ll see it’s festooned with purple petals. I’ll be showing you those lovely purple flowers here eventually.

So much to show you…. Once summer’s over, we’ll have no shortage of photos from it. We should be well stocked for the winter. Of course, you lot in the southern hemisphere are just starting yours, but I hope a little extra sunshine will go well with what you’ve got. However, it’ll have to wait. I’m off to see the Doctor, and then the Dark Knight, and possibly pluck some blackberries from their vines. Wild, vine-ripened blackberries with panna gelato and SF. Yum!

Accretionary Wedge #49: Out of This World

T-4 and counting…

“No one regards what is at his feet,” Quintus Ennias, the father of Roman poetry, said. “We all gaze at the stars.” And so we do. Those cold points of light in our skies remained mysteries for so long, until we realized they were other suns. And if there were other suns, there could be other worlds.

And where there are other worlds, there will be geology.

The gravelly area around Curiosity’s landing site is visible in the foreground. Farther away, about a third of the way up from the bottom of the image, the terrain falls off into a depression (a swale). Beyond the swale, in the middle of the image, is the boulder-strewn, red-brown rim of a moderately-sized impact crater. Father off in the distance, there are dark dunes and then the layered rock at the base of Mount Sharp. Some haze obscures the view, but the top ridge, depicted in this image, is 10 miles (16.2 kilometers) away. Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

We can, so far, still only gaze at those stars, although our vision is getting clearer. But we’ve learned to regard what is at our feet. We have walked on another world. We have sent our machines to explore others, orbiting them, landing on them, taking photos and samples and returning wonders. But other worlds aren’t just out there. They’re right here, too, under our heels, in places we didn’t think to look for more than terra firma. We send bits of ourselves to other worlds; we’re just returning a favor. Other worlds have been coming to us for a very long time.

Geology was born on Earth, and it has always had a habit of looking down. Geology didn’t used to gaze at the stars; it regarded what was at our feet. But then we looked up, looked around, and will never see our universe the same way again.

I invited you to blast off for other worlds. But we begin right here, with rocks from space, brought to Earth by impacts and a little bit of Hollywood Space Geology while we’re at it.


Metageologist: What came from outer space.

Study of earth’s early history removes any lingering doubts that earth can be studied in isolation from its surroundings. The earth formed within a dusty disc around the new sun 4.56  billion years ago. During the earth’s first few 100 million years it was constantly being struck by other pieces of debris. The best current theory for the formation of the moon is the ‘giant impact hypothesis’. This suggests that the proto-earth was struck by another proto-planet the size of Mars. The impact resulted in two separate blobs which formed the earth and the moon. The energy of such an impact left both bodies completely covered in a magma ocean. Any water in the earth would be boiled off, meaning that our atmosphere and oceans are all derived from water from comets that have hit the earth since. We are all made of star dust, but let’s not forget the comet juice.
My favourite link between the earth and beyond is only an idea so far, but a beautiful one. On earth we find rare meteorites that came from Mars and the moon. When one day we study the moon in more detail, perhaps we’ll find pieces of earth on there. The period when the most impacts hit earth (sending bits flying off) is also the time when we have the fewest rocks preserved on earth. What if the oldest earth rock still in existence is actually to be found on the moon?

Poikiloblastic: Six days in the crater, day three.

The plains surrounding Meteor Crater are afflicted with an excess of flatness. Aside from the crater itself, the only relief is from scattered blocks, mounds and low rises of Coconino Sandstone and Kaibab Dolostone. They are blemishes on the otherwise flat patchwork terrain surrounding the crater. Like the boulder on the hill, many large coherent blocks of ejecta excavated during impact were thrown out of the crater and now rest upwards of 300 feet above where they ought to. Three days in, we were no longer tourists; It was time for science. We started work to answer a few relatively simple questions: Where in the crater did those blocks originate? How big are they? What would it take to launch them tens and hundreds of meters to their current position?

Ann’s Musings on Geology and Other Things: Accretionary Wedge #49 -“other-worldly” geology.

It is this dry arid climate that lends itself so much to it being so alien and reminding you of ‘other-worldly geology places’.  Because to me that is the one thing that seems to make our planet so unique  – is its abundant water.


Geotripper: Accretionary Wedge #49: It’s just out of this world! Hollywood and the Cosmos.

Lots of Hollywood movies take place in space and on other planets, and since the director can’t go to the other planets, locales on Earth have to suffice. As geologists know, there are landscapes on our planet that do a good job of looking otherworldly, and so geology became a central part of the movie plot.

…We have ignition…

One of the most remarkable, most beautiful things we have done as a species, is discovered that some of the rocks beneath our feet came from far beyond our atmosphere. And we didn’t rest with studying them: we flew to the Moon and brought bits of it back. These rocks are remarkably beautiful under the microscope. If they don’t ignite a passion for exogeology, nothing ever will.


Aerial Geologist: Accretionary Wedge #49: Optical Mineralogy in Space!

All in all, it was a unique and amazing experience for us to get a chance to examine these space rocks under the petroscope. The minerals were identifiable by us, while at the same time not typically looking like anything we had seen from our Earth rocks.

…We have liftoff!…

Granted, our first explorations didn’t quite get us to space, but let’s face facts: 70,000+ feet high in a balloon is pretty damned impressive!


In the Company of Plants and Rocks: South Dakota’s contribution to the Death of Flat Earth.

I suppose the story of Icarus teaches a lesson about the dangers of over-ambition, hubris, arrogance.  Fortunately, the drive and curiosity of the human race are irrepressible, and many years later, as soon as technology allowed, mankind was back in the air trying to go higher and higher, to see what could be seen.

Now we head for the Red Planet. We’ve dreamed of it for thousands of years. Now we’re on its surface, exploring vicariously through our machines, and I have to tell you: a planet with no plants is a geologist’s paradise.


History of Geology: The Earth-like Mars, Meet the Martians, and I can tell you about Mars.

The outer rim of this crater provided an unique outcrop – soon named Burns-Cliff, after Roger Burns, who predicted the mineralogy of the Martian rocks (composed mainly of ultrabasic minerals, like Olivine, and ferric sulfate minerals) based on the preliminary results obtained by the Viking missions.
Along the slope of the cliff geologists recognized a succession of rock types, or facies, named informally “Burns-Formation“, the only extraterrestrial geologic formation at the time. The Burns-Formation consists almost entirely of sandstone with grains of basalt, oxides, silicates and evaporite minerals (Calcium and Magnesium- sulfates, chlorides and phosphates).

Magma Cum Laude: Danny Krysak: An out-of-this-world geologist (Accretionary Wedge #49).

Well, exogeologists, I’ve got a real treat for you. You know those photos that we all tweet and blog and comment on and drool over when they come down from Curiosity’s cameras? Well, I’ve got an interview with one of the camera team who is, quite literally, the first person on Earth to see some of those photos!

Slobber and Spittle: Earth Vs. Mars: Do Our Volcanos Measure Up?

After seeing this photo at the Astronomy Picture Of The Day (APOD), I naturally wondered how some of Earth’s other volcanoes stacked up against it.

Beyond Mars, we reach other planets, but though the gas giants are showy and impressive in telescopes, we’re not here for them. We’re captivated by their oddball moons, which have more intriguing geology than we had any right to suspect.


Rosetta Stones: Where Volcanoes Snow.

This is a world where volcanic plumes are sulfur dioxide snow, and are so large they can be seen from Earth orbit by the Hubble Space Telescope, and from Earth-based telescopes as outbursts of infrared. Tectonics are driven by tides rather than internal heat; volcanoes vent ultramafic lavas hotter than anything seen on Earth in billions of years. 425 volcanic centers, 70 of them currently active, rework the surface at a remarkable rate of 1 centimeter (over a third of an inch) per year. This world is 25 times as volcanically active as Earth, bumping us to second place for geologic activity, but is barely larger than our own Moon. It’s the only other planet in the solar system we know of that has active volcanoes. It claims the prize for longest lava flows.

Outside the Interzone: The Little Robot That Could… Visits Miranda!

The dive in to Uranus meant that some of the outer moons, which initially were more interesting to planetary scientists, would not be as well observable as had been hoped. And since there was no “scouting trip” by Voyager 1, there would be one chance and one chance only to see what that planetary system had offer. Miranda was not expected to be as interesting as other targets might be, but the path of the probe, and sun/moon illumination aspects would give ample opportunity to study that object. Good thing.

…Mission Control, the Eastwing has landed!…

Pretty incredible, what our species has done. We’ve not only sussed out many of this world’s secrets, but made a decent beginning at exploring the bizarre and bizarrely-familiar geology of other worlds. Someday, we’ll find our way beyond our own star. We’ll gaze on other star systems, and work out their geology, and perhaps have a beer on an alien outcrop under a strange star at the end of a long day’s exo-fieldwork. What will we find? What will be familiar, what different, what predicted and what never dreamt of in all those long nights of gazing at the stars?

In 2005, this image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was used to identify two new moons orbiting Pluto. Pluto is in the center. The moon Charon is just below it. The newly discovered moons, Nix and Hydra, are to the right of Pluto and Charon. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, H. Weaver (JHU/APL), A. Stern (SwRI), and the HST Pluto Companion Search Team

New at Rosetta Stones: Volcanic Snow on Io

Right, well, you knew someone had to do it. One of us had to do up Io. I mean, how can you have an Accretionary Wedge dealing with geology in space without Io?

And I thought, really, that it would be a bit of a lark, you know. Just, “Oh, look! Volcanoes in space. Everybody knows about Io, but here’s some lovely pictures and a few facts and have a nice day.” Almost boring, really, considering everybody babbles about Io’s volcanism, and sniggers things like, “Looks like a pizza, dunnit?”

But as I researched a bit, and then a bit more, squee after squee happened, culminating in the discovery that the USGS – yes, that’s right, the United States Geological Survey – has done up a geologic map of the thing. Nerdgasm? Oh, honey. All I can say is, it’s a good thing our office building was built to withstand subduction zone quakes. Wowza.

Voyager 1 acquired this image of Io on 4 March 1979 at 5:30 p.m. (PST) about 11 hours before closest approach to the Jupiter moon. The distance to Io was about 490,000 km (304,000 miles). An enormous volcanic eruption can be seen silhouetted against dark space over Io’s bright limb. The brightness of the plume has been increased by the computer as it is normally extremely faint, whereas the relative color of the plume (greenish white) has been preserved. Image courtesy NASA Planetary Photojournal.

So go check it out, but don’t forget to submit your own entry for our 49th Accretionary Wedge. Get out there. Explore the universe. Bring a rock hammer – you’re likely to need it.

Only do it fast, because your entries are due by midnight Pacific time tonight, and stragglers won’t be picked up until the next rocket blasts off next week.

This five-frame sequence of New Horizons images captures the giant plume from Io’s Tvashtar volcano. Snapped by the probe’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) as the spacecraft flew past Jupiter in 2007, this first-ever movie of an Io plume clearly shows motion in the cloud of volcanic debris, which extends 330 km (200 miles) above the moon’s surface. Only the upper part of the plume is visible from this vantage point. The plume’s source is 130 km (80 miles) below the edge of Io’s disk, on the far side of the moon. Image courtesy NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Mystery Flora: Lilies of a Day

Flowers, unlike birds, don’t fly off and hide when I approach. They’re like rocks in that regard: delightfully immobile. Perhaps that’s why we get on so well.

But unlike rocks, flowers are brief. A few days, a few months, then gone until next season. These lovely lilies from atop Marys Peak blazed in the warm summer sun: now they are no more.

Mystery Flora I

But they’re glorious while they last. No wonder Ben Jonson eulogized his infant son by speaking of lilies.

The Noble Nature

It is not growing like a tree

In bulk, doth make Man better be;

Mystery Flora II

Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,

To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:

Mystery Flora III

A lily of a day

Is fairer far in May,

Mystery Flora IV

Although it fall and die that night -

It was the plant and flower of light.

Mystery Flora V

In small proportions we just beauties see;

And in short measures life may perfect be.

Mystery Flora VI

This isn’t likely to be the type of lily that features in Ben Jonson’s memorial, but it belongs to the genus that inspired a genius. And if you visit Marys Peak on a day in July, you can sit in fields full of them, and drink sunshine and poetry while the butterflies flutter around you. They have brief lives, yes, but as the poet said, it’s not the length of time that matters.