Tag Archives: Oxygen

You Will Believe. . .

Superman can do anything, but the one thing he does that everybody wants to do is this: He flies.

The freedom he has to take off and just fly wherever he wants, whenever he wants. . . The ability to cruise the heavens and drift over the poor souls trapped at the bottom of Earth’s gravity well, forever anchored to the pedestrian and the heavy. . .

Flight, dudes. That’s what everyone loves about Superman, even before we come to understand the second-most amazing thing about him: He can do anything he wants, but he helps people because it’s the right thing to do.

Now, if you’ve seen the recent movie Man of Steel, you might be wondering who this Superman fellow is I’ve been talking about because it sure wasn’t like anyone in that movie.

And that’s true. I’ve spoken before about my loathing for Man of Steel. It’s a good homicidal superbeings slugging it out in the midst of planetwide destruction disaster porn, but it’s not a Superman movie.

I mean, Pa Kent? The moral backbone who makes Clark Kent into the man who would want to be Superman? Yeah, him. In this movie, do you know what his big moral lesson is?

“Clark, it’s okay to let people die if it will make your life easier.”

Yeah, that’s some good ethics there, Pa. Great job. And don’t even get me started on the whole snapper of an ending. Really. Don’t.

In fact. . .

Let’s all take a breath here. (And by all, I mean, of course, me.) Breathe in the oxygen, breathe out the negativity.

Ahhh. Much better.

So. Back to the premise of the post.

Superman, the real Superman, can fly. It’s so fundamental to his overall physical description that it formed the tag line for his first solo live-action film, with Christopher Reeve.

“You will believe a man can fly.” And we did.

A flying man is never not awesome. Just ask any two-year-old kid. In fact, just ask this two-year-old kid. You’ll see what I mean.

Be prepared to overdose on cuteness for the next couple of minutes.

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Fiction Versus Reality

Seeing Gravity shook me.

Oh, not that I really believed there’d been a Keppler Cascade and all Earth’s communications satellites were destroyed, a ring of death forever circling our planet. I knew the International Space Station (ISS) still was up there.

It’s just I wanted a little reassurance.

I was down in Crescent Beach, FL, just south of the oldest continuously inhabited (by European descendants) city in America, St. Augustine, with some dudes I’ve known since grade school, Gibby and Fire Marshall Bill.

After the movie, we headed out to the beach to walk along in the darkening twilight, hear the sound of the waves rushing in to shore and enjoy the stars as they slowly became more visible over our heads. We hadn’t meant to stick around all that long, just long enough to walk off a bit of the food baby we’d each picked up after eating at Smokin’ D’s, the best BBQ joint in all north Florida.

It just happened.ISS in scope

We looked up and saw the stars, the infinite starfield over our heads, and were lost in it. The Milky Way, our galaxy, glowed softly in the southern sky, arching from west to east. With billions and billions of visible stars, the Milky Way was even more crowded, the very number of stars lending a glowing light to the surrounding space.

It was there than I saw my first satellite going overhead. I’d often heard that people could see satellites circling overhead in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), but I’d never believed it. It just wasn’t possible.

Turns out I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

Once I knew what to look for (a “star” that didn’t twinkle and moved fairly quickly across the sky), I began to see them with relative ease. The best of all was when we saw the ISS swing by overhead.

Maybe because it was so large, or maybe because it was simply in the best position to reflect sunlight down into our eyes, the ISS was the brightest light in that starry night. It moved quickly across the sky, eventually fading out after about 30 seconds, the sun no longer reflected to us from the station.

The ISS transits overhead in a long-exposure picture from Earth.
The ISS transits overhead in a long-exposure picture from Earth.

It was awe-inspiring. To think that we were able to look up, using only our eyes, and see the temporary home of several humans out in space, protected from the horrifying temperature swings and the ravages of the oxygen-free microgravity by only a thin skin of metal and foil. . .

I loved it.

So, yeah. It was nice to be able to step out under the stars and look up at humanity’s farthest outpost from home. Nice to know that, as good and as realistic as it was, Gravity was only a movie.

Nice to wave hi.

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The Weirdest Places On Earth

Other than your basement, I mean.

What? Come on, it was a joke, dude. Just a joke.

Okay, fine. I take it back.

What I’m not taking back, though, is that the Sierra Club has gone and collected up some of the most astonishing, strangest, oddest, weirdest places on Earth. And then went and took pictures of them.

Most of these places I’ve never even heard of. Now I’m afraid my life won’t be complete without going to see some of these and wandering around for a while.

Seriously, how could you not see a picture of this and not want to go there?slide1

Answer: You couldn’t not. Er. Um, what I mean to say is that of course you want to go.

That’s Fly Geyser, which sits about 10 miles away from the site of the annual Burning Man festival. Burning Man is a countercultural arts festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. The Fly Geyser was accidentally formed in 1916 when folks were drilling for water. They found it. Scalding hot water about 200 degrees F. They plugged the hole and tried to forget about it. Until someone tried to drill again and again found scalding water.This time, the water wouldn’t be blocked. It started coming to the surface, bringing along with it lots of minerals, which started accreting.

This one, though, is less manmade and more just man-nificent. Sorry about that pun. Couldn’t help myself. Anyway, slide2this is Blood Falls, which is in Antarctica. As you might have guessed, the deal here is that there’s a trickle of highly iron-rich water headed down Taylor Glacier into West Bonney Lake. On exposure to the oxygen in our atmosphere, the iron gets oxidized (rusted) and turns red.

See what I mean?

This stuff is just plain awesome. I would love to head out to Blood Falls, if only to soak in the ambiance to make the story even better. Blood of giants, long dead, staining the very ground upon which they once trod. Yeah, that’s the good stuff.

And all I have to do to get there is head to Antarctica. No worries there, dudes. No worries.

Before I head out, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t give you dudes a picture of this. It’s Mono Lake in California, but I like to think of it as the Drip Castle of the Gods.

It also has an interesting history, weird in and of itself.

At first glance, California’s Mono Lake seems eerily barren. Twisting limestone pinnacles, called tufa towers, line slide3its shores, some reaching heights of over 30 feet. Tufa towers grow only underwater, but Los Angeles’ diversion of Mono Lake’s tributary streams beginning in 1941 exposed the gnarled formations. Mono Lake, which is at least 760,000 years old, has no outlet to the ocean, causing salt to accumulate and create harsh alkaline conditions. Yet, oddly enough, Mono Lake hosts a flourishing ecosystem based on tiny brine shrimp, which feed the more than 2 million migratory birds that nest there each year.

In 2010, NASA astrobiologist Felisa Wolfe-Simon reported discovering bacteria in Mono Lake’s arsenic sediments that could incorporate the toxic element into their DNA instead of phosphorous, normally a key building block of the double helix. For the most part, the new species’ weirdness survived the scrutiny of two 2012 studies that debunked Wolfe-Simon’s findings. Their conclusion? Mono Lake’s “alien” bacteria do need phosphorous, but at surprisingly low amounts.

You dudes should pop on over to the Sierra Club’s site and check out the rest of the photos. Then get on the horn to your travel agent and start booking.

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