Changing Our Reflection

Paradoxical Planet Perplexes Physicists

For centuries, mankind has been watching the skies, noting the movements of the heavenly bodies, and sorting out how it all works.

Then a planet like Wasp-18b comes along and throws a spanner into the works.

An artist’s impression shows a “hot Jupiter” close to its parent star. Astronomers say a planet known as WASP-18b is so close to its sun that it should soon fall to its doom. Copyright: C. Carreau/ESA.

As related in an article from Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, this particular planet has a number of standout qualities: It’s a “hot Jupiter,” a gas giant that’s exceptionally close to its star; it has an incredibly short orbit, taking less than one Earth day to complete; and, by all accounts, it should’ve fallen into that star and burned up a long, long time ago.

That, at least, is the conclusion of astrophysicist Coel Hellier of Keene University in Staffordshire, England, who discovered Wasp-18b.

“This planet should spiral inwards on such a short time scale that the likelihood of seeing it is very low,” Hellier told the newspaper.

Which raises a lot of questions in the astrophysics community. For example, it could be that the star around which Wasp-18b is orbiting (which is called, coincidentally, Wasp-18) has about 1,000 times less energy than scientists believe. Or it could be that the planet has only been in that orbit a short time and that Hellier happened to catch it there as it gradually spirals into the star. But each of those propositions raises other questions.

Meanwhile, those looking for answers can start closer to home. One of the two moons orbiting Mars, Phobos, is in a similar situation: it’s far closer to the planet than it should be (5,600 miles) and still maintains its orbit.

Cancer, Chemo, and Your Brain

Normally, columnist Dan Barry at The New York Times travels around the country and writes fascinating, insightful stories about regular people.

Dan Barry. Photo by Fred R. Conrad.

But this week, Barry turns his pen upon himself to discuss one of the least-discussed and least-understood — outside of cancer survivor circles, that is — side-effects of chemotherapy.

It’s called “chemo brain.”

There’s an old saw that Barry quotes in his column about how “cancer tends to focus the mind.” Well, chemotherapy tends to unfocus it. Those powerful, hateful chemicals that are surging through the body, meant to track down and vanquish killer cancer cells, also have the tendency to fog the mind. Once dismissed as side-effects of patient age or fatigue, the American Cancer Society reports that studies show some of those chemicals do have an effect on the brain.

In his very personal remembrance of two rounds of chemotherapy, Barry talks about the brain fog many patients experience after chemo, and maybe never go away. But for his part, Barry found he thought clearer during chemo, was able to prioritize, to focus sharply on things that mattered — to let go, as he described, and quit worrying about who got the last of the Vienna Fingers.

Perhaps the most important lesson he learned from his two bouts with cancer had little to do with the disease itself, Barry ultimately realizes. It was this clarity, this sense of perspective, that he took away from the extra lucidity chemotherapy afforded him.

That’s something the doctors couldn’t have predicted, and a reminder that even with the most advanced and carefully studied medical techniques, there remain some mysteries to be discovered.

Can We Interest You In Some Land … On Mars?

Let’s say you’re thinking about investing in land. And taking the really, really long view.

Could I interest you in some lovely backcountry acreage with canyon-like features? Or some prairie-flat plains dotted with craters? Or maybe some chloride salt beds?

The Man Who Sold the Moon. Cover of Shasta edition collection. Photo: Wikipedia.

Could I interest you, to put it directly, in Mars?

Okay, nobody’s buying off-world real estate yet (outside of science fiction or some pretty clever entrepreneurs), but NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has announced the release of thousands of high-definition photographs of the Red Planet’s surface.

It’s some pretty spectacular viewing, too, courtesy of the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. According to JPL’s website, “Each full image from HiRISE covers a strip of Martian ground 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) wide, about two to four times that long, showing details as small as 1 meter, or yard, across.”

We’re still years away from a manned Mars mission, of course, and decades (if that) away from the average earthling getting a chance to set foot on our neighboring planet. But with these gorgeous photos available, there’s just a little temptation to pick out a spot for some far-future vacation, just in case.

For our part, the Meridiani Planum Southern Boundary looks like a lovely place to park a yurt and spend a few weeks hiking and sightseeing.




Weekly Horoscope for Friday, September 4, 2009, #782 – BY ERIC FRANCIS

Aries (March 20-April 19)
There seems to be an issue making you persistently angry. You try to get ahead of it, or move it out of your way, but it sticks. The frustrating part is that it’s difficult to actually make full contact with the feeling; it’s like the two of you are shadowing one another but can’t quite catch up. The danger is taking the resulting frustration out on someone you love. You can work with this issue in the context of a relationship, but make sure that you’re clear about how it’s your issue, and you’re seeking help. One clue I can offer you is that this does indeed involve the intersection of your relationship history with your family history. The two are always related, but the intersections are often difficult to see. If it’s working, the conversation will lead you in the direction of the past.

Taurus (April 19- May 20)
Pride is of the essence. How do you really feel about the stuff? Are you conscious of the spectrum of emotions involved, or is it a kind of gloss that reflects the light instead of absorbing it? It seems like you will first grasp intuitively what you cannot quite grasp mentally. I suggest you look directly at the evidence of how you feel (mainly by accounting for your choices), and how others feel as a result (which you will be able to discern from their choices relating to you). Then two puzzles follow: how to put what you’re experiencing into words; and whether you can get the idea or feeling across to anyone. There may come a time fairly soon when you will care deeply about both. It would help if you bear in mind that the essence of communication is trust.

Gemini (May 20- June 21)
The creative process is not arts and crafts. Rather, it’s about everything from doubt to confronting your sense of emptiness to exploring the feelings and memories that we are basically all conditioned to ignore. In sum, you go deeper, and that depth often requires the use of a working medium that could be clay and it could be a camera and it could be your notebook. Let it become a sacred space, but not so sacred that you fear that what you create there will be known to others and influence their healing process. You’re not alone in going through what you’re experiencing. The feelings running through your body are part of a collective current shared by millions of other people, each in their unique way, and each equally meaningful.

Cancer (June 21- July 22)
Sometimes you go so far into your feelings that you have to retreat from yourself. Sometimes you forget that you have a spiritual connection so deep that there actually is no bottom. You will remember this week. Let the Full Moon remind you every time you look at it. The current peak of energy comes once each year in the sign Pisces, one of the places you draw your highest vision from like a well. Consider this moment in your life to be a vision quest. You’re feeling unusually bold. You know you have the choice to trust your circumstances if you want to. Therefore, let a vision come to you. You may not understand what you see; you may not think it’s attainable or realistic. Getting from one space to the other can be summed up in a single word: growth.

Leo (July 22- Aug. 23)
You tend to be the one with the practical side, and you invite others around you to bring in the creative side. In the process, they gradually become like you, and you become like them. At the moment, I suggest you not let your brass-tacks nature dampen the spirit of someone you love who is absolutely soaring on an idea, a feeling or a desire. You see the limitations and you will, soon enough, have the role of helping sculpt the idea into something useful. Yet in doing so, your job is also to protect and preserve its essence. Therefore, I suggest you absorb as much of that essence as you can. Let its light shine on you and remember that it’s a reflection of your own imagination; an invitation to not only think about what is possible, but to feel what is possible.

Virgo (Aug. 23- Sep. 22)
Before we (as a society) get underneath the epidemic of anxiety, you will get underneath your own personal affliction. Here is a clue. The more you are strategizing, the more fear you’re feeling. Strategies are not the solution, they are the symptom. The solution would feel something like trust, or love, or empathy, or allowing yourself to let go into the flow of your life. Deep in your fear there is something about your dad and seeking his approval. As adults we are often loathe to admit that we have such needs, but you’re in an unusual moment of potential honesty and clarity. I say potential because what you are feeling right now could approach a level of beauty that pushes you into denial or retreat — though you have other options.

Libra (Sep. 22 – Oct. 23)
You’re searching for a new sense of identity, and of your professional role. At times they conflict; at times they are in harmony; at times the two seem to make no contact at all. Lately, they may be doing all three at once. This, in turn, might be having you wonder if you’re ever going to get the pieces to fit. I can assure you of one thing, which is that a lot of the mystery and pressure and confusion will resolve itself when Saturn enters your birth sign next month. There are things in astrology that always make a difference, and Saturn making an important move is one of them. Meanwhile, I suggest you keep mining the distant past for information, particularly if you’re ever feeling isolated or like the ground is too unstable to stand on.

Scorpio (Oct. 23- Nov. 22)
Cooking a meal is all about timing. Well, it’s about blending flavors, and timing. If you can’t do both, the task will seem impossible. Both take practice; blending flavors is related to having healthy sexual instincts (this, according to the Kama Sutra). As for timing, you learn there are things you can start a little early, like rice; there are things that take very little time and have to be served right away, like pasta or certain vegetables. Likewise, certain processes in your life can wait; others you need to attend to immediately; there are some elements ready right now. Make an inventory and sort out what needs to be treated as what. Size things up carefully and work with all the known information. Admit that there are times when you’ll need to take a guess. Remember the words of Eddie Weigert, one of the talented chefs who trained me: “When you think it’s done, it’s done.”

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 22)
You seem to be edging back to the dark side of your nature. Sagittarius is odd this way; the dark side is almost always a deeply internal phenomenon. It’s a little like the Galactic Core, which is in your birth sign: hundreds of billions of stars, held together by an enormous mass of dark matter. Speaking in more practical terms, you seem to be revisiting an injury, affliction or source of pain from your childhood. It looks like you want to get close enough to see, but not to touch — that may be just the right approach. Stay on the edges of these feelings, rather than diving into them. Watch certain scenarios from your distant past play like a movie, and observe what you’re feeling with a bit of detachment. That’s usually easy for you; it may be more challenging now.

Capricorn (Dec. 22- Jan. 20)
Don’t allow things to get personal when they need to be professional. At the same time, when things are personal, keep them that way. The boundaries are blurring all over the place and may be threatening you with a setback of some kind. While there is some confusion in the short run, your star is rising: Saturn is getting ready to cross the ever-important midheaven angle of your solar chart, which happens late next month. You can consider everything that happens between now and then to be preparation, rehearsal, dry runs and experimental. Part of that experiment involves how you relate to people as your influence in the world increases.

Aquarius (Jan. 20- Feb. 19)
You know what is important to you; why then do you allow yourself to get caught up in the resistance of others who don’t share your values? You seem to be faced with a choice right now: to break away, or compromise. In fact, you may need to do both, but the order in which you do them will affect the outcome of the situation. I suggest you take the matter as an internal phenomenon exclusively. You are trying to reconcile two aspects of your nature. You’re also trying to align two different sets of values that you possess about relationships. In fact, you are seeking a third factor, mental state or outcome. This is something entirely new. Intellectually you may not grasp it yet, but intuitively it’s starting to make perfect sense. Let that build your faith.

Pisces (Feb. 19- March 20)
This week’s Full Moon in your birth sign will light up all the most meaningful questions of your life. I suggest you let the questions stand; let them be what they are. Notice how your perceptions are different when you admit that they exist and when you pretend they don’t exist. Beneath them is a level of certainty that can only come from faith. Faith is not as abstract as religion makes it seem. Actually, it’s about having confidence in yourself. In the second instance, it’s about having confidence in others, which may be somewhat lacking at the moment. Therefore, tend your own garden, and remember how far you’ve come in a relatively short time. It is true that plenty remains unresolved in your life, but take heart, because that means the book is still open.

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