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Saturday, August 19th, 2017 10:11 am
Comic #1606

Alternate punchlines:

  • Martian 1: What, already?
  • Martian 1: You're kidding.
  • Martian 1: About time.
But in the end I went for understatement. Because I figured it would be so much less expected than any of those. And it implies the Martians know what's happening in the Halls of Power...
2017-08-19 Rerun commentary: The first three panels are a deliberate allusion to the film Clear and Present Danger, by the way, in case anyone missed that. And not just the title either, for those of you haven't seen it, but indeed the plot. The final panel kind of turns that completely on its head, to provide a twist/gag for those familiar with the movie.

Saturday, August 19th, 2017 04:09 am

Posted by Dave

Fredericksburg, Virginia, circa 1928. "Brick house, Princess Anne Street." 8x10 inch acetate negative by Frances Benjamin Johnston. View full size.
Friday, August 18th, 2017 11:00 pm

Posted by Samuel Pepys

Lay too long in bed, till 8 o’clock, then up and Mr. Reeve came and brought an anchor and a very fair loadstone. He would have had me bought it, and a good stone it is, but when he saw that I would not buy it he said he [would] leave it for me to sell for him. By and by he comes to tell me that he had present occasion for 6l. to make up a sum, and that he would pay me in a day or two, but I had the unusual wit to deny him, and so by and by we parted, and I to the office, where busy all the morning sitting.

Dined alone at home, my wife going to-day to dine with Mrs. Pierce, and thence with her and. Mrs. Clerke to see a new play, “The Court Secret.”

I busy all the afternoon, toward evening to Westminster, and there in the Hall a while, and then to my barber, willing to have any opportunity to speak to Jane, but wanted it. So to Mrs. Pierces, who was come home, and she and Mrs. Clerke busy at cards, so my wife being gone home, I home, calling by the way at the Wardrobe and met Mr. Townsend, Mr. Moore and others at the Taverne thereby, and thither I to them and spoke with Mr. Townsend about my boy’s clothes, which he says shall be soon done, and then I hope I shall be settled when I have one in the house that is musicall.

So home and to supper, and then a little to my office, and then home to bed. My wife says the play she saw is the worst that ever she saw in her life.

Read the annotations

Friday, August 18th, 2017 10:12 pm

Posted by Alex Kasprak

Early reports characterized a statement regarding white supremacist violence put out by three California chapters of the ACLU as divergent in philosophy from the National chapter, highlighting a complicated relationship between free speech and hate.
Friday, August 18th, 2017 06:00 pm

The murals feature scenes from Central Park, which is nearby.

In a bar in Manhattan that is covered in art, lives the last public place Ludwig Bemelmans' whimsy plays a big part.

The story of the feisty literary heroine Madeline begins in Paris, but the girl with the red hair and big yellow hat travels all around the world in the books written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans. Much like his most famous character, Bemelmans’ life began in Europe, in the Austrian Tirol, but he emigrated to the United States when he was nearly 20 years old. After working in the hotel industry and serving in the army, he began writing and illustrating books for children. He found huge success with his Madeline series, the first book of which came out in 1939.

He went on to write five books about the spunky seven-year-old and her adventures, and also produced popular artwork for publications like The New Yorker and Vogue. In the 1940s, Bemelmans took on a commission that combined two of his passions: hotels and painting. He was contracted to decorate the new bar that was built in The Carlyle, a luxury hotel in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

For this, he was paid not in cash, but received free board for himself and his family for a year and a half, the duration it took for the wall murals to be completed.

The dull yellow of the walls is enlivened by elephants, rabbits, and other animals frolicking around Central Park, all painted in Bemelmans’ trademark style. Madeline and her friends can also be spotted, alongside other typical park scenes like dogs sprinting with their owners and nurses taking babies for a stroll. The simplicity of the wall art is contrasted by the more luxurious Art Deco interiors of the bar. The ceilings are coated in gold leaf and leather banquettes line the walls, placed near glass-top tables. 

The whimsical artwork adds to the New York City piano bar’s quiet appeal and it is the only remaining place where Bemelmans' work that is open to the public. It's all there is, and there isn't anymore.

Friday, August 18th, 2017 05:00 pm

The memorial stone and bridge.

On August 11, 1866 the ship Nellie Chapin set sail from Jonesport, Maine to Jaffa (which is now Tel-Aviv, Israel). Reverend George J. Adams, a charismatic man with a slightly shady past and drunken tendencies, led a group of Christian colonists on a mission to live and work in the Holy Land to help restore Israel for the Jewish people, which they hoped would expedite the Second Coming of Christ.

They packed prefabricated homes, farming tools, clothes, and other belongings onto the ship and headed to Jaffa. It was smooth sailing, until they reached their final destination. The group’s claim to the land had been rejected by the Sultan of Turkey, so the pilgrims were forced to live in ramshackle, makeshift shelters on the beach near a cemetery housing the victims of a recent cholera epidemic. Because of the shallow harbor, they had to anchor two miles offshore and load their belongings into rafts when going ashore. Finally, by November they had started farms and built some of the prefabricated houses outside Jaffa’s walls. Several of those houses are still standing. One is currently known as the Maine Friendship House.

But farming was hard in the dry climate. Both crops and people perished. Despite a few successes in other industries, many of the original 157 pilgrims were anxious to return home. In April of 1867, 20 pilgrims gained passage to Egypt on the United States Navy steamer Canandaigua. In May, another 32 left for Syria. In July, the colony lost another nine. In early October, the ship Quaker City took 44 pilgrims bound for the United States. Adams himself left in 1868.

It was on the ship Quaker City that the writer Mark Twain happened to be traveling while penning Innocents Abroad. In Chapter 57, he describes the pilgrims as “shamefully humbugged” and “chiefly destitute.”

A stone commemorating the pilgrims' ultimately unsuccessful mission to bring forth the Messiah sits on the Jonestown side of the bridge to Beals Island. A sister stone can be found at Charles Clore Park in Tel Aviv.

Friday, August 18th, 2017 04:15 pm
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On Monday, August 21, Elise Ricard, like millions of others across the United States, will stare at the sky for about ninety seconds to watch the moon fully eclipse the sun.

Just before that, though, she's going to try to spend five minutes or so watching a squirrel. And afterwards, if her mind isn't too blown, she's going to find that same squirrel, and watch it again.

We more or less know what people will get up to during the eclipse. They might renew their wedding vows, or scream, or listen to an appropriate and beloved pop song. Most will be looking upwards. But Ricard, a driving force behind the California Academy of Sciences' "Life Responds" eclipse research project, is one of many researchers around the world who are dying to know something else: what are the other animals going to do?

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People, including scientists, tell tales about watching animals react to an eclipse: seeing llamas line up calmly to observe it, or coming across whales throwing a pre-totality splash party. But many such stories are just that: stories, unsupported by broader data. In the past, when researchers have tried to ask this question more rigorously, they've had to be content with small-scale answers, necessarily focusing on one population of one species in one place. One paper, written in 1998, tells of schools of reef fish that "swam with alarm" when the sun disappeared. Another, about a 1991 eclipse, details the behavior of colonial orb-weaving spiders, which greeted the darkening sky by destroying and eating their own webs—a response that seems less dramatic when you consider that they do the same thing every night.

But as technology makes collaboration easier, some researchers have gotten more ambitious. In 2010, during a solar eclipse that passed over India, about a hundred volunteers took part in a project called EclipseWatch, using an online form to submit observations about animal behavior. (Some highlights: "dogs seemed unaffected," and red-wattled laplings bathed "where they normally do not.")

Seven years later, such possibilities look even brighter. For "Life Responds"—which also asks citizen scientists to record observations about how wildlife behave just before and just after the eclipse, using an existing app called iNaturalist—"we have this great confluence of fortunate things coming around," says Ricard. One is the location of the path of totality, which cuts a large swath across the continental U.S. and happens to pass over dozens of national parks and open spaces.

Another is the eclipse's popularity—if just a small percentage of eclipse-watchers participate in the campaign, that will still mean thousands of responses. Ricard hopes this will not only shed light on what individual animals do, but answer larger questions. "For instance, what percentage of eclipse coverage do you need to get a response from plants and animals?" she says. "Is 80 percent enough? Do you need to be in the 90 or 100 percent range?"

Megan McKenna, of the U.S. National Park Service's Natural Sounds and Night Skies division, is working on answering similar questions in a different way. With help from researchers across the country, she's putting audio recorders in remote areas of various national parks and monuments, where they can capture the private reactions of birds, insects, and other animals to the eclipse.

Changes in light tend to provoke some of nature's noisiest times: "We're trying to figure out what happens during an eclipse, and how it relates to a typical dawn and dusk chorus," McKenna says. Seventeen parks and monuments are participating in the initiative—15 in the path of totality, and two just outside of it, for comparison's sake.

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So what does everyone expect will happen? For one thing, a lot of animals might try to go to sleep: "Birds will settle in their nests," says ranger Joe Reasoner of Fort Laramie National Historic Site. "Chickens and cows will head toward the barn thinking it is evening time." "Some mammals simply lay down," adds another of the Fort's rangers, Mike Evans. Meanwhile, nocturnal animals may think it's their time to shine, and come out to eat and chat. "Crickets might start chirping," writes Alvis Mar, a ranger at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, in an email. "Some toads might become more active. Owls may hoot."

All of these plans, of course, will be quickly scuppered when the sun reappears. At that point, researchers expect the animals might jump back into their daytime routines: coming out of the barn, greeting the "daybreak" with song, or (for the nocturnal ones) hiding again. As Shelley Buranek of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument puts it, "anecdotal evidence… suggests that [certain animals] will behave as if the day is ending and beginning anew." In other words, they'll treat the eclipse like regular life, but on fast-forward.

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In some cases, though, experts are holding out for more surprising reactions. At the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, caretakers will be keeping a close eye on the American alligators, which tend to rumble during thunderstorms, and the ring-tailed and red-ruffed lemurs—which, as the zoo's primate expert Chelsea Feast details in a press release, have a special relationship with the sun. "They are very in tune with the light cycle," Feast says. "They may react with vocalizations…[or] they may sit quietly and just watch the sky."

An understandable response, but one we're interested in all the same. "We plan to have two GoPro cameras in the lemur exhibit," assures the zoo's communications director, Thom Benson. We wouldn't want to miss their reactions just because we'll be looking at the same thing.

Learn more about how you can participate in the "Life Responds" project here.

Friday, August 18th, 2017 04:04 pm
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When Prince Albert died in 1861 at the age of 42, his wife, Queen Victoria was very upset. She never again wore anything but black in public. As another sign of mourning, she introduced black swans to a lake on the grounds of Rosenau Palace, Prince Albert's birthplace in central Germany. The tradition of keeping black swans there has continued to this day, and recently, a female black swan found herself in need of a new companion following the apparent death of her partner in the jaws of a fox. Swans famously mate for life (though divorce is possible).

And so, as the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports, caretakers earlier this month posted a call for help on a government website, requesting a black swan, of either sex and ideally over three years of age, as a new companion. A breeder in Ingolstadt, about two-and-a-half hours south of the palace, responded within days and provided a nine-month-old black swan to the palace.

On Thursday, a palace official told Deutsche Welle that so far everything looks good. "Both swans are swimming happily on the lake," he said. "It's going well."

Officials won't know the new swan's gender for more than two years, when it turns three. Though, as they said in the original ad, "The sex of the animal isn't important." They just want an end to the loneliness.

Friday, August 18th, 2017 04:00 pm

Fraggle Rock.

Six miles west of Lordsburg, New Mexico is the Fraggle Rock, a heavily graffitied rocky hill. It's named for the words painted on its side in crisp, bold letters.

Sightings of this monument to the Muppet-related television program date at least back into the 1990s. It’s unknown whether someone maintains the lettering on the side of the hill, as the text has remained clearly legible despite the passage of time. The lonely outcropping of rock is easily visible from the highway, where it stands out among the stretches of dry, flat terrain.

The original Fraggle Rock is a live action puppet television series. It debuted in 1983 and became a much beloved series among its British, American, and Canadian audiences. Episodes typically included at least two or three original songs.

Sadly, there are no musical muppets moseying around the New Mexico rock.

Friday, August 18th, 2017 03:37 pm

Terrifying. Adorable. Portentous. However the sight of 1,069 humanoid robots dancing in mesmerizing unison makes you feel, it is most definitely record breaking.

Shared over on Boing Boing, Guinness World Records put out a video of the 1,069 wiggling robots to announce that the performance had set a new world record for “Most Robots Dancing Simultaneously.” Staged by the WL Intelligent Technology Co, Ltd in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China, the spectacle beat out the previous record holder, a performance in 2015 that featured just 1,007 robots.

The robots were all commercially available Dobi bots, the primary purpose of which seems to be dancing. Arrayed in a giant grid, the robots seem to be able to stay in formation pretty well, although they slip out of there lines a bit, and few of the little guys fell over.

Still, it’s a whimsical vision of a future where robots are only stealing our sick dance moves, and not our jobs.

Friday, August 18th, 2017 03:34 pm
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The Great American Eclipse is nearly upon us! In just a couple of days, the Moon’s shadow will cut a wide swath right through the center of the country to the delight, wonder, and fascination of millions of eclipse watchers. To prepare you for the once-in-a-lifetime (for some) event, we asked you what you most want to know about the spectacular celestial event. You did not disappoint!

We picked 15 of the most-asked and most-intriguing questions sent to us, and then scoured the internet and reached out to experts to get you answers. Before you witness this most jaw-dropping natural event, here’s everything you wanted to know about the eclipse (and probably a few things you didn’t know you were curious about).

Bob from Absecon, New Jersey, asks:

What date and between what times will I be able to see the eclipse from my town?

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By far the most frequently asked question was whether the eclipse would be viewable from where you are. The most stunning views of the eclipse will be within the path of totality, where the Sun will be completely obscured by the Moon. There, camping sites and lodging have been sold out for months (even years, in some cases), and millions of people are expected to flood rural communities nationwide for the best views. So, expect traffic and crowding if you plan to seek totality at the last minute.

But even outside of the path, the skies will darken with a partial eclipse over the entire country (Hawaii and Alaska, too) at some point on August 21.

Thankfully, NASA has an exhaustive database of materials and resources that can tell you exactly when the eclipse will darken your patch of sky, and by how much. There are also interactive maps from NASA and eclipse fanatic Xavier Jubier that can provide even more granular data about every moment.

However, no matter where you are, your view of the eclipse is going to depend greatly on the weather. A simple cloudy day could block your view entirely. Be sure to check the weather if you plan on making an event of it. —Eric Grundhauser, Staff Writer

Jacob from Miami, Florida, asks:

Why do you have to wear special glasses when watching an eclipse?

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Many readers had questions about that most iconic piece of eclipse gear, the glasses. We asked Rick Fienberg, press officer for the American Astronomical Society for the lowdown eclipse eye protection. "Eclipse glasses are thousands of times darker than ordinary sunglasses and block almost all the sun's ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light," he says. "Ordinary sunglasses block 50 percent. Eclipse glasses block 99.999 percent. They are made of special materials that absorb and/or reflect the Sun’s radiation at all wavelengths that could potentially harm our eyes."

There is, during the eclipse, a very small window of time when you can remove the glasses—totality. "Eclipse glasses are meant for use during the partial phases of the eclipse, when the Moon blocks part—but not all—of the Sun’s bright face," he says. "You can also use them on any sunny day, though there’s not much to see unless there happens to be a ginormous sunspot, i.e., one big enough to be visible to the safely filtered but otherwise unaided eye. The only time it is safe to remove the filters and look directly at the Sun is during totality, when the Moon covers the entire bright face of the Sun and the solar corona is visible." All of that being said, this is by no means an exact guide, so always take the proper care when looking at the sun.

Also, Feinberg warns people to never ever use eclipse glasses as protection when looking through telescopes or binoculars. There are special filters for that (see below). —EG

Julie from Chicago, Illinois, asks:

Have there ever been any documented cases of eclipse blindness?

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Surprisingly, for all the risk associated with staring at the Sun, there are few known cases of eclipses completely blinding people. An investigation of the question on Live Science states that there have been more than 100 documented cases of serious or permanent vision damage caused by eclipses, which isn't bad considering the frequency of eclipses and how many millions of people have experienced them, even without eclipse glasses.

The damage, technically called "solar retinopathy," is not caused by the eclipse itself, but people watching it tend to force themselves to stare, and overcome the normal reflex to look away. The lowered amount of perceived light makes that easier to do.

Most people who have reported problems with their eyesight after an eclipse find that the effects fade with time. But permanent damage is a real risk, so wear those glasses, or don't look for too long, even if you're shading your eyes. —EG

Vince from Florida asks:

How will this eclipse affect werewolves?

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Multiple people asked how the eclipse will impact werewolves. Sure enough, there is lore on how solar eclipses affect lycanthropes. According to the blog Ask Mystic Investigations, the eclipse could cause werewolves to transform prematurely and act erratically. Resource blog Your Lupine Life states that lunar eclipses tend to make werewolves "extra agitated an (sic) extra horny as weird as that may sound you also experience mood swings and your strength and speed will become increasingly strong."

Those who think they have this terrible affliction (and the people around them), should take the appropriate precautions, up to and including an eclipse cage of some sort. —EG

Ken from Grand Island, Nebraska, asks:

I've read that I need a special filter for my camera. Where do I find one?

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Multiple people had questions about their cameras and how to take pictures of the eclipse, and any advice depends on the camera you’re using.

The vast majority of people trying to photograph the eclipse are going to do it with a smartphone, and Apple told USA Today that direct sunlight has little ability to damage the digital image sensor on a smartphone. The cameras on phones are usually very wide angle, meaning the sun will be just a tiny dot in photos taken with them. A more pressing question is why one would bother—unless your phone camera is covered by a solar filter (the one you use for your eyes will do), any attempt at photos of it shy of totality are going to be washed out by glare. And even with a filter, the sun will still be little more than a tiny, pixelated speck. A better way to remember the moment might be to capture the scene around you, maybe with the eclipse in the background.

More serious cameras with larger lenses, such as SLRs, are more susceptible to damage from the Sun. Picture a magnifying glass, a sunny day, a line of ants, and a sadistic child. The large, magnifying optics of zoom lenses, especially the large ones needed to get a tight image of the eclipse, can focus the sunlight in a way that can damage a sensor as easily as it can damage an eye. Solar filters, widely available at camera stores, take away this risk by reducing the light from the sun by about 100,000 times, and are a necessity for useful pictures. Just remember not to use the viewfinder to look at the Sun.

This all changes at the moment of totality, however. Your eclipse glasses can come off, and your solar filter might as well be a lens cap. Eyes and cameras are completely safe during this brief period.

A few more tips: Don’t get so caught up in fiddling with a camera that you forget to watch the eclipse. Make sure your flash is off—it will not illuminate the Moon, but it will annoy everyone around you. And those people are going to make great photographic subjects, too. —Samir S. Patel, Deputy Editor

Mary Jane from New Baltimore, Michigan, asks:

Is there an increase in automobile accidents during an eclipse?

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The short answer is no. At least not so far.

The United States last experienced a major solar eclipse in May 2012, when people in California, Texas, and a few other states saw one. A scan of American newspapers for the following days reveals just a single car accident linked to the eclipse—a driver in San Francisco, who told police she was temporarily blinded by the eclipse, hit a mother and daughter in a crosswalk. The daughter’s arm was broken.

That's enough for authorities to issue stern warnings to drivers about keeping their eyes on the road and not taking pictures. But they seem more concerned with congestion. With millions traveling to the 70- to 90-mile band where a total eclipse will be visible, transportation departments have compared the situation to Super Bowls and music festivals. They warn drivers to plan ahead, and they have suspended construction projects in eclipse areas. To the extent that police officers and insurance agents expect more accidents, it is due to heavy traffic, not an act of God.

But since total solar eclipses are rare, no one knows for sure if there will be a leap in automobile accidents. The 2012 eclipse was an annular eclipse—the sun still appeared as a ring of fire around the moon, providing more light than the total eclipse will.

“Total eclipses are so rare,” says Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute, “there is not enough data to indicate whether the number of U.S. auto accidents increase when eclipses take place.”

A total eclipse last swept across the country like this in 1918, when the Ford Model T still dominated roads. Monday will see totality cross some of the world’s densest highway and road systems. Given that experienced eclipse chasers recommend being mobile, in case a cloud appears in your viewing area, it’s worth being extra cautious and aware of thousands of eclipse watchers driving frantically, in search of the perfect view. —Alex Mayyasi, Gastro Obscura Editor

Johnny from Florida asks:

If we didn't have eclipses, how would we have tested general relativity, or, in your opinion, would the theory have been resigned to the trash bin for lack of any way to test it?

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Albert Einstein himself proposed three tests of his theory of general relativity. Just one, which measures how the Sun's gravity bends light from other sources, could only be measured during an eclipse in the early 20th century. He also suggested that the orbital ellipse of Mercury would change because of the sun's gravity, and that starlight reaching Earth from large stars would shift to the red end of the visible light spectrum. These have all been observed. Other tests have been devised since then, and some are still in progress. The European Space Agency's Gaia satellite will observe 500,000 quasars and measure how their light is deflected by massive objects like the Sun. Gravitational waves, first detected in 2015, also help test the theory, which predicted their existence. Proving the theory without eclipses would just have been a matter of time. —Kelsey Kennedy, Editorial Fellow

Jim from Cincinnati, Ohio, asks:

What are 'Baily's Beads'?

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Despite what it may look like here on Earth, the Moon is not a perfect sphere. It's covered in mountains, valleys, and craters, and they're most obvious when the Moon passes in front of the Sun. During a total solar eclipse, sunlight shines through those peaks and valleys right as the moon's edges line up with the Sun, creating beads of light—Baily's Beads, named for astronomer Francis Baily, who described them in 1836. When the Moon moves so that there's just one bead of light, it's known as a diamond ring. —KK

H.T. from Missouri asks:

What exactly is the phenomenon known as ‘shadow snakes'?

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"Shadow snakes," sometimes called "shadow bands," are a bit mysterious. These waves of shadow can be seen just before and after totality, most easily on white surfaces, and were described as far back as the ninth century. But scientists still aren't entirely sure what causes them. They're unpredictable, and the most likely explanation is that they're caused by the same atmospheric turbulence that makes stars appear to twinkle. —KK

Harley Boy Snigglesnort from New Orleans, Louisiana, asks:

As a dog, how dangerous is it for me to look at the eclipse? Should my man-friend keep me inside the entire time?

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We received a couple of questions from ... users, about whether the eclipse will negatively affect pets.

Though your pet will look adorable in a pair of eclipse glasses, they probably won't need them. Animals are much smarter than we are, in their way, so they tend not to gaze at the Sun, even when it looks weird. On top of that, total solar eclipses can be a bit scary for animals. It may be a struggle to get them out from under the bed at all, at least until the darkness has passed. Just in case, perhaps it is best keep them inside with the blinds down. (You'll have plenty of time earlier in the day to get your Instagram snaps of Lucky in his safety glasses.) —Natasha Frost, Editorial Fellow

Ella Mae from Arkansas asks:

When will the next eclipse occur?

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The next total solar eclipse is a little less than two years out, in Chile and Argentina. If you miss that one, there's another about 18 months later, in the same general place. But you won't have to go that far for another shot. In just seven years, another total solar eclipse will pass across a large swath of the United States—which means that some lucky people—the residents of Carbondale, Illinois, will get to see both from the comfort of home. If you're thinking even further ahead, there are another seven coming between now and 2050. In fact, we've compiled details on all the notable upcoming eclipses just for you! —NF

Micki from Coral Springs, Florida, asks:

Why does the eclipse travel from west to east when the sun travels from east to west?

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One of the strange-seeming things that will happen during the upcoming eclipse is that the shadow of the Moon will move from the west side of the continent to the east, in apparent opposition to the usual course of the Sun across the sky from east to west. An article on Space.com tackled this question, and the answer is that the movement of the shadow is dictated by the Moon, not the Sun. The Moon's orbit goes west-to-east, and so goes the shadow! —EG

Andrew from Boulder, Colorado, asks:

Are there eclipses on other planets?

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On August 20, 2013, the Curiosity Rover took a break from snuffling around the surface of Mars to watch something really cool: the larger of Mars’s two moons, Phobos, passing directly in front of the Sun. Unlike Earth’s moon, Phobos is too small and/or far from Mars to pull off a total eclipse. Instead, it did the best it could, interrupting the Sun’s brightness without obscuring it completely. Together, three photographs the Rover took look like a muppet rolling its eyes.

As astronomer Christa Van Laerhoven recently told Live Science, you really only need two things for an eclipse: a sun and a moon that orbits it on the same plane. While Mercury and Venus don’t meet this criteria, the rest of the planets in our solar system do, to varying extents. Mars gets the aforementioned partial blockouts, called “annular” or “ring” eclipses.

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all have numerous moons (Jupiter has 69, though only 53 have names so far!) so if you could stand on one of those gas giants, you would see eclipses fairly regularly—total ones when the moon in question is big or close enough, and partial ones when it’s not. Every ten years or so, three of Jupiter’s largest moons pass over the sun at the same time, and the planet witnesses a triple-eclipse. (It's worth noting that the Sun appears much smaller in the sky from these more-distant planets than it does on Earth.)

Everyone’s favorite almost-planet, Pluto, also gets solar eclipses. It takes Pluto 248 Earth years to orbit around the Sun once. Twice during this period, Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, take turns getting in the Sun’s way, eclipsing each other once every single Plutonian day for about three Earth years. Then they quit it again until the next time.

Eclipses now probably seem like a dime a dozen! But if space tourists could pick anywhere in this solar system to see one, though, they’d probably come here, because our home planet’s moon is the perfect size for celestial drama. As Van Laerhoven explains, “When the Moon passes in front of the Sun, the photosphere [the Sun's luminous outer shell] gets covered, but the corona [the sun's upper atmosphere] remains visible.” This results in that classic view of an almost-completely-shrouded Sun, its light just barely peeking out around the edges. So rest assured: If you can catch totality, you’ve got the best eclipse view for billions and billions of miles. —Cara Giaimo, Staff Writer

Stephanie from Union, Missouri, asks:

How do eclipses affect tides?

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A handful of readers wrote in to ask whether the eclipse will affect the tides, and answer is yes! As we mentioned in our very own list of great places to experience extraordinary tidal forces, when the Sun, Moon, and Earth all align, it creates what is known as a "spring tide." This powerful variety of tide produces the greatest difference between high and low tides. A spring tide occurs after every new and full moon, but they also happen during an eclipse. So if you plan on watching the eclipse near the water, you might want to wear flood pants. —EG

Ben from Atlanta, Georgia, asks:

What's the funniest thing that's ever happened during an eclipse?

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This is a tough one. Since most people are too busy staring at the sky in awe to crack jokes, there's not a whole lot of hilarious anecdotes out there, but we asked amateur astronomer and eclipse chaser Mike Kentrianakis, the man behind what is probably the most joyful (and pretty funny own its own right) eclipse video in existence. "[There's a] story of an airplane cleaning woman who got locked into a flight that had to depart and they wouldn't let her out because they had to leave exactly on time," he says. "She ended up being the luckiest woman in South America because she saw was the only woman from South America to see the eclipse from the plane!" That might be funny? —EG

Still hungry for more eclipse knowledge? Check out all of our eclipse stories here!

Friday, August 18th, 2017 08:06 pm

Posted by Dave

Shelter Island, New York, circa 1904. "Manhanset House, at the golf links." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.
Friday, August 18th, 2017 06:48 pm

Posted by Jeff Wood (Contributor)

If you're heading out of DC at rush hour, your best bet may be to drive east. Cities seeking to grow their nightlife are bringing in Night Mayors. And this weird quirk in the tax code explains why Vancouver builds way more condos than rental apartments. Check out what's happening around the nation in transportation, land use, and other related areas.

Can you escape at rush hour? An interactive map put together by the Washington Post shows how far you can get away from the city during rush hour in a number of cities across the United States.  How far can you get at 4pm? At 7pm?  The maps are intoxicating. (Washington Post)

Rise of the night mayor: In cities around the world, Night Mayors have emerged as the stewards of cultural experiences that aren't tied to usual daytime activity. And with rising costs affecting everything from artist spaces and music venues, someone who's sole focus is managing the evening realm is seen as a benefit to not only culture, but even those who live downtown and wish to sleep. (Governing)

Seattle builds apartments, Vancouver BC builds condos: In 2016 nearly 60% of Vancouver BC's housing construction was condominium while Seattle built none.  Given the cities are so close, the difference is an interesting look at different dynamics that affect housing supply. Tax code is unfavorable to apartment construction in Vancouver and includes capital gains taxes on building sales while the hot rental markets in Seattle and greater regulations for condos encourage apartments. (Sightline Institute)

The key to cutting solo commutes: Seattle has found that one of the best solutions for cutting down on single occupancy commutes is by charging for parking in the garage by the day, not by the month.  The value to this approach is not to incentivize sunk costs associated with paying a lump sum up front for parking and help people become more conscious about their decisions. In one particularly high profile example, the Gates Foundation went from being predominantly single occupancy car commuting to only 34% of employees and now often have a half empty parking garage. (Seattle Times)

Moscow's makeover: Russia's capital Moscow has transformed since the fall of the Soviet Union. Operating on a small budget compared to other metropolises around the world, the city has pulled itself up and become something bigger in part due to its mayor, information technology, and the reverse engineering of its streets for people rather than cars. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Quote of the Week

"Congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come. We have been going through the problems with the old plan and trying to come up with an updated and frankly better congestion pricing plan"

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (New York Times)

Top image: The Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Image by thisisbossi licensed under Creative Commons.

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Friday, August 18th, 2017 03:00 pm

The Igloo Church.

Our Lady of Victory Church was designed to resemble a large igloo, a temporary Inuit hunting shelter made of blocks of snow. It’s located nearly 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Inuvik, one of Canada's most northerly towns.

Brother Maurice Larocque, the church’s architect, was a Catholic missionary with a background in carpentry. He had no formal architectural training. Larocque sketched his plans on two pieces of plywood that can now be seen on a set of stairs inside the church. 

His blueprints for the igloo-shaped structure were so confusing, construction of the church was finished without a proper permit because the federal government couldn’t understand them. Local volunteers spent two years building the church, which opened in 1960.

The wood for the church was floated nearly 1,200 miles down the Mackenzie River, as there are few trees in the Arctic area. The building itself had to be constructed to accommodate the shifting permafrost that swells beneath the ground. It’s one of the reasons the church is shaped like an igloo. Its concrete basement and the intricate wooden arches supporting the domed structure help hold its weight atop the sometimes unreliable ground. The church is the only major building in Inuvik that doesn’t rest upon or rely on special adfreeze piles.

Friday, August 18th, 2017 02:00 pm

The graffiti.

Those impressive Edwardians thoughtfully left enough room between the arches of this grand 1906 railway viaduct for an eight-lane motorway to pass through. Officially called the Chalfont Viaduct, even traffic reports now refer to it as the “Give Peas A Chance Viaduct” due to the infamous graffiti it bears.

The M25 London orbital motorway provides very little to smile about, but painted on the side of this notable railway bridge is a cryptic message that is sure to raise a grin from even the most sour-faced commuter. But who painted the graffiti, and why? Was it a John Lennon fan who could not spell? Was it a vandalizing vegetarian activist? A proud legume enthusiast, perhaps?

In reality it was none of the above. Originally the graffiti simply read ‘“PEAS,” which was the tag of a prolific London graffiti artist. One theory is that Peas (the artist) kept getting arrested, so someone made a polite and public request on the side of the bridge for his fairer treatment.

Oxford Archaeology carried out a historic building report on the bridge in 2009 and studied the legendary graffiti as part of the noble viaduct’s architectural interest. Their conclusion was that someone else added the words “Give” and “a chance” almost immediately after the appearance of the original tag, probably as a pun on the title of John Lennon’s 1969 protest song “Give peace a chance.” Presumably, the aim was simply to amuse passing motorists on the notoriously dull, jam-prone road. Although the graffiti does divide opinions pertaining to its true meaning, it certainly brightens many journeys.

Friday, August 18th, 2017 01:40 pm
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In Neustadt, Germany—in the western part of the country, not far from the French border—a truck with 20 tons of chocolate, including a lot of Nutella (primarily sugar and palm oil), went missing last weekend. It was probably stolen, according to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The problem for the thieves behind such a caper is how one goes about profiting from such a haul. Fence it all as quickly as possible for cents on the euro? Feed it into Europe's chocolate black market? Set up a stand on the corner?

"Anyone offered large quantities (of chocolate) via unconventional channels should report it to the police immediately," German authorities said in a statement, which begs the question of how often large amounts of chocolate pass through unconventional channels.

Police said the stolen truck, which was also carrying Kinder Eggs and other chocolates, contained $82,000 worth of goods, and could've been towed away by a bigger truck. They also suspect the crime is connected to an earlier theft of an empty truck.

Have you been offered a large amount of chocolate through unconventional channels recently? If you see something, say something.