You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2014.

The Edge of the Woods (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, watercolor)

The Edge of the Woods (Wayne Ferrebee, 2012, watercolor)

Well, it’s already Thanksgiving…2015 will be here before you know it. This year I’m staying in Brooklyn instead of going home to the fields and hardwood forests of Appalachia, but I’ll definitely miss visiting family, going hunting, and seeing all of the goodly farm creatures.  I probably should have organized things better, but to be frank, organization is really not my métier.  How does everybody do so well with all of these infernal lists, and applications, and invoices, and calendars, and spreadsheets? Anyway, to celebrate the holiday, here is a summertime watercolor picture of the family farm.  The trees look a bit crooked and a bit too green…but they were crooked and extremely green in real world (plus I didn’t realize I was sitting on an anthill when I first chose the location—so I was painting faster and faster).   Of course there was no wild turkey running through the painting–at least not that I could see—however they are supremely canny at blending in when they want to be (and I did find some feathers at the entrance to the forest).  The snake, chipmunk, and skulking frog are likewise inventions, although they are definitely out there in the woods.  I should really have painted an anthill: those guys were very much present!

Yes, like that...but bitier.

Yes, like that…but bitier.

I’m sorry I don’t have a November painting which show the beautiful browns, russets, and grays of the woodland.  The wild turkey would look extremely good against such a backdrop!  But the ants were bad enough—I don’t even want to think about watercolor in snow, sleet, and freezing rain…

bigstock-Thanksgiving-turkey-52141033

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!  I hope you enjoy your turkeys and have a lot to be thankful for. All of you foreign folk will have to make do with my best wishes and imagine how succulent the turkey and mashed potatoes taste.  But wherever or whoever you are, you should know that I am most thankful for my readers!  You are all the best!

oak aging

The color burgundy is named after Burgundy, the famous red wine.  Burgundy, the famous red wine, is named after Burgundy a historical territory in eastern-central France.  Burgundy, the historical region of France, is named after the Burgundians, an ancient Norse people who allied with the Romans, back when the Roman Empire ruled Gaul.  The Burgundians, like the Goths, seem to have originated in Scandinavia in pre-history.  Whereas the Goths moved from Scandinavia to the Baltic island of Gottland (which means Goth Land), the original Burgundians apparently moved to the Baltic island of Bornholm (which means Burgundian Home).  From Bornholm, they become involved in the affairs of northern Europe first as raiders and mercenaries, then (as the Roman Empire blew apart) they became colonists and administrators. At least that is more-or-less what historians believe happened… During the Middle Ages Burgundians became divorced from their Scandinavian/Gothic roots and they have long been French (Burgundian nobles sometimes playing a big role in French history).

A burgundy gown in the style of late Medieval Burgundy... (from sevenstarwheel)

A burgundy gown in the style of late Medieval Burgundy… (from sevenstarwheel)

Irrespective of the origins of the name, the color burgundy is a gorgeous deep red hue entirely fitting for an ancient race of cutthroat warriors.  Burgundy is darker than cordovan and a truer red than oxblood or maroon.   It is the magnificent dark red of undiluted alizarin crimson.  Because it is such a vivid color, it tends to stand for sensuality, power, and violence.

Burgundy_Duet_Satin

Despite this wildness and darkness (or maybe because of it), burgundy is a very popular color in fashion and beauty.  It was particularly en vogue in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it was my then-girlfriend’s favorite color for lipstick and clothes.  I distinctly remember seeing it everywhere back then.   Today, the radiant sun of fashion does not shine quite so directly on burgundy, but it is still a popular color in sports, automobiles, and homegoods.   According to the internet, burgundy remains a favorite color for lipstick in the Goth subculture (i.e. among teenagers and young adults who enjoy melodramatic and fetishistic costumes). So burgundy has made a full circle from the Goths of Roman times to the Goths of today.

tumblr_m8qu4h42em1roidpvo1_500

A large single tunicate (blue) with a colony of smaller tunicates (saffron)

A large single tunicate (blue) with a colony of smaller tunicates (saffron)

It’s time to talk tunicates! Many people blithely dismiss tunicates as primitive sack-like marine invertebrates which derive sustenance from filter-feeding. Although that is technically true, it is a very reductive and dismissive way to think about this ancient, ancient subphylum of animals. Tunicates are chordates…barely, but they are also classified as invertebrates. Because they mostly consist of delicate tissue sacks filled with fluids, the fossil record of tunicates is understandably exiguous, but it is believed they existed in Ediacaran times (circa 550 million years ago) and were part of the mysterious soft Ediacaran biota which blossomed into the Cambrian era’s suffusion of life forms. Tunicates probably closely resemble the basal organisms from which Pikaia and all other vertebrates (lynxes, caecilians, hummingbirds, triggerfish, humans, ichthyosaurs, turkeys, moeritheriums, and suchlike animals) sprang. Of course tunicates also resemble hydrozoans, mollusks, worms, and even arthropods—so they may be very basal indeed!

A free-swimming larval tunicate (microphoto by Wim van Egmond of Rotterdam)

A free-swimming larval tunicate (microphoto by Wim van Egmond of Rotterdam)

All–or very nearly all–tunicates are hermaphrodites with both male and female reproductive organs (a single ovary and a lone testis). Not only do tunicates keep their romantic options open, they also metamorphose into different forms throughout their lives. The majority of tunicates have a free-swimming larval stage when they are motile (and have a little sliver of nerve chord). As they reach sexual maturity, their nerve chords disintegrate and they settle down to become sessile—attaching to a permanent base. Some tunicates live their entire lives as solitary individuals whereas others form colonies (like corals or siphonophores).

Not only do they have multiple genders they have multiple methods of reproduction

Not only do they have multiple genders they have multiple methods of reproduction

Colonial tunicates integrate at different levels depending on the species. In some, the zooids (the individual living organisms) merely live next to each other like coral or Brooklynites, whereas other tunicate colonies grow entwined and share common organs and anatomical structures. There are many different tunicates going by many different lifestyles and they have all sorts of crazy names. Wikipedia poetically avers that “…various species are commonly known as sea squirts, sea pork, sea livers, or sea tulips.”

Komodo National Park sea squirt (Polycarpa aurata) by nick Hobgood

Komodo National Park sea squirt (Polycarpa aurata) by nick Hobgood

As you could guess from these names, tunicates have an otherworldly beauty. Here is one which looks like a diseased zombie heart! Others look like transparent alien shrimp, fluorescent pens, or strangely hieroglyphed eyes. There are bioluminescent tunicates of the deep ocean, and pelagic tunicates that form long chains (with a single digestive tract running through the individual zooids).  They live in coastal waters, pelagic waters, and in the depths.

Colonial tunicate with multiple openings in each zooid

Colonial tunicate with multiple openings in each zooid

Most of these zoology articles end with a sad coda about how the subject organism is threatened in the modern world–no so for tunicates!  As humans overfish the oceans and drive countless teleosts to the edge of extinction, so-called primitive species like jellyfish and tunicates are flourishing! Acidification, climate change, and pollution seem to be resetting the great worldsea back to Neoproterzoic times. Additionally tunicates easily travel the world in ballast water and numerous species are becoming invasive pests (like the evocatively named carpet tunicate).  In this troubled era, there is raw power in being a primitive protean organism with only a wisp of a nervous system (as we should have known just by looking at successful late-night comedians).  Get used to the tunicate–not just an incredibly distant ancestor, but the once and future (and always) avatar of animal life in the oceans.

Chain of fluorescent tunicates. (photo by Francis Abbott/Nature Picture Library)

Chain of fluorescent tunicates. (photo by Francis Abbott/Nature Picture Library)

article-2563382-1BA7A1EA00000578-990_634x425

Across the vast continent of North America temperatures have plummeted.  As I write this, sub-zero winds sweep across the Great Plains. Buffalo is seemingly gone–buried beneath uncounted tons of lake-effect snow.  Obviously, with all of this November cold, Americans are obsessed with one question:  what happens to snakes in the winter?

This seems somehow wrong.

This seems somehow wrong.

Snakes live in places that get very cold during the winter, yet the poor reptiles are cold-blooded and can’t be slithering around in snow and ice.  In fact, considering that their bodies become the same temperature as their surroundings, how do they avoid becoming snakecicles?  What happens to them when the mercury dips?

Technically speaking, snakes (and other reptiles & amphibians who live in climes which turn cold) do not hibernate—they brumate.   Brumation is a different sort of metabolic dormancy than mammalian hibernation, but there are many similarities. When reptiles go dormant, their breathing and heart rate drop to almost nil.  Brumating reptiles do not eat (or produce waste)—though they wake up occasionally from their dormancy to drink water.

Garter Snakes dormant in a hibernaculum

Garter Snakes dormant in a hibernaculum

As temperatures dip in autumn, temperate reptiles get all Roman and they seek out a hibernaculum—a sheltered environment which protects them throughout the winter. Hibernaculums are usually deep within the ground in holes, crevices, and burrows which reach beneath the frost line.  Certain species of snakes brumate together to share trace warmth.  Just imagine a colony of hundreds of little garter snakes in suspended animation beneath a snow covered rock wall in that picturesque New England snowscape!

Wait, where are the snakes?

Wait, where are the snakes?

Although it is not exactly the topic of this post, amphibians and aquatic reptiles also brumate—sometimes underwater or deep within the wet mud at the very bottom of ponds and lakes! The turtles, frogs, and newts take in sufficient oxygen through their skin to stay alive in their deeply reduced metabolic state—although they occasionally wake up from their torpor and swim about. An indelible memory of my childhood is seeing some little newt swimming beneath the ice of the frozen cranberry bog which I was standing on!

When spring comes and temperatures become warm enough, the snakes depart from their underground dens and sun themselves until they have sufficient energy to become active. Of course some reptiles live in such wintry locations that they have very little summer.  There are snakes (like northern rattlesnakes) which brumate 8 months out of the year!  Scientists believe that this prolonged dormancy allows the snakes to live longer—like an automobile turned off in a safe garage.

Garter snakes awaken en masse in the spring

Garter snakes awaken en masse in the spring

An agricultural billhook

An agricultural billhook

A billhook is a sort of agricultural/forestry tool which was used for pruning vines, fruit trees, and shrubs.  It consisted of a heavy blade which twisted into a cruel sharpened steel hook (like a parrot’s bill), all of which was, in turn, attached to a wooden handle—or sometimes to a long staff for pruning hard to reach branches.  At some point in the late middle ages, it was noted that this alarming tool could be used to prune a wider range of targets than just unruly fruit trees: suddenly the billhook evolved into a sinister polearm (admittedly, the Chinese had some similar cavalry hooks, but we are talking about the European/English bill in this article).

A bill as a weapon

A bill as a weapon

The bill was a powerful weapon with the range of a spear and the brute chopping power of an axe. It could be used like a pike to stop a cavalry charge (or hack/stab swordsmen before they reached the wielder) it also had a hook to snatch horsemen from their mounts or take enemy combatants’ legs out from beneath them.

Early Tudor soldiers by Angus McBride; Two Billmen and an archer

Early Tudor soldiers by Angus McBride; Two Billmen and an archer

The bill came to prominence in the 14th and 15th centuries as the Middle Ages waned. Soldiers using bills were called billmen and usually wore chainmail or plate armor.  Often they also wore sallets, the helmets of the day, which could be open faced or have visors. Generally billmen also were attired with colorful tabards over their armor (often with all sorts of heraldic emblems) and bright tights or leggings.  High status soldiers would have big dyed feathered plumes on their helmets.  These were some impressive & flamboyant foot soldiers!

Billmen reenactors

Billmen reenactors

In continental Europe the early 16th centuries saw armies moving towards the pike and the arquebus (a sort of nightmarish early musket), however the English preferred to rely on the rapid fire of their hallowed longbow.  And for infantry, they still favored bills over pikes—a choice which turned out to be a good one.  In the Battle of Flodden, which occurred in 1513, an army of approximately 26,000 English billmen chopped apart a larger army of Scottish pikemen.  The Scottish king, James IV was hacked apart right along with his soldiers and was the last monarch of the British Isles to die in glorious combat (so far).

Battle of Flodden--The Death of James IV (Stephen G. Walsh, watercolor)

Battle of Flodden–The Death of James IV (Stephen G. Walsh, watercolor)

Thebaid (Fra Angelico, 1410, Tempera on Panel)

Thebaid (Fra Angelico, 1410, Tempera on Panel)

Are you ready for a deeply strange and problematic painting of tremendous beauty?  This is “The Thebaid” a masterpiece from Florence in the very early 13th century (it was probably completed in 1410 AD).   For centuries, art historians have argued over who painted this epic monastic landscape.  For a long time it was believed the painting was by the enigmatic Jacopo Starnina.  Then, for many years, art experts thought the painting was by Lorenzo Monaco, a gothic painter who moved to Florence from Sienna and excelled at painting brilliantly colored saints (although he eschewed the great artistic innovations of his time—such as perspective and painting from life).  Finally, historical consensus has settled on none other than the matchless Fra Angelico as the painter–which seems fitting since this work is so thoroughly a celebration of monastic life (Fra Angelico was a friar…although so was Lorenzo Monaco).  Fra Angelico is famous for bridging the styles of the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance.  With its angular mountains, stylized churches, and gilded sailing ships, “The Thebaid” is appropriately gothic and old fashioned to be one of his early works.  Yet it also has the first flowering of the flowing rhythm and deliquescent grace which have made Fra Angelico such a famous name in art.

Detail

Detail

Whoever painted it, the painting is a mythological depiction of the Egyptian desert in the Fifth Century AD—a time and place synonymous with hermits and monasticism.  The story goes that Saint Horus, an early Christian ascetic, wandered into the desert outside of Thebes to live as a hermit.  Although initially illiterate, Horus learned the Holy scriptures on his own (or through divine intervention).  So many devout men were inspired by his life of solitude, renunciation, and piety that they too moved into the empty desert.  Thus a thriving community of monastics gathered around the famous anchorite.  The one became many and the once barren desert became a verdant model for monasticism.

Detail

Detail

The picture is certainly a celebration of the cloistered life which a Florentine monk would have known.  The architecture, dress, and agricultural equipment is of the same era as the painter.  Yet the painting also has a timelessness befitting the subject. Within the narrative flow of a community of monks assembling, one can discern beautiful humanizing details such as the infirm elderly monk being carried on a dais by his brothers or the monk in the center preaching to a black dog.  Indeed animals abound within this work and one of the monks seems to be riding a deer while another rides a chariot pulled by lions.  There is a lot going on in this magic gathering of holy men communing with nature!

 

Turkey Sculpture (Jim Victor, butter)

Turkey Sculpture (Jim Victor, butter)

I really love turkeys!  Thanksgiving season is thus a happy time when the magnificent birds are celebrated in numerous forms throughout the American cultural landscape (although, admittedly, our national appreciation has a gastronomic thrust which can be somewhat inimical to individual turkeys).  Longtime visitors to this blog will recall turkey-themed posts from Novembers past–such as a long list of turkey mascots, a story concerning escapees from the family farm, a comprehensive overview of turkey breeds, and the shocking explanation of how turkeys are capable of virgin birth (!).  This year, we have already featured a discussion of the proud American tradition of turkey-themed characters in professional wrestling.  However since I am not a professional wrestler (yet) but rather a visual artist, I thought I would also present a gallery of turkey sculptures made from various miscellaneous materials.  The turkeys pictured here mostly come from a folk art tradition, so I could not always find the artist, date, and medium (although if you know such details regarding any of these works, I would love to hear about it), however I think you will agree that the sculptures are quite spectacular and diverse–just like America itself!  Look at the turkey at the top made entirely of butter!  Hopefully this little gallery will somewhat tide you over until Turkey Day next week, but, if not, don’t worry, Ferrebeekeeper will probably find material for another 2014 turkey post somewhere.  Additionally, you can click the turkey category link on the menu to the left to see a whole slew of turkey posts (at least this is true on the PC, who knows about you tablet people?). Gobble gobble!  Here is some weird art!

A metal turkey sculpture from Whidbey Island (via joyworks-shopgirl.blogspot.com)

A metal turkey sculpture from Whidbey Island (via joyworks-shopgirl.blogspot.com)

The same sculpture from a different angle

The same sculpture from a different angle

Turkey sculpture by Carlomagno Pedro Martinez

Turkey sculpture by Carlomagno Pedro Martinez

A turkey crafted from legos, chocolate, and silverware

A turkey crafted from legos, chocolate, and silverware

"Turkey" Artist unknown Photo by tim burlowski

“Turkey” Artist unknown Photo by tim burlowski

steampunk turkey watch by IckyDogCreations

steampunk turkey watch by IckyDogCreations

"Turkey Bot" Metal Assemblage Turkey Sculpture by Bruce Howard

“Turkey Bot” Metal Assemblage Turkey Sculpture by Bruce Howard

Turkey Hay Sculpture at Lookout Bar and Grill

Turkey Hay Sculpture at Lookout Bar and Grill

Thanksgiving Turkey Sculpture - Version 1 (design based on photo by Naomi Greenfield, Red Balloon Company) via globetwisting.blogspot.com

Thanksgiving Turkey Sculpture – Version 1
(design based on photo by Naomi Greenfield, Red Balloon Company) via globetwisting.blogspot.com

Turkey Sculpture (Philip Grausman, aluminum)

Turkey Sculpture (Philip Grausman, aluminum)

Thanksgiving Turkey Stuffed Soft Sculpture In Vintage Calico Prints Picture from Laurel Leaf Farm

Thanksgiving Turkey Stuffed Soft Sculpture In Vintage Calico Prints Picture from Laurel Leaf Farm

Jack (Philip Grausman, 2006)

Jack (Philip Grausman, 2006)

Folk Art Turkey Sculpture by Edith John (Navajo)

Folk Art Turkey Sculpture by Edith John (Navajo)

Sandstone Turkey (Ron Fedor)

Sandstone Turkey (Ron Fedor)

Pierced Turkey Sculpture Raymor Italy

Pierced Turkey Sculpture Raymor Italy

Big Turkey, Aneta, ND

Big Turkey, Aneta, ND

pecan-pie-sml-slider

This is the perfect time of year for delicious pecan pies! Unfortunately, if I made such a tasty and expensive confection, I would eat four slices and then the rest would sit sadly in the refrigerator (since my roommate wants to live forever and thus fears Crisco and corn syrup). So I will hoard my precious bag of pecans for Thanksgiving and instead blog about the magnificent pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis)–an Apollo among trees, which is as beautiful and large as it is beloved and useful! Pecan trees are members of the Hickory genus, Carya, which is named for an archaic Greek tree-nut goddess (whom I need to blog about another day). While there are a few Hickory species in Mexico, Canada, China, and Indochina, the majority are native to the United States (which probably indicates that the trees originated here and spread elsewhere). Pecan trees are native to the southeastern and southcentral United States and spread down into northern Mexico. The word “pecan” is a borrow word from Algonquian (!) and it means “nut so hard it takes a stone to crack it open” (Algonquian, evidently, is masterful at compressing hunter-gatherer concepts into extreme brevity). Pecans have been planted and used as a food source by Native American peoples for a long, long time so it is hard to tell where exactly the tree originated within its range.

Natural range of pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis)

Natural range of pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis)

Rich in proteins and healthy fats and requiring no preparation to eat, pecans are an almost perfect food for humans (in stark opposition to Crisco and corn syrup). Pecans keep fresh within their shells for an entire growing season or longer. The nuts contain protein, sterols, antioxidants, and omega-6 fatty acids. They provide two-to-five times as much food energy as lean meat. Eating a daily handful of pecans lowers “bad” cholesterol levels in a manner similar to statin drugs, and also, “may delay age-related muscle nerve degeneration.” I should probably just eat my bag of pecans and live eternally, but who really wants to be around for the nightmarish robopocalypse (or forgo pie)? Out of convention, I have been calling pecans “nuts”, but the edible part is technically a drupe—a fruit with a single large pit much like a peach or plum. I won’t even mention the rich buttery flavor which is a perfect complement to sweets such as…well, I said I wouldn’t talk about it. Like walnut and hickory (which are close cousins), pecan also makes a magnificent lumber–although it seems a waste to use such a beautiful & useful tree for furniture and cabinetry.

A Pecan Tree in Texas (from tree-pictures.com). That little brown blob in the lower left is a cow.

A Pecan Tree in Texas (from tree-pictures.com). That little brown blob in the lower left is a cow.

Unlike most familiar fruit and nut trees, pecan trees get big! A mature tree can grow up to 44 meters in height (144 ft) with an equally wide span. Just imagine a living green sphere the size of a 15 story building. The trees live to more than 300 years of age, so there are pecan trees out there older than our republic (and arguably in better shape)!

A pecan tree growing over George Washington's mansion at Mount Vernon

A pecan tree growing over George Washington’s mansion at Mount Vernon

According to my sources, pecans were not domesticated until the 1880s. However, considering how perfect they are for humans, I can’t help wonder if they coevolved with us quite a bit over the last 14,000 years. Or are we more squirrel-like than we wish to admit? At any rate, today the United States accounts for up to 95 percent of the world’s pecan crop which exceeds 200 thousand tons. The crop is harvested in mid to late October (which probably explains why I could even afford my bag of shelled pecans). Pecans are a perfect food, a perfect timber, a perfect tree. I’m not sure if the Algonquians were right to choose such a spare name—perhaps the pecan tree should be named for a goddess after all. Unlike the monstrous Chinese invader, pecan is the true tree of heaven.

PecanGrove

55_survseries1994_002

Professional wrestling is a very peculiar concoction.   It is a volatile mix of extreme athleticism, flamboyant theater, televised hype, steroids, advertising money, and ludicrous costumes. As you can imagine, this blend sometimes goes extraordinarily awry: professional wrestling can give birth to nightmare children. Keeping this in mind, let us journey back to the distant year of 1990. That autumn, during the weeks leading up to the World Wrestling Federation’s Survivor Series of 1990, wrestling producers stumbled upon a very…unusual…gimmick to drum up excitement for their title bout. A huge egg of indeterminate origin was placed in the middle of the arena. As the ripped, oiled, and be-sequined brawlers fought out their melodramatic matches, more and more hype was lavished upon this strange prop. What sort of wrestling sensation would hatch out of it?

Classy...

Classy…

Many animals lay eggs, so the possibilities were multitudinous and potentially thrilling. What if the giant egg turned out to be a horrifying serpent man or some sort of warrior dinosaur? Since professional wrestling has never been troubled by reality, the egg could even have contained a mythological being like a roc, a griffin, or a baby Godzilla. On Thanksgiving of 1990, the egg hatched and the answer was revealed.

When the egg blew open, out of it leapt…the Gobbledy Gooker–a hapless chump clad in an extraordinarily ugly turkey costume. Not only did the Gooker [ed. Can we even write that word on a family-friendly blog?] look horrid–he did not even wrestle. He capered around the ring and then danced with announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund to the minstrel hit “Turkey in the Straw”. Understandably, the Hartford audience hooted in derision. It is actually painful to hear “Rowdy“ Roddy Piper (the brilliant lead thespian of the dark allegorical sci-fi masterpiece “They Live”) shouting out canned enthusiasm for the bad gimmick. The Gobbledy Gooker appeared in a few more mercifully brief promotional spots and then was canned for good…

Time to retire with dignity...

Time to retire with dignity…

…or was he? Within the hallowed halls of professional wrestling, ethereal voices began to whisper about the Gobbledy Gooker. What terrible decisions led to the egg and the turkey costume? Who was beneath the patchy feathers? It turns out that the Gobbledy Gooker was a wrestling persona of Hector Guerrero, famed scion of Los Guerreros (arguably the world’s greatest multigenerational dynasty of professional wrestlers). Perhaps it is appropriate that a Mexican-American played the sacred turkey figure–since turkeys were first domesticated by the glorious pyramid civilizations of Mesoamerica.

Hector Guerrero as usually attired (thank goodness professional wrestling is able to avoid crude stereotypes)

Hector Guerrero as usually attired (thank goodness professional wrestling is able to avoid crude stereotypes)

Our culture has a raw appetite for spectacle. And the awfulness of the Gobbledy Gooker fulfilled some primal need. Soon the Gobbledy Gooker was back—albeit sometimes spelled as the Gobbly Gooker. In the 2000s the giant turkey (still played by Guerrero) competed in Wrestlemania X-Seven, a contest between over-the-top gimmick characters (sadly he lost in the second round). He also lent his name to the Gooker Award for the worst wrestling gimmicks. In recent years, he has become a sort of campy mascot of World Wrestling (although his already nebulous turkey identity has blurred a bit further). He even starred in a video about wacky office misadventures at WW headquarters!

Work is demeaning

Work is demeaning

Last Thanksgiving (2013), the Gobbledy Gooker stepped out of retirement and “appeared backstage on WWE Smackdown at a ‘post Thanksgiving party’ thrown by Smackdown General Manager Vickie Guerrero.” Will the Gobbledy Gooker reemerge this Thanksgiving as a magnificent and dismaying symbol of our gluttony, our strength, our vainglory? Keep your eyes peeled to find out…

The Gobbledy Gooker

The Gobbledy Gooker

11-12-14-rosetta-1

Congratulations to the European Space Agency for successfully landing the robot probe “Philae” on comet 67P!  The lander, which is about the size of a washing machine, made a soft touch-down on the comet at 3:30 a.m. Brooklyn time. The comet itself has a diameter of four kilometers (2.5 miles) meaning it is approximately as wide as the Verrazano Bridge is long.  To bring such objects together as they hurtle at ridiculous speeds through the vast darkness of space is a tremendous feat of engineering.  Ferrebeekeeper described the long and complex journey of Philae’s mothership, Rosetta, in this previous post.

An artist's mock-up of how the probe might look on the comet's surface (the underdressed astrophysicist is added for scale and is presumably not there)

An artist’s mock-up of how the probe might look on the comet’s surface (the underdressed astrophysicist is added for scale and is presumably not there)

Philae is equipped with space harpoons which are designed to fire into the comet’s surface–thus securing the craft to the flying iceball with lamprey-like tenacity. Actually, a lamprey might be the wrong comparison: the lander looks astonishingly like a bacteriophage (a fact which I think is exceedingly strange and funny). At any rate, it is presently unclear whether the landing harpoons correctly deployed into the comet’s surface.  We’ll know more in coming days.

factfilesont

Indeed, in coming days we should be finding out lots of things regarding the comet.  The lander has a small drill which is meant to mine 20 cm (8 inches) into the icy substrate.  The sophisticated machine is also equipped with devices to analyze the core sample, gas analyzers to identify any complex organic compounds, and instruments to measure the comet’s magnetic field.   Scientists will be keeping a close eye on the comet to see what effect the solar wind has on it as 67P sweeps in close to the sun in coming months.

ayiomamitis_mcnaught2009r1November 13th UPDATE:  It seems the plucky lander had a more adventuresome landing than yesterday’s rosy headlines may have indicated.  Apparently Philae landed not once, but multiple times as it bounced down a cliff and fetched up (on two of three legs) in a shadow.  Mission controllers are contemplating whether to fire the landing harpoons, but are concerned that the resultant explosion could send Philae careening off the comet into the outer dark.  Anyone who has thrown a washing machine down an ice cliff in low gravity will surely sympathize with their predicament…

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

November 2014
M T W T F S S
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930