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Based on what we are learning from the exoplanet surveys of the past decade, our galaxy is the home of an immense number of Jovian-size gas giant planets.  There are countless “hot Jupiters”–gas giants located close to their stars which whip around and around their orbits in ridiculously short “years”.  There are frigid slow gas giants and super massive ones—practically brown dwarves– which are larger than Jupiter.  There is an endless proliferation of Uranus and Neptune type giants. Imagine them all glittering in strange colors with weird shapes.  They are cloaked in alien clouds and covered in mysterious storms.  Who knows what lies beneath?

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All of these billions of giant planets seem pretty hypothetical to me as I sit here at my cramped & cluttered desk on solid little Earth.  Yet they exist.  They are out there in numbers too vast to comprehend. However, right now, NASA is conducting the most comprehensive exploration yet of the gas giant we can access.  Juno’s mission is just getting underway in earnest, and the largest gas giant in our own backyard should reveal lots about all of the billions which are out of reach.

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I am sad that I can neither understand nor convey the loftiness of this crazy ongoing mission. It is an astonishing undertaking—but we are so inundated by with murky political battles and vulgar popular drivel, that it is hard to see the utterly astonishing nature of this undertaking.

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Maybe I can put it in perspective somewhat. Imagine back to the year 1609 AD when Henry Hudson was first seeing the river which was later named after him. Before him was an exquisite expanse of islands, bays, and sparkling river. The vast waterway flowed down from unknown mountains into a bay surrounded by lovely islands.  The whole expanse was filled with flocks of unknown birds and schools of fish. Beyond the thriving marshes, mysterious forests were filled with moving shadows.

Now multiply that a billion times: replace Henry Hudson with a tiny fragile robot and replace the Hudson River with luminous gas oceans large enough to entirely submerge scores of Earths.  That is what is happening right now.  As you sit reading this on a little glowing screen, we are making fundamental discoveries about a whole planet.

On August 27, 2016, Juno executed the first of 36 orbital flybys over Jupiter. The doughty spacecraft was only 4,200 kilometers (2,500 miles) above Jupiter’s atmosphere. It sent back the first detailed images of the north pole of Jupiter—and it is unlike the rest of the planet.

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The North Pole of Jupiter as seen by Juno [NASA]

To quote Scott Bolton, one of the lead scientists of the Juno mission, “[The] first glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole…it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before….It’s bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms. There is no sign of the latitudinal bands or zone and belts that we are used to — this image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter. We’re seeing signs that the clouds have shadows, possibly indicating that the clouds are at a higher altitude than other features.”

Jupiter’s clouds contain whole continent-like regions of air which are different than the rest of the planet’s storms and whirls.  We don’t yet know why or how, but we are finding out.  As we do so, we are peeling back a layer of mystery which surrounds all such worlds.

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Solar Radiation Streaming over the North Pole of Jupiter

 

The Wichita State University muscle-bound bundle of wheat

The Wichita State University muscle-bound bundle of wheat

It seems like it has been a particularly long week, so how about we unwind for the weekend with some humorously bad mascots.  Ferrebeekeeper already presented a post on farmer mascots (of which there were a surfeit in this great breadbasket land of ours).  Today we concentrate instead on characters who literally are agricultural products: these mascots are just straight up agricultural commodities.  This seems like a weak concept for a dancin’ frolickin’ becostumed embodiment of team spirit, yet, once again, the rich imagination of bored small-town teams does not disappoint.   Check out these strange beings:

Captain Cornelius of ISU

Captain Cornelius of ISU

Bennie the Bean, the mascot for the Indiana Soybean Alliance

Bennie the Bean, the mascot for the Indiana Soybean Alliance

Custom Handmade Chinese Cabbage Mascot (in case you want to advocate Bok Choy)

Custom Handmade Chinese Cabbage Mascot (in case you want to advocate Bok Choy)

This sunflower mascot is from a hospice...so I have no idea what to make of that :(

This sunflower mascot is from a hospice…so I have no idea what to make of that…

The famous Idaho potato

The famous Idaho potato

The Delta State University Fighting Okra is naturally from Mississippi

The Delta State University Fighting Okra is naturally from Mississippi

The Hillsboro Hops

The Hillsboro Hops

This angry ear of corn is from Concordia College in Minnesota

This angry ear of corn is from Concordia College in Minnesota

Most of the rice mascots I found were...problematic, but, since it is my favorite staple food, here is the Miami Rice Pudding Mascot (?)

Most of the rice mascots I found were racially problematic, but, since it is my favorite staple food, here is the Miami Rice Pudding Mascot (?)

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts doesn't actually have any sports teams, but they do have a Fighting Pickle.

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts doesn’t actually have any sports teams, but they do have a Fighting Pickle.

Yeesh, those are some rough symbols to rally around.  I’ll do some hard thinking this weekend and see you back here on Monday.  In the meantime here is an anonymous corn to see you off.

[Presented without comment]

[Presented without further comment]

Miscellaneous Yuru Kyara

Miscellaneous Yuru Kyara

Japan is the land of the mascot (as noted in passing in the first ferrebeekeeper post about mascots). Not only do sports teams and companies and public safety campaigns all have mascots, in recent year the country has been gripped by a mania for Yuru-kyara (AKA yuru characters or “gentle characters”) little animated figures which represent every single city, municipality, prefecture, and village in Japan.  The yuru characters are meant to represent some aspect of the culture of the place which they hail from: so a district famous for manufacturing aviation equipment might have a cute little jet mascot, whereas a farming village might be represented by a happy turnip.  Some of the meanings are rather obscure (like the little berry boy which represents the Japan Self Defense Force Yamanashi Provincial Cooperation Office).

Maybe the Japan Self Defense Force Yamanashi Provincial Cooperation Office just really like berries...

Maybe the Japan Self Defense Force Yamanashi Provincial Cooperation Office just really like berries…

The most famous yuru-kyara become hugely popular and can be quite lucrative—for example Kumamoto, the beloved yuru-kyara of Kumamon brought in hundreds of millions of yen for the prefecture (and sold huge piles of Kumamoto figures and merchandise).  Many of the others labor in obscurity (or are replaced by more likable mascots).  Sometimes two figures will be in conflict: Funabashi City is unofficially represented by Funassyi a frolicsome “pear fairy” however the official Funabashi City yuru-kyara is Funaemon, who looks like an anxious and fussy bureaucrat.

Funassyi, the pear spirit

Funassyi, the pear spirit

Funaemon hopes you have filled out your forms correctly

Funaemon hopes you have filled out your forms correctly

You can check out all sorts of amazing Yuru-kyara on this website (thanks to my roommate Steven Sho Sugita-Becraft for the link!), but, unless you read Japanese, you might be hard pressed to figure out who they are and what they represent.  I wonder if all the money-grubbing attention-hungry municipalities of America will ever adapt a similar scheme of crazy mascots (or are we just stuck with MacGruff and Mr. Yuck)?

I guess they could come over on their pirate ship?

I guess they could come over on their pirate ship?

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