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We knew that, if the Webb telescope could make it to the L2 Lagrange Point in one piece and deploy properly, this would be an exciting season for astronomers–but, even so, the parade of stunning new images from outer space are marvelous and demand comment. Today’s treasure is a picture of Planet Neptune and its moons as imaged by the near-infrared camera on Webb. The ice giant Neptune is made of strange cold things with a great pall of methane gas over them. Methane gas is very opaque to infrared light (which it absorbs) and so the planet looks like a frosty, haunted bowling ball with glass rings.

Ever since Pluto got demoted to “dwarf planet”, Neptune is the outermost world of our solar system. Yet the great gas giants…or even the trans-Neptunian objects like Eris and Haumea get all of the attention. No space craft has even visited Neptune since Voyage II rolled by in 1989 (the first and last time a probe entered the Neptune system).

Aside from the spectral rings, the image shows some bright sparks in a line along Neptune’s Tropic of Capricorn (which is not called that, but you get the idea). These bright spots are caused by high altitude methane clouds which are made of methane ice (which reflects infrared light better than methane gas does).

The full Webb photo has a striking focal point! Pulling back we see that Neptune’s largest and strangest moon Triton outshines the giant world it orbits. This is because Triton (which is named for the Greco-Roman deity Neptune’s merman super-son) is covered in a sheet of frozen nitrogen which reflects 70% of the sunlight which strikes it–so Triton glows like an aquamarine star in this photo. Ultimately Triton might well turn out to be be more interesting than Neptune: it is the only large moon in the solar system with a retrograde orbit (an orbit opposite of the planet’s rotation). Such an unusual orbit suggests that the moon was a little world captured by the ice giant long ago.

Triton is larger than Pluto and is one of five moons in the solar system known to be geologically active (the others being Io, Europa, Titan, and Enceladus). Voyager II spotted geysers of nitrogen gas venting from the moon. Clearly cryovolcanic activity is taking place below the strange patchwork of old ice (as explained in this confusing yet compelling map/diagram) and lakes of liquid water may exist below the moon’s crust.

I am going to keep staring at images of our strange far-off neighbor world, but I can’t wait to see what Webb photographs next!

There was a big nor’easter in the mid-Atlantic today, which dumped snow all over the tree-lined streets of Brooklyn. I only clomped around in the billowing snow for a little bit before returning to tea and cat playtime at home. However, here are a couple of pictures of Ditmas Park wearing its winter finery.

Bonus image of kitty cat playtime: Sumi is playing with the campanile of a little toy cathedral

Hey, remember long ago when Ferrebeekeeper was obsessed with the many-eyed Greek mythological monster Argus? We need to get back to some dark mythology this winter…but before we do that, lets take a look at the creature which reminded me of Hera’s loyal monster (one of many, actually, but this guy somehow escaped my first post about speckled animals named for the dead guardian). This is Mangina Argus aka “the crotalaria podborer” (blech! since when are common names even harder to say then scientific nomenclature?), a hungry moth which lives from the South China Sea all the way through the Himalayas and down into Southern India. The crotalaria podborer is known for, um, boring into crotalaria pods which make it a minor agricultural pest, since a few species of crotalaria (a sort of legume) are used as green manure to fix nitrogen into overextended croplands. We aren’t really here to talk about the moth though, but instead to admire its pinkish vermilion wings and beguiling spots! What a beautiful little lepidopteran!

Every December, Pantone announces its “Color of the Year”. A secret cabal of Illuminati-style color influencers meet up and project aesthetic trends for the coming year. All sorts of fashion houses, paint companies, and consumer goods companies utilize Pantone’s announcements to select the color for their wares, so the choice does reflect in the look of the coming year. By the dark magic of emotional association (and the cunning and/or oracular magic of the color guild), the color of the year often does capture the zeitgeist with disturbing canniness. For example, 2021’s two colors, sunny yellow and depression gray, captured the year’s “best of times/worst of times” dualism wherein the the stock market reached all-time highs and the country was awash in cash and jobs yet huge segments of society felt like the economy was in the doldrums. Oh! Also, the 2021 construction-worker colors predicted the huge new infrastructure bill which is putting backhoes and concrete mixers to work across the continent to build back crumbling bridges and roads.

Here is a list of past colors/years if you want to see how the color augurs have done in other years (or at least read my humorous barbs about their choices (although, secretly, I think they do a pretty fine job of finding pretty colors and mixing things up).

2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021

But enough of about the past, let’s gaze into the future! The color of the year for 2022 will be “veri-peri” a mid-tone blue hue which is sliding towards violet. Pantone describes it as “a dynamic periwinkle-blue hue with a vivifying violet-red undertone.” An oil painter would probably say “French ultramarine and flake white with a dash of alizarin crimson and a bit of black”. The more I look at it, the less it seems blue and the more it seems purple. Perhaps it properly sits equidistant between the two. Pantone’s press release says ““Blending the faithfulness and constancy of blue with the energy and excitement of red, this happiest and warmest of all the blue hues introduces an empowering mix of newness.” Hmm, it sounds like they are once again trying to hew a middle passage between the red world of reactionary ethno-nationalism and the blue world of fundamental enlightenment values (both sides need consumer goods).

Pantone also claims this color reflects the growing interdependence between the internet and the dull world of, you know, actual reality. Maybe they are trying to expand their chromo-empire from waffle-makers and cocktail dresses into online games and media (this blog already loves you, Pantone!).

As for me, I like all purples–even this somewhat conservative and official-looking violet blue. One of my coworkers said that Veri-Peri looks like a passport from a country where you might not have all of your freedoms but they probably would not just grab you off the street and send you to a re-education camp (a color-description which reveals much about the growing political tensions in our world). I would describe it as the color of dusk in winter: not warm or comforting but beautiful and elegant nonetheless.

What does Veri-Peri predict for the economy and for society? It seems like a cautious color but one with some optimism as well. In our blue/red world Pantone really does favor purple–and other purple years (2014, 2018) haven’t been so bad (although there were some admitted setbacks). I say, if you want to go ahead and buy a bunch of purple turbans and purple flounder art, go ahead: the good times, such as they are, will keep on rolling. Yet, just as winter twilight indicates that you might need to get your act together and find shelter for the cold dark times, there is an anxious edge to veri-peri. Keep your wits about you and don’t be taken in by things you see on the internet: 2022 will present opportunities both for progress and for calamity…

It is October, the scary season of the year, and Ferrebeekeeper is working towards our annual Halloween special feature at the end of the month. Before we get there however, let’s pause to appreciate an exceedingly beautiful snake, Drepanoides anomalus, the black-collared snake of South America. The tiny but handsome snake can be found in the neotropical forests of the great Southern continent in a range stretching from French Guyana across Brazil, and from Colombia down through Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. For those of you following along on a globe, that is an epic range…and yet, so little is known about this tiny snake here in the north (or anywhere online, for that matter) that it is hard to speak sensibly about its habits and proclivities. It is a rear-fanged snake notable for a nocturnal lifestyle and for its propensity for eating eggs of he many many sorts found in its region. This genus contains only the single living species. What we can say for certain is that this is an endearingly winsome little snake with appealing eyes and a gorgeous red body. I can’t decide whether its tiny white headband looks like a clergyman’s collar or like a cartoon bandage, but it does make me think we could do better in English than “black collared snake.” If anyone out there knows anything about this mysterious creature, please let us know!

It is almost October and the last flowers of the season are blooming in my garden. I blogged earlier about my roommate’s pale beige morning glories. Here are some picture of my morning glories, which I planted in the back yard. Look at the beautiful combination of purple and white! It really is like a “Carnival of Venice” (which was the name on the package) insomuch as a tiny circular tropical flower can resemble a wintertime holiday in an Italian city state. The second variety of morning glories which I planted climbed so high up a tree that they have almost vanished from sight, but you can still see how they got their name “Scarlett O’Hara” (hint: not just from toying with the hearts of various successful merchants and landowners).

The Soybean Field (Wayne Ferrebee, 2021) Watercolor on paper

One of the great pleasures of traveling is new things to draw and paint…except, of course, for when artists travel back home, in which case they get familiar subjects with which they have wrestled for a long time. Such is the case with the subject of today’s featured drawing (which I actually drew last Wednesday). Here is the soybean field on my parents’ farm which lies just to the north of their house and farmyard. Perhaps a soybean field does not sound particularly exciting to you (as opposed to crops of known beauty such as winter wheat or sunflowers), however I have always found its mid-tone blue green to be alluring and weirdly mysterious. When you look at the entirety of the fields, all decked in this same viridian, the effect is something like a green three dimensional lake. And even if the wind does not ripple the soybeans quite as majestically as it plays upon the wheat, there is a similar wave effect (albeit one which is completely beyond my ability to capture with watercolors). I have painted or drawn the soybean field many times, and I feel like August was right time to do so (with everything looking fulsome and verdant). I also got to include the apples on the tree (which was literally breaking beneath their weight), a single wandering pilgrim goose, the purple cone flowers in the field by the pond, and a few pink wisps in the clouds from sunset, which was on its way. Of course the picture sadly fails to capture the true beauty of the scene (although maybe I got a little closer to capturing the allure of the soy), but it was certainly a delight to sit and look closely at this scene which I have been watching for 40 years.

Sunblaze

My flower garden in Brooklyn is overshadowed by three blossoming trees (cherry, crabapple, and dogwood) which all bloom at the same time. I plant spring flowers to blossom in tandem the trees, which means the garden opens with a minor note overture (pansies and hellebores) and then suddenly becomes a stupendous symphony of tulips and flowering trees. it is glorious…but it is over so fast, and then there is a terrible hangover of fallen petals slowly turning brown and nothing blooming. After a few weeks of recovery the summer garden begins to bloom as the roses start (usually at the very end of May). That is where the garden is at right now, and although my favorite little pink hobbit carpet roses have not yet bloomed, the rose garden has started out beautifully with this pink/orange (bittersweet color?) rose named “Sunblaze” miniature rose.

This is one of numerous beautiful orange small roses which I have bought over the years, and each has expired quite swiftly (although the rootstock of “Gingersnap” came back from the dead, albeit as an unknown seasonal rose the color of dried blood). Perhaps Sunblaze will outlast the year…or maybe this is all I will get. Whatever the case, the glorious little orange roses against the dark green background are delightful right now and have given new life and vitality to the garden. I will post more rose pictures as the older roses bloom and there I have planted other summer surprises and delights. Keep your eyes peeled for more gardening beauty and let me know what your favorite May/June flowers are in the comments.

It is blossom season in New York! Instead of writing blogs about mollusks, gothic art, and politics, I have been looking at flowers and trees. The cherry tree at the top of the post is down by the Manhattan Court House (as you can hopefully tell by the World Trade Center/Freedom Tower/Whatever-it-is-called-now), but the rest of the images are from my garden in Brooklyn. The centerpiece of the garden is a Kwanzan flowering cherry which usually blooms for a fortnight (although, thanks to the cold snap, it seemed more like 6 days this year). I have blogged about the cherry blossoms at length in years past, yet, every year I am struck anew by the beauty and evanescence of the pink blooms.

Here are the blossoms in my back yard (my roommate added those plastic flamingos, by the way). Speaking of other gardeners who change things around in the flower garden…here is another character who lives in the neighborhood who cannot keep his paws off of the blossoms. Every day during tulip season he beheads a couple of tulips to see if they are good to eat. When he realizes they are not squirrel food, he tosses them down. Sigh…

Below is a patch of pastel pink tulips. You can see one of the beheaded stems at far left.

These white tulips are known as “Pays Bas” and I think they came out particularly lovely! This year, in addition to the cherry tree, the old ornamental crabapple also blossomed (which is a rarity). You can see the darker pink blossoms in the foreground in the picture immediately below.

I am going to see if I can draw/photograph/capture some more of the garden’s spring charms for you (it never looks right on the computer screen), but for now I am going to go back out and enjoy the showers of falling petals…

Although I published this year’s Saint Patrick’s Day post yesterday (about mysterious obscene Medieval statues!), it is still technically March 17th and my need for the green holiday has not yet abated. Therefore, today we are presenting a post about the native green mushrooms of Britain and Ireland. Behold the Parrot Waxcap (Gliophorus psittacinus) a colorful yellow-green mushrooom which appears in “cropped grassland” (AKA lawns) in summer and early autumn.

Alas I am no mycologist and I cannot explain the secret hidden kingdom of the fungi, so today’s post is almost entirely visual. These mushrooms are widespread in Britain and Ireland, but they can also be found in both continental Europe and in North America. The article I read suggested that it is unclear if they are edible or if they are toxic, but added that most people are too disquieted by their sliminess to even try them (even if they were big enough to eat). To me that sounds like a verdict of “not edible”, but like i said, i am no mycologist.

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