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18 OCTOBER, 2011

Astronomy for the Rest of Us: A Naked-Eye Tour of the Sky

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A field guide to stargazing, or how to see day and night the way your great-grandfather did.

Since time immemorial, humans have gazed at the skies and mapped their mystery. Like any conscious activity, stargazing too takes skill and practice to bequeath its gifts to the gazer. How We See the Sky: A Naked-Eye Tour of Day and Night is a fantastic new stargazing guide by astronomer Thomas Hockey that offers an accessible blueprint to decoding the starry mess of the heavens. From the solstices and equinoxes to the practice of patience, Hockey takes us on an extraordinary journey into the most organic kind of astronomy, the astronomy of the naked eye — a return to the roots of our stargazing ways which, despite the incredible technological advancements of the past few centuries, have actually taken us further away from the sky. (As Keller keenly points out, the average shepherd of yore had a much better view of the sky than we do today.)

We are so removed from the sky, and other realms of nature, that often we are not cognizant of ways in which they still affect our lives. Speaking more broadly, a lot of our culture continues to draw upon the sky by way of language, myth, and metaphor. To understand ourselves, I believe the sky still matters. For when early people looked up at, and thought about, the sky, they really were trying to answer what is perhaps the most human question of all: Where am I? What is my place in the universe? So are we.” ~ Thomas Hockey

Beneath the fascinating tour of astronomy’s past and present is the bittersweet admission that we’re barely acquainted with one of the few things we share with every single one of our fellow human beings — but implicit to that admission is also an invitation to get to know this wonderland that is at once so foreign and so fundamental.

For some related fascination, see Ordering the Heavens — a remarkable collection of antique images from the Library of Congress, tracing mankind’s quest to explain the skies.

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17 OCTOBER, 2011

Mark Laita’s Breathtaking Photos of Sea Creatures

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From stunning stingrays to jubilant jellyfish, or what cutting-edge technology has to do with Earth’s whimsy.

You might recall photographer Mark Laita and his superb series Created Equal with its beautiful and stark “parallel portraits” of subcultures. Now, Laita takes his masterful eye for visual poetry to another fascinating, even more mysterious and alluring world: Sea captures the creatures of the deep with equal parts cutting-edge photographic technique and imaginative whimsy to explore the extraordinary wonderland that lives beneath the surface of the world’s water. From iridescent jellyfish to prepossessing but deadly puffer fish to playful sea horses, the 104 images in the collection reveal the astounding grace, colors, and personalities of these marine characters with unprecedented artistry and passion.

North Pacific Giant Octopus

Blue Blubber Jellyfish

Golden Butterfly

Green Chromis

Humpback Anglerfish

Red Feather Starfish

Leopard Whiptail

Whale Shark

Blue Spot Stingray

Miniatus Grouper

Otherworldly and utterly breathtaking, Sea sparks newfound awe for the amazing planet we share with other creatures, creatures we’ve been known to tarnish in gruesome ways, and rekindled respect for the precious miracle of their existence.

via New Scientist; images courtesy of Abrams Books / Mark Laita

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17 OCTOBER, 2011

Whale Fall: Poetic Cut-Paper Animation about the Afterlife of a Whale, Inspired by Radiolab

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75 years of existential generosity, or what the ocean floor can teach us about existence, ego and impermanence.

If you aren’t listening to WNYC’s fantastic Radiolab, you’re missing out on some of the finest science journalism and curiosity-curation of our time. (The folks at the MacArthur Foundation seem to concur, having just awarded Radiolab producer Jad Abumrad () the wildly prestigious “genius” grant.) In an homage to a fascinating recent Radiolab episode about loops, which features an almost-aside about how when a whale dies, its body can sustain an entire microcosm of an ecosystem for up to seven years in a poetic death-life loop, director-animator duo Sharon Shattuk and Flora Lichtman, better known as Sweet Fern Productions, collaborated with Radiolab’s own Lynn Levy on Whale Fall — an equally poetic and absolutely stunning paper-cutout stop-motion animation about the afterlife of a whale.

More than a mere feat of visual storytelling or a nod to nature’s meticulously orchestrated interdependences, the film is also a lyrical reflection on impermanence and our existence as nodes in something larger, richer, and more complex than our individual lives and egos.

Join me in supporting Radiolab’s wonderful work, which continues to inspire and illuminate with equal parts passion and rigor.

via MetaFilter

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