Archive for ‘The Big Picture’

November 17, 2010

House of Herps #12 – The Apocryphal Edition

Section A of fragment 9BbQpap

Part 1.
This is the twelfth edition of House of Herps, so that means I have the honour of presenting the last post for the first year of this blog carnival.  In the scheme of things, a year is not much, but I thought this would  be a good time to present a little known but ancient antecedent to House of Herps.

What follows is the first publication of select verses from the Munchhausen¹ papyrus, a 2000 year-old document now known as The Book of Serpent. Like the related document, The Gospel of Judas, it is one of many church-rejected apocryphal books that ran parallel with, and some times counter to, the canonical books established at the Synod of Hippo in 393 CE. The Book of Serpent was considered particularly heretical due to the sect that formed around it in 325 CE.

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November 6, 2010

Great Migrations – Sunday on NGC

As mentioned earlier, National Geographic is about to launch a new block-buster series called Great Migrations. This is a seven part series that will travel the world to record the stories of animals and their mass migrations. I have had the pleasure of seeing a pre-release version of the upcoming episode and I would like to give an indication of what you can expect.

When I first heard of this new series and the scope of the production, I knew it would be spectacular. The opening sequence shows salmon jumping, massed monarch butterflies, the skittering crabs of Christmas Island…and it all seemed familiar. Over the years, the BBC, National Geographic and other documentary producers have already shown these events. How would this documentary be different? I was concerned that this would be a rehash of the same material that the other documentaries have already covered – the well-known migrations of wildebeest and zebra that dominated the promotional material seemed to indicate this. Beyond the predictability, I was curious how NG would deal with the effects of climate change, human population growth and general environmental degradation.Would this series just be more ‘old hat’ or would it move into new territory and be a freshly portrayed documentary for a new generation? I was about to find out…

July 24, 2010

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Cosmic Perspective

Star Formation

Be humble…

Of all the sciences cultivated by mankind, Astronomy is acknowledged to be, and undoubtedly is, the most sublime, the most interesting, and the most useful. For, by knowledge derived from this science, not only the bulk of the Earth is discovered . . . ; but our very faculties are enlarged with the grandeur of the ideas it conveys, our minds exalted above [their] low contracted prejudices.

James Ferguson, Astronomy Explained Upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles, And Made Easy To Those Who Have Not Studied Mathematics (1757)

Long before anyone knew that the universe had a beginning, before we knew that the nearest large galaxy lies two and a half million light-years from Earth, before we knew how stars work or whether atoms exist, James Ferguson’s enthusiastic introduction to his favorite science rang true. Yet his words, apart from their eighteenth-century flourish, could have been written yesterday.

But who gets to think that way? Who gets to celebrate this cosmic view of life? Not the migrant farmworker. Not the sweatshop worker. Certainly not the homeless person rummaging through the trash for food. You need the luxury of time not spent on mere survival. You need to live in a nation whose government values the search to understand humanity’s place in the universe. You need a society in which intellectual pursuit can take you to the frontiers of discovery, and in which news of your discoveries can be routinely disseminated. By those measures, most citizens of industrialized nations do quite well.

Yet the cosmic view comes with a hidden cost. When I travel thousands of miles to spend a few moments in the fast-moving shadow of the Moon during a total solar eclipse, sometimes I lose sight of Earth.

Read the rest of  The Cosmic Perspective by Neil deGrasse Tyson, originally published in Natural History Magazine, April 2007.

(Image: Like a July 4 fireworks display a young, glittering collection of stars looks like an aerial burst. The cluster is surrounded by clouds of interstellar gas and dust – the raw material for new star formation. The nebula, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina, contains a central cluster of huge, hot stars, called NGC 3603. NASA, ESA, R. O’Connell (University of Virginia), F. Paresce (National Institute for Astrophysics, Bologna, Italy), E. Young (Universities Space Research Association/Ames Research Center), the WFC3 Science Oversight Committee, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

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