Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Hajj - Random Stream of Consciousness Memories

I had two people from afar think of me in the past few days enough to tell me about it - Sis. Scorp and Koonj, and it made me feel a bit awestruck and wondering at the significance - thanks and thanks to Allah swt.

As hajj season is coming to a close, I found myself reflecting on my own experience.

I went for hajj in 1999 by the grace of Allah swt. I think that year it was late February to early March or so. I was totally surprised to be going because I didn't have the money to go. However, for some reason, some people I knew up in British Columbia said I should make intention to go for hajj and then if Allah swt willed it, it would happen. I had just graduated from university in December and was working as a substitute teacher and night shift at an assembly line. And I got a call that someone in Dubai had made an anonymous donation to send someone for hajj and the caravan decided I should go.

I had converted in 1994. It had been about 4 1/2 years since I converted and in many ways I still felt like a newbie and an outsider. It had taken me many months just to learn to pray because I didn't have much direct contact with other Muslims to show me and I was unsure about some of the directions I had found and about pronunciations, etc. So I had no idea what to expect in going for hajj - I hadn't read or prepared about what I would be doing and I had never even been anywhere that I needed a passport and vaccinations for.

My family was so worried - they thought something horrible would happen to me because it was the middle east, and I would never come back. I wasn't worried about people doing something to me, but I knew hajj was an obligation and an invitation and I hoped I could be successful at it.

So I went - I few to JFK where I met up with the American caravan and we then flew to Athens. There I made sure to buy something in the airport so I could get Greek coins to bring back to my dad. There I first saw some hajis putting on their ihram. From Athens it was on to Jeddah where I met with the West Canadian caravan that I would actually be rooming with because I had met some of the ladies before. Jeddah was at night and it had no walls but the tent ceilings were like those of Denver International Airport. And they served Pepsi. They took our bags and passports and you just hoped you saw them again. The security people acted happy to see American passports, wanting to see what an American Muslim was, some kind of paradox to their thinking. But the body-searching women in their black abayahs were lunching and waved us through much to my relief.

We started in Medina. What I remember now is spending a lot of time with a few women close to my age who had been on hajj before and had decided to take me under their wings, much to my gratitude because I would've been totally lost without it. We hardly slept. We were within walking distance of Masjid ul Nabiy and walked there many times throughout the day for the prayers and to nearby places for ziarat. I had so much information to take in because I was at that time ignorant about most of the holy places. We would get up in the middle of the night to go there for the night prayer and it was truly beautiful. The room would get so packed that you didn't think anyone else could possibly fit. But it was incredibly peaceful in Medina. It was very beautiful somehow especially in and around the Prophet's (saw) Mosque; something in the air that permeated the soul was beautiful there. At a certain time of day they opened part of the masjid normally closed to women and it would become a crushing horde as they tried to get closer to the Prophet (saw), locked behind a cage, and then it would close again.

Iranian ladies would sometimes see us and recognize us by our turbahs and stand around us while we prayed so no one took them, and the Iranians also put together a massive crowd reciting Dua Kumayl on the Thursday night in the plaza by the Mosque. It stopped all traffic. The Saudi police were there in riot gear but everyone just participated or watched and then we disbursed.

Behind the Masjid were complex alleys of shops that went on for a seemingly endless distance, and at times I accompanied those seeking the obligatory souvenirs to take back home like dates, prayer beads, prayer rugs, key chains, perfumes, abayas, and so on. I hadn't saved money to buy stuff, I hadn't even thought about it because I didn't have any Muslims to bring back souvenirs to, but someone in our caravan stuffed 400 riyals in my hand so I could buy things too. In any store there or in Mecca, they wanted to know where you were from and when they found out they expected you to have lots and lots of money. The gold sellers always haggled prices by typing in numbers in a calculator - then the buyer would hit clear and type in a new number, and so on back and forth until they reached a deal - thus bypassing language barriers. Money exchanges were on many corners and if you needed to exchange money you got better deals with large bills.

Janatul Baqi was a giant caged square where pigeons roamed amongst broken, unmarked stubs of pillars that had once been gravemarkers. Those of Imam Sadiq (as) and others were pointed out to me, but nothing distinguished them aside from a square of stones around them to separate them from some of the rest.

I ate my first and only halal Burger King there. Honestly, it wasn't very impressive.

Then at some point we moved on to performing hajj - we entered ihram and traveled overnight to Mecca. I remember the bus stopping and Saudis coming on and handing out food packages to every passenger - I tasted Bobeye milk (Popeye) - it wasn't refrigerated but I laughed to myself at seeing Popeye without the P.

Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik, La Shareek Laka, Labbaik. Innal Hamdah, Wan Nematah, Laka wal Mulk, La Shareek Laka Labbaik.

Here I am at Thy service O Lord, here I am. Here I am at Thy service and Thou hast no partners. Thine alone is All Praise and All Bounty, and Thine alone is The Sovereignty. Thou hast no partners, here I am.

We chanted it as we approached. In Mecca we were much farther from the Haram than we had been from the Masjid un Nabiy. We were in Azizia and while we could take a very long walk to Mina it had to be cab ride to the Haram. The order of events isn't clear in my mind anymore, but I remember going to the Haram and seeing to Ka'aba for the first time. It was in a sense something ordinary, but to see it with my own eyes was something astounding - I was overwhelmed that I had ended up here from the other side of the world and none of it my own doing, and it made me cry at the sight. Performing Tawaf was actually very difficult - it was extremely crowded and hard to stay with anyone and hard to keep track of where you were and keep count of the number of circumambulations because you were being crushed and pushed and trying to keep in mind what was happening and what it all meant.

I remember being really quite surprised to discover that Safa and Marwa were not mountains but smoothed small hills and under a roof at that. Saiy, walking back and forth between the mountains was physically much easier although still a good distance walk. And it was easy to think of Hagar walking back and forth in the search for water as we too walked back and forth.

The Haram was large and beautiful and inside of it people at times would form small circles and perform recitation of Qur'an as if in competition and we would listen. We prayed sometimes on the roof because there was room nowhere else, and it was oh so beautiful at night. You would find your place to pray and then more and more people would show up and more and more and more and more would come, and then you'd have to move because you were surrounded by men and they would be upset that you were there as a woman in the area they had taken over.

When we went to Muzadalifa we picked up pebbles and put them in little bags - these were little bags that we carried our slippers in everywhere because you had to remove them when entering the mosques, of course, and we also carried little prayer books in them, and a small thin prayer rug with a grass square sewn in for prostration if our mohr was taken or lost, and a few people snuck disposable cameras in them and usually they weren't confiscated when they were searched. I learned about the birds who had stoned the Elephants in the time of Abdullah, the year of the Elephant. These were their stones.

Stoning the Jamarats was perhaps the greatest danger - there were three to stone, symbolizing the temptations of Hagar, Ibrahim, Ishmael. But as you are throwing stones so are countless others, and sometimes someone would be hit and bleed in their Ihram. And the ground was littered with this tiny sharp stones from missed throws and people would step on your feet and your slippers might come off and then you were stepping on these sharp stones. One time that happened to me and I fell forward. As I did so I instinctively reached out in front of me. That was a big mistake I guess, because in front of me was a white-robed man in a long long beard who turned around and yelled at me furiously with pure hatred in his face because I had touched him. It was probably good I had no idea what he said, I was just totally stunned by his behavior. It didn't belong in the world of ihram, the world of dying and death and entering the real life. In Mina we stayed in large tents with spring bunk beds and fans and desert sand floors. We wore pink ribbons pinned to the tops of our hijabs to try to identify us in our caravan so we could find one another. The paths in Mina were tiny because every spot of Earth along the way overflowed with people who had no tents and just slept on the sand and stone wherever they found a spot - they slept on the garbage dumpsters, everywhere, and there was no spot of earth in sight where a human being was not on it.

I remember noting how skinny the Saudi policemen I saw were. One time, a lady and I had to ask one to hail us a Taxi because none wanted to stop for us because they didn't want to go to Azizia. I remember seeing dark-skinned ladies with scarred faces where they had cuts stripes down their faces. I remember tiny children being sat in the streets to beg and when their little pockets would get full, an adult would appear to empty it and then sit them out again. But a banana offered would be scornfully refused. I remember when we would go somewhere for ziarat as soon as we got any distance away from the Haram or the Masjid un Nabiy, the landscape changed. You would see crumbling buildings and medium brown desert instead of marble and white. We went to a Shia masjid and it was but a mud brick building without any AC or anything to identify it and people went about quietly not wanting to be identified as a Saudi Shia by someone who might care in a bad way. We were turned away and told it would not be opening that day for prayer.

I remember date palms - shorter than I expected, as my mindview of palms had been giant palms of uncharted tropical isles - fields of them that we walked through. And a tiny decaying brick buildling with an uneven sandy floor of 4th Imam (as).

I remember falling asleep after days of sleeping almost not at all; someone woke me to say Qurbani had been done. I hadn't hardly realized it was time for it. We didn't eat much either and I came home at least 10 pounds lighter; for one, everything served was spicy hot, even breakfast, and it could be hard to stomach, but you were just too busy with other things. We took a bus to Arafat and traffic was crazy as ever. In Azizia, someone was hit by a cab in front of our rooms and the cab didn't stop and the man died instantly. The smell of the gas was awful as the gas was different, like it was all unfiltered diesel, but we couldn't cover our noses from it in Ihram. At some point in each day we had speeches of our caravan leaders explaining what was coming, how to do it and what it meant. There were no street lights that were obeyed and buses hit each other and scraped by each other amongst throngs of walking people.

Arafat was hot and open. People covered the mount and the plain in camps. We recited through the night. By certain particular of our recitations, which were amplified by microphone, other Shia including Saudis wandered our way. Staying in Ihram was hard because the bathrooms were difficult - no running water, just whatever bottled water you came with, and the floor was covered in najis water just behind a door and there is no seat, you just squat. In the hotel it was fine because you had running water from a hose and you could lock a door and take your time as you tried to figure out squatting without falling and without getting your clothes wet. But out in the fields of the hajj, it was harder.

We went to some other masjids - Masjid Quba was one name I remember, the masjid where the direction of Qiblah changed, one where it was said all the prophets (sa) had prayed, and what was left of Fatima's (as) masjid (just an open corner in a plaza, really). Each was different from the others.

While there, one hardly thought of the world. A thought of back home didn't enter the mind, not even of family; - that was another universe, a fake one that one had been dreaming in, and here was the real life, where all focus, despite the pressing chaotic life all around you, was on nothing but God. I walked around in awe most of the time of the presence of God and that here I am, Labbayk. There were no expectations, you were just there where God had called and whatever happened was as it was meant to be and not in your control. There was no such thing as human control, that was only an illusion for the other fake universe. Some stranger might see you and say your face was glowing with piety when really it was just lost to the physical world and thunderstruck by all that was, by Allah swt. Patience was called on because things never went as planned, so you just went and received what came and tried to fulfill what was incumbent of you humbly, knowing that success or failure depended on He Whom upon all things depend.

Then it was time to leave, and a plane that was supposed to leave at noon might really leave at midnight. You just showed up and sat in throngs of people and waited. The Greeks always applauded when the plane landed. The people boarding the plane did not pay attention to assigned seats and would fight if someone tried to sit in their assigned seat that was already taken. Poor Indian women carried large jugs of zam zam water on their heads to take home but looked fearful of security letting them through with it. Saudia airlines was another world of airline - it didn't look like the others - we took it for a short flight somewhere and it had those drop down screens which were new to me then and the Saudi flight attendants shocked me for I did not see them in the black abayahs and three-layered burqahs that they lifted up in the stores to see what they were buying as I had seen on the streets; these were wearing makeup so heavy it might be for a stage show and wore electric blue tight-fitting shalwar khameez.

Somehow I ended up back in Denver, and the transport I had reserved home didn't come, the reservation had been lost. So I was going to stay in the airport all night. But then I met a Muslim cab driver from Afghanistan and when he found I was coming back from hajj he was so excited he drove me all the way home from Denver to Colorado Springs for only $45. I gave him some prayer beads and I still remember his name. I owe a lot of gratitude to those who helped bring about my journey and helped me navigate it every step of the way. They are forever special in one's heart.

Then I was back in my parents' house where I was then living and experiencing the most painful withdrawal I ever felt in my life. I felt as if I had been living and now I was in the aluminum foil world, the fake one, the glaring one where nothing made sense and I didn't know how I could stand it. It was physically painful, an asphyxiation. A fish on dry land or a man held under water. And my parents were glad to have me back and I struggled to relate to the pleasure of being back home when it really felt like I had left home, but I had so little to tell them of my experience, especially what had happened inside me, because there was nothing they could relate to or understand, it was beyond anything I could tie it to for them. I had been to another universe that could not be grasped unless one had been there - like a two dimensional being entering a three dimensional vista and then coming back again to the flat world.

And then gradually the flat world felt real again, with a sense of loss of the real 3D reality of what lies beyond. But there is another home, the real one, and you had glimpsed it. And now you are not a convert, you are a Muslim. There is a difference, and now you are different, forever. Why you were blessed to go, and so early, when others were not you may never know and cannot guess, but can only accept and hope for acceptance of your absolutely inadequate answer to the call. All the answer was, and all it could be, was to be open to receive from God and to set aside any notion of self, for there is nothing to give Him and nothing but Him.

God calls, and we turn to Him. Then we turn away and back and away and back, and but for the guidance and mercy of Allah swt we sell our souls to the flat world. The flat aluminum world would shine before our eyes and fill our vision if we would forget that it is flat and fake. We are not made for this world. We are not made for this world. We are not made for this world. But we can destroy ourselves in it, nonetheless. This dreamworld we can die in, or we can wake up.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

"Paradise is gained by practice, not by aspiration." - Imam 'Ali (as)

Eid Mubarak to all observing the Eid of Hajj.

Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik. Labbaik, La Shareek Laka, Labbaik. Innal Hamdah, Wan Nematah, Laka wal Mulk, La Shareek Laka Labbaik.

Here I am at Thy service O Lord, here I am. Here I am at Thy service and Thou hast no partners. Thine alone is All Praise and All Bounty, and Thine alone is The Sovereignty. Thou hast no partners, here I am.

Imam Sadiq (as) said about the hajj:

"If you intend to go on pilgrimage, before resolving on it devote your heart to Allah, stripping it of every preoccupation and every barrier between you and Allah. Entrust all your affairs to your Creator; rely on Him in all your actions and moments of stillness. Surrender to His decree, decision and judgement. Abandon this world, repose, and all creation. Perform those duties which you are bound to fulfill for other people. Do not rely on your provisions, the animal you ride, your companions, your food, your youth nor your wealth, for fear that they will become your enemies and be harmful to you; in this way you will realize that there is no power, no strength, nor might except by the guardianship of Allah and His granting of success.

Prepare for the pilgrimage as someone who does not hope to return. Keep good company, and be diligent in observing all your obligations to Allah and the prophetic practices. Take care to show courtesy, endurance, patience, thankfulness, compassion, and generosity, always putting others before yourself at all times, even those who reject you. Then perform an ablution with the water of sincere repentance for wrong actions; put on the robe of truthfulness, purity, humility and fear. By donning the garments of pilgrimage, withhold yourself from everything which hinders you from remembering Allah, or that will impede you from showing obedience to Him.

Fulfill His call with an answer whose meaning is clear, pure and sincere when you call on Him, holding on firmly to your belief in Him. Circumambulate with your heart along with the angels who circumambulate the Throne, just as you circumambulate with the Muslims who go around the Ka’aba. Hasten as you run in flight from your passion, freeing yourself of all your personal assumptions of strength and power. Leave your heedlessness and errors behind when you go out to Mina; do not desire what is unlawful for you and what you do not deserve. Confess your errors at Arafat: set out your contract with Allah by His Oneness, draw near to Him and fear Him at Muzdalifah. Climb with your soul to the highest assembly when you climb the mountain of Arafat. Slit the throat of passion and greed in the sacrifice. Stone your appetites, baseness, vileness, and blameworthy actions when you stone the Pillar of Aqabah. Shave off your outward and inward faults when you shave your hair. Enter into the security of Allah, His protection, His veil, His shelter and His watchfulness and abandon the pursuit of your desires by entering the Sacred Precinct. Visit the House, and walk around it to glorify its Master, His wisdom, His majesty and His power. Embrace the Stone, being content with His decree and humble before His might. Leave everything that is other than Him in the valedictory circumambulation. Purify your soul and your innermost being for the meeting with Allah, on the day when you will meet Him when standing on Safa'.

Take on valour and courtesy from Allah by annihilating your attributes at Marwah. Be consistent in the conditions of your pilgrimage and fulfill the contract you have made with your Lord, by which you will have obliged yourself to Him on the Day of Judgement. Know that Allah made the pilgrimage obligatory, and singled it out from all the acts of worship in respect of Himself when He said,

وَلِلّهِ عَلَى النَّاسِ حِجُّ الْبَيْتِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلا

Pilgrimage to the House is incumbent upon men for the sake of Allah, and [upon] everyone who is able to undertake the journey to it. (3:97)

The Holy Prophet established the organization of the rituals of pilgrimage as preparation for, and an indication of, death, the grave, the resurrection and the Day of Judgement. In this lesson for mankind he discriminates between those who will enter the Garden and those who will enter the Fire, through his demonstrating the pilgrimage rites from beginning to end to those with intelligence and prudence."

May Allah swt forgive and guide us all.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

A digital copy of the Beatty Family Recipes is available for download. At least, these are the ones not existing in recipe books somewhere at my mom's house. Let me know what you think. Ignore the instructions about dividers and sheet protectors - that is, unless you decide to make a recipe binder! If the download doesn't work for you, I can e-mail you a copy if you like.

And for Eid, there's some "Shia" Adhan mp3 files in there as well - but these are too big for e-mail, fyi.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Update on Sr. Marzieh

I know several people stopping by this blog had added Sr. Marzieh to their prayers - she is the sister with three kids whose condo was burned in a fire.

I know that many times I heard appeals for help for someone and then never heard about what happened. So I thought you might like this update from her:

Assalam Alaikum
     Sister Masooma thanks for expressing concern about my situation. Alahamdulillah my family and I are fine. We were living in a hotel for 2 weeks then I was able to get a rented unit where we will be living until my townhouse is rebuilt insha'allah. It will take about 5 or 6 months before we can move back into our home. We are very fortunate and Allah's mercy has been with us every step of the way. When I returned to my home after a couple of days and saw the severity of what had taken place, I just was even more grateful than ever that everyone inside the home had escaped without any injuries.
     Alhamdulillah the community has helped and I appreciate all those who have been there for me. I don't necessarily mean financially, but for those even giving me a call just to make sure everything is going okay. i do appreciate it. This whole ordeal has been another learning experience for me and reconfirms certain "givens" for me. One of course is the Greatnest of Allah and two the very temporary state of this world.and all of us in it.
     We should always show our obedience to Him and put our total trust and faith in Him and live each and every day as if it is our last one in this world, because it may be. We must be so attentive to our actions, deeds and words and insha'allah try to pattern our lives after the Ahle-Bait. The tests in this world are many and varied. We just pray that we do well on them and that Allah will be satisfied with our actions.
Thanks Sisters for Caring
Wa Salaam

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Big Waves! - and silly/fun stuff updates

XXL Billabong Wow! Check out the pictures and video on this site of some surfing in waves as much as five stories high - impressive!

2006: Year of the Big Waves reports that 2006 has been a year of unusually large waves, and that there may be a connection to shifting global climate.

Also, on a side note - check out the side bar - if you've never played with the silly/fun stuff, come on, you know you want to - it's fun! I added a few - a different Elvish name generator, and the addicting baby name wizard. If you have some favorites to go there let me know - I suppose santasez is a contender, but I don't know if it is up year-round.

Good Salaat Website


This has to be one of the best sites I've seen for prayer stuff - the main page will give prayer times and qibla direction customizable to your location and time zone. It will play the adhan at the proper times if the computer is on and the page is loaded. The education page has a very good prayer instruction guide that can be played and prayed along with or that someone can sit down and study carefully. The services page gives monthly prayer time tables and the qibla on map feature there can be zoomed in so much that you can zoom in right on your house and see the qibla for your house specifically.

Friday, December 15, 2006

'I'm Not Weird, I'm Eclectic' Meme

I've been tagged by Baraka.

The Code: State six weird things about yourself. Then tag 6 people and leave them a comment to let them know that they've been tagged. I had to think about this one for a little bit.

1. I hate talking on the phone.

I can tolerate it with closest friends and family, but especially with anyone else I abhor it. It makes me uncomfortable. If someone calls and I don't recognize who the caller is, I will just ask to take a message. The one exception to that is a person taking a survey who immediately identifies that - I might participate in the survey to satisfy my own curiosity - I teach AP Statistics and will want to find out if they are following appropriate survey design techniques. :) Lots of men in particular just can't believe that a woman doesn't want to talk on the phone and think it is someone playing games with them or something, but I would much prefer e-mail any day, even with those closest to me. Get me off the phone.

2. I am a fidgeter.

I am that person whose leg is shaking all the time. I hate when someone sitting next to me grabs my leg to get me to stop - it is actually physically painful to try to stop. I also type all the time with my fingers - when I was a little kid before I learned to type it was sign language alphabet letters, and once I learned to type it switched to typing - it is just something that my hands do automatically and only occasionally am I aware of it. This doesn't mean I have ADD or something - I am very good at concentrating and focusing, I just often have a body that moves on its own because it needs to.

3. I don't like quiet.

I work in a school, so I am used to a noisy work environment. When I go and visit my mom at her work, it is so quiet in that office that I think I'd go crazy. I don't mind quiet sometimes, but I need some noise. At home, at all hours of the waking day there is some kind of background noise in my house - singing birds, TV on just for noise, etc. Without it, I'd go crazy. Noise doesn't affect my concentration unless I get too interested in whatever the noise is.

4. I am not in tune with negative feelings.

When I feel good, I usually know why, and I feel good most of the time. However, if I am feeling blue or angry, sometimes I really have to think it out to have any idea why. Yes, I am one of those girls who rarely will find herself crying for no apparent reason. There really is a reason, but it is usually complicated/suppressed. And no, I don't do it publicly. If I am feeling bad, it usually doesn't show, but if it does, I hate being asked what's wrong, especially because I might not know the answer.

5. I don't like crunchy food

Carrots are supposed to crunch. But for the most part, I dislike crunchy food. No hard shell tacos for me, no hard candy or crunchy cookies. Toast. Yuck.

6. I have a very active fantasy life.

I guess some people are never that way, and a lot of people grow out of it when they become adults, but not me. A good portion of my private free time is spent in other worlds inside my head, but no one can tell. It is probably my favorite pastime.

Tag: Wayfarer if she'd like to play. I think Hajar and Sis. Scorp. were already tagged. I won't tag Derek because he hates memes. I've never seen Abu Sinan do one. If Abdul-Rahim Borges is around maybe he'd like to play.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Fire - Help Requested

A friend of mine in Denver named Marziyeh just lost her home in a fire. She is a widow with three children, the youngest 12 years old. She is a wonderful, independent, smart, very pious lady who has done more for her community wherever she's been than almost anyone else I could think of. They are staying in a hotel right now. If anyone has means to assist her and her kids or knows anyone who would help, I have address/phone/bank information for her.

I would like to humbly ask any readers here to send her a card, I am sure it would mean a lot to her.

They could be sent to Sr. Marziyeh at:

Melanie Franklin
13173 East Bethany Place
Aurora, Colorado 80014

Thank you!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Turkeys try for fast train out of Jersey

I love wild turkeys!

The Associated Press

RAMSEY, N.J. - Some wild turkeys, it appears, were trying to get out of New Jersey before Thanksgiving Day. A spokesman for the NJ Transit said train officials reported a dozen or so wild turkeys waiting on a station platform in Ramsey, about 20 miles northwest of New York City, on Wednesday afternoon. The line travels to Suffern, N.Y.

"For a moment, it looked like the turkeys were waiting for the next outbound train," said Dan Stessel, a spokesman for NJ Transit. "Clearly, they're trying to catch a train and escape their fate."

Transit workers followed the bird's movements on surveillance cameras. "I have no idea how they got there," Stessel said.

A Ramsey police dispatcher said the department had received three calls about the traveling turkeys who also were blamed for causing morning rush hour traffic problems on a roadway.

"From time to time, I've heard calls that there are turkeys on the loose," said Erik Endress, president of the Ramsey Rescue Squad, a volunteer group. "Maybe they're trying to make a break."

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Memes: Mysteries, Things you want to see, superpowers

This Meme is to list the top 5 mysteries you would like to know the answers to. The rest of the world wouldn't necessarily have to know; that'd be your choice. So what are your top 5?

1. I'd like to know all about Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Skunk Ape Yeti sightings - are the animals real, how many are there, etc. Out of all the "mystery" creatures, etc., I think this is one there actually could be something to....

2. I'd like to be able to tell families of missing persons where to find their loved ones.

3. I'd like to know who the Neanderthals were as people and what really ultimately happened to them.

4. What happened to D.B. Cooper and the stolen money? Heck, let's just find all lost treasures while we're at it....

5. I'd like to know what electronic voice phenomena really are....

This Meme is to list 5 things that are impossible for you to see but you would like to see....

1. I'd like to see everything that ever happened where I live - I'd like to see how it changed geologically over time, etc., in fast motion. I'd like to see living Columbia Mammoths and Saber Tooth Tigers roaming around, etc.

2. I'd like to see my ancestors all the way back, and see them for who they really were. I'd like to see how I'm interconnected to other people.

3. I'd like to see Middle Earth.

4. I'd like to see other stars, other planets, and other parts of the Universe up close. I'd like to touch the sand on Mars.

5. I would like see Abraham (as) sitting in the fire but not burning, and I'd like see Yusuf (as) rise from the well to power.

This Meme is to list 5 superpowers you would like to have....

1. I would like to be able to speak, understand, read and write in all languages.

2. I would like to be able to witness anything in the past or present that I wanted to.

3. I would like to be able to transport instantly to and from any place.

4. I would like to be able to find missing people or missing things, etc.

5. I would like to be able to give the whole world, free unlimited clean energy and water.

Just a Few Things to be Thankful for.... (in no particular order)

1. seeing
2. hearing
3. smelling
4. tasting
5. touching
6. family
7. friends
8. enough $ to pay the bills
9. Rahman and Raheem
10. Ahlulbayt (as)
11. windchimes
12. beautiful days
13. mountains
14. hiking
15. geocaching
16. pets
17. birds chirping
18. color
19. online banking and bank cards
20. reading
21. Internet
22. imagination
23. home
24. heat
25. water
26. good mentors/teachers
27. mom
28. a car that runs
29. beautiful plants
30. halal turkey
31. DVR
32. sleep
33. weekends (thanks to unions,btw)
34. honesty
35. compassion
36. those who sacrificed and died for what we take for granted
37. fresh air
38. empowerment
39. some security and some freedom
40. mystery, adventure and science fiction novels
41. PBS, the Discovery Channel, etc.
42. being needed
43. good work environment
44. volunteers - and especially firefighters
45. health insurance
46. open space
47. stars
48. moon
49. sun
50. the U.S. highway system
51. more interesting currency since the state quarter program started
52. photography
53. polar bears are still here, for now
54. feeding the giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
55. playing board games with close family/friends
56. electricity and Nikola Tesla
57. rock cutting and polishing
58. craftsmen and artisans
59. cures
60. special occasions and holidays
61. fireworks
62. memories
63. logic
64. environmentalism
65. nice surprises
66. appreciation
67. repair men/women
68. the milkman/woman
69. Crocs
70. hair on our heads
71. snowshoes
72. Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side
73. laughing
74. flannel sheets
75. pj's
76. chocolate
77. cheese
78. vegetarian food in restaurants
79. EmergenC, raspberry flavor
80. blogs
81. a higher minimum wage in Colorado
82. owning instead of renting
83. the swamp cooler
84. antelope, deer and wild turkeys
85. learning, and not just for application
86. free samples of good stuff
87. U.S. Postal Service and UPS, FedEX
88. online shopping
89. e-mail
90. yoga
91. water aerobics
92. walking
93. gps
94. adhan
95. Qur'an
96. the front office secretary (Queen of the school), and our department chair
97. Colorado
98. things that last longer than they're supposed to without wearing out or requiring maintenance
99. highly effective, beautiful, short dua'a
100. TI graphing calculators

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Harry Potter

Well, in the past few weeks I read all 6 of the Harry Potter books; I've never read them before so it was a lot of fun and I can't wait for the seventh. I wonder who else will die and how it will end up.... Before that, I read Lord of the Rings all the way through. I'm thinking I might re-read all of the Sherlock Holmes next; I really enjoyed those when I was a kid.....

Saturday, November 04, 2006

AWOL Soldiers Reconsider Return to U.S.

Associated Press Writer

Kyle Snyder, AP Photo/BRIAN BOHANNON

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Since going to Canada to avoid another deployment to Iraq, Corey Glass has considered returning to the United States. But after hearing that a fellow former soldier who surrendered to the military and was ordered to return to his unit instead of being discharged, Glass may not return at all.

"They're not going to win the hearts and minds like that," said Glass, 24, who signed on with the Indiana National Guard in 2002.

Kyle Snyder, a one-time combat engineer who joined the military in 2003, disappeared Wednesday, a day after surrendering at Fort Knox and 18 months after fleeing to Vancouver instead of redeploying to Iraq.

Snyder, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colo., said a deal had been reached for a discharge, but he found out he would be returned to his unit at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

His troubles are complicating efforts for those among the 220 American soldiers who fled to Canada and want to return to the United States, according to lawyers, soldiers and anti-war activists.

"Nobody's going to come back from Canada anymore," said James Fennerty, a Chicago-based attorney who represents Snyder and other AWOL soldiers.

Several soldiers who went to Canada have said they don't want to return to Iraq. Sgt. Patrick Hart, who deserted the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 101st Airborne Division in August 2005, a month before his second deployment, said he felt misled about the reasons for the war.

"How can I go over there if I don't believe in the cause? I still consider myself a soldier, but I can't do that," said Hart, a Buffalo, N.Y., native who served more than nine years in the military.

"The whole story behind it, it all feels like a big lie," Glass said. "I ain't fighting for no lie."

Fennerty said he reached a deal with the Army allowing Snyder, a private with the 94th Engineer Battalion, to receive an other-than-honorable discharge.

It's a deal similar to one Darrell Anderson, a 24-year-old Iraq war veteran, received in October. After three days at Fort Knox, Anderson, who has denounced the war as "illegal" and "immoral," was released to his family in Lexington, then discharged.

But Snyder ended up at a bus station in Louisville, with orders to go to St. Louis, then Fort Leonard Wood. Snyder, who said the brutality of what he saw happening to civilians in Iraq prompted him to desert, left with an anti-war activist instead of going back to the post.

Gini Sinclair, a Fort Knox spokeswoman, declined to address Snyder's case. But she said deserters who turn themselves in are automatically returned to their units if the unit is in the United States at the time of surrender. Once reunited with the unit, the commander there decides what becomes of the soldier, Sinclair said.

When a soldier surrenders at Fort Knox and is sent to his unit, he is either put on a plane or a bus, sometimes alone, she said.

"In some cases, they will be escorted," Sinclair said. "I don't know what decides if that happens."

That policy, and the question of whether an AWOL soldier can reach a deal that trumps it, is causing consternation among soldiers.

"After what they did to him, I don't see anybody going back," said Glass, a Fairmount, Ind., native who is currently in Toronto.

Some are seeking refugee status in Canada. Hart, who was joined in Toronto by his wife and their 3-year-old son, served time in Bosnia in the early 1990s, became a reserve, then went to Iraq after returning to active duty. The idea of returning to the United States is appealing to Hart, because he would like to see family and friends.

"I could see going back under some kind of amnesty program or something like that," Hart said. "But I don't trust them. My enemy isn't foreign now. It's domestic."

© 2006 The Associated Press.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pardon the Pun

1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead
raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm
sorry,sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."

2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns
to the other and says, "Dam!"

3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire
in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once
again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says "I've lost my
electron." The other says "Are you sure?" The first replies "Yes,
I'm positive."

5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused
Novocain during a root canal?
His goal: transcend dental medication.

6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel
and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament
victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office
and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked, as they moved off.
"Because," he said," I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open

7. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption.
One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other
goes to a family in Spain; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan
sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the
picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of
Ahmal. Her husbandresponds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan,
you've seen Ahmal."

8. A group of friars were behind on their belfry
payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since
everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist
across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the
good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and
begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist
hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in
town to "persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed
their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop.
Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent
florist friars.

9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most
of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet.
He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his
odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him a super
calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

10. And finally, there was the person who sent ten
different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns
would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Geocaching at the new Cheyenne Mountain State Park

We went and found a cache called Gobble Gobble in the new state park. It was a lovely hike, but we were pretty tired by the end because the trip is about a 5.5 mile loop. But the neat thing is the state park is like a 10 minute drive from here. Maybe I'll buy a year pass so I can go more often. Haily and I are thinking of going next weekend to find another cache. This picture is mom and Haily about 3/4 the way down Blackmer Loop after finding the cache.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Well, I just got back from the hospital. Mom woke me up this morning to tell me dad had gotten in a car wreck. He had slid on ice and hit a tree. He got checked out and he's okay and now he's home, but he'll be pretty sore for the next few days. His jeep is probably totaled, he's having it towed to the house to part it out and he'll have to get another vehicle.

My uncle, his younger brother, has been fighting with cancer in his mouth. It recently came back. My dad is supposed to fly out there to Alabama in a few weeks to be there when his brother Greg gets operated on to try to remove the cancer again. He's going to have to do radiation every day for six months. I think this will be the first time my dad has seen his family by himself since he got married.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

One of my travel bugs has logged over 20,000 miles!

Recipe Project

I am working on compiling some of the favorite family recipes into a book. My mom's recipes are mostly written on 30-40 year old sheets of paper or torn from newspapers from the '60s and '70s and a modern upgrade is definitely in order. I downloaded a Word recipe card template that I am using. My plan is to get it all printed when done on nice paper at Kinko's or some place like that and then put each page in a page protector and in a 3-ring binder and give copies to members of the family, along with a CD of the file so they can edit and make changes and add pages over time.

I thought perhaps some of you in blogland might have recipes that might be included in the book.

The basic criteria are as follows:

1. The simpler the better - fast, few ingredients, nothing hard to find, etc.

2. Generally avoiding things that include pork, alcohol, etc.

3. "American" fare - but basic oriental, mexican, Italian common on American tables are fine

4. Dinner main courses or holiday fare or desserts are the primary recipe types

Saturday, October 21, 2006

When are your Hijri and Gregorian birthdays the same?

30 / 9 / 2137
is Monday 14 RamaDHaan 1562 A.H.

I was born on 30/9/1974 or Monday 14 Ramadhaan 1394, according to most calculations.

It is expected to take 163 Gregorian years or 168 Hijri years until my birthday anniversary would fall on the same date in both calendars once again. Interestingly, the days of the week coincide also.

But, this year and next are about as close as I would get in my lifetime to the two falling on the same date. The cycle of near-alignment repeats every 32-33 years. So, if I were to live to be 64-66, there is another near alignment in which the two birthdays fall in less than 10 days of each other. - you can play with this converter and see when your birthday was and when they might align again. I tried a different date and tried 163 years and it was two days off, so 163 years would not work for every pair dates, but it gets close.

Random Somewhat Useful Information Because It's Interesting: When Can You Reuse This Year's (Gregorian) Calendar?

Let us first assume that you are only interested in which dates fall
on which days of the week; you are not interested in the dates for
Easter and other irregular holidays.

Let us further confine ourselves to the years 1901-2099.

With these restrictions, the answer is as follows:

- If year X is a leap year, you can reuse its calendar in year X+28.

- If year X is the first year after a leap year, you can reuse its
calendar in years X+6, X+17, and X+28.

- If year X is the second year after a leap year, you can reuse its
calendar in years X+11, X+17, and X+28.

- If year X is the third year after a leap year, you can reuse its
calendar in years X+11, X+22, and X+28.

Note that the expression X+28 occurs in all four items above. So you
can always reuse your calendar every 28 years.

But if you also want your calendar's indication of Easter and other
Christian holidays to be correct, the rules are far too complex to be
put to a simple formula. Sometimes calendars can be reused after just
six years. For example, the calendars for the years 1981 and 1987 are
identical, even when it comes to the date for Easter. But sometimes a
very long time can pass before a calendar can be reused; if you happen
to have a calendar from 1940, you won't be able to reuse it until the
year 5280!

Source and for more info:

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cheyenne Mountain State Park to open this week

The Gazette

After six years and more than $17 million, Cheyenne Mountain State Park will open to the public Saturday.

The tapestry of rolling oak groves, pine forests and meadows at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain is a monumental addition to the city. It’s twice the size of Palmer Park. It’s bigger than Garden of the Gods or Cheyenne Cañon Park. At 1,680 acres, it’s the largest park ever created in El Paso County.

The acreage is home to black bears, elk, mountain lions, roadrunners, prairie dogs, coyotes, foxes and bobcats. And the trails are just as diverse.

“It’s got something for everyone. For the light walker there are easy trails.

For the serious hiker there are great places to get lost. There are mountain bike trails, picnic areas, a gorgeous visitor’s center. It will be awesome,” said Rick Upton, president of Friends of Cheyenne Mountain State Park.

More than 18 miles of trails will open to the public Saturday. A visitors center will open in November. Picnic and campsites are scheduled to open next summer.

[I think this is cool, I love open space/parks, etc. I look forward to checking it out, insha'allah.]


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Last Will of Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS)

Imam Ali's (AS) last will to his sons Imam Hasan (AS) and Imam Hussain (AS) after the attempt on his life by a stab from Ibn Muljam [anniversary is being marked tonight or tomorrow night by most, depending on when month of Ramadhan began for them according to taqlid]:

My advice to you is to be conscious of Allah and steadfast in your religion. Do not yearn for the world, and do not be seduced by it. Do not resent anything you have missed in it. Proclaim the truth; work for the next world. Oppose the oppressor and support the oppressed.

I advise you, and all my children, my relatives, and whosoever receives this message, to be conscious of Allah, to remove your differences, and to strengthen your ties. I heard your grandfather, peace be upon him, say: "Reconciliation of your differences is more worthy than all prayers and all fasting."

Fear Allah in matters concerning orphans. Attend to their nutrition and do not forget their interests in the middle of yours.

Fear Allah in your relations with your neighbors. Your Prophet often recommended them to you, so much so that we thought he would give them a share in inheritance.

Remain attached to the Quran. Nobody should surpass you in being intent on it, or more sincere in implementing it.

Fear Allah in relation to your prayers. It is the pillar of your religion.

Fear Allah in relation to His House; do not abandon it as long as you live. It you should do that you would abandon your dignity.

Persist in jihad in the cause of Allah, with your money, your souls, and your tongue.

Maintain communication and exchange of opinion among yourselves. Beware of disunity and enmity. Do not desist from promoting good deeds and cautioning against bad ones. Should you do that,the worst among you would be your leaders, and you will call upon Allah without response.

O Children of Abdul Mattaleb! Do not shed the blood of Muslims under the banner: The Imam has been assassinated! Only the assassin should be condemned to death.

If I die of this stab of his, kill him with one similar stroke. Do not mutilate him! I have heard the Prophet, peace be upon him, say: "Mutilate not even a rabid dog."

Source: Nahjul Balagha

In the 40th year of Hijri, in the small hours of the morning of 19th Ramadan, Imam Ali (AS) was struck with a poisoned sword by the Kharijite Ibn Maljam while offering his prayers in the Masjid of Kufa. He died on the 21st day of Ramadan 40 A.H. and buried in Najaf-ul-Ashraf. He was born in the House of Allah, the Kaaba, and martryed in the House of Allah, Masjid-e-Kufa. The Lion of Allah, the most brave and gentle Muslim after the Prophet (PBUH&HF) himself, began his glorious life with devotion to Allah and His Messenger, and ended it in the service of Islam.

"And do not speak of those who are slain in the the Way of Allah as dead; nay, they are alive, but you perceive not." Quran 2:154

- From

Jupiter Tiny Spot Goes From White to Red

Tiny? I bet it is still large enough to hold Earth or its moon....

AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Just a little more than a year ago, the small spot on Jupiter was a pale white; now it matches the reddish hue of its bigger sibling, the Great Red Spot, and boasts 400 mph winds, according to new data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Both spots are actually fierce storms in Jupiter's atmosphere. While the red spot - at three times the size of Earth - is much more noticeable, strange things are happening to the smaller spot.

Scientists aren't quite sure what's happening to the smaller storm, nicknamed the Little Red Spot or Red Spot Jr. but officially called "Oval BA." It probably gained strength as it shrunk slightly, the same way spinning ice skaters go faster when they move their arms closer, said NASA planetary scientist Amy Simon-Miller. Her findings from the Hubble data were published in the astronomical journal Icarus.

As the storm has grown stronger it's probably picked up red material from lower in the Jupiter atmosphere, most likely some form of sulfur which turns red as part of a chemical reaction, she said.

The color change took astronomers by surprise. And now they figure more surprises are in store as the solar system's largest planet goes into hiding from Earth's prying eyes until January, moving behind the sun.

"We found that Jupiter tends to do interesting things behind the sun and we can't see it," Simon-Miller said.

I wish I had seen it!


Robert Ward travels all over the world in search of meteorites. Now he’s in eastern El Paso County looking for meteorites that were part of a meteor seen above Colorado on Oct. 1. He travels with samples of real meteorites — unusual black rocks, most of which are magnetic — to educate people on what to look for when meteorite hunting. (JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE)

1. Sunday Oct. 1, a large meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere about 11:15 p.m. over Tucson at about 21,000 mph. 2. Over Alamosa, the object began to break into pieces. 3. The main meteor broke into four pieces over Westcliffe. 4. Those four pieces broke into eight to 15 pieces about eight miles east of Cañon City. 5. The fragments were about 25 miles high when over the Colorado Springs area. 6. The surviving fragments should have landed between Penrose and Ellicott and could be strewn in a field 10 to 15 miles long.



Imagine searching for marblesize rocks in a 50-mile strip between Penrose and Ellicott.

That’s essentially what meteorite hunter and collector Robert Ward was doing Tuesday.

One of the brightest meteors reported in recent years slowdanced across Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado the night of Oct. 1, possibly dropping meteorites toward the tail end of its trip.

Ward said he has chased fireballs worldwide for 20 years, and that this is the most impressive.

“This one traveled amazingly far, amazingly low, and amazingly slowly,” he said. “It was a very big, very bright fireball seen by a lot of people.”

Jeff and Pam Holmberg are two who watched it come to Earth.

The husband and wife were watching television in their house north of Westcliffe when Jeff looked out the window and saw the fireball over the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.

“I started hootin’ and hollerin’ and she came out of the chair like a shot,” Jeff Holmberg said.

He and his wife ran outside in time to see the main fireball break into three or four pieces. Jeff Holmberg scrambled up a ladder to the roof and watched the meteor pieces disappear into the northeast horizon toward Colorado Springs.

“It was a big, bright light with a smoke trail behind it,” he said.

“It was just incredible how close it seemed,” Pam Holmberg said. “It was floating across, so bright, it seemed like you could just reach out and touch it.”

Eyewitnesses and cameras that capture the whole sky in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona caught the fireball at 11:16 p.m. Oct. 1, said Chris Peterson, an astronomer and a researcher at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Witnesses also reported hearing the sonic boom, a sound similar to thunder. The sonic boom is heard several minutes after the fireball is seen because it takes sound that long to travel to Earth from more than 20 miles in the air, Peterson said.

The fireball traveled generally southwest to northeast, beginning northeast of Phoenix, cutting across northwest New Mexico and ending east of Colorado Springs.

It was captured by sky cameras at the Guffey School and at Cloudbait Observatory north of Guffey, which Peterson runs, as well as sky cameras in New Mexico.

The full flight possibly lasted 45 seconds — an eternity for a meteor, Peterson said.

“It was very, very long,” he said. “It was going about as slow as a meteor gets. To see a meteor that goes on for more than half a minute is remarkable.”

Witnesses and cameras show the meteor breaking into pieces in a long train extending at least 70 miles from southern Colorado to Colorado Springs, Peterson said. He described the breakup pattern as “extremely unusual.” Usually meteors fade out, but videos show this one split into a long string of individual fireballs, Peterson said.

Meteorites may have dropped over the central San Luis Valley, in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, across the Wet Mountain Valley and continuing to Ellicott, 20 miles east of Colorado Springs.

Ward, who is from Arizona, is focusing his hunt for space rocks between Penrose and Ellicott. He started by asking people at fire stations, gas stations and convenience stores if anyone had seen or heard anything unusual.

Ward found Jeff Holmberg at the Wet Mountain Fire Protection District, where Holmberg volunteers. Holmberg had told his skeptical fellow firefighters about what he’d seen.

“The boys at the fire station just kind of grinned and shook their heads and asked me about aliens and stuff,” he said.

A couple of days later, Ward walked in and asked if anyone had seen a meteor. Holmberg invited Ward to his house for breakfast and told him his story over biscuits and gravy.

The men climbed on Holmberg’s roof. Ward took compass readings and gathered other information he’ll use to estimate the fireball’s flight path.

Meteorites are typically unusual black rocks with rounded surfaces, Ward said. They’re usually heavier than other rocks the same size, and 90 percent are magnetic.

He finds about 80 meteorites a year, some of them hundreds of years old. It’s rare and more scientifically significant to find meteorites that have just fallen.

“This was in space a week ago,” Ward said. “It’s extremely fresh. It’s important to get it into a lab as soon as possible so it can be analyzed.”

While Ward concentrates on where meteorites might have ended up, Peterson is more interested in where the space rocks came from.

With good reports from several locations, scientists can estimate the orbit of the meteor before it entered Earth’s atmosphere. Then, if meteorites are found, they can be tested to provide scientifically valuable information about the parent body, Peterson said.

They can also be valuable to dealers and collectors, who base their worth on factors such as where the meteorite is from and whether there were witnesses to its fall. A witnessed fresh fall from the moon or Mars might be worth $1 million or more. Other meteorites have little monetary value.


Question: What is a meteor?

Answer: Earth continually crosses paths with debris from asteroids and other bodies such as Mars and the moon. The debris enters Earth’s atmosphere at speeds up to 70,000 mph, producing light and heat from the friction between its surface and the air. When debris hits the atmosphere, its main mass is called a meteor. The heat is usually enough to burn up the meteor while it’s still miles high. As it burns, it generates a bright streak across the sky commonly called a shooting star.

Q: What are meteorites?

A: If fragments from the meteor hit the ground, they’re called meteorites. It can take more than five minutes for meteorites to reach the ground after the meteor burns out.

Q: What are fireballs?

A: When larger particles enter Earth’s atmosphere, they produce a more

spectacular light show. Very bright meteors are called fireballs.

Q: What are meteorites worth?

A: Some are more valuable than gold; others have little monetary value.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Earth has more than one moon - (almost)

Earth has a second moon, of sorts, and could have many others, according to three astronomers who did calculations to describe orbital motions at gravitational balance points in space that temporarily pull asteroids into bizarre orbits near our planet.

The 3-mile-wide (5-km) satellite, which takes 770 years to complete a horseshoe-shaped orbit around Earth, is called Cruithne and will remain in a suspended state around Earth for at least 5,000 years.

Cruithne, discovered in 1986, and then found in 1997 to have a highly eccentric orbit, cannot be seen by the naked eye, but scientists working at Queen Mary and Westfield College in London were intrigued enough with its peregrinations to come up with mathematical models to describe its path.

That led them to theorize that the model could explain the movement of other objects captured at the gravitational balance points that exist between all planets and the sun.

"We found new dynamical channels through which free asteroids become temporarily moons of Earth and stay there from a few thousand years to several tens of thousands of years," said Fathi Namouni, one of the researchers, now at Princeton University.

"Eventually these same channels provide the moons with escape routes. So the main difference between the moon (weve always known) and the new moons is that the latter are temporary -- they come and go, but they stay for a very long time before they leave."

Astronomers have long known that the solar system is full, relatively speaking, of asteroids.

Most orbit the sun in a belt between Mars and Jupiter, but a handful cross Earth's orbital path -- an imaginary curve through space along which our planet travels around the sun.

Namouni and his colleagues discovered several new types of orbital motion, which showed that some asteroids that cross Earths path may be trapped in orbits caused by the gravitational dance between Earth and the sun.

The work was published in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters.

Strange Lagrange

The finding is based on work by 18th century French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange, whose name is affixed to five points of equilibrium (L1 to L5 in the top diagram) that occur between the gravitational forces of planets, including Earth and the sun.

Lagrange had shown that the forces at the balance points could capture objects and keep them orbiting there (NASA and the European Space Agency have taken advantage of one balance point by launching a sun-observing satellite called SOHO that currently orbits at L1). The orbits of objects at these points are exotic, often tadpole-shaped, but rarely horseshoe-shaped. The horseshoe orbit involves movement around the L3, L4 and L5 points (see diagram at top).

Cruithne takes 770 years to complete its horseshoe orbit. Every 385 years, it comes to its closest point to Earth, some 9.3 million miles (15 million kilometers) away. Its next close approach to Earth comes in 2285.

Namouni and his colleagues latched on to Cruithnes orbit and worked out models built on Lagranges work to explain its eccentric orbit and then theorized that such "co-orbital dynamics" could explain the strange movement of other objects at the Lagrangian points.

Cruithnes orbit is exceedingly strange. "What it does with respect to the Earth is it moves very slowly," said Namounis colleague Apostolos Christou. "At specific points in its orbit, it reverses its rate of motion with respect to Earth so it will appear to go back and forth."

Whats in a moon?

Co-orbital motions probably describe the orbits of many objects at the Lagrange points, Namouni and his colleagues say, but are these objects moons?

A moon typically is defined as an object whose orbit encompasses a planet, say, the Earth, rather than the sun, said Carl Murray, who worked with Namouni and Christou on the research.

But its hard to say what a "true" moon is, he said.

In his view, there are three classes of moons large moons in near-circular orbits around a planet, having formed soon after the planet; smaller fragments that are the products of collisions; and outer, irregular moons in odd orbits, or captured asteroids like Cruithne. In the past year, astronomers have reported finding such objects around Uranus.

So where does our well-known moon fall in this classification, given that scientists think it is the result of a Mars-sized object slamming against our planet soon after it formed?

"Our own moon is in many ways unique and its formation seems like a one-off event," he said. "Our moon is very different in all respects from an object like Cruithne."

There are almost certainly more temporary moons of Earth and of other planets waiting to be discovered, Murray said.

As scientists get better at discovering asteroids, they will find more that have orbits that will keep them close to Earth for a long period of time. But some of those objects are very small.

"At some stage you have to consider the definition of moon," he said. "Is a dust particle orbiting the Earth a moon of the Earth?"

As for Cruithne, Namouni said its not really a "moon" because it moves around the Earth at this time but may not forever. Earth is causing Cruithnes present trajectory, but it could eventually escape.

So its not a moon of Earth, but it might become one.

"We found that Cruithne is likely to use the new dynamical channels to become a real moon of the Earth and remain as such for 3,000 years," Namouni said.

Since there is no definitive count yet of all the asteroids in our solar system, including Earth-crossers, Namouni and his team cannot estimate how many other temporary moons may be orbiting Earth and other planets.

Still, the finding throws into question the current official counts of moons around the planets, since there may be dozens of unknown asteroids circling each planet in temporary or permanent orbits due to gravitational balance points.

For now, Namouni says there should be a new category of moons -- "temporary moons that are captured for a few thousand to several tens of thousands of years."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I think they're out there, and I hope they continue to survive.

Possible grizzly sighting bears further scrutiny, officials say

Friday, September 29, 2006


The Daily Sentinel

Ghost grizzlies or real grizzlies, whatever species of bruin two hunters saw near Independence Pass recently has wildlife managers sniffing for clues.

Two hunters who said they have experience with black and grizzly bears claim they spotted three grizzlies near Independence Pass in the San Isabel National Forest on Sept. 20, the Colorado Division of Wildlife announced Thursday.

The chance the hunters spotted a grizzly is slim, but the division is taking the alleged sighting seriously enough to post signs warning forest visitors a grizzly may be in the area, division spokesman Tyler Baskfield said.

Only black bears are thought to exist in Colorado.

The hunters reported watching a female grizzly and two cubs from a distance of about 80 yards through binoculars and a spotting scope, but they were unable to find scat or tracks after the bears moved on.

Grizzlies are thought to be extinct in Colorado, and if the sighting is confirmed, it would be the first grizzly bear to be found in the state since 1979, when Colorado’s known grizzly was killed in the South San Juan Wilderness.

Before that, the last confirmed grizzly sighting in Colorado was in 1956, Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said.

“We’re taking this on a day-by-day basis,” Baskfield said. “We’ve made a decision to sign the general area of the sighting to alert people of the possible presence (of a grizzly). Until we get some physical evidence, we’re going to concentrate on the investigation.”

The names of the hunters were unavailable, and Baskfield declined to give specifics about where the hunters allegedly sighted the grizzlies or what such a sighting, if confirmed, might mean.

Colorado grizzly expert David Petersen said he believes a confirmed native grizzly sighting would mean the bear’s habitat would be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

In the early 1990s, Petersen, a Durango writer and member of the Colorado Roadless Area Review Task Force, studied the history of grizzly bears in Colorado and wrote about his findings in his book, “Ghost Grizzlies.”

He said the last credible evidence of a grizzly here was uncovered in 1995, but the bear was never found, and no other evidence has surfaced since. If a grizzly bear exists in Colorado, he said, wildlife managers would try to track it, take DNA samples and figure out where it came from.

Such a bear could have wandered down from Wyoming, Petersen said.

If it turned out to be a grizzly native to Colorado, it could cause wildlife managers to cancel the fall bear hunting season.

“If they determined it was a Wyoming bear, who knows? They might haul it back home,” he said.

“If they determine it was a native bear, they’d let it go and hope it led them to other native bears.”

“That would be the end of peace and quiet for that bear,” encouraging an “army of thrill seekers” and others, perhaps with dishonorable motives, to follow the bears around, Petersen said.

“I’d rather they just be allowed to live out the remainder of their lives (in peace),” he said.

Petersen said he believes the alleged grizzly sighting is invalid and that any remaining grizzlies lurking in Colorado forests wouldn’t likely make Independence Pass their home.

Petersen and others have speculated that only the remote South San Juan Wilderness, where the last known Colorado grizzly was shot in 1979, could be remote and isolated enough for grizzlies to survive.

He said he believes there are too many people in Colorado for grizzlies to have survived here.

Any remaining grizzlies, he said, would have little chance of surviving on their own.

Bobby Magill can be reached via e-mail at

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Animal "Speech" Project Aims to Decode Critter Communication

Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
September 26, 2006

The fictional children's book character Dr. Dolittle easily understood animal chatter. But for the rest of us, the meaning behind creatures' clucks, rumbles, and whistles remains a mystery.

Now, researchers from several universities and institutions are working on an effort called the Dr. Dolittle Project, which aims to crack the code of animal communication.

Their work could help people gain a better understanding of animal behavior and hopefully allow researchers to improve care for wild and captive animal populations.

"For centuries humans have tried to teach animals to communicate like humans," said Michael Darre, an animal science professor at the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs.

"And now we're getting to the point where we're saying, Wait a second. Why don't we learn their language instead of making them learn ours?"

(Related feature: "Calls in the Wild" in National Geographic magazine.)

Elephant Talk

In the past three years researchers with the project have captured sounds from a variety of animals, including African elephants, rhinos, horses, chickens, and bottlenose dolphins.

Scientists also videotape the animals' corresponding behavior and feed the data into a modified human speech-recognition program.

The program can alert scientists to a range of details, including physiological indicators, such as stress or whether the animal is in heat.

Mike Johnson, an assistant professor of computer and electrical engineering at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, leads the project.

"We wanted to find ways to apply the high-tech side of what you can do in speech processing, which has been used in human speech processing for a decade or more, and apply those ideas to the field of bioacoustics," he said.
African elephants at the theme park wear collars with digital microphones to capture sound. Each night the collars are removed and the recorded information is analyzed.

Anne Savage, the park's senior conservation biologist, says understanding how pachyderms use vocalizations to communicate will help people better manage them in the wild and in captivity.

"There is a lot of information—such as individual identification, emotion, and function—that is encoded in their rumbles that we are just beginning to understand," she said.

One study at the park focused on measuring emotion in elephant voices.

Since elephants have a clear hierarchy, Savage wanted to see if subordinates got nervous around higher-ranking members, much like some humans do.

"A lot of people, when they have to go deliver bad news to their boss, they'll get a little nervousness in their voice," she explained. "And you can actually measure the amount of shaking in their voice."

Savage found that the same thing happens in elephants: When lower-ranking animals approach dominant ones, their rumble contained a nervous jitter.

Another study involved herd communication.

Before Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, pairs of elephants were brought in from other institutions, where they had lived together for ten or more years.

After arriving at the park, a new dominance hierarchy was established.

Savage wondered if elephants that had previously lived together would still communicate, even if the new ranking system separated them.

She discovered that the strong social bonds the elephants had previously forged won out.

"One of the things that was very clear in all of this is that best friends talk to each other all the time and are more likely to answer a call of their close friend than others," she said.

Shouting Whales

For more than ten years, UConn animal bioacoustics researcher Peter Scheifele has collected sounds from a threatened group of beluga whales in Canada's St. Lawrence River estuary.

After joining the Dolittle project two years ago, he made a breakthrough discovery: Under noisy conditions, such as those created by passing motor boats, the whales vocalized louder so that pod members could hear them.

Scientists call this a Lombard response, and humans do it too.

"The Lombard response has typically been thought of as a reflex attributable to complex mammals having speech," he said.

"However, it is now thought of as being a reflexive response by animals that have a need for sounds with specific meaning to be heard."

Songbirds and some primates also "talk" louder when noise levels rise, he says.

(Related news: "Baby Birds' Efforts to Outshout City Noise May Take Toll" [April 2005].)

Another Doolittle study is underway at a small-scale commercial poultry farm owned by UConn.

Adult chickens are thought to make between 19 and 22 different vocalizations.

"We're trying to see how those vocalizations change under stressful conditions and if there's a way to detect that," Darre, the UConn animal scientist, said.

The long-term goal is to equip commercial poultry farms with microphones that transmit clucking to a voice recognition system.

If the system identifies stress, an alarm would sound in the manager's office.

Darre says that from a humane standpoint, such a system would ensure that animals are being reared under good husbandry conditions.

Because tense chickens can stop laying eggs or require more food to gain weight, the alarm could also prevent declines in egg and meat production, he says.

So far the Dr. Dolittle Project has focused on only a handful of wild and farm animals, but methods are now being developed for use across a wide variety of species.

"It's all part of understanding the world around us," Darre said. "We, as humans, really need to learn more about the rest of the ecosystem we're in."

"The more we do, the more we learn, the better off we'll be—and the better we can care for [wild animals] so they don't become extinct because we did something stupid."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

From Dear Yahoo! - I know you wanted to know who invented sliced bread (yes, someone really did! I wonder if he got rich off it...)

Dear Yahoo!,

Who invented sliced bread?
Cookeville, Tennessee

Dear Jerid:
History is full of great inventions. But, with all due respect to the wheel, none are as celebrated as sliced bread. Because so many enthusiastic consumers enjoy comparing products to the breakfast staple, we thought it high time to give its creator, Otto Frederick Rohwedder, his due.
Mr. Rohwedder was born in the great state of Iowa and is generally credited with inventing the first automatic bread slicer in 1928. Before this, people had to slice their own bread, or, in a pinch, rip off a hunk. According to Food Reference, Rohwedder's invention was initially poo-pooed by bakers who felt sliced bread would go stale too quickly. Eventually, Rohwedder constructed a slicer that also wrapped the bread, effectively solving the problem.

In 1930, Wonder Bread began selling pre-sliced bread. Other large bakeries quickly hopped on the bandwagon. The trend also helped to boost the popularity of another invention still in use today -- the toaster. We wouldn't call it the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it's certainly up there.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Recurring Places and Themes in Dreams

Well this morning I woke up with those tell-tale signs of impending cold-type illness contracted from the hazards of being a public school teacher. Along with that, I awoke from a dream that was one of several "recurring" ones I've had over the course of my life. They're never exactly the same, but I have had a lot of dreams where places that exist only in my dreams reoccur or in which certain themes reoccur. Many of them were restricted to childhood dreams, but some into adulthood as well. When they reoccur, it is rare and often years apart.

The one this morning, I can't remember all the details anymore, but the recurring part is that somehow I ended up in this small mall that doesn't really exist. In my dreams, however, there is a small mall (like The Citadel or something, or rather, maybe one wing of it) but it exists either on Security Blvd. in Security or near Main in Fountain. Why on earth every now and again would this non-existent mall end up in my dreams, I don't know, but it does. Not often, but it has come back on more than one occasion, which makes it interesting. I could give you detail of all the stores, which do not really exist in the real world either, and the layout of the place. And when I first woke up, it was so real that for a moment I doubted if it were not really real but I had just 'forgotten'. Because I had been there many times before and knew a great deal about it - the escalators, the secret passageway into a back elevator, the old chandelier in a fancy department store, the great bookstore that had discarded library books that were special and dad and I loved. Sometimes it was actually a library, and there was a spiraling stair case down a tower to the kids' section, and at the top of the tower was an observatory. Sometimes this library was not in the mall but somewhere else like a campus and I had to sneak to get the books I wanted and into the secret parts of the library as it was highly guarded and had heavy electronic security. Sometimes the mall would be bigger and had long curving hallways. In this mall, it was not located near here, but it was dark and had a game room with one of those gumball machines that gave really special prizes (although I can't remember what they were). And in that big mall, it was always a struggle to find the exit without getting locked in and trapped, and if you got out, then you couldn't find your car because the parking lots had literally moved, and so I would end up trying to walk/run home for about 20 miles, again feeling in a hurry, and trying to make shortcuts through neighborhoods. None of these streets really exist, but I could describe every storefront, draw a map of the streets, the houses, where certain people lived along the way, etc. But it was one of those dreams that you never get home, it just ends before then, probably by waking you up due to frustration and repetition - getting stuck in a repeating cycle that never progresses.

Another dream that seemed very real was a recurring one I had as a kid. This dream was probably the most recurring and most realistic of all my dreams. It was so real that for years I thought it was indeed real until one day I actually thought about it for some reason and realized it was impossible - but I had to actually reason it out to conclude it never could have happened. You see, this dream involves the floor duct in my childhood bedroom (for the heating system.) I vividly remember as a child getting out of bed at night, taking the vent cover off ( which is maybe 12 by 4 inches), and crawling into the duct (which in reality is only 3-4 inches across in many places). The duct curled back tightly under my room to underneath my closet where it opened into a room about the same size as the closet and there were many other paths and turns, too. I cannot remember any longer the details of what I did there, but there were creatures or people that I met and talked to. I believe I did shrink to get there, and the people/creatures were also small. There were notes pinned on the duct walls on yellowed paper. At the time, I could draw a map for you of the ductworks I traveled through in my dreams in precise detail. I was sure I had been there, until realizing it must have been only dreamt.

Another place of dreams related to the closet - my closet was above a staircase, so it had a steep ramp on its right side. In my dreams, I could climb up the ramp, push through a secret door, and enter a fantastic secret library that contained anything I wanted to know. When I got older, it became a library with secret undetectable computers that contained all knowledge and did anything I wanted them to.

Another recurring place dream - I used to dream long ago that I would be driving through my neighborhood and when I got to about where I happen to live now (about 1-2 miles from my childhood home), all the streets would change name and direction completely and become a foreign place. Also, I used to have a recurring dream about a secret place found by following the railroad tracks south from this place (where the old Safeway is). You could access the secret place only by following a man in a black top hat driving a push cart - you'd have to run after him, and you'd end up in a beautiful secluded forest glade type area. Sometimes the push cart man would chase you away or chase after you so you couldn't get in or he'd get too far ahead and the forest glade would never appear. Sometimes it was the full moon you followed to get there.

The last recurring place dream I can remember right now is one about an elementary school playground. My real elementary playground was a big gravel yard enclosed by chain link fence. In my recurring dream, the playground was also a big gravel yard enclosed by chain link, but was not intended as the same place and did not look quite the same as the real one. In my dreams, the playground was filled to the top of the chain link fence with gravel and had dunes even higher. The only exception was a trench that was a few feet wide that followed the fence just inside its perimeter all the way around. We kids would hide in the trench unless we were running stealthily from dune to dune to try to get to the only feature on the playground - a downed plane - a big one, decaying and partly buried in the sand. But we were always either trying to get there or hide from people who were there.

As for recurring themes in dreams,

I do remember having dreams of flying, but never flying fast, always more like swimming or floating in the air.

I also would have dreams of running as hard as I could but moving in slow motion and never gaining ground. This happened more in the days when I was a runner in real life.

I also had dreams of finding out right before final exams that I had registered for a class and forgotten about it and so had not attended it all semester. So now, I was desperately trying to pass the class by acing the final. But, in the dream, I was racing to where the final was supposed to be and when I would get there, there would be a sign on the door saying it had moved all the way across campus and I would run again and again trying to get there but never actually getting there. This one would occasionally happen even for years after I graduated from college, in fact, I don't think I had that dream while I was actually in college, but only after.

I also (only as an adult) would have dreams of my teeth crumbling. It didn't hurt and I wasn't bothered in my dreams, but rather I was fascinated by the feel of the teeth crumbling in my mouth and would playing with them with my tongue, which only made them crumble further. That one was also very realistic so that I at times had doubts that at least some of my teeth had not really crumbled.

Now, some of these dreams have had meaning - such as the teeth dream, which I felt had meaning, possibly it meant change or evolution in my life, neither good or bad, and dreams about running in place or final exams or streets changing related to stress, being too busy, wanting more control, etc.

Some seemed to be living out fantasies - such as the secret library behind the ramp in my closet. (In a later version, it was a secret computer room on my college campus).

But some apparently existed for their own-selves - such as the forest glade or the duct dream - and I tend to wonder if maybe, in some out-of-body kind of way, there really wasn't some reality to that duct one - in an unreal kind of way, of course.

The most 'real' reaction I ever had to dream comes from one I don't even remember. But once, when I was in junior high, I awoke from a dream, knowing and positive that it was time to get up and get ready for school and mom would come to wake me in a few minutes. But I was wide awake, so I got up in the dark (it was winter) and got dressed, went to the bathroom, etc., to get ready for school, and when I came out of the bathroom I saw on a clock it was only about 12:30 p.m. I was shocked because I had been certain it was time to get up and go to school. I had another 'real' one in junior high I don't remember anymore - in it, my homeroom and math teacher had said something I can no longer recall. I didn't remember the dream at all, until one day I was sitting in class and I suddenly remembered what she had said and began to think it really strange and puzzling, finally realizing she could not have said it and I had dreamt it - but somehow subconsciously I had been operating for some time in my daily class life as if she had said it - very strange, that one, and wish I could remember what she had said in my dream, some nonsense thing.

Well maybe I'll think of more later. But maybe others will blog about their dreams, too!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Removing Distraction

We are now well into the month of Sha'baan and in less than a month will enter the month of obligatory fasting.

We all lead very busy lives, but in order to improve ourselves spiritually we need to learn how to do one thing: remove distraction. In many ways, that is what Islam is all about. Our prayers are about removing distraction of our daily lives to focus several times a day, even briefly, on what matters. One of the great powers of the hajj is that you are removed from your daily worldly life and your sole focus becomes something else, something spiritual, something greater than you that by comparison makes your daily life seem meaningless; for a time, you get pure focus on the Big Picture.

Fasting removes a lot of distraction from our lives, it helps us focus on the spiritual self by decreasing focus on the physical self. But some people turn the month of Ramadan unfortunately into the exact opposite - focused on eating and socializing with some prayers thrown in.

There are so many prayers and other good things to do year round but there are a great many unique to the month of Ramadan that if we let the opportunity slip by it is gone forever. Yes, perhaps we may live to another year, but the opportunities of that year are gone never to be regained.

To get more out of the month, we may not be able to decrease our work hours nor may it even be appropriate to do so - work can be worship. But we can work on removing or at least decreasing distractors - TV and radio chief among them. We can also work on removing bad habits whatever they may be.

The key to success is often to commit to something small and stick to it. When it is easy, then add something else small, but just keep building. If we have backpedaled in some areas, we can try to move forward from wherever we are now.

The Prophet reminds us, especially in Ramazan, to perform the great act of worship, meditation. This is because the servant’s transcendence that accompanies it is even stronger during the special times and the special places of worship. One of the most significant outcomes of praying in these places and times, is the submissive meditation which was a delight to the Prophet (s.a.w) about which he had this to say: “And raise your hands to Him in prayer during the times of your meditation, because it is the best of all times in which Almighty Allah mercifully looks unto His servants He answers their prayers a whether whispered or said aloud’.

Another important aspect of the month of Ramadan is emphasis on reading Qur'an. Let us not just hear a chanting but meditate on meaning and learn from it. Reading the Qur'an is a great way to remove distractors - the Qur'an focuses on what is important, and in turn paying attention to it will keep you focused too.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Yes I really do find this stuff interesting....

Dinky Pluto Loses Its Status As Planet

Associated Press Writer

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) -- Pluto, beloved by some as a cosmic underdog but scorned by astronomers who considered it too dinky and distant, was unceremoniously stripped of its status as a planet Thursday.

The International Astronomical Union, dramatically reversing course just a week after floating the idea of reaffirming Pluto's planethood and adding three new planets to Earth's neighborhood, downgraded the ninth rock from the sun in historic new galactic guidelines.

Powerful new telescopes, experts said, are changing the way they size up the mysteries of the solar system and beyond. But the scientists showed a soft side, waving plush toys of the Walt Disney character - and insisting that Pluto's spirit will live on in the exciting discoveries yet to come.

"The word 'planet' and the idea of planets can be emotional because they're something we learn as children," said Richard Binzel, a professor of planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who helped hammer out the new definition.

"This is really all about science, which is all about getting new facts," he said. "Science has marched on. ... Many more Plutos wait to be discovered."

Pluto, a planet since 1930, got the boot because it didn't meet the new rules, which say a planet not only must orbit the sun and be large enough to assume a nearly round shape, but must "clear the neighborhood around its orbit." That disqualifies Pluto, whose oblong orbit overlaps Neptune's, downsizing the solar system to eight planets from the traditional nine.

Astronomers have labored without a universal definition of a planet since well before the time of Copernicus, who proved that the Earth revolves around the sun, and the experts gathered in Prague burst into applause when the guidelines were passed.

Predictably, Pluto's demotion provoked plenty of wistful nostalgia.

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"It's disappointing in a way, and confusing," said Patricia Tombaugh, the 93-year-old widow of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh.

"I don't know just how you handle it. It kind of sounds like I just lost my job," she said from Las Cruces, N.M. "But I understand science is not something that just sits there. It goes on. Clyde finally said before he died, 'It's there. Whatever it is. It is there.'"

The decision by the IAU, the official arbiter of heavenly objects, restricts membership in the elite cosmic club to the eight classical planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Pluto and objects like it will be known as "dwarf planets," which raised some thorny questions about semantics: If a raincoat is still a coat, and a cell phone is still a phone, why isn't a dwarf planet still a planet?

NASA said Pluto's downgrade would not affect its $700 million New Horizons spacecraft mission, which this year began a 9 1/2-year journey to the oddball object to unearth more of its secrets.

But mission head Alan Stern said he was "embarrassed" by Pluto's undoing and predicted that Thursday's vote would not end the debate. Although 2,500 astronomers from 75 nations attended the conference, only about 300 showed up to vote.

"It's a sloppy definition. It's bad science," he said. "It ain't over."

The shift also poses a challenge to the world's teachers, who will have to scramble to alter lesson plans just as schools open for the fall term.

"We will adapt our teaching to explain the new categories," said Neil Crumpton, who teaches science at a high school north of London. "It will all take some explanation, but it is really just a reclassification and I can't see that it will cause any problems. Science is an evolving subject and always will be."

Under the new rules, two of the three objects that came tantalizingly close to planethood will join Pluto as dwarfs: the asteroid Ceres, which was a planet in the 1800s before it got demoted, and 2003 UB313, an icy object slightly larger than Pluto whose discoverer, Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, has nicknamed "Xena." The third object, Pluto's largest moon, Charon, isn't in line for any special designation.

Brown, whose Xena find rekindled calls for Pluto's demise because it showed it isn't nearly as unique as it once seemed, waxed philosophical.

"Eight is enough," he said, jokingly adding: "I may go down in history as the guy who killed Pluto."

Demoting the icy orb named for the Roman god of the underworld isn't personal - it's just business - said Jack Horkheimer, director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium and host of the PBS show "Star Gazer."

"It's like an amicable divorce," he said. "The legal status has changed but the person really hasn't. It's just single again."


AP Science Writers Alicia Chang in Los Angeles and Seth Borenstein in Washington, and correspondents Sue Leeman in London and Mike Schneider in Cape Canaveral, Fla., contributed to this story.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Twelve for now, and maybe more....

August 16, 2006

From Scientific American

The original definition of planet is wanderer, from the Greeks who watched these bright lights wander through the firmament of fixed stars. Observers discerned nine of these travelers over the course of human history, the last being Pluto in 1930. But recent discoveries of more objects orbiting the sun, both bigger than Pluto and similarly rounded in shape, called into question the arbitrary limit of nine, with some proposing that Pluto did not merit its planetary status. Now the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has crafted a new definition for what constitutes a planet that would expand the solar system to Pluto and beyond, encompassing 12 bodies in all.
Earlier this year, a special team convened by the IAU struggled to establish the criteria that defines a planet. Various proposals included size (mass) and orbit. "On the second morning several members admitted that they had not slept well, worrying that we would not be able to reach a consensus," writes Owen Gingerich of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and chair of the Planet Definition Committee. "But by the end of a long day, the miracle had happened: we had reached a unanimous agreement."

The new proposed definition of a planet is: a celestial body with sufficient mass to assume a nearly spherical shape that orbits a star without being another star or a satellite of another planet. By this definition, the list of planets in order from the sun now reads: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto-Charon (considered a double-planet system) and the newly discovered and officially unnamed 2003 UB313, otherwise known as Xena. The committee also proposed a new category of planets, called plutons, be applied to those bodies that, like Pluto, both take longer than 200 Earth years to revolve around the sun and have eccentric orbits outside the typical orbital plane.

The solar system thus gains its first double planet, the Pluto-Charon pairing, as well as several so-called "dwarf planets," such as Ceres, which, while only 952 kilometers in diameter, still fulfills the new planet criteria. In fact, there are at least 12 more planet candidates, including Sedna and Quaoar that the IAU will be called upon to include or dismiss during future deliberations, along with giving 2003 UB313 a proper name. For the moment, attendees will simply debate the proposed definition and vote on whether to accept it or not on August 24.

No matter the outcome of that vote, this new definition does not neatly wrap up all the confusion engendered by the multiplicity of bodies in our solar system. Pluto's two newly discovered satellites elude precise classification because they orbit the gravitational center between it and Charon and the proposal does nothing to distinguish between large gaseous planets and brown dwarfs. "Did our committee think of everything, including extrasolar planet systems? Definitely not!" Gingerich notes. "Science is an active enterprise, constantly bringing new surprises." Twelve planets may just be the starting point of a growing system.