Gustav’s Approach

Reporting from Houma, LA tonight is like being in Hiroshima to cover the end of World War II.

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I just came downstairs. Helaine had the Weather Channel on. I’m not usually a TWC viewer but I know who Jim Cantore is. I sat next to him at a friend’s wedding. Tonight he’s in Houma, LA. Why? In my opinion, and it is only my opinion, live TV coverage from landfalling hurricanes contributes to the “I’ll ride it out” attitude that gets people killed.

I don’t want anyone hurt, but will it take a death or serious injury before reporters are no longer stationed where hurricanes strike, just because it produces great video?

Reporting from Houma, LA tonight is like being in Hiroshima to cover the end of World War II.

Full Day And The Glowdeo

After the morning balloon session, Helaine and I returned to the hotel for a while. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has distinct morning and evening sessions (with separate admissions).

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After a brief nap it was off to the tramway which climbs Sandia Peak. Only one problem. Everyone else in Albuquerque had the same idea. The Friday afternoon wait was two hours! Helaine wasn’t going to take the tram to the top anyway, so we left.

Even from the base of the tramway, over 6,000 feet above sea level, the view was excellent.

Next destination was Old Town Albuquerque, a picturesque area of artsy stores and native craftsmen. We walked around for a while and Helaine found something for Stef.

The Fox Family Secrecy Act of 2006 prevents me from disclosing what she got.

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By the way, parking near Old Town is interesting. The parking lot has a series of boxes at one end. Each box has a slot where you put your money for parking. I slipped two dollars in the space marked 122.

We ended up overstaying our time, but got no ticket. I suspect it’s not heavily enforced. In fact, it sound like my money went all the way to the bottom, not my individual ‘cash cubby.’

Old Town is conveniently located next to Albuquerque’s museums. Helaine asked if I wanted to go to the Natural History Museum? I would have, had I not spied a small building, previously used for something else. It was the National Atomic Museum.

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The signs outside made it look a little off center and not afraid to poke a little fun of itself. Was this a real museum or a sly museum takeoff?

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The first thing I noticed inside was a collection of slide rules. I stopped to gape. This was my kind of place. Before calculators, I was a slide rule expert.

In the history of atomic energy, New Mexico stands tall. Remember, there’s a lot of space here… lots of room to do things you don’t want found out. Our first atomic test was held not far from Albuquerque.

We paid our admission, walked in, and quickly walked into the theater where a movie was about to start; “Ten Seconds That Changed The World.”

Narrated by Richard Basehart and produced by the legendary David L. Wolper, this was a collection of grainy black and white footage which traced the real history of the atomic age, all the way to Hiroshima.

It seemed like it was originally cut for TV with distinct fades to black for commercial inserts. Whatever the case, it was fascinating. It was jam packed with historical film I’d never seen before – really good stuff from the 40s.

As we left, Helaine said, “That was worth the price of admission.” It was.

We only spent a few more minutes in the museum before heading back to the hotel and then the park-n-ride bus to Balloon Fiesta Park. There sure is a lot more traffic on a Friday evening than a pre-dawn Friday morning.

It was still light out as we approached the park. A dozen or so balloons floated about the area. The real action was shaping up on the field.

The Sun went down. The balloons lit up. The was a “Glowdeo.”

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Tethered balloons were kept inflated enough to float up, while their attached baskets sat on the ground. Lit from the inside, the balloons glowed in the fading twilight.

I can’t imagine there’s anything else like this anywhere. There were dozens… maybe hundreds of balloons. Most of the time, each was dark, sometimes illuminated by neighboring balloons. The scene was constantly changing and since the balloons were all cheek to jowel, walking a few feet changed the perspective.

I decided to leave my tripod in the car and take my monopod. The monopod provides plenty of support, but not the rock solid steadiness you’d get from a tripod.

In a perfect world, the tripod would have been a better choice. With a few hundred thousand of our closest friends it would have been a significantly more cumbersome one.

To make up for the monopod’s shortcomings and the fact that the gas jets on the balloons were constantly going on and off, I overshot. Sometimes I shot 4,5,6 snaps of the same thing, hoping one would work.

I also kept the shutter very slow, having it open for a quarter second at times. That kind of setting almost guarantees some blur, but most of my shots are very sharp.

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As the “Glowdeo” came to an end, we grabbed some tasty junk food and waited for the fireworks… but this was the end of a very long day. About two thirds through the fireworks I turned to Helaine and said, “Let’s head to the bus.”

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We caught the spectacular display at the end from the bus stop, but there was little strength left between us to get excited. As the only event of the day the fireworks would haev been great, but we were well into sensory overload.

In the morning we fly… or at least we’re scheduled to fly in a balloon. The forecast has a chance for showers and lots of clouds. It’s iffy, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

Helaine’s never flown in wicker before. It’s a great experience. I’m really looking forward to it.

Blogger’s note: This is my 2,000th blog entry.

Asteroid 2004 MN4 – Who Invited Him?

Forget Hubble and all the other fancy astronomical hardware. Sometimes the most interesting finds come from more pedestrian equipment. Take the case of Asteroid 2004 MN4, discovered in June at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.

The find was made by astronomers from the University of Hawaii taking part in an asteroid survey. That they found it was luck. Like most other minor space discoveries, the information was dissemenated and filed away. Then, on December 18, another spotting from Australia. After that dozens of other observations were made.

Now with multiple sightings it was possible to figure out the orbit of this chunk of space rock… a flying mountain if you will. It looked like it could cross the Earth’s orbit and it was assigned a probability, a mathematical chance, it would hit the Earth.

Excuse me? Hit the Earth? No, really. In fact, it was possible to come up with a date: April 13, 2029

That’s the bad news. The good news was the probability was only one chance in 233. NASA said that’s “unusual enough to merit special monitoring by astronomers, but should not be of public concern.”

Then a day or two later, with more observations and number crunching, the probability changed. Now it was one chance in 63. Interesting, but not alarming for an event 25 years in the future&#185.

It’s changed again.

On Christmas Eve a little gift from NASA scientists. Now it’s one chance in 45… a 97.8% chance of missing… or for my fellow pessimists, a 2.2% chance that April 2029 might be a really good time to run up your VISA with no intention of paying it off.

On the Torino scale of 1-10, this little gem has suddenly gone to a 4. It’s the first object to even make it to two!

A close encounter, with 1% or greater chance of a collision capable of causing regional devastation.

We’re talking about an object estimated to have a 1,250 foot diameter weighing 1.5 billion pounds&#187. When it hits the atmosphere it will be traveling at 27,000 miles per hour. That would create an explosion equivalent to 1,400 million tons of TNT!

For comparison, the nuclear bomb “Little Boy,” dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, Japan, had a yield of only about 0.013 megatons. The impacts which created the Barringer Meteor Crater or caused the Tunguska event in Siberia are estimated to be in the 10-20 megaton range. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa was the equivalent of roughly 200 megatons.

So, we’re talking large, but this is not the magnitude of the event that took out the dinosaurs. It would still be devastating. Certainly it would reshape any land it impacted. A water impact would cause tsunamis of epic proportion.

Again, this is 25 years away and the calculations are likely to change. Still, if this is the first you’re hearing about it, aren’t you surprised there hasn’t been more play in the mainstream press?

The way this works is, someone, somewhere with the power to influence other news budgets (NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, etc.) will run it and this story will pick up some traction. Until then, you heard it here first.

&#185 – I believe I have already scheduled teeth cleaning for that day.

&#178 – My conversion from 7.5e+10 kg to pounds is shaky at best. I’ll be glad to entertain corrections. No rush – we’ve got a few decades.