Probing The Infinite…A Local Scientist’s Legacy

It would seem, on most days, that we are indeed at the centre of the universe.  In fact, for all intents and purposes, we are.  What exists for us in the constant flow of our daily lives is the sum total of all we know and understand.  It is the reality by which we thrive and the logic, by which we rationalize, interpret, perceive and analyze while attempting to remain relatively sane.  It is the octopus’s garden under the sea.  Above the surface, however, storms surge, waves crash, winds blow, suns bake, moons pull, stars gaze and reality, in all its infinite forms, remains an enduring constant, oblivious to the authenticity of the human “self”.  Venturing from the thinking confines of our gardens, to rise and meet the “impossibilities” of realities above the surface, can be utterly mind breaking and yet astonishingly liberating.  That woozy, out-of-body sensation which accompanies a dissolving rationale, labours to create new room for a broader, more inclusive comprehension of the meaning of life amidst a vast, intelligent system.  One such individuals who moves us to rise to the shallows and think above and beyond our daily reality, is Ken Tapping, a local astronomer and scientist at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory at White Lake, located just outside Penticton.

Constant probing of the night sky by scientists like Tapping reveals a plethora of activity surging within our very solar system.  Knowledge and study of such activity moves us to reconsider our own mortality within the infinite, and our position among the stars, literally and figuratively.  The sun, the planets and the movements of asteroids are studied and tracked, particularly those with orbits that take them into our inner solar system, hazarding potential collisions with Earth.  The most famous catastrophic case being the asteroid that hit our planet 65 million years ago, contributing to the end of the dinosaurs.  The discovery of an asteroid calls for the allocation of a name, an opportunity most often given to the discoverer.  This year, three Canadian astronomers have been recognized by the International Astronomical Union to have their names bestowed upon one of these orbiting pieces of space rock.  One such individual is local scientist, Ken Tapping.  Asteroid 293878 Tapping is now an enduring symbol of his ultimate legacy, in honor of his highly accredited work with his Solar Radio Monitoring Program.  Roughly two kilometers wide, and at an approximate distance of 200 million kilometers from Earth, the asteroid is identifiable solely by a high-powered telescope, and is considered one of the smaller “well-behaved” asteroids orbiting tidally between Mars and Jupiter. While it is not exclusive to have an asteroid named after a person in the scientific community, allocating designations for these pieces of revolving space dirt is not a casual thing either, as Ken Tapping joins the ranks of world renowned and respected scientists, astronomers and global thinkers, including George Gamow, who postulated the Big Bang Theory.

Tapping’s labor of love is the sun, in which he studies and surveys its activity and behavior to better understand the relationship between the star and our Earth.  The pioneering Canadian program he spearheads, serves to analyze the critical correlating impact the sun has on our technologies and planet.  Due to expanding infrastructure and contingent technologies, Earth has become more sensitive to the sun’s activities, an example of which highlights the events of the Quebec blackout of 1989, a causal affect due to a solar flare generating a substantial geomagnetic storm.  This international recognition of Tapping’s work, credits the usefulness and substantial global impact it continues to have on the whole of humanity.  Society at large is beginning to look up, rather then simply straight ahead, no longer afraid to feel more than just the heat of our own skin, but the heat of a vast cosmic body in which we are inexorably apart of.  It is no longer fulfilling to live a life in the calm of our subsurface gardens; we must now push to understand the impact of the turbulent wavy world above, in order to better understand ourselves by way of the infinite.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

Springtime, an Ode to Joy…

Spring is finally here!  The new season obliges a wealth of imagery and descriptions, many of which conjure wonderful memories and heartwarming feeling.  “Fresh, muddy, bright, promising, eagerly anticipated, green, welcomed, crisp, uplifting” are just some that may come to mind.  Springtime is truly nature’s idyll poetry.  It invokes creativity and expressionism, culture and philosophy, and a lingering romanticism within us all.  It is not surprising academics, artists, independent thinkers and philosophers alike have embellished upon its spirit for millennia.  In homage to the lyrical beauty of the new term, we should take pause a moment to think on its meaning and expression…

Spring is more than just one of the four temperate seasons that divide up the year, demarcated by the values of average monthly temperatures.   A portage between winter and summer, the transitional nature of springtime exploits the senses, making us more grateful and appreciative of the simple pleasures of warmth, sunshine, color, smell and sound. Suffusing the bone structure of the landscape is the light of its earthly essence, as spring revives after wintery slumber.  With bated breath we wait for its transmission: a seasonal zenith of blossoming buds and floral jubilation, melodiously serenading emergent fresh philosophies and restored humors. The scenery begins to awaken all around us, yawning and stretching by the melting of snow and the roaring of rivers, as does our minds and bodies with a sense of renewal and regrowth.

We are now at the cusp of the spring equinox, straddling the border between seasons like the prime meridian.  As the axis of the earth increases its tilt toward the sun, we begin to experience longer and longer days.  Frosts become less severe and new plant growth “springs forth” in a long succession while the hemisphere begins to warm, thus giving name to the season.  The blooming of deciduous magnolias, cherries, hyacinth, tulips and lilacs, heralds this newfound warmth.

Yet spring is not without its dramatics.  Unpredictable weather, jet streams, temperature convergences and snowmelt contribute to flash floods, tornados, and supercell thunderstorms accompanied by hail and extreme winds.  Moreover, global warming now sees the shifting of the seasons in which phenological signs of spring occur earlier.  Therefore spring cannot be defined by a particular date, or by a particular set of metaphorical and physical attributes.  Like all things found in nature, spring is wild and temperamental, indistinguishable, profoundly poetic and contingent upon a global interconnected ecosystem.  It compels the authenticity of life, turning the wheel of our cyclic beginnings and ends.  Likewise, spring gives romance back to the pragmatic, faith to the disillusioned, excitement to the sedentary, courage to the passive and thoughtfulness and creativity to the dull.  One can only imagine the soundtrack of spring being something of a classical spectacular, a triumph of spirit blasting through in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, as new life pushes forth in an Ode to Joy, bursting with essence and fervor.  May it sound exultantly through us all.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

Daylight Saving or Daylight Slaving?


What does daylight saving really mean to us in our daily lives? Longer leisurely evening strolls, outdoor dinner BBQs, patio toasts or perhaps post-dinner ice cream trips that stretch into the eight o’clock margin…   Many of us do not put much stock into the time change that allows us to jump ahead one hour each spring, thus affording us to exchange longer daylight evening hours for shorter mornings.  However daylight saving time, (DST) which begins on March 11th this year, has a dynamic and deserving history that accompanies a slew of complications, controversies and challenges.

Although the idea of daylight saving was first alluded to by Benjamin Franklin in his 1784 publication of a satirical letter proposing shutter tax, candle rationing and waking the public by ringing church bells and firing canons, 18th-century Europe did not adhere to precise schedules and therefore DST was not of critical importance.   The requirement for a standardization of time however came with the development of rail and communication networks following the Industrial Revolution, whereby New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson first propositioned DST in his 1895 paper presented to the Wellington Philosophical Society.  Curiously enough, a decade later, William Willett, a prominent English builder and outdoorsman, independently conceived the modern notion of DST and published his proposal, which was fortuitously taken up by a Liberal Member of Parliament and introduced as the first Daylight Saving Bill to the House of Commons in 1908.  Although Pearce’s bill along with several others did not become law until some years later, it created a readily available platform deferrable to the outbreak of the First World War, which saw the critical implementation of DST among many European nations, in efforts to alleviate hardships from wartime coal shortages and air raid blackouts.  The United States followed in suit and adopted daylight saving time in 1918.  However since such time, the world has seen many enactments, adjustments, and repeals, as the practice has been both highly celebrated and criticized.

A simple justification for daylight saving time is that it helps society synchronize mechanical clock time to natural time.  Additionally, extending daylight to evenings has been argued beneficiary for all industries and activities that exploit sunlight after working hours such as sports and retail. Proponents generally contend that while modern society operates on standard time rather than on solar time, it is more advantageous to have longer hours of sunlight during the more active periods of the day, (assuming most people sleep in the early morning hours and stay up later in the evenings).  Moreover advocates claim that DST saves energy, reduces traffic accidents and crime, is good for business and promotes outdoor leisure activity in the evening, therefore benefiting physical and psychological health, as well as helping those with seasonal affective disorder and depression.  However pundits have dubbed it “daylight slaving time,” while its opponents claim that DST essentially disrupts sleep and morning activities, (reducing efficiency) and is economically and socially disruptive.  Research on the effectiveness of DST and energy consumption is limited or contradictory whereas modern heating and cooling patterns differ significantly depending on culture, region and geography, while its effects on crime and general health are even less defined.   Furthermore DST presents other challenges whereby timekeeping becomes more problematic, disrupting daily schedules, travel, billing recording-keeping, medical devices, heavy equipment and sleep patterns.  Yet the most compelling argument against DST might be the effect it has on our circadian rhythm, a physical, mental and behavioral pattern within the brain and body that follows a 24 hour cycle responding primarily to light and darkness.   Studies have shown that effects on seasonal adaptation of the circadian rhythm can be severe and last for weeks, while disrupted circadian rhythms can alter sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and other important bodily functions.  For these such reasons, the government of Kazakhstan abolished DST in 2005 citing “health complications,” while last March, the president of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev, declared that Russia would stay in DST year-round, to abolish the “stress of changing clocks.”  This declaration was chorused shortly after by Iceland and Belarus.  In the United Kingdom, while the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents supports the observance of DST, other industries such as postal workers and farmers and predominantly those living in northern regions are opposed.

There are many things to consider when reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of daylight saving time, such as energy use, economic effects, public safety and health and the sheer complexity of execution.  A move to “permanent daylight saving time,” now implemented in several jurisdictions, is sometimes advocated, however, many remain unconvinced of the benefits.  Whether or not you are for or against daylight saving time, this Sunday we will nevertheless experience a change on our clocks.  However daylight saving time is not just about changing our clocks one hour ahead, rather it is a hallmark in the calendar that celebrates the start of springtime, the beginning of a new season and stands as a reminder of the curious and wondrous workings of our natural world.

-Elizabeth Cucnik