Possum Power!

Caught In The Headlights, photo by James Marvin Phelps

Tick season is upon us, and with the added threat of Lyme disease, it’s serious business here in Michigan. My friend Tara with the Leelanau Conservation District shared some information about opossums from Opossum Awareness & Advocacy (opossum facts image below that you can share):

Did you know that opossums eat up to 5000 ticks per season thereby reducing our risk of contracting Lyme Disease and other tick-born diseases? They kill vermin, including mice, and garden pests. They are not dirty; they are very clean animals and groom and clean as much as cats. Better still, most opossums cannot contract or spread rabies. Opossums are the United States and Canada’s only marsupials.

They may look a little scary to the uninitiated, but they are actually timid and do so much good for humans compared to most other creatures. If you see an opossum consider yourself lucky, leave it alone and please do not harm it. They have a hard time surviving in cold climates because they don’t have very thick coats. Sometimes opossums play dead because they are afraid. Please don’t hit them with your car. Spread the word and please help protect opossums!

View the photo background big and see more in James’ massive Michigan slideshow, and follow James Marvin Phelps Photography on Facebook.

Dance of Light, March of Science

Dance of Light, photo by Eric Hackney

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
― Marie Curie

The NOAA/NWS Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has forecast a G2 level storm for tonight, which may very well produce Northern Lights! The SWPC is an invaluable scientific resource that is wholly produced by our tax dollars. In addition to letting us know when northern lights are possible, the SWPC helps to maintain our modern communication grid when the Sun gets a little extra exuberant.

It’s my heartfelt belief that one of the duties of our government is to work to make our country the leader in scientific advancement. As threats in public health, the environment, and a host of other realms increase, we need to be investing much more in science, not less.

To any who are participating in any of the 15 local Science Marches in Michigan today, the March for Science in Washington DC, or anywhere else, I salute you.

View Eric’s photo bigger and see more in his Personal Favorites slideshow.

PS: Happy Earth Day everyone.

Automotive Old Guard Leading the Race to the Future

Autonomous Fusion Hybrid research vehicle in Dearborn, courtesy Ford Motor Co

While Uber, Tesla & Google are getting most of the ink, WIRED magazine’s article Detroit Is Stomping Silicon Valley in the Self-Driving Car Race says:

IF YOU’RE BETTING on Silicon Valley stars like Google, Tesla, and Uber to free you from your horrorshow commute with autonomous driving technology, don’t. That’s the key takeaway from a new report that finds Ford—yes, the Detroit-based, 113-year-old giant—is winning the race to build the self-driving car, with General Motors running a close second. Renault-Nissan, Daimler, and Volkswagen round out the top five. Meanwhile, Waymo—aka Google’s driverless car effort—sits in sixth place, with Tesla in twelfth. Uber languishes in sixteenth, behind Honda and barely ahead of startup Nutonomy and China’s Baidu.

That may sound all kinds of wrong to anyone who has seen Uber, Waymo, and Tesla flaunt their tech, and regards Detroit’s old guard as ill-prepared for the robotic future. But it’s the state of the race according to Navigant Research, whose newly released “leaderboard” report ranks these players not just on their ability to make a car drive itself, but on their ability to bring that car to the mass market.

Ford and GM both score in the low to mid 80s on the technology front; it’s their old-school skills that float them to first and second place. They’ve each spent more than a century developing, testing, producing, marketing, distributing, and selling cars. Plus, each has made strategic moves to bolster weak points. Ford just dumped a billion dollars into an artificial intelligence outfit. It acquired ride-sharing service Chariot and invested in Velodyne, a company producing lidar, the laser scanning tech many argue is necessary for self-driving cars. GM scooped up self-driving expertise via a startup called Cruise, and partnered with Lyft to put the eventual result on the road.

Lots more in a great article from WIRED!

View the photo of an autonomous Ford Fusion hybrid bigger on Ford’s website.

More cars & autos on Michigan in Pictures.

#TBT Jungle Love in Prehistoric Michigan

Jungle Love, photo by Matt Stangis

The Rapidian has a feature on prehistoric Michigan’s tropical seas, jungles and inhabitants that’s a great read and the ultimate Throwback Thursday! Here’s a small slice:

After about 60 million years, warm, shallow seas came down again from the Arctic and covered Michigan during the Silurian period. At this time the land would have been in a subtropical climate that gave rise to large coral reefs across the state. Fossil findings show that the largest and oldest reef extends through the center of the Upper Peninsula. A species of coral that lived during this time period would eventually become fossilized and become what we refer to as Petoskey Stones.

The seas retreated over time, leaving a desert scattered with fossilized remains that eventually formed the limestone that is located over one hundred and twenty feet below us today. The sections of this exposed limestone is what created the Grand Rapid’s famous rapids. Much of the salt deposits that were left from retreating seas of this period are still mined in Detroit.

The Devonian period around 400 million years ago saw the rise of vertebrates in Michigan. North America was covered with up to 40 percent of water. There were a great number of fish swarming the salt and fresh water seas. The Ganoid species were in a crude state of evolution. Many of them had armor plating with two of their relatives, the Gar Pike and the Sturgeon, still existing in Great Lakes today. Primitive plants, such as the seed fern, developed from marine algae. On land the Tiktaalik, the link between finned fish and early amphibians, started to use its muscular fins to drag itself around land.

…At the end of the Carboniferous Period, known as the Pennsylvanian subperiod, Michigan was a semi-tropical jungle featuring primitive vegetation. Ferns without bark, some of which bloomed scentless unattractive flowers, grew to almost 100 feet. Millions of generations of trees grew and died in the jungle. The trees that fell in the swampy parts of the jungle were covered up by water and soil that became rock over time. The forces of time and pressure on these trees would eventually see this prehistoric jungle become the coal basin that sits underneath a large area of the U.S. including the upper northeast part of Kent county.

In the sky above one foot long dragon flies swarmed in droves on the ground and cockroaches the size of a man’s palm crawled around. Reptiles started to appear, evolving from amphibians, not dependent on water to lay their amniotic eggs. Towards the end of this period the rain forests gave way to deserts which decreased the amphibian populations and caused an evolutionary shift in reptiles.

Definitely click through for more – there are some cool links as well!

I’m pretty sure Matt took this photo at ArtPrize in 2013. View it background bigilicious and see more in his slideshow.

22-Degree Radius Halo

22 degrees at Van’s Beach, photo by Andrew McFarlane

Atmospheric Optics is an excellent resource for rainbows and similar phenomena. Their page on 22-degree halos says:

22º radius halos are visible all over the world and throughout the year. Look out for them (eye care!) whenever the sky is wisped or hazed with thin cirrus clouds. These clouds are cold and contain ice crystals in even the hottest climes.

The halo is large. Stretch out the fingers of your hand at arms length. The tips of the thumb and little finger then subtend roughly 20°. Place your thumb over the the sun and the halo will be near the little finger tip. The halo is always the same diameter regardless of its position in the sky. Sometimes only parts of the complete circle are visible.

Much smaller coloured rings around the sun or moon are a corona produced by water droplets rather than ice crystals.

Lots more at Atmospheric Optics!

See the photo bigger and view more on my Instagram.

More rainbows, sundogs, etc. on Michigan in Pictures – seriously cool stuff in here folks!

The science behind the magic: Fall color explained

yellow-glory-by-scottie

Untitled, photo by Scottie

The Science of Color in Autumn Leaves from the United States National Arboretum is such an excellent explanation of the science behind the magic of Michigan’s fall color show that I try and share it every year:

The process that starts the cascade of events that result in fall color is actually a growth process. In late summer or early autumn, the days begin to get shorter, and nights are longer. Like most plants, deciduous trees and shrubs are rather sensitive to length of the dark period each day. When nights reach a threshold value and are long enough, the cells near the juncture of the leaf and the stem divide rapidly, but they do not expand. This abscission layer is a corky layer of cells that slowly begins to block transport of materials such as carbohydrates from the leaf to the branch. It also blocks the flow of minerals from the roots into the leaves. Because the starting time of the whole process is dependent on night length, fall colors appear at about the same time each year in a given location, whether temperatures are cooler or warmer than normal.

During the growing season, chlorophyll is replaced constantly in the leaves. Chlorophyll breaks down with exposure to light in the same way that colored paper fades in sunlight. The leaves must manufacture new chlorophyll to replace chlorophyll that is lost in this way. In autumn, when the connection between the leaf and the rest of the plant begins to be blocked off, the production of chlorophyll slows and then stops. In a relatively short time period, the chlorophyll disappears completely.

This is when autumn colors are revealed. Chlorophyll normally masks the yellow pigments known as xanthophylls and the orange pigments called carotenoids — both then become visible when the green chlorophyll is gone. These colors are present in the leaf throughout the growing season. Red and purple pigments come from anthocyanins. In the fall anthocyanins are manufactured from the sugars that are trapped in the leaf. In most plants anthocyanins are typically not present during the growing season.

As autumn progresses, the cells in the abscission layer become more dry and corky. The connections between cells become weakened, and the leaves break off with time. Many trees and shrubs lose their leaves when they are still very colorful. Some plants retain a great deal of their foliage through much of the winter, but the leaves do not retain their color for long. Like chlorophyll, the other pigments eventually break down in light or when they are frozen. The only pigments that remain are tannins, which are brown.

The explain that because the starting time of the whole process is dependent on night length, fall colors appear at more or less the same time every year and are not overly dependent on temperature, rainfall or other factors, other than the fact that weather can shorten or prolong the show by stripping leaves from trees.

Click through to the US Arboretum for more and also see Fall & Fuit from the Science of Color!

View Scotties’ photo bigger and see more in his Infrared slideshow.

Tons more fall photos on Michigan in Pictures!

Bringing the Busy Bee back to Michigan

the-busy-couple-of-bees

The busy couple, photo by Jiafan (John) Xu

John writes that this photo was taken at a small pond with pink lotus and some other water plants at the Michigan State University farm in Novi, Michigan. That segues nicely to this Greening of the Great Lakes interview with Dr. Rufus Isaacs, bee researcher and professor in the Department of Entomology at MSU about what we can do to make our farms and gardens better for bees.

He (Dr. Isaacs) believes the use of pesticides, disease and reduced natural habitat from the development of land for residential and agricultural purposes have made it difficult for the over 400 different bee species native to Michigan to survive and pollinate.

Among other things, Isaacs and his colleagues hope to expand spaces for wild bees to thrive close to farmland. His strategy to improve pollination sustainability involves luring wild bees to farms so producers don’t have to rent commercial honey bees. By planting wildflowers and using bee-safe pesticides, farmers can become less dependent on high-cost and out-of-state honey bees to pollinate their crops.

“We’re supporting those bees with pollen, nectar and a place to nest, “ he says. “That’s boosting those wild bee numbers to help honey bees when it’s bloom time in the Spring.”

Similar procedures can also be done on a smaller scale to increase pollination and mitigate bee decline. Isaacs explains that home gardeners can look to resources like MSU’s Smart Gardening program to attract pollinators to their fruit and vegetable plantings.

Click through to listen!

View Jiafan’s photo bigger and see more in his slideshow.