Whale poop and the meaning of life

You read that right.  Last week, I took my nerdiness to a whole new level when I willingly joined my friend Jessica for a lecture about whale poop.

Yes, it’s a thing.  It’s orange, it floats, and it stinks to high heaven (when it comes from a right back whale).  And it’s freaking amazing.

I never thought I could sit for an hour to hear someone talk about poop, but the scientist who spoke to us (Dr. Kathleen Hunt) was incredible.  Here’s a strong, smart woman, leading the way in scientific discoveries via POOP.  Can it get any better than that?  Here’s a crash course on why whale poop is so fabulous:

  • Mammal poop carries a ton of hormone information, and can tell scientists all about estrogen, testosterone, an animal’s reproductive status, and their stress levels.
  • Poop is a much better indicator of stress levels than blood samples, because taking blood always stresses animals out (how could it not?) while poop gives you an indicator of how what an animal’s hormone levels were like 1-2 days earlier.  This rocked my world.  Because of this, poop is better than blood.
  • Another earth-shaker – blood tests aren’t even an option for whales, since no great whales live in captivity (and you can’t trap a live whale for tests).  This is obviously true, but still crazy to think about.
  • The whale poop we talked about (from the right back whale) is actually collected by going near where the whale surfaced and scooping it up with a net.  Dogs can help with the search, as they can smell the foul stuff a nautical mile away.
  • Some animals are always a little bit high-strung (just like people!).  More on this later…
  • Not all stress is bad.  Mating is stressful, and being pregnant is stressful on your body, but you can adapt to those and other natural stress.  It’s the unexplained stress that you have to be careful about.

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Over the moon

Attention y’all:

Lunar eclipse tomorrow morning!

Tomorrow night is the shortest day/longest night of the year, which means the eclipse will be longer than usual and more easily visible.  Look for it to start around 1:33 AM and last 3.5 hours, with the peak (the totality phase, when the moon is entirely in the earth’s shadow)  occurring at 2:41 AM 12/21.

Bonus: due to recent volcanoes and dust storms, the moon could appear an amber color.

Extra super bonus: This is the first time in 456 years that a lunar eclipse has fallen on the winter solstice.  Oooooo!  Set an alarm, and don’t miss it!

[Photo taken by yours truly using the telescope at Williston Observatory at Mount Holyoke College in 2005.]

To Infinity and Beyond

I was blown away by this video my friend Jessica sent to me.  She titled it “best dad ever” and I have to agree – this is pretty incredible.  (Though I’d still rather have my dad, thankyouverymuch!)  I just love that these kids and their dads took the initiative to try something crazy, think it all the way through, and see it work!  What an inspiring lesson, and a beautiful view from outer space.

Sure beats the dioramas we used to make for science class, eh?