Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Happy Haunting!

The origins of Halloween are not nearly as gruesome or frightening as the movies would have you think. Below, a little trivia for Samhain lovers.

Halloween. A contraction of the title of the feast: All Hallow's Evening. The holy day was a early Church move to help assimilate the new converts. The ancient Night of the Dead honored deceased loved ones, but was rife with supersition about spirits and demons. Combined with the Celt's Samhain (sam-ween) to become Hallow's E'ven, then Halloween.

Jack o' lanterns. Carved out pumpkins with lights are a tribute to a myth about lazy Jack who lost a deal with the devil. Sentenced to walk the darkness he was given nothing to light his way but a coal from hell stuck in a gourd. His full title: Jack of the Lantern.

Candy. The undisputed best part of Halloween, the treats of trick or treat night were not always so sweet. Originally, the Celts believed the Night of the Dead was not complete without sacrificies of the harvest--fruits, vegetables, flowers, plants and herbs. Later, gifts of small cakes were left out on doorsteps. Called mumming, the little offerings were said to appease the witches, fairies and demons who wandered about with the souls of the deceased.

Source: Library of Congress, Catholic Update,

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Many moons ago...

Native Americans gave titles to the full moons. Here are a few worth viewing:

Wolf Moon. The first full moon after Christmas. In January, in the Northern parts of the US and Canada, the cold temps and frozen ground give very little for the wolves to eat. A full moon at night at this time of year helps their nocturnal hunt. Listen for the howls.

Worm Moon. The last full moon of Winter. In March, as the ground thaws worm castings make their way to the surface of the soil. Robins return and Spring is only days away.

Blue Moon. The name of the second full moon that falls in the same month. This year it was in the month of May. Despite what the poems and songs say, "once in a blue moon..." happens about every three years. Since the moon usually appears a whitish-blue, it's not so much the color of the moon but more the mood of the viewer.

Red Moon. Also called the Sturgeon Moon as the large fish are easiest to catch in the Great Lakes warmed by the summer sun. The moon appears to be a hazy orange-red and is larger than all other previous moons. This is because the moon (and earth) is close to the sun at this time of year. This is the last full moon before the kids go back to school.

Harvest Moon. The reason we have harvest dances (okay, a bit of stretch). The full moon that is closet to the Autumn Equinox -- usually the end of September or beginning of October. The corn, pumpkins and most summer crops are ready for harvesting. A great thing to celebrate.

Source: Joe Rao, Hayden Planetarium, New York. (

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Transatlantic crossings, the fastest and slowest

In honor of Columbus Day, here are a few facts about crossing the Atlantic. (Note: on his 4th voyage Columbus crossed in 21 days--from Spain to the Caribbean Islands--present day Martinique. Pretty fast considering he first went south to the Canary Islands then to the West Coast of Africa to catch the Trade Winds):

Fastest crossing (Eastbound) ship--SS United States, length--3 days, 12 hrs, 12 minutes in 1952

Fastest crossing (Westbound) ship--Master Cat, length--2 days, 20 hours, 9 minutes in 1998

Slowest crossing (Westbound) ship--Sea Wanderer, length--20+ days in 1957 (Her captain, Edward Alcard was circumnavigating the globe in 1957, so his recorded-keeping did not emphasize timeliness)

Humphrey Barton holds the record for the most transatlantic crossings: 20


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

UFOs are becoming more popular...sort of

In 1947 a U.S. government survey found that only 10% of Americans thought that UFOs were really spaceships from other planets. In 2006, another survey asked similar questions and found that 24.6% of Americans thought that UFOs were E.T.I.

Most Americans believe that those lights and strange sightings are a result of their government experimenting with (and hiding) aerospace technology. Credible sources (i.e. astronaut Gordon Cooper) make UFO phenomenon hard to dismiss.

Source: Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion - American Piety in the 21st Century – September 2006.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Mount Everest Mystery...

The first man to summit (reach the top) of Mt. Everest was Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. He was later knighted by the British crown for his efforts. But Hillary was a New Zealander. The first documented Brit to summit K2 was Doug Scott in September 1975--only the 50th climber to succeed.

The first woman to summit the peak was Junko Tabei from Japan, months before Scott (May 1975).

To date 1,500 climbers have made it to the top.

The Mountain's Mystery surrounds deceased climber George Mallory. His body (well-preserved at frigid temps and nearly oxygen-less altitudes) was mistaken for his dead friend and climbing partner, Sandy Irvine. No one knows if Mallory and/or Irvine made it to the top or how they died. The theory is that Mallory died of unknown causes, while Irvine died from injuries sustained in a fall. Hard to clear up Mallory's cause of death without an autopsy. Unlikely to happen.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Praying mantids have...

ears. one to be exact but with 2 eardrums. this is theoretically for the "hearing" of their enemies.

they also have necks that allow for rotation of the head for 180 degrees--much like the human head and neck. this allows them to hunt more successfully.

--Colorado State University, entomology dept, D. Feldman