Going with the Glow

Photo by Xiaohan Wang Note: This image has been digitally enhanced to make the colors more vibrant.

Xiaoham Wang first noticed the impressive central band of the Milky Way Galaxy. Stopping to take the photograph shown above, he noticed the image also had airglow bands,which were quite prominent spanning the entire sky.

What is airglow? Airglow is a layer of nighttime light emissions caused by chemical reactions high in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is caused by a variety of reactions involving oxygen, sodium and OH molecules (oxygen bonded to hydrogen).

Airglow is an example of chemiluminescence – the production of light in a chemical reaction.

Unlike Auroras airglows happen all of the time anywhere in the world, but they are usually hard to see. A disturbance — like an approaching storm — may cause noticeable rippling in the Earth’s atmosphere. The bands and patches of an airglow can shift and vary over minutes.

Green light from excited oxygen atoms dominates the glow. Another airglow component is the familiar yellow light from sodium atom.  Excited OH molecules emit red light.

Here are some other beautiful examples:

Airglow fan near Milky Way Galaxy above lake next to Bryce Canyon in Utah Photo by Dave Lane
Airglow in Loveland Pass Colorado by Bryce Bradford/fFlickr.com
Airglow in the skies over Tibet. Photo by Jeff Dai following some powerful



A New Way of Looking at the Space-time Continuum

Photographer and artist Stephen Wilkes’ latest project, “Day to Night,” takes on the idea of showcasing, in one composite still image, the transformation of a place over the course of a day.

Pont del a Tournelle, Paris Photo by Stephen Wilkes

As Wilkes explains, “When you can capture an image on a silicon chip versus a piece of film you can see it instantly, that’s the first thing.”  So Wilkes can take more than 2,000 photographs without moving his cameras over a 12 to 15 hour period. (He has one camera recording daylight; the other night.) Once he has all of the images, he picks the best moments of the day and the night to create what he calls a master plate.

This is not time lapse photography. The work is done using layers and Photomerge in Photoshop seamlessly blending them into one single photograph, where time is on a diagonal vector, with sunrise beginning in the bottom right-hand corner. That process of editing to create a single image can take about four months — though it’s photographed in a single day.

London Photo by Stephen Wilkes

Wilkes works with a master printer in New York and actually prints on conventional photographic paper because of the depth perception.

Day to Night Coney Island Photo by Stephen Wilkes

National Geographic Society has hired Wilkes to photograph the national parks.  Here is one of his latest:

Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park. Photo by Stephen Wilkes

The power of digital photography is its ability to share emotion through an image. Wilkes’s goal is to show the face of time, which is an amazing emotional thing for people to experience.

To see more of Stephen Wilkes photography go to






A Single Atom of Strontium

If you paid attention in science class you know that atoms make up everything. They’re the smallest unit of matter and everything you’ve ever touched, felt, or breathed is made up of matter, include your own body. They’re so small, in fact, that actually seeing an individual atom is pretty much impossible without the use of high-powered microscopes. I say “pretty much,” because there is apparently an exception to that rule and a truly remarkable photo showing a single atom captured in space has been awarded first prize in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s annual science photography competition.

The photographer, David Nadlinger, is a quantum physics student at the University of Oxford.

Photo credit: David Nadlinger Univ Oxford EPSRC

In the centre of the picture, a small bright dot is visible – a single positively-charged strontium atom. It is held nearly motionless by electric fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it. When illuminated by a laser of the right blue-violet color, the atom absorbs and re-emits light sufficient for an ordinary camera to capture it in a long exposure photograph.

Here’s a close-up of the single atom. Credit: David Nadlinger/University of Oxford/EPSRC

For a sense of scale the two electrodes on each side of the tiny dot are only two millimeters apart. The photograph was captured in a device called an ion trap.   To prevent the atom from zooming off, the trap employs an ultra-high vacuum chamber.

Pretty amazing. David Nadlinger has shattered the boundary between our reality, and the nanoscopic matter that shapes it.


A Rare Find in Tasmania

The spotted handfish is one of the world’s most endangered marine fish, having undergone a massive decline in recent decades.

Handfish grow up to 5” long, and have skin covered with tooth-like scakes, giving them the alternate name warty anglers. They get their name from the way they used their pectoral (side) fins like hands to grip the bottom. They rarely swim – they prefer to walk along the bottom on their fins feeding on small invertebrates.

Once relatively common, red handfish have become scarce in recent years, probably due to habitat loss and changing sea conditions.

Divers in Tasmania have discovered a new population of red handfish. The newly discovered colony could double their total population to 80 individuals.

This very rare red handfish has two color morphs – one a brilliant red with bluish and white fin margins, the other mottled pink with reddish spots and patches on the body and fins.

Photo by Rick Stuart/Reef Live Survey

Threats to red handfish include poaching for use as pets.  Also its low reproductive rate and low dispersal rate have raised fears of extinction.

Hopefully, the discovery of this second population means the red handfish has an alternative destiny ahead of it.

Here’s a short video by Michael Baron of two red handfish on the move:

Will the Real Rosie the Riveter Please Stand Up

The “We Can Do It!” poster created by artist J. Howard Miller was initially published by Westinghouse Company as a war effort. Rosie is shown wearing a red bandana and blue coveralls in it. The original intention of the poster was to boost employee morale. It has been mistakenly called “Rosie the Riveter” poster ever since.

Photo from the Smithsonian

Decades after the war, when the poster was rediscovered, some basic (i.e. pre-internet) research turned up an AP Wire Service photograph of a woman working a machine at the Alameda Naval Base that may have inspired the We Can Do It! Poster. In the photograph she is wearing a turban, slacks, and coverall gown that keeps her from getting tangled in the machinery.  The photo ran without a caption.

Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

A woman from Michigan, Geraldine Doyle, thought she recognized herself in the image and publicly claimed credit as the model. Doyle only worked at a factory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the summer of 1942. As a cellist, she became afraid that machine work might injure her hands, and so she quit her one and only factory job after just a few weeks and married a dentist. Though she was celebrated as the model for decades, there’s no way she could have been the figure in the picture, which was taken months before she graduated from high school.

In the early 2000s, when Geraldine Doyle insisted to the Rosie the Riveter Museum that she had been the woman in the picture, another woman named Naomi Parker accused her of identity theft and submitted a sworn affidavit, several profile and full-face pictures of herself, and a notarized copy of her birth certificate for good measure.  The media did not believe her story.

When Doyle passed away in 2010 the media lamented in no uncertain terms the passing of “Rosie the Riveter” model Geraldine Doyle.

In 2011 the Rosie the Riveter National Park put out a call for other Rosies to share their memories and artifacts from the war years. Naomi Parker Fraley and her sister sent in some items, including a clipping of the lathe woman photograph from a 1942 newspaper, noting that Parker herself was the subject of the photo. The Park Service soon replied in a formal letter, saying that its personnel were already familiar with the picture of that woman, whom other sources had previously “identified as ‘Geraldine Doyle.'” By that point, Doyle’s tale was so widespread that even government officials had trouble disbelieving it.

Fraley’s late-in-life fame came as the result of the dedicated efforts made by one scholar, James J. Kimble.

Kimble’s 2016 article revealed his findings in the journal Rhetoric & Public Affairs, called “Rosie’s Secret Identity.” At the time, the New York Times reported, Fraley gave an interview to the Omaha World-Herald in which she gave a simple yet memorable description of how it felt to finally be known to the world as the real-life Rosie: “Victory! Victory! Victory!”

On January 22, 20-18 Naomi Parker Fraley, the real “Rosie the Riveter” died at the age of 96 in Longview, Washington.



A Tribute to Audubon

Nineteenth-century naturalist, ornithologist, and artist John James Audubon lived the later years of his life in northern Manhattan, in what is now the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of Harlem. Audubon is best known for his comprehensive book, The Birds of America, which was accompanied by beautiful, detailed illustrations of many of the birds.

Illustrated page from John James Audubon’s The Birds of America. Photo by Susie Cushner

Today, visitors to Hamilton Heights will discover a series of amazing murals that honor Audubon while bringing attention to the effects of climate change on North America’s bird populations. Known as the Audubon Mural Project, the murals are a collaborative effort of the National Audubon Society and Gitler & ______Gallery (yes, that’s the gallery’s actual name – there is an underlined blank space).

This spray-painted menagerie graces roll-down gates and barren walls with permission of willing property owners. Here are a few examples:

Bay breasted warbler semipalmated plover by Fifty/FFTY Photo by Mike Fernandez/Audubon
Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Western Bluebird at 1614 Amsterdam, NYC Artist: Shawn Bullen Photo: Hillary Eggers/Audubon
Anhinga at 3458 Broadway, NYC Artist: Lexi Bella Photo: Hillary Eggers Audubon
Spotted owl at 3841 Broadway, NYC Artist: Paul Nassar Photo: Hillary Eggers/Audubon
Roseate spoonbill at 3541 Broadway, NYC
Artist: Danielle Mastrion Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

Elsewhere, Audubon himself is rendered in flesh tones and with mutton-chop sideburns, staring curiously at a cerulean warbler on his shoulder with neither his rifle nor palette at hand.

John James Audubon contemplating the Cerulean Warbler at 601 W. 149th NYC Artist: Tom Sanford Photo : Mike Fernandez/Audubon

The National Audubon Society’s website has a map showing the location of each mural. The website also serves as an excellent guide for a tour of the murals, as it gives much more information about each one, including an explanation of how the birds are being affected by climate change and some remarks by each artist about their art.


Check out this video of Damien Mitchell creating a mural of a peregrine falcon for the Audubon Mural Project:

Planthopper Fiber Optics Display

Leafhoppers, treehoppers and planthoppers have the most aerodynamic-shaped body in the insect world. All of them are strong jumpers that can move with equal ease forwards, backwards, or sideways like a crab. The crab-like motion distinguishes hoppers from most other insects.

They also come in many shapes and colors with over 12,500 varities worldwide.

Photo by Robert Oelman
A Heranice miltoglupta treehopper Robert Oelman
Treehopper Membracis mexicana Robert Oelman

The beautiful insect shown below is a planthopper nymph. During the span of time after it hatches and before it becomes fully mature, the planthopper nymph secretes a waxy substance from its abdomen that gives its tail the look of a colorful fiber optic display. It serves as a defense from predators who are somewhat hypnotized by the effect.

Night photograph by Melvyn Yeo

As the planthopper gets ready to do its favorite thing — hop around — it moves the waxy threads into a sleek line.

Waxy protrusion on a planthopper nymph Photo by Melvyn Yeo
Photo by Frank Canon
Walking planthopper nymph found in Colombia Photo by Robert Oelman

It moves ever so slowly before making a great leap, and it can fan the threads back out for an extra boost while it’s in the air.

Treehopper Credit: chinKC/Shutterstock

The final effect is like a dazzling fiber options display.