I was driving home Tuesday night, and as I leveled out on Log Hill I was reminded we're about to get a celestial visitor on Dec. 16.
As I was heading down Ponderosa Drive, ahead of me in the night sky was the constellation Orion, spread like a giant butterfly in the clear night sky.
I know it's a hunter from Greek mythology, but the three stars of the hunter's belt always looked to me like a butterfly's body, with the hunter's shoulders and legs representing the wings.
The reddish star in the constellation, Betelgeuse, is the ninth brightest star in the night sky and is one of three stars that make up the Winter Triangle. Procyon and Sirius — the brightest star in the night sky — make up the other two points of the triangle.
Sirius B is a white dwarf star which orbits Sirius once every 50 years in a pronounced elliptical orbit. Sirius is also known as the "Dog Star," given its prominence in the constellation Canis Major. Sirius has been used to mark recurring annual events and was used as a main navigational waypoint throughout centuries and cultures.
Not to be outdone, Rigel, the seventh brightest star in the night sky and opposite of Betelgeuse in alignment in the constellation, glows with a blueish-white radiance.
The three stars aligned almost perfectly to the naked eye, forming the hunter's belt, are the Three Kings, or Three Sisters. The most easterly of the three, Alnitak, is in a triple star system. The naked eye can see one of the two other stars orbiting Alnitak, but the third is much too faint and can only be picked up with fine instruments.
Just off the lower right of the belt of Orion, to the south, is the Orion Nebula, naked to the visible eye. It is the closest region of star formation to Earth. To give you a sense of the enormity of this nebula, consider that a light year is the distance light travels in a year. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second, which puts the distance light travels in a year at 5.88 trillion miles. Orion Nebula is estimated to be 24 light years across.
There is a lot going on in Orion. And using Orion's belt will be a great way to spot comet 46P, which will pass at its closest point to Earth, about 7.2 million miles away, on Dec. 16. It'll be about 30 times the distance the moon is from the Earth, and to the observer it will be near the star Aldeberan.
Aldeberan is a reddish star, which is the bull's eye in the constellation Taurus. Draw an imaginary line through the Three Kings or Sisters from east to west, and you'll find Aldeberan as the next brightest star, just askew to the north. It, too, has a small companion star.
Aldeberan is huge, some 35-40 times the diameter of our sun. But its light is not remarkable in the night sky and won't obscure comet 46P as it passes just above the red giant on Dec. 16.
Binoculars will help spot 46P, but on a clear, dark night you should be able to spot it unaided. It won't have a fiery tail, since it's not a very big piece of icy rock, but should appear as a fuzzy point, somewhat like the Orion Nebula or Andromeda Galaxy does to the naked eye.
Two Harvard University professors, Valentin Bolotnyy and Natalia Emanuel, released a study this month entitled "Why Do Women Earn Less Than Men?" They studied bus and train operators from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and found that in an environment where work tasks are similar, hourly wages are identical and tenure dictates promotions, female workers earn $0.89 on the male worker dollar.
The professors found that the gap is explained by workplace choices that men and women make.
Women value time away from work more than men and take more unpaid time off using the Family Medical Leave Act. They also work fewer overtime hours than men.
The study found that when overtime is scheduled three months in advance, men and women choose to work a similar amount of overtime hours. But when overtime is offered at the last minute, men choose to work those hours twice as much as women.
Women will choose routes with higher safety risks in order to prioritize their schedules and are less likely to "game the system" by trading off regular hours for overtime hours, which frequently involve nights, weekends and holidays, which they avoid more than men.
The professors conclude that the earnings gap is explained because men take 48 percent fewer unpaid hours off and work 83 percent more overtime hours per year than women, and that is consistent with women taking on more of the household and childcare duties, limiting their work availability.
Women, the study finds, value time and flexibility more than men. I wonder if this is why women live longer than men?
It seems the one thing you can count on every winter and Christmas holiday season is Red Mountain Pass being closed, at least for a little while. And if that closure isn't extended a day or two, as it was this week, then things just aren't right with the universe.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" was released 53 years ago. It was quickly put together in six months time, and featured child actors doing the voiceovers, and no laugh track, both of which were unconventional choices for television at the time. Sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company, it was predicted to be a disaster. Since then it has been honored with an Emmy and Peabody awards and has been broadcast annually in the United States.
It was the second-highest most watched show the week it debuted on Dec. 9, 1965.
The jazz soundtrack score, by Vince Guaraldi, is a staple in anyone's holiday music collection.
Yet, you have to wonder in this day and age, what with inclusion by exclusion, would the scene in which Linus reads from the Book of Luke even have been made if the show were produced today? “…[A[nd on earth peace, and good will toward men. That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
No matter the vehicle, it's not such a bad message.
Ever wonder what all those banned plastic straws are being used for? I know. Seeing that the EPA just came out with a report that the fish in the Animas River weren't harmed when an orange torrent of toxic minerals washed down the river due to the Gold King spill in August 2015, there's only one way those fish survived. They had to suck air through a straw.
Call me a skeptic. When the EPA, which is being sued by everybody and their mother downstream for damages, comes out and says "nothing to see here," I have to wonder about the intent of the report. Sure, the Animas River Stakeholders Group endorsed the report, saying it figured everything was hunky dory in the "River of Lost Souls," its adopted name.
This group, made up of landowners, mining companies, governmental organizations and environmental organizations, was established to preserve property values by establishing water quality standards and keeping the EPA, which wanted to turn the entire basin into a Superfund site, at bay.
Yes, I question that group's lack of ferocity in wanting to go against the EPA grain.
Even though 80 percent of the 350 million gallons of toxic sludge settled in the Animas between Silverton and Durango before the next spring runoff flushed much of it into New Mexico, the report, according the Silverton Standard and The Miner, said the release "was not acutely toxic to fish."
This poor river. It has been abused for over a century. Find Jonathan Thompson's excellent article in High Country News (hcn.org) entitled "The dark secrets of the Animas River" and read about the uranium mining at the shores of river by the United States Vanadium Corporation and how radiation levels downstream were 20-30 times normal levels. Read how Farmington and Aztec school kids turned over their baby teeth so the Public Health Service could study toxic effects in the drinking water. Imagine your kid getting a lapel pin that reads: "I gave a tooth for research!"
Once again, the property owners downstream are affected, and this time it's the EPA claiming eminent domain and insisting it can't be sued.
And the fish? I guess fish don't have property values to defend.
Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.