Tag Archives: science

Three Stones from Three Cities – part 2

In part 1 of Three Stones from Three Cities, I discover a series of mysterious broken stones
in Mauerpark, Berlin, Germany, as my friend, Helena, and I walk around one Sunday afternoon,
looking for a place to stand
to watch Karaoke in the
ultra-crowded
amphitheater.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing, Sculpture

The next afternoon I was compelled to go back to Mauerpark with my camera because of the mystery of these puzzling breaks, the Unexpected Field of Trauma as I call it.  The Karaoke singers and gawkers are gone. The park, once a strip of No-Man’s Land when the Berlin Wall was functional, is nearly empty. I walk the full length of the dead-straight road, which is about the length of two American Football fields and runs the full length of the park, parallel to where the outer and inner walls of the Berlin Wall used to run. The eastern facing, or outer wall is to my right as I walk North up the road, and a section of this wall is still standing.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing, SculptureSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing, Sculpture

After my inspection along the whole road, I see that the only area of trauma, these strange fractures in the cobblestones that I described in the previous post, is where I initially saw them – by the Karaoke amphitheater.

“Hmm … interesting.”

I kneel down to look closer: yes, the breaks are mostly on top, fractures on the surface and some of the stones are worse than others and the breaks sort of go around the stone, and then there is the softening of the sharp edges, similar to how the sharp edges of ice, as with an ice cube, soften as it melts.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing, SculptureThree_Stones_2nd_Frame_02Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing, Sculpture

The pattern of breaking has no radiation out from a center, as what would occur with an explosion or a downward blow of a hammer. Nor are they directional, like let’s say if a force ran over the top of the stones in one direction, breaking the top layers, like I fantasize would happen with a tank tread or some piece of machinery capable of directing a powerful, continuous force. And, significantly, the stones aren’t disturbed within their housing. However these breaks happened, they didn’t happen in a way that disturbed the position of the stone. My guess is that this happened a while ago, i.e … at least not last week … debris has filled the cracks. But, how? Still not convinced it is the natural cycle of freeze and thaw, I snap a few quick photos. It begins to rain. I run for cover and then leave the park. I take shelter at Friendly Society, a Boutique–Coffee–Bar–Gallery, that is a few blocks away. I talked with Gregor, one of the co-founders, as I sit out the downpour. (If you’re by Mauerpark, take a special detour to have some great coffee and to see their line of clothes you won’t find anywhere else!)

I go home and I forget about the Unexpected Field of Trauma at Mauerpark. I have other pressing issues. Two days later, I am looking through the 5000 plus images I took while in India, because the real reason I have cloistered myself in a Berlin sublet for the summer is to come down from these India Travels, clarify my own questions and develop what next for Cairns – Shards – Pieces.

A significant aspect of India – and it is rather extreme in Varanasi – is that everywhere you go, to one degree or another, people are living or lounging outdoors, essentially camping, and that includes all the concomitant activities such as building fires of all sizes and for various reasons. It is like there is a fluid, but perpetual, state of camping all around you. With few exceptions, even I could have built a fire just about anywhere and just hung out, with impunity. In one of my images of the ghats, I notice someone had built a campfire right next to the ghat steps and, to my surprise, the stone was fractured to the point of not really being a functional step anymore: the heat had burst and broken the stone,
making them … not steps … rather a slope … and … Wow … That’s it …

“How, Now, Watson: make the connection…”

Yes. Fire breaks stone in this way …

“…Excellent!”

… I know, because I’ve done it with an acetylene torch early in my art career; I also have made plenty of campfires that have heated stones and fractured them. Yes, that’s it: a campfire! People built campfires along that cobblestone road in Mauerpark. Fire is the answer. Fire breaks stone, and that’s what caused the Unexpected Field of Trauma. Has to be! It’s my inference to the best explanation, at any rate; and seems to conform to Ockham’s razor.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing, SculptureSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing, Sculpture Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing, SculptureSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing, SculptureSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Drawing, Sculpture

The wall comes down. No-man’s Land is no longer No-man’s Land. People reclaim the space and turn it into a gathering place. The park is built, the amphitheater is built, the cobblestone road is built and the strip of land is reinforced as a natural gathering point. People hang out here, late into the night; at this time, Berlin must not have subtle, oppressive cultural powers executing rules of arbitrary propriety and people make campfires for their fellowship around the amphitheater and on the cobblestones. That has to be it. I’m sure of it. I go back that afternoon to confirm, but will spare you the analysis.

So, this Unexpected Field of Trauma was created by campfires build on top of the stone road. Although all three are important, neither material nor history nor action links the Unexpected Field of Trauma at Mauer Park to my cobblestone in New York City; but rather, it is a question: how did it get that way? And, that is the connection.

The real reason why I write this post is that there is another undercurrent to this inquiry. That is I had another notable, albeit at present unexplainable, experience with another stone while in India. It is an approximately 6 x 2 foot paving stone at one of the Ghats that I discovered during my first walk, ever, along the ghats, during my first day, ever, in Varanasi.  It, like all the stones that comprise the ghats, is subject to the yearly rise and fall of the Ganga where it is covered by Himalayan sediment and then, when the river recedes, the people clean it off by spraying river water at it. For some reason this stone got singled out and I haven’t been able to write about it, I haven’t been able to process it, I haven’t been able to make sense of it – I still can’t – I don’t know what questions to ask! India was too overwhelming, and there are too many factors beyond my own empirical and anecdotal evidence collecting that makes me truly uncomfortable because I just don’t know enough about them. Some of these factors revolve around the socio-economic forces at play in India as well as the country’s conquered and colonialist history. All of this has inhibited any rapid-fire posting (of the sort social media is biased for) during my travels and is partially what I am referring to when I say that I don’t know what I am looking at.

I won’t try to explain the Indian paving stone; except to say that this discovery is a cross between the punctuation I experienced with the New York cobblestone and the puzzlement of the Unexpected Field of Trauma at Mauerpark, times the first 7 primes in the base 12 number system and a Goat in a sweater (or something). That’s it. That is all I can say. It is at Rana Mahal Ghat, and here it is:

Samuel Nigro, India, Varnasi, Drawing, Sculpture Samuel Nigro, India, Varnasi, Drawing, Sculpture

I write this post to you today as a way to ease my way back into writing about and telling you about
my India experiences and the things that caught
my curiosity …

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Saturn’s Rings … and the stirring of the Unknown

This video is out of this world … so amazing, it nearly made me cry … It was just introduced to me by a new FB friend, Marney Lieberman,
and is relevant to my last post:

The Three Body Problem and the Appropriation of Images ….

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The Three Body Problem and the Appropriation of Images …

Enceladus Geysers, Samuel Nigro Saturn, Samuel NigroThe Sun, Samuel NigroComet Tempel 1 After Projectile Impact, Samuel NigroClouds over Senegal and Mali, Samuel Nigro

At the end of January, I went to the opening of Michael Benson at Hasted Kraeutler, 537 West 24th Street, New York, NY.
The show was a series of large digital prints that he created from the thousands of images sent back to us by probes
we’ve launched into the solar system to answer various scientific questions about the nature
of our planetary neighbors. From the press release, Benson culled the images
taken by “the Cassini Saturn orbiter, the intrepid Mars rovers
Spirit and Opportunity, and the Earth-orbiting
Solar Dynamics Observatory.”

I share Benson’s fascination, and above you’ll find my own culling of his images… You can cull your own set by going to
NASA’s Cassini site, Mars Rover site or the Solar Dynamics Observatory site
or just do a Google Image Search.

I had two over-riding thoughts (beyond the AWE inspired by what lies beyond our own atmosphere)
as I wandered through the show during the opening
and again when I went back for
a second look:

First, I thought of an earlier, and seeming unrelated, lecture I blogged about earlier in Happy Thanksgiving and Gratitude List of 12. Keith Wilson lectured about the collection of Charles Lang Freer’s Buddhist Scultpure from China. He posed the question: At what point does an object of religious devotion become an object of just aesthetic interest? You can ask a similar question about scientific data: at what point, does it become just an object we gaze at for our own aesthetic need?

Second, I have followed the Mars rovers and the Cassini Spacecraft, and I’m not sure how much Benson’s images tell us about what these sophisticated machines have already given us and what their potential is. For example, it is because of the Cassini Spacecraft that we are learning just how incredibly complicated Saturn’s rings are.  There are large masses (as large as and larger than houses and trucks) that move in and out the rings and some of which sweep large portions of the debris and grow and change in size, shape and trajectory.

What the show does do is give us a vision of Michael Benson, and it is heartening to read that he works diligently with scientists as he makes his composite images
so as to be as accurate as possible. So, to Benson’s credit, it feels like he is trying to give us a view as to what it may be like
if we were actually there – floating in front of the Sun, trekking around Mars, or about to sail through Saturn’s rings.
These are things I think about, and find
(in the non-pop-cultural,
non-trivial use
of the term) AWESOME.

Michael Benson and I share the same interest in the line between and the intersection of art and science.

The very next day after the opening, I happened upon the Dynamical Systems Seminar at the Courant Institute by Eugene Gutkin, called The Outer Billiard Map, and I was enthralled by the connection between this and Benson’s show.

WHAT possibly could be the connection between these two experiences!?! you may wonder.
The quick answer is the Three Body Problem.
But, first, I need to explain
what an “Outer Billiard”
problem is.

Imagine billiard balls bouncing around a pool table, hitting each other in a chaotic fashion. The study of Inner Billiards is the study of the physics of this kind of movement. Now, imagine a solid stationary object in the middle of the pool table with billiard balls bouncing around and off of this stationary object. The study of the physics of these kinds of interactions is termed an Outer Billiard problem.

NOW, imagine the stationary object is a large planet or similar galactic object and the billiard balls are satellites or even beams of light… and that is the connection between the gallery show and the seminar. I reveled in the connections.

Billiard Balls flying around a pool table is pretty complicated motion, so to simplify we break it down. The two-body problem (the moon orbiting the earth, for example) is straightforward in terms of classical mechanics and gravity. Add a third body and it gets very complicated, and is, in fact, an old problem that we still only have approximations for. Sir Issac Newton formulated and studied all these issues.

However, we know enough about this motion to not only send spacecraft to various parts of our solar system, but also to infer the existence of other planets (and their sizes!) in remote parts of the galaxy that may even resemble Earth!

This is definitely fun to think about!

Outer Billiard Map_Eugene Gutkin, Samuel Nigro

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Cold Arctic Blast and the dumbo cobblestone

Cobblestone_33 degrees, Samuel Nigro

I decided to check on my neighborhood cobblestone (which I featured in One of the Greatest Insights in the History of Our Species)  on Monday, Jan. 28th to see how it fared the bone-chilling weather we had in New York City the week before, when temperatures dropped to 10˚F with strong winds and no precipitation … for days.

When I took this photo, the cold had moved on and it was a balmy 33˚F with a light dusting of snow. Today, three days later, the high is 59˚F!
This manic weather is strange, and is indirect evidence of a new climate state and a warming globe.
Yes: I am reporting on a local weather experience, and weather is not Climate.
Good: I’m glad you thought that.

But, when we look at climate: we are on an upward warming trend and there is much evidence to support the fact that the earth is entering a new climate state,
where local weather just gets weird.
Some recent and compelling
evidence is the record-breaking ice loss in the Arctic this summer.

But, let’s say you were in New York last week, and could hardly walk outside because of the cold and you were wondering:
What are you talking about “a warming planet”? What’s up with that extreme cold?

Well, the extreme cold followed by balmy weather is explained easily with our climate models and conforms to what we know about global warming,
and it has to do with a weakening jet stream.
We understand this about as well as we
understand the rise and fall of the tides … which is to say: we know what is happening.

The temperature differential between the cold Arctic air and the lower latitudes creates a stream of air, high in the atmosphere, called the jet stream that flows in, basically, a circle around the Arctic region. Normally, this air current is robust and acts like a barrier, keeping all the cold arctic air bottled up on the top of the planet.

Because of global warming, this temperature differential is decreasing, which weakens the jet stream.
As a consequence, this air current will meander in broad S-shaped patterns and reach far south,
bringing fridge cold air with it, and, because this current is weaker and slower,
it has a tendency to get stuck in its pattern.

Eventually, the jet stream may shift and move and meander, and can dip elsewhere bringing a cold arctic blast to another part of the globe.
As low as the S-curve can go, it can also creep northward, creating a very warm regional area.
This is why, in America, half of the country can have bone-chilling cold
and the other record breaking heat.

I’m glad my little broken cobblestone is still there and triggered another idea…

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A Hammer Drill and Explosions – to break a stone

I recently came across this video that has an interesting way of breaking stone. It is a very purposeful technique and necessary for understanding the melting of Glaciers – I find this fascinating.

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