Real, Irrational and Never Ending

Pi Party Booth from MidAmeriCon II

If today is really Pi Day, it would never end.

I own a coffee mug that I only use to drink hot tea (or water) out of at work. Most of the time it’s a light-absorbing black nondescript mug hiding in my overhead cabinet above my desk. Yet each workday, shortly after I arrive, I grab some tea and pour in some hot water and my morning transforms as the heat transfers to the mug and a bright red cup appears with the following image greeting me:

Why is Pi so lucky in love?
— Because its love is infinite and non-repeating.

In an effort to celebrate international “Pi Day” today, I thought about scheduling this post for 15:09:26 (central time zone) this afternoon – But I’m too impatient for that so you will get this post much earlier in the day on Saturday the 14th of March, 2020. I got this idea from a WikiHow post on how to celebrate Pi Day and here’s the relevant excerpt:

Celebrate at 1:59 PM on Pi Day. This time represents the next three digits of pi: 3.14159. Take a minute to acknowledge pi in whatever way you see fit at that moment During this minute, you can cheer wildly, or even have a countdown leading up to “pi minute” the minute before.

  • For added effect for a countdown, have a “pi drop” where you drop a big pie off a balcony or another elevated structure. You can even add a lot of sprinkles to the pie to make it look like a disco ball.
  • If you’ve written a pi song or made a pi dance, this would be the perfect minute to share your art.
  • Note that there is some debate regarding the exact time that Pi Day should be celebrated. Though 1:59PM is probably the most common, some believe that the 24-hour clock should be used instead, which would mean that Pi Day should be celebrated at 1:59AM or 15:09PM.

Sadly for my family, I won’t be making any pies today. I might make some sourdough bread (in rounds of course) and possibly a diabetic-friendly round cheesecake for my visiting uncle. Which reminds me, I need to feed my soudough starter.

In parting, I will share on of my update statuses I occasionally post on my work Skype, where I share snarky, nerdy computer, math or tech one-liners. One of my absolute favorites is:

My password is the last sixteen digits of π.

Oh! I almost forgot. Not uncoincidentally, one of my real world book clubs is reading Life of Pi this month! Shocking how these things just randomly and irrationally align (or collide) when a math nerd is instrumental in determining what to read when.




Welcome to the New Home for My Blog!

For the last nine years, my blog, Misty Midwest Mossiness, has languished as a ‘free’ site hosted at That ‘free’ came with a slight headache, which eventually morphed into a migraine. My ability to host for ‘free’ meant being saddled with advertisements, the content of which I could not control.

I took a huge leap this week and dived into the Digital Ocean. I’ve created a couple of droplets, their term for virtual machines hosted in their cloud. I created this new home using one of their prefab Droplets in their Marketplace. I did have to buy a new domain name, mostly because I didn’t want to mess up and re-configure my existing domain name just yet. My new domain name – – which reflects my ongoing love for all things Tolkien and sunsets. For more information about Henneth Annûn visit this brief article at the TolkienGateway.

I was able to export my blog (overnight) from and import it this morning in just a few minutes. I will leave the old blog in place for the rest of the year and monitor this new blog home to see if this is cost effective and won’t break my pocketbook.

I will be adjusting the look-and-feel of this new blog – rebranded as “Into the West” – over the next few days. Let me know what you think.


Five 11s

Eleven 5s

A half century and a half decade.

Two score plus a half score plus a quarter score years.

I can’t and never could drive fifty-five.


I was almost five when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

Disappointed a woman hasn’t walked there yet.

I am starting to experience the opposite of time dilation.

Thanks to everyone who wished me well on my natal day.

There’s a Star in the East

Long winter nights.

Crisp clear skies.

Denser colder atmosphere.

These are a few of my favorite things during the winter months and they add up to darker skies and brighter stars.  This weekend also has a few things going for it, astronomically, and also happens to be Twelfth Night (tomorrow, January 5th) and Epiphany (the day after) commemorating the journey of the Three Wise Men guided by a Star in the East.

Observing Highlights for this Weekend (courtesy of “The Sky This Week” at

Friday, January 4
Although people in the Northern Hemisphere experienced the shortest day of the year two weeks ago (at the winter solstice December 21), the Sun has continued to rise slightly later with each passing day. That trend stops this morning for those at 40° north latitude†. Tomorrow’s sunrise will arrive at the same time as today’s, but the Sun will come up two seconds earlier Sunday morning. This turnover point depends on latitude. If you live farther north, the switch occurred a few days ago; closer to the equator, the change won’t happen until later in January.

† I’m just 68 miles south of the Kansas-Nebraska border, which juxtaposes with the 40th parallel.  Weird fact discovered this morning via Google Maps:  The Kansas Highway that is literally a block west of my house (K-7) ends at the border and turns into 666 Avenue (see map screenshot below).
Continue reading “There’s a Star in the East”

Just the Stats, Please

Yes, I’m still here.  Sort of.  I’ve been so busy since the first of the year, I just now came up for air, and only because I realized it had been nearly a month since I’d posted to my blog.  A new year at work means a new budget cycle and all the projects that were on hold now have been given the green light and of course should have been completed yesterday.  The ringing in my ears can be directly correlated to the number of hours per day I spend on conference calls.  I spend so much time in fact on conference calls that the only time I have to accomplish actual work is at home during the evenings.

And for some reason, I thought it was a good idea, to take another online course, this time in Statistics.  I needed one more course to finish my Associates Degree and I wanted to do something related to my core goal – Mathematics.  Ironically, as I learned while reading and studying the first chapter of my textbook, Statistics is not technically considered a course in Mathematics.  Math results in one right answer if you solve the problem correctly – and this is repeatable for anyone anytime.  One problem = one right answer.  This is not the case for Statistics.

For my commutes to and from work I switched from listening to audiobooks (for now) to following various podcasts as a sort of New Year’s resolution.  Some of them are audio dramas, some of them are non-fiction, some are current tech news, some are short fiction (mostly fantasy and science fiction from various magazines) and some are just pure fun.  Most of them I can complete in one day (two commutes = approximately 90 minutes) so I don’t have to worry about losing my place or losing track of the story in a long audiobook.

To prepare for last night’s Tolkien Society of Kansas City discussion of The Children of Hurin, I listened to nearly seven hours of amazing depth and insight on Chapter 21 of the Silmarillion thanks to the trilogy of episodes broadcast by the Prancing Pony Podcast.  I plan a more in-depth post on my tumble down Tolkien’s tragic Turin tale.  Our next group read at TSoKC is Unfinished Tales, but thankfully we’re skipping Part One (which would be yet another reading of Turin), but will start with Part Two and also read Letters 50-89 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Check our Facebook page for the date of our next meeting in February and join us if you’re so inclined.  All are welcome.

This weekend will be all too short between obligatory after-hours work (ah, the joys of information technology support and maintenance), volunteering at the library (now that is pure joy) and tonight’s General Meeting of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City.

It’s the 27th day of January, 2018.  I’ve flown through 7.4 percent of the year in days, nearly 8.3 percent of the months and 11 percent of the first quarter.

Tepus fugit.  Vita brevis.

Just A Sun-Day Drive Around the Galactic Neighborhood

This week I’m tackling the subject of our Sun’s motion through the Milky Way Galaxy and approximately how long one orbit is.

The Milky Way Galaxy has two major spiral arms, named the Perseus Arm and the Scutum-Centaurus Arm.  There are also smaller less pronounced arms, including the Sagittarius Arm, the Norma Arm, The Local Arm (aka the Orion Spur) and the Outer Arm.  Our solar system resides in the Orion Spur (Local Arm), branching off from the larger Perseus Arm.  During the summer months in the northern hemisphere, we predominantly observe the Sagittarius Arm, including the galactic center, which appears as steam from the Tea Pot asterism in the constellation Sagittarius.  (Gaherty, 2016)  Over the winter, we’re looking away from the galactic center and through the Perseus Arm.  (Comins, 396)

Artist’s concept of what astronomers now believe is the overall structure of the spiral arms in our Milky Way galaxy. The sun resides within a minor spiral arm of the galaxy, called the Orion Arm. Image via NASA and Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “Just A Sun-Day Drive Around the Galactic Neighborhood”

Stellar Death Blasts

This week I discuss types of supernovae, specifically relating to the scenario where “Hydrogen lines are prominent in Type II supernovae but absent in Type Ia.  Type Ia supernovae decline gradually for more than a year, whereas  Type II supernovae alternate between periods of steep and gradual declines in brightness. Type II light curves therefore have a step-like appearance.  Explain!”

Supernovae are classified as Type I or Type II depending upon the shape of their light curves and the nature of their spectra.

The question I really wanted to ask is ‘What happened to Type I or Ib?’ and the answer to that question was easily found in this chart:

Supernovae Taxonomy
Supernovae Taxonomy

Continue reading “Stellar Death Blasts”

Flashy, Bizarre, Weird Degeneracy

Just in time for Halloween, my topic this week focuses on electron degeneracy pressure specifically to delve into how “A degenerate gas does not expand when the temperature increases as an ordinary gas does.”

In 1923, Arthur Stanley Eddington derived a formula to relate the luminosity of a star to its mass, and in the same year correctly interpreted high-density, white dwarf stars as being formed of matter so dense that atomic electrons have collapsed from their orbits, a substance we now call degenerate matter. (Levy, p. 116)

Young giant stars of a certain size, between .4 and 2 solar masses, have helium rich cores squeezed by gravitational force into a crystal-like solid.  At these pressures, the atoms become completely ionized, separately into nuclei and electrons and are so closely crowded together that become influenced by the Pauli exclusion principle phenomenon.  Two identical particles are not allowed to exist in the same place and time.  As the electrons are pressed closer and closer together, the exclusion principle forces many of them to move faster and faster so they do not become ‘identical’ (meaning occupying the same space and moving with the same speed of adjacent electrons) and consequently this motion increases the repulsion between the electrons.  This state provides pressure in the core preventing it from collapsing and is referred to by astronomers as degeneracy.  Thus, low-mass giants with helium-rich cores are supported by electron degeneracy pressure. (Comins, p. 335)

Very high density matter, the structure of which is modified by the intense gravity. Particles, which must “squeeze”, create the degeneracy pressure.

If that wasn’t bizarre enough, here’s where it gets weirder:  A degenerate core’s pressure does not change with temperature.  Continue reading “Flashy, Bizarre, Weird Degeneracy”

Absolute Magnitude Luminates Absolutely

This week I want to discuss “What might cause the closer of two identical stars to appear dimmer than the farther one?”

Apparent Magnitude: A measurement of the brightness of stars without regard to their distance from Earth.

  • The scale in use today starts with the star Vega and an apparent magnitude of 0.0
  • Objects brighter than Vega are assigned negative numbers.  For example. Sirius, the night’s brightest star, has an apparent magnitude of -1.44
  • The scale was extended to include the dimmest stars visible through binoculars and telescopes.  For example, a pair of binoculars can see stars with an apparent magnitude of +10

Ignoring distance for a moment, all other things being equal, the closer of two identical stars will appear brighter (have a smaller apparent magnitude) to us than the more distant star.  When we account for the difference in distance, we use either or two measurements:  absolute magnitude and luminosity.

Absolute Magnitude: The brightness a star would have at a distance of ten parsecs (10 pc) or 32.6 ly. Continue reading “Absolute Magnitude Luminates Absolutely”

Solar Cycle Stranger Things

I’ve reached the halfway point through my Introduction to Astronomy class. This week marks the eighth week of fifteen, sixteen if you count the first week where we just spent time getting to know each other and exploring the textbook and getting the lab software, Starry Night, installed and licensed. Last week, we reached the outer limits in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud of our solar system where only comets and Voyagers I and II have ventured. Now we’ve snapped back to study our closest star, Sol, or more commonly just the Sun. My topic for discussion responds to the following question:

Why is the solar cycle said to have a period of 22 years, even though the sunspot cycle is only 11 years long?

Some surface features on our active Sun vary periodically in an eleven year cycle.  The Sun’s magnetic fields which cause the surface changes vary over a twenty-two year cycle.  The relatively cool and slightly darker regions, commonly called sunspots, are produced by local concentrations of the Sun’s magnetic field piercing the photosphere.  The latitude and number of sunspots on average vary during the same eleven year cycle.  But the hemisphere where the Sun’s north magnetic pole anchors during one eleven year cycle will have south magnetic poles during the next.  Because it takes a full twenty-two years for the magnetic poles to return to their original orientation astronomers refer to the entire solar cycle.   The magnetic dynamo model posits that many transient features of the solar cycle are caused by the effect of differential rotation and convection on the Sun’s magnetic field.  The Sun’s differential rotation (different speeds at different latitudes) causes its magnetic field to become increasingly stretched like a rubber band.  The bands can’t break so they periodically untangle themselves with the help of trapped gases which leak out (sunspot) and gradually settle back under the photosphere, when the sunspot disappears.  The most recent reversal of the Sun’s magnetic field occurred in 2013.  We are currently at the tale end of Solar Cycle 24.  (Comins, 2015, p.  272-83)

Continue reading “Solar Cycle Stranger Things”