Archive for December 2009

Meet India’s Earth Warriors – Sanctuary/RBS Wildlife awards 2009

31 December 2009

India’s nature has many champions. Often they go unheard of or unrecognized.

Fortunately, we have the Sanctuary/Royal Bank of Scotland (earlier ABN AMRO) Wildlife Awards who recognise people from all walks of life. 2009 was the tenth year this sterling award recognised Indians for their contribution to India’s nature and wildlife.

From the high-level executive who plays an important role in policy and resource allocation to the academics who have devoted their lives to India’s biodiversity to the oft-forgotten wildlife warden or forester to the young scientist burning to contribute his bit.  All these, and more, are honoured by the Sanctuary/RBS awards.

This year (2009) the 2009 Sanctuary/RBS Awards prizes went to :-

The Lifetime Service Award went to Brijendra Singh who has kept Corbett safe for over four decades!

The Wildlife Service awards went to Prabir Kumar Palei of Simlipal Tiger Reserve, Narhari Pandurang Bagrao who restored the damaged forests of Shahapur in Thane, Paresh Chandrakant Parob for his fierce commitment to the Goa forest lands under his control and his courage in the face of powerful vested interests, Drs Divya Mudappa and TR Shankar Raman for their exceptional contribution to saving the Western Ghats and Mike Pandey for his wonderful wildlife films which brought environment into the homes of the common Indian through DD.

The Young Naturalists award went to Prosper S Marak, Aamod Zambre and Vishal Bhave.

Prosper Marak has changed the face of Meghalaya's forests with his activism.

Aamod Zambre is a champion of scorpions.

Some of you may remember Aamod from my post on him and his friend Chintan Sheth. They are definitely living up to their promise and potential!

Vishal Bhave is doing path breaking studies of the sea slugs on our shores.

More power to these young naturalists of India!

Vijay Pinjarkar journalistic reports have forced the government to action on many environmental issues. – Courtesy:Vijay PinjarkarVijay Pinjarkar and the Nagpur Times of India won the Wind in the Wings Award for his brilliant investigative stories and his dogged pursuit of those who would violate the environmental and conservation laws of the land.

The Green Teacher awarsdwas won by Dr MR & Dr (Mrs) Sarah Almeida for nurturing, guiding and shaping young minds to explore and understand the mysterious world of plants.

Read more about them on the original post on the Sanctuary Asia website.

My New Year resolution – New Horizons!

30 December 2009

Strangely for a blog purporting itself to be about terrestrial nature, I found my interests this month exploring the Cosmos and our Universe, vast and mysterious beyond belief. Believing this to be a genuine topic for this blog – my travails in outer space, I decided to


with a resolution that suits my change of lifestyle this year from military duties to study leave.

I promise this year that I will explore new horizons and like the space craft which has reached nearer Pluto than Earth, go where I (man) have (has) never gone before.

Hope you join me on this epic adventure of discovery in 2010 by reading The ButterflyDiaries!

New Horizons - challenging our imagination and inspiring the world!

Learn more about New Horizons here :

*  Wired Magazine – Space Probe gets halfway to Pluto in record time!

*  NASA – New Horizons Pluto Kuiper Belt Flyby.

* Wikipedia – New Horizons.

Supporting Sahana!

12 December 2009

I had a great time interacting with the SahanaPy folks  and the young Turks from Bikaner at FOSS.IN 2009!  I identify most closely with that aspect of FOSS.

Sahana is a free disaster management software which helps us mitigate human grief in the aftermath of a disaster. Great guys doing great work!

Another rant of mine about FOSS was that T-shirts were not to be had! I mean I can’t  barge into a double-Greek, geek session on GNOME/MAEMO/KDE and pick up a Tshirt. Not quite the thing I do!

So the next best thing is to order a T-shirt for myself which @ajuonline was kind enough to help me with.

So here’s my snap in token support of Sahana…oops SahanaPy!

Supporting SahanaPy

Another reason I like Sahana – thats my niece’s name!

Looking into the distant past – the Ultra Deep Field.

11 December 2009

This is truly the only way to travel into the past!

The time machine - Hubble Space Telescope.

The image

The Ultra Deep Field is an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax. This image was created, or rather composited, from Hubble Space Telescope data accumulated over a period from September 24, 2003 through to January 16, 2004.

Locating the Ultra Deep Field!

The unique feature of this image is that it is the deepest image of the Universe ever taken, looking back approximately 13 billion years. It is being to search for galaxies that existed between 400 and 800 million years after the Big Bang.

The image was taken in a section of the sky which had a low density of nearby bright stars. This low density allowed the light from more distant parts  of space to penetrate to Earth. It provided much better viewing of dimmer, more distant objects.

The image below contains an estimated 10,000 galaxies!

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

The galaxies are so distant that from the red shift of their light it is calculated that the light began its journey at a period of time between 400 and 800 million years after the Big Bang.

We are looking through a time machine at events of 13 billion years ago. What the condition there is now, we can come to know only after another 13 billion  years have passed.

Truly, the awesome time scale, the massive number of galaxies just in this one shot and the fact that we saw something which happened so very, very long ago is truly mind-blowing.

See more images here!

The video

As if this image was not amazing enough, Mike Gillis of Pennsylvania State University created an animation of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Using the measured redshift of all 10,000 galaxies in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, he extrapolated the location of each galaxy in the field and created a 3D flythrough.

Tony Darnell who runs an amazing astronomy video collection on Youtube wrote a short script of the history of the deep field images, wrapped it around the fly-through and put it up on Youtube here. You can also view it below though in a smaller window.

Every galaxy in the image is in its proper distance as viewed from the telescope line of sight.

Credits – Jeremy A. in this post on his blog ‘The life of a priest is HELL” brought the video to my notice.

Off on a comet!

11 December 2009

This post (hopefully first of a series) was inspired when a chance twitter about the Scattered Disc, Oort’s Cloud et al triggered requests from my Facebook friends to blog about the new Solar System.

The new Solar System

The mind can journey far beyond where the eye can see, or the ear can hear, and much much farther than the spear can be thrown.

The mind effortlessly soars beyond humanity’s farthest frontiers – the material frontier where Voyager now transits through the Heliopause some hundreds of millions of miles away – or the energy frontier – the outward traveling wavefront of the very first radio transmission recognisable as emanating from intelligent human life.

The position of Voyager 1 in 2007 as it approaches the heliopause. At the heliopause, the Sun's solar wind is stopped by the interstellar medium and the satellite is subject to the the stellar winds of the surrounding stars. (Click to enlarge).

The stars above me on a clear moonless winter night, the necklace of luminescent stars that make up the Milky Way, the pinwheel spiral galaxies where man may never reach – all these have fascinated me since I was a child. I adored fiction about space, especially space opera. Like most of us, for a long time all I knew was what I had learned in school – that we had a star and nine planets…yadda,yadda, yadda… Jupiter is the largest, Pluto is the furthest,,,yadda, yadda, yadda…

The old view of the Solar System - sun with 9 planets!

The old view of the Solar System - Sun with 9 planets, outermost of which was Pluto!

As a young child, I found nearby planets boring! I yearned for the deeps of outer space. I wanted to be on the bridge of the Enterprise, boldly going where no man had gone before. Galaxies were great stuff, so were pulsars and supernovas. Mars, Moon, Jupiter? Huh!

The Andromeda Galaxy portrayed on a German stamp of 1999.

I much preferred the mysteries of black holes and the looming terror of an event horizon to the rings of Saturn. It was during my early days of editing Wikipedia. I had not yet received a barnstar, a kind of award on Wikipedia. I learnt that if I reviewed five nominee articles for the status of ‘Good Articles‘ and shepherded them through a process, I was eligible to receive a barn star.

One of the articles I reviewed was Deep Impact (space mission)!  You probably would not have heard of 9P/Tempel – a minor periodic comet which circles around our Sun every five and a half years! A fairly frequent and predictable comet, it was selected by NASA as the first comet to be explored by their pioneering venture into space after comets – the unmanned space mission called ‘Deep Impact’.

While reviewing this article I once again discovered the magic and mystery in that mundane grouping of planets around a yellow dwarf that we call our Solar System.

Deep Impact, a spacecraft which sent an impactor to collide with Comet 9P/Tempel in July 2005.

Wikipedia tells us that –

A comet is a small solar system body that has a coma and/or a tail and is bigger than a meteoroid. When close enough to the Sun, a comet exhibits a visible coma (fuzzy “atmosphere”), and sometimes a tail, both because of the effects of solar radiation upon the comet’s nucleus. Comet nuclei are themselves loose collections of ice, dust and small rocky particles, ranging from a few hundred metres to tens of kilometres across.

Comets have long fascinated mankind – in the Western civilisation they have been regarded as harbingers of doom or omens of upheaval and change! The people of the past had no idea of geography, no concept of the Universe as we know it today. They found it fearsome to see a strange heavenly object appear amongst the familiar patterns of the constellations.

The tail of a comet always points away from the Sun!

This strange visitor moved from constellation to constellation and had a plume that ALWAYS pointed away from the Sun! For a period it would vanish as it would circle the Sun and reappear as a blaze on its return path. Gradually as it went into the deeps of space it would lose its plume, its shine and then disappear ostensibly forever.

No one could predict when such an apparition would return until the English astronomer Edmund Halley corelated historical data from a variety of sources and realised that in a cosmic game of Vikram and Vetaal, the comets of 1456, 1531, 1607, and 1682 were one and the same. He further predicted that this comet would return in 1758. Halley did not live to witness the comet’s return, but when it did, the comet became generally known as Halley’s Comet.

One of the earliest photographs of Halley's Comet taken during its visit in 1910.

Since then hundreds of comets have been mapped. Each year, large numbers of minuscule comets traverse the Solar system unknown to all but astronomers.

It is only those comets which are visible to the naked eye that draw the imagination of mankind. Such comets are called ‘Great Comets‘. Some of the recent great comets have been Halley’s Comet of 1986 which was visited by the Giotto space mission, Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 and Comet McNaught in 2007.

On a gruesome note, members of a religious cult in the United States, called Heaven’s Gate committed mass-suicide after their leader proclaimed that a space-craft followed in the wake of comet Hale-Bopp to transport them to ‘the next level of existence’.

Besides this, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 made history in 2004 when it broke apart and crashed into Jupiter.

Comet Hale-Bopp seen over Croatia. It's arrival triggered a mass-suicide of the Heaven's Gate cult in the US.

But what is a comet composed of? What are the properties of its ‘earth’ or ‘soil’? To answer these and other such questions, many space missions have been launched to date. Vega 1 and 2, Giotto, Deep Space 1, Stardust and Deep Impact all helped us piece together what we know today.

To learn more about comets, read “Orbs of flame” (Part II), and for even more wait for ‘Deep Space and Stardust’ (Part III)…

Quote – William Henry Hudson on ‘Lawns’

11 December 2009

I am not a lover of lawns. Rather would I see daisies in their thousands, ground ivy, hawkweed, and even the hated plantain with tall stems, and dandelions with splendid flowers and fairy down, than the too-well-tended lawn.

William Henry Hudson,

author and naturalist (1841-1922).

Author of  ‘Green Mansions‘ downloadable here.

Ground Ivy (Glecoma hederacea), an aromatic perennial creeper, growing wild in the Polish countryside, just as Hudson would have loved it.

Scaly-winged creatures!

9 December 2009

Post 1 of ‘Learning about Lepidoptera’  Series!

Elaborate colours and arrangements of scales on the wings of butterflies and moths permit beautiful patterns.

If you look at the dazzling colours of butterflies and moths, the last thing that will probably come to your mind, is that its wings are completely covered by scales! Not scales as in the case of reptiles such as snakes or crocodiles, but scales nevertheless!

In fact, the pre-eminent biological characteristic of the group of insects we know as ‘butterflies and moths’ is precisely this – scaly wings! And it is from this feature that the scientific name for this order of insects comes!

‘Lepidos’ or λεπίδος means ‘scale’ and ‘pteron’ or πτερόν means ‘wing’ in Ancient Greek!

Looking closely at the wing, one can see the scales!

Scales cover not only the wings of butterflies and moths! They are also found on the head, body and feet of many moths and butterflies.

The series of images below will help you realise why the scales play so important a role in classifying and naming this order of insects.

Lepidoptera scales are blade-shaped, loosely attached and come off easily without harming the insect.

Lets now magnify some scales and see them very close up! Click on each image to enjoy nature’s fine architecture.

First magnification - Laid like overlapping tiles on a roof. Scales improve the aerodynamic lift of butterflywings.

Second magnification - Each scale can be seen as having ragged edges and intricately structured upper surface.

Third magnification - the long longitudinal ridges can be seen to be connected with very fine ribs. The cuticle contains pigments such as melanins which give blacks and browns. Whites and yellows are usually due to excretory deposits.

Fourth magnification - The upper surface of a scale is jagged and perforate. Blue, green and iridescence is due to the coherent scattering of light by this micro-structure.

Scales cover most parts of the head, legs, body and organs of a butterfly also. A butterfly head magnified to show the scales on the face and proboscis.

Scales not only give beautiful patterns but beautiful variations on basic patterns to different species.

A page from Adalbert Sietz's MacroLepidoptera of the World, published from 1907 to 1935 in 16 volumes.

Image credits : Wikimedia Commons

  1. Common Tortoise shell butterflyBöhringer Friedrich.
  2. Lepidoptera Wing – Karol Kin.
  3. Loose butterfly scales – Jan Homann.
  4. Scanning Electron Micrographs of scales (1 to 4) – SecretDisc. Click the image to go to its Wikimedia Commons source page.
  5. Lepidoptera head with tongueDartmouth College Electron Microscope Facility.
  6. Plate from ‘MacroLepidoptera of the World‘ – Adalbert Seitz.