Newly Visible Comet

I just stumbled across this news that Comet 17P/Holmes is now visible to the unaided eye:

“The comet is exploding and its coma, a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the sun, has grown to be bigger than the planet Jupiter. The comet lacks the tail usually associated with such celestial bodies but can be seen in the northern sky, in the constellation Perseus, as a fuzzy spot of light about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.”

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“Until October 23, the comet had been visible to modern astronomers only with a telescope, but that night it suddenly erupted and expanded.

A similar burst in 1892 led to the comet’s discovery by Edwin Holmes.”

I don’t know if the comet’s coma is actually larger than Jupiter, or just appears larger to us here on Earth than Jupiter does. Tough to tell sometimes in wire service copy. I intend to go out and take a look tonight.

Tutankhamun’s Mummy

The mummy of boy Pharaoh Tutankhamun has been moved from its sarcophagus in his tomb and placed on public display for the first time in a climate controlled glass case. Not being an Egyptologist, I was somewhat surprised to learn that this mummy has been kept in the tomb all along. That seemed a little reckless to me. Humidity introduced into the tomb by the perspiration and breath of tourists has been damaging the mummy.

“King Tut” is the general public’s vision of ancient Egypt and I remember the frenzy that attended the Tutankhamun exhibits here in the US thirty years ago. The National Geographic Society is sponsoring another series of exhibits of Tut artifacts beginning in London later this month. There will be exhibits here in the US starting in Dallas next year, but other venues have yet to be named. The Denver newspapers are saying that one of them will be here, but that may be wishful thinking.

Hunting Ban Makes Hunting More Popular

News from the United Kingdom is that the hunting ban enacted there in 2005 has actually increased the popularity of hunting:

“Against expectations, hunting has been able to continue, legally for the most part, with little difference in style. As Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, puts it, ‘most people would find this season’s sport quite difficult to differentiate from old-fashioned hunting’. It is more popular than ever.

‘It’s a bit like prohibition,’ declares Seed {master of a hunt}. ‘If you want to make something popular, ban it.’ No hunt has closed since 2005; two have been started. ‘A lot of people came out at a time of controversy and decided they liked it,’ says Farquhar.”

Enforcement of the Hunting Act has apparently been haphazard and the anti-hunting forces who “monitor” and disrupt hunts are frustrated:

“There have been more than 30,000 days of hunting since 2005; the League Against Cruel Sports has secured 20 convictions under the Hunting Act, only three of them relating to the activities of established hunts. More people have been convicted for hunting rats than foxes.”

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“Police seem more concerned to prevent clashes between “monitors” and hunt staff than to follow hunts lest they breach the Act. Hunting offences do not count towards their targets.

The frustration of the anti-hunt lobby is apparent in the proposal made by Ann Widdecombe on the Today programme last week, by which League Against Cruel Sports monitors would be contracted as evidence-gatherers for the police.”

The apparent intent of the Hunting Act was to save wildlife from cruel deaths. Enforcement of the Act has also run headlong into the law of unintended consequences:

“Research by the Exmoor and District Deer Management Society Consensus has revealed a 20 per cent decrease in deer numbers in 2006 against a trend of steady rises over the previous decade.

This is the great irony of the Act: it has led to the shooting of more deer and foxes. Farmers and landowners no longer have a reason to tolerate animals that destroy crops, lambs or pheasant chicks.”

These are interesting developments to read about for us pro-hunters here in the US. I look forward to reading some informed comments from our readers across the water who are having to live with this state of affairs.

Also, over the weekend, Terrierman addressed this issue with a post titled “The UK Hunting Ban Is Not Helping Foxes.”

Washoe, RIP

Washoe, a chimpanzee who sent the field of primatology into a tizzy by learning American Sign Language, has died at age 42 after a short illness. From the age of 10 months, Washoe was raised by cognitive researchers R. Allen Gardner and Beatrix T. Gardner, who taught her to make recognizable signs in American Sign Language. She eventually learned about 130 signs.

This accomplishment was a great shock when it first was publicized in the late 1960s. Attempts to replicate this through the 1970s with other chimpanzees eventually showed that most of the communication between humans and chimps was prompted by imitating the human researchers. There was little spontaneity and no use of grammar. However, it did show that apes have the capacity for some of the basic rudiments of language and their intellectual functioning overlaps with humans in some ways.

Washoe spent the last 27 years of her life at a research facility run by Central Washington University where she continued in cognitive studies and served as a matriarch to a generation of younger chimpanzees. Apparently she shared some interests with her human friends:

“She had a gentle touch with them {the younger chimpanzees}, Dr. Jensvold said, and kept an eye on the habits — and footwear — of her human companions.

‘She always checked out your shoes, and if you had new ones she’d sign for you to show them to her,’ Dr. Jensvold said. ‘Then she might sign something about the color. She was a real shoe lady that way.’”