View from Above

17th century celestial map by Dutch cartographer Frederik de Wit

17th century celestial map by Dutch cartographer Frederik de Wit

We’re always looking for reasons, causality, connections, in life and in science. There’s an ongoing project that might be an invaluable tool in discovering unexpected interconnectivity on the planet’s surface.

The ICARUS Initiative (“International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space”) is a scientific collaboration working towards placing a remote sensory system on the International Space Station to track tagged animals around the globe.

The Icarus team is developing tag sensors that can be placed on any kind of animal, from zebras to butterflies, and which will relay the animals’ movements to the ISS antenna for distribution and analysis.

Movebank map. Click on the image for an interactive view, which can be filtered by animal identifiers.

Movebank map.
The data will be collected and stored with Movebank.
Click on the image for an interactive view, which can be filtered by animal identifiers.

By allowing scientists combine data sets from separate studies in new ways, including meteorological and geological data, entirely new questions can be proposed and ideas tested.

Suggested uses include tracking the spread of disease, gaining insight into migration, ecological patterns and better understanding of evolutionary processes.

And then there’s the example given by Dr. Martin Wikelski, head of the ICARUS Initiative and Director at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology: By observing the movement of goats on Italy’s Mount Etna, volcanic eruptions can be predicted up to six hours in advance.

Huichol cross ('God's eye'). The four points represent the eternal processes of earth, fire, air and water. Colors carry symbolic meanings, as well.  Source: Geo-Mexico

Huichol cross (‘God’s eye’). The four points represent the eternal processes of earth, fire, air and water. Colors carry symbolic meanings, as well.
Source: Geo-Mexico

When I was a kid growing up in California, it was common to pass the pre-Internet, pre-digital time of day by making God’s eyes, stick and yarn creations that symbolize the power to see and understand the unknown. God’s eye weavings are mostly decorative now, but the basic colors represent various aspects of life. Weaving together a God’s eye can be a way of meditating on how the various strands of life work together in unseen ways.

There isn’t really a scientific equivalent to the God’s eye, but projects like the Icarus Initiative might just be a start.

Space Salad

Most science fiction notions of humans living in space, at least the ones that aren’t all white-walled and minimalistic, involve at least one image something like this:

Toroid Colony
Illustration: Don Davis via Discover Magazine

NASA announced that later this year, the International Space Station will, for the first time, practice space farming. Six heads of romaine lettuce, to be exact, grown in Kevlar pillow packs filled with something like kitty litter.

From the ISS web site: “The Vegetable Production System (Veggie) is a deployable plant growth unit capable of producing salad-type crops to provide the crew with a palatable, nutritious, and safe source of fresh food and a tool to support relaxation and recreation.”

So, something a little more modest. Like this:

Lettuce in Grow Bags Image: GardenGirlCT

Lettuce in Grow Bags
Image: GardenGirlCT

Success with lettuce (or lessons learned) could even lead to radishes, snap peas, and a strain of tomato bred for modest space (!) requirements.

I especially like that one of the benefits defined for space gardening, beyond the more sterile standards of ‘nutrition’ and ‘safe food source’ is the more ephemeral potential for ‘relaxation‘. Assuming, of course, that the astronauts doing the tending actually like to garden.

Even though the gardening will be done in a tiny enclosed living area with limited water and soil, I’m pretty sure this doesn’t yet count as urban gardening.

Redcurrant and Galileo

20946642_sThere are events and opportunities that demand attention in the moment they occur. One of those is processing and preserving fresh garden produce. It doesn’t matter whether there are a multitude of other worthy distractions, the fruit won’t wait.

So in spite of our current heat wave, I’ve been at the stove, processing the bounty of redcurrant we’ve had this year. Masses of the fat red berries, all from a single bush.

Redcurrant chutney with rosemary. Redcurrant jam with peaches from the neighbor’s place. Redcurrant sorbet, which is a tart complement to the prosecco sorbet we made last week.

Another opportunity which required immediate action was the discovery of a small supply of Ardbeg’s limited edition Galileo whisky at a Geneva wine shop. All the more shocking, it was reasonably priced, well under the online offers I’ve seen. Since that almost never happens in Geneva, I took it as a sign that I shouldn’t hesitate.

The Galileo bottling, which won the title of World’s Best Single Malt at the 2013 World Whiskies Awards, must be the only whisky created in honor of a whisky experiment on the International Space Station. More on that here.

My personal impression of the Galileo is of a complex set of aromas and tastes that were so wintry, it cooled me off in this

Ardberg Galileo

Ardberg Galileo

swelter of a summer. A peaty, maritime nose with a hint of fruity sweetness; a smoked fish taste, a sharp palate opener that made me feel I’d just bitten off a corner of the Atlantic Ocean, then brown sugar, spice, turpentine, and a round sherry sweetness from those Marsala casks in which the whisky was kept for part of its ageing. An abrupt and clean finish, a window opened wide and then crisply shut.

All I can say is, I’m so glad I seized the moment.

Now, back to those canning jars…