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This is a special holiday edition of the Sci-Tech Library Newsletter. I have dusted this off from last year, repaired the old links, and added a few new ones. Enjoy!
There are lots of holiday sites on the WWW, but you’ll find more than just Santa here. These sites were chosen for your enjoyment and are of special interest to the sciences and social sciences, but still, I hope, reflect some of the joys of the season!
There are lots of sites that allow you to send a traditional holiday postcard to your friends, but NASA provides a site that has lovely postcards with an astronomical theme — for example, a picture of the earth taken from space and presented as a Christmas tree ball! Add your own personal message and enjoy! Visit the Observatorium.
For gorgeous photographs of this phenomenon, from both the earth and from space, and for a quick-time movie showing the shimmer, check this site from San Francisco’s famous Exploratorium Museum (http://www.exploratorium.edu/learning_studio/auroras/).
Or check out the contribution of Norway’s Northern Lights Planetarium (http://www.visitnorway.com/en/Films/Film-with-Joanna-Lumley---In-the-Land-of-the-Northern-Lights/).
Do Santa’s reindeer use the lights as their pathway?
The Arctic continues to be a place of important scientific interest. Follow the 1999 NASA expedition to the North Pole. The expedition’s primary goals were to field test satellite i.p. communication tools — in a realistic environment, where nothing as good exists, and to collect some meaningful scientific measurements at the same time. But the website presents much, much more including wonderful graphics.
The Houghton Mars Project (http://www.arctic-mars.org/) isn’t quite at the North Pole, but it’s pretty close … The project is set up to test the equipment and technology (habitation, transportation, life support, recycling, etc.), that may be deployed during a human mission to Mars.
Or check the discussions of the various exploration expeditions of the Arctic and introductions to the indigenous peoples of the Arctic around the world on the Arctic Circle (http://arcticcircle.uconn.edu/HistoryCulture/) page.
Greenland is close enough to the North Pole to count as possible Santa-land in my book! You can get a fabulous free Yupik Mask Screensaver (http://www.greenland-guide.gl/masks/default.htm).
What would the holiday be without reindeer? Or at least their close cousins, the caribou. The 160,000 animals that make up the Porcupine Caribou Herd range throughout the Northern Yukon and neighbouring Alaska and Northwest Territories. What are the effects of global climate change on the herd? How do they distribute themselves within their range? What is the influence of snow density, wind, and insect harrassment on them? Such knowledge is essential in building computer models to predict the impact of climate change in the caribou population. Enjoy the gorgeous Slide Show (http://www.taiga.net/caribou/pch/slides/index.html).
At the University of Alaska Reindeer Research Program you can help the staff choose names (http://reindeer.salrm.uaf.edu/educational_outreach/reindeer/) for their baby reindeer.
Of course there are other animals associated with the holiday season as well, bound by myths and folktales and cultural traditions. For instance, “from Iceland comes the legend of the sinister and gargantuan Yule Cat (http://www.simnet.is/gardarj/yule11.htm), who, it seems, is ready to eat lazy humans. Those who did not help their village to finish all work on the autumn wool by Yule time got a double whammy — they missed out on the Yule reward of a new article of clothing, and they were threatened with becoming sacrifices for the dreaded Yule Cat”. Read about the origins of Yule, Saturnalia, and Solstice celebrations (http://www.candlegrove.com/). or about winter festivals from around the world to get an understanding of the ways different societies have celebrated these holidays.
What would the season be without wreaths and garlands? This site at Texas A&M (http://botany.csdl.tamu.edu/FLORA/gallery.htm) has gorgeous botanical images — full plant, leaves, flowers, etc. Do a search on Ilex, Hedera, or Loranthaceae.
The Mistletoe Center provides an annotated, searchable bibliography of information (http://www.rmrs.nau.edu/mistletoe/dyn/mtbib.shtml) written about every aspect of this plant, including folklore, medicine, biology and more.
Read more about the botany of Christmas, brought to you by About.com.
Many planetariums present shows on the Star of Bethlehem at this season, but no matter how hard you try to be careful and well-researched, errors can creep into the presentation. Find out what some of the common errors are in the article (http://www.ips-planetarium.org/planetarian/articles/common_errors_xmas.html) by John Mosely, program director at the Griffith Observatory. Griffith Observatory also offers a good list of authoritative Star of Bethlehem web resources.
You may not expect something as spectacular as the Star of Bethlehem this year, but to keep track of what you might see in the holiday night sky, check out the weekly report of the Star Gazer (http://www.jackstargazer.com/), whom you may have heard on various NPR stations. I hear there will be a spectacular, once-in-a-century December full moon …
For a discussion of the scientific reasons Santa cannot possibly exist, try the “Science — Bah Humbug!” page by Bill Drennon.
But if there is no Santa, how can the sophisticated electronics at NORAD (http://www.noradsanta.org/) successfully track the sleigh progress each year?
The National Climatic Data Center (http://www.stormfax.com/whtexmas.htm) brings you a region-by-region examination of the climatological chances for a white Christmas in the continental United States.
(Only 13% chance for Washington, DC. Sigh.)
What does snow really look like, anyway? Check out the fascinating electron microscope images of snow crystals (http://emu.arsusda.gov/snowsite/default.html), or join the fun by making your own snowflake images (http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artfeb00/eksnow.html) (if you have a microscope handy) using these instructions. (NOTE: When I checked this link, the page was down for maintenance. Hopefully it will be up again soon).
More links to snow resources (http://nsidc.org/snow/links.html) are available from the National Snow and Ice Data Center World Data Center-A for Glaciology.
For the exact time of the winter solstice (http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/astronomy/WinterSolstice.html) for any year between 1992 and 2000, check the chart provided by Wolfram.
The exact time of Solstice was very important to many ancient peoples, who built architectural structures and developed other sophisticated ways to measure it. Take a tour of Ireland’s Newgrange passage tomb (http://www.knowth.com/newgrange.htm). For more information on archaeoastronomy, visit the Archaeoastronomy Center at the University of Maryland (http://terpconnect.umd.edu/~tlaloc/archastro/cfaar_as.html).
The Linguists among us will enjoy a discussion of the 15 ways Hannukkah can be transliterated into English.
Or marvel at the various lexemes for the word “snow” (http://www.princeton.edu/~browning/snow.html) found in one Inuit dialect.
Or learn to sign “Merry Christmas”.
Ever wonder what the “smell of Christmas” might look like? Check out the “Swedish Christmas Chemistry” site. You will find chemical formulas for compounds and processes in spices, lutefisk (I hear its yummy!), Christmas trees, candlelight, sparklers, and glogg (spiced wine). If you want more information on these chemical structures, check them out in CS Chemfinder. You can search by name or chemical structure (and more) to find detailed structure, melting points, boiling points, specific gravity, and more!
For fuller coverage of Internet sites on Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and the other holidays we all enjoy, go to the Yahoo “Holidays and Observances” site (http://dir.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Holidays_and_Observances/) or follow the Christmas and other holiday links at About.com (http://www.about.com/).
HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND A PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR!
Compiled by Stephanie Bianchi, 12/97. Revised 12/99.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this newsletter are those of the participants (authors), and do not necessarily represent the official views, opinions, or policy of the National Science Foundation.