Here is Rosetta again! (updated)

In two earlier posts I have reported about the exciting space adventure of Rosetta, a spacecraft launched in 2004 with as destination a comet, the  67P/Tsjoerjoemov-Gerasimenko. The first post, Wake up, Rosetta!, described how, after a hibernation of more than two and a half years, Rosetta woke up in January 2014, according to plan.

The second post, Rosetta meets 67P, published last August, reports how Rosetta successfully goes into orbit round the comet. It turns out that the comet has a strange shape, like a rubber bathtub duck.  Here is a picture, taken on 19 September at  28.6 km from the center of the comet. The head points to the right. If you look carefully you will see a kind of smoke coming from the “neck” of the comet. That is the coma, part of the comet material is evaporating because it is approaching the sun. Later, closer to the sun, 67P will develop the characteristic comet “tail”. The comet is rotating with a period of 12 hours and 36 minutes.

67P

The last few months the scientific instruments on board Rosetta have already been busy. For example analysing the composition of the “coma” smoke. With interesting results, finding not only water and carbon dioxide, but also methanol, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide. Here is an interesting blog about The “perfume” of 67P.  Quote:  If you could smell the comet, you would probably wish that you hadn’t

But the ultimate goal of the expedition is to land a module on the comet itself! This module has been called Philae and you can see it here still attached to Rosetta.

Rosetta with Philae

The last few months,  the scientists have been working hard to find a suitable landing site for Philae. That has not been a simple job, because of the complicated structure of the comet. The landing site should be relatively flat and smooth. Several options have been studied, finally the decision was made to choose location J, on the head of the duck in the picture below.

Landing sites

The landing site has now been renamed Agilkia. Why? Google and find out yourself :-) Hint: there is a relation with Rosetta and Philae.

The critical landing operation will take place on Wednesday November 12. At 8:35 GMT Philae will be deployed from Rosetta and start its slow fall to the comet.  It has no thrusters that can change its course, so ultimate precision is required in the timing of the separation. Keep also in mind that the distance between earth and the comet is at the moment about 500 million km, so signals take time to reach Rosetta. To be exact: 28 minutes and 20 seconds one way! So it will be 9:03 GMT before we know if the separation has been successful.

Falling to the comet? Yes, because the gravitational attraction of the comet is very small, but it exists. The falling proces willl take about 7 hours! And the speed at landing will be “only” ~ 1m/s. For comparison, that is the speed an object would get here on earth, when it falls 5 cm!

As soon as Philae touches the surface of the comet, two harpoons will be fired down to anchor the module. Otherwise it might bounce back into space! Here is an artist impression of a successful landing.

Philae landed

The two red lines under Philae are the harpoons. The construction of the three supporting “legs” allows landing on moderate slopes. If the slope is steeper than 30 degrees, the Philae might topple over, resulting in failure. The whole procedure is considered a risky one, success estimates of 75% “only” have been mentioned..

So let us keep our fingers crossed Wednesday! Malaysian time is GMT + 8 hrs, Dutch time is GMT + 1 hr. Here is the ESA control room. How many nails will be bitten on that day, waiting seven hours, while you can do nothing…:-)?

ESOC

On Wednesday there will be a live broadcast of the landing procedure

UPDATE 12 NOVEMBER

5am GMT

The Live broadcast has started already. It is still early in Darmstadt, people are arriving in the ESOC control room, where it is obviously quite cold…:-) Many sniffy people.

Here is a diagram of what will happen today. As I explained in my post, after separation Philae will “fall” to the comet. No course correction possible after separation, so utmost precision is needed

.Rosetta_s_trajectory_12_November_node_full_image_2

The last few days pictures have been taken by Rosetta with amazing details. Click here for a collection. Here is  a spectacular one.

67P_detail

7:30 GMT

Just watched an interview with Gerhard Schwehm, mission manager of the Rosetta project. Now retired. I did not realise that the project started in 1985, almost 30(!) years ago. Less than one hour now until separation.

8:05 GMT 

I have been naive..:-) Thinking that at this moment the command should be sent to Rosetta to deploy Philae (because it takes 28 minutes for the signal to reach Rosetta). But of course they will not do it that way..:-)  Rosetta has been programmed to deploy Philae at 8:35am !  Around 9am GMT the ESOC will know if that separation has been successful.

8:35am  GMT

At this moment, 511 million km away, the Philae is starting its fall to the comet 67P. In spite of a problem that has been found in the  lander. As explained in my post, the Philae could bounce back after touching the surface of the comet. Therefore two harpoons are fired at touchdown to anchor it. Also, on top of the Philae, an amount of gas should be released, giving the Philae an extra push to the surface. It seems that this “thruster” doesn’t work properly.So everything will now depend on the harpoons.

9:05am GMT

Separation is succesfull!!

Waiting. Tense

Waiting

Relief. Hugging

We did it

From now on, the Philae is on its own. In two hours time hopefully contact will be reestablished between Rosetta and Philae

11:10am GMT

Contact established between Philae and Rosetta! Great! This is a bigger step than the deployment. Philae is too weak to communicate directly with Earth, it has to do that via Rosetta. And it did! So now we can follow its descent to the comet, and it may even be able to send pictures.

Tension and relief again..:-)

Waiting for a sign of life2

We got it

2:20pm GMT

The first image taken by Philae of Rosetta, just a short time after deployment. Unprocessed, so not high quality, but convincing proof that Philae is on its way to 67P

Rosetta as seen from Philae

2:40pm GMT

Telemetry data from Philae show that it is following the calculated trajectory accurately. The landing will be the most critical part. Everybody at Esoc keeps his/her fingers crossed.

Here is an image taken by Rosetta’s Osiris camera of the descending Philae lander. Amazing. The landing arms are out.

filae

3:30pm GMT

Waiting now for news about the landing. Personally I do no like the optimistic way of talking about success. There is a reasonable chance of failure, and then the disappointment will be huge.

4:05pm GMT

Success? Or not? It seems Philae has landed. Congratulations

And within minutes the news is spreading all over the world…:-)

CNN

UPDATE 14 NOVEMBER

We know now that the Philae has really landed, but not without difficulty! The harpoons meant to anchor the lander, did not fire, so the lander bounced back after touchdown. Because of the low gravity of the comet, it took almost 2 hours before the second touchdown! Then, a few minutes later, the third and final touchdown. The first bounce took the lander up, about 1 km vertically, but also possibly the same distance horizontally. So at the moment the scientists are not sure where actually the Philae landed! During a live broadcast, 13-11, one of the lead scientists explained that the intended landing location was the red square (see below). But after the two bounces, the probable location is now within the blue “lozenge”

location

Because the Philae is not anchored, some of the planned experiments (like drilling to obtain and analyse some comet material) will be risky, as the lander might loose its balance and topple over.

It seems that the Philae has landed in a location that is more rocky than intended, maybe even beside a cliff. Those rocks may obstruct sunlight from reaching the solar panels of Philae. At the moment Philae is using the energy of its batteries, but soon it will depend on solar energy.

So there are minor(?) problems, which can hopefully be solved. Still the landing is an awesome achievement and at the moment the lander is already collecting scientific data and sending them to Rosetta. Also pictures of the surroundings have been taken. Here are first results, not yet fully processed. To the left a series of six “panoramic” pictures. On some of them a foot of the Philae can be seen. The collage to the right shows the same pictures, but with Philae superimposed.

ESA_Rosetta_Philae_CIVA_FirstPanoramic-838x1024

Comet_panoramic_lander_orientation_node_full_image_2

 

 

 

The Tree of Life

The Evolution Theory of Darwin is now generally accepted, although an astonishing 42% of the American population still thinks that the Christian God created humans more or less in their present form, about 10.000 year ago, according to a Gallup poll, held in May this year!

Huxley

Wilberforce

In 1860, after Darwin had published his book “On the Origin of Species, a debate was organised in Oxford between proponents and opponents of this new theory. Supposedly in this debate Bishop Wilberforce asked proponent Huxley  whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey

Huxley is said to have replied that he would not be ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor, but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth.

Actually both were wrong in assuming that humans descend from monkeys. Humans and monkeys have a common ancestor which may have resembled neither a human nor a monkey. Our closest relatives are the chimpanzees and the bonobos and our Last Common Ancestor (LCA) is estimated to have lived about 6 million years ago. For the LCA with the gorilla we have to go back ~ 7 million year, for the orang utan ~ 14 million year and for the gibbon ~ 18 million year.

Here is our extended family, in a diagram and as a collection of (baby) photos.

Our family

Homo: Humans                         Pan: Chimpanzees & Bonobos Gorilla: Gorillas                Pongo : Orang Utan                 Hylobates: Gibbons

 

our family

Of course the story does not end here. Our extended family belongs to the class of the “placental” mammals, together with mice, elephants, whales and bats and more than 5000 other species. The LCA of this (sub)class has lived around the time that an asteroid impact in Mexico may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, about 65 million year ago.

Last year an interesting article was published in Livescience: Meet Your Mama: First Ancestor of All Placental Mammals Revealed . It is an attempt, using advanced techniques, to determine the age of our Last Common Ancestor. In this article even an artist expression is given of our LCA (by palaeoartist Carl Buell )

Our maternal ancestor

Now, look at this picture carefully. This could be the (maternal) ~ 10 million-greats-grandmother of every living mammal, including you and me! Think about that for a while. You came from the womb of your mother, as she did from the womb of your grandmother. Repeat that ~ 10 million times and you end op with this shrew-like critter.

The Mammals are a class in the (sub)phylum of the Vertebrata, which contains six more classes (birds, reptiles, amphibians and three classes of fishes). Also here there has been a Last Common Ancestor, living somewhere around 500 million year ago. May have looked like a kind of segmented worm, with a gut, a mouth and an anus…:-)

Look at this interesting way to show the development of the seven vertebrate classes. To the left you see the geological eras Cambrium, Perm, Trias etc. The thickness of the various classes indicates the number of families in the class.

Vertebrates

Notice the sudden change in thickness at certain times. They mark mass extinctions.. During the Perm-Trias extinction ( ~ 250 million year ago) numerous families and species became extinct.  The other extinction shown is the one caused by the asteroid impact, 65 million year ago. Note the reduction of the reptile class (dinosaurs!)

The Vertebrata phylum belongs to the kingdom of the Animalia, together with eight other phyla. The most important of them are the Arthropods (insects, spiders, lobsters, centipedes)  Sponges, sea urchins, jellyfish, earthworms are all animals and have their own phylum.

Confused by all these concepts like  family, class, phylum, kingdom? This part of biology is called taxonomy Here is a diagram of our human lineage.

human taxonomy

To keep it simple, I have skipped the category Order (we are Primates), taken the sub-class Placental Mammals and the sub-phylum Vertebrata, because the term is more familiar than Chordates.

So we humans are a member of the kingdom Animalia. Together with how many other species? Present count is ~1.5 million (mostly insects…haha) Estimated total animal species count between 2 and 20 million…

 

The kingdom of animals. Are there more kingdoms? Yes, there is also the kingdom of plants and the kingdom of fungi. All three contain multi-cellular organisms. And there are other kingdoms of unicellular organisms, like the paramecium, almost always present in stagnant water, and visible under the microscope                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Paramecium

Keep in mind that there has been a Last Common Ancestor of you and this amoeba-like critter! 

Why are these kingdomscombined together? Because they share a very important property: their DNA is contained in a separate part of the cell, the nucleus. These kingdoms form the domain of the Eukaryota  Here is a visual representation of the kingdoms in this domain.

eukaryota

Again, keep in mind that there has been a LCA of all the organisms in this picture  Although we have to go back far in time…:-) About 2 billion years, there is still a lot of discussion going on about the timing. But it is clear that developing a nucleus containing the DNA and organising the various functions of the cell was a major breakthrough in the evolution of life.

Do cells exist nowadays that do not have a nucleus? Sure! There are two more domains where the cells have no nucleus. One of them will be familiar to everyone, the domain of the Bacteria.  The other one is the domain of the Archaea, also a kind of bacteria and only recognised as a separate domain during the last decade. Click here if you want to know more about the differences between the two (warning, very technical).

Bacteria are small organisms but there are many of them. The number of different species is unknown, estimates vary between 10 million and 1 billion…! They are everywhere! There are typically 40 million bacteria in a gram of soil and a million bacteria in a millilitre of fresh water. And don’t forget the bacteria in our own body. There are about ten times more bacteria in our body than there are body cells! On average about 2 kg in an adult human body, mainly in your gut. And important for your digestion, you would die without them.

Here is a picture of the most common bacteria in your gut, the E. Coli bacteria. I will write a separate post later about bacteria and the human body.

e-coli

So, finally we have arrived at the beginning of life. About 3.5-3.8 billion years ago there lived the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) of every organism living now. We do not know much about it. It may have lived in the deep sea, near to a volcanic vent. Read Four Billion Year-Old Mystery of Last Universal Common Ancestor Solved for more information. Here is a diagram from this site, showing the first major evolutionary split, in Bacteria and Archaea .

luca

And here is the tree of life, showing the split in the three domains. First the split in Bacteria and Archaea, with the Eukaryota branching off from the Archaea. Note that the Kingdoms of Eukaryota in the graph below have often different names from the names in the visual representation above. A clear sign how this field of evolutionary biology is still in development.

tree of life

A much more detailed tree of life, although looking less like a tree, you can see below. Click here for a larger version. In blue the domain of bacteria, in green the Archaea and in red the Eukaryota. Each domain showing some of its kingdoms in different shades. Try to find homo sapiens..:-) And notice how huge and complicated the domain of the Bacteria is.

The names in the outer circle of this diagram are representative species in their kingdom. You can spend hours checking details in Wikipedia…:-)  For example Anopheles Gambiae : Mosquito, Oryza Sativa: Rice, Takifugu rubripes : Pufferfish, etc.

Tree_of_life_SVG

That a single tree of life can be constructed for all the living organisms, suggests that life has only started once on earth.  If life arose repeatedly then all of the separate origins must have disappeared without trace.

All living organisms belong to one big family with a common past of ~3.5 billion years. Isn’t that a nice conclusion for this post…:-)?

_______________

Much of the information in this post comes from the monumental book The Ancestor’s Tale, written in 2004 by Richard Dawkins

Japan trip, October 2014: Wakayama

Waka what?  Everybody knows about Osaka and Kyoto, but Wakayama will draw a blank with many visitors of Japan. It is not mentioned at all in the Rough Guide of Japan, for example!

Wakayama is located about 60 km south-west of Osaka and we went there in the first place because of our interest in the Japanese bath culture of the onsen, the hot spring baths. The hotel we had booked, Dormy Inn, has a big onsen which occupies one floor of the hotel. Separate baths for male and female. Because everybody is naked, it is not allowed to take pictures, so I have taken a few pics from the Internet to give an impression. During our two days stay we used this onsen 5-6 times, it is really addictive…:-)

The first evening we were looking for a famous ramen stall, but it was closed. So we tried our luck in a BBQ seafood restaurant, hoping for somebody who could speak a bit of English. That was not the case but one of the waitresses was Chinese, studying Japanese language. With her help we could order quite exotic food…:-). Interesting detail, in the picture to the right I am about to eat the BBQ-ed shell. It was quite tasty. Only after swallowing it I was told that the blackish part should not be eaten as it contained the shit of the critter…:-)  Well, I survived.

The next day was the only day we had rain. Aric had to use his raincoat. We had a snack for breakfast, bread with egg and noodles, a weird combination, but the taste was good.

Rain

Funny food

Our target was the Awashima Shrine in Kada, about one hour by train from Wakayama. Kada is a small seaside town. Walking to the temple we passed another small temple with a nice cemetery.

When we arrived at the shrine the drizzle had changed in a real downpour, so we had to take shelter for a while. The temple hall itself is nothing special, it is famous for the thousands of dolls and statuettes given to the temple by devotees.

Awashima Shrine

An orgy of colours and shapes. You keep taking pictures…:-) Click a picture to enlarge

Near the temple we found another nice restaurant for lunch. Again BBQ shells and seafood. Here they had a menu in English!

After we came back in our hotel, Aric went for another onsen session (he is more addicted than me.. haha) and then we went out again, first to the ramen stall, which was open now. They have won prizes with their ramen and deservedly so. The most delicious ramen I have ever tasted.

Ramen stall

Ramen

After this dinner we went to a public bath, the Hanayama onsen. Special about this onsen is the brownish  teh tarik color of the water. Also here no pictures, here is one from the Internet. Nice experience, people come here for their bath, young and old. But of course we remained outsiders because we could not speak Japanese…:-)

Hanamaya onsen

There are many more beautiful onsen in the countryside, access not always easy, maybe we can come again another time.

For our last night we had booked the Manpa resort, a ryokan resort with its own onsen, overlooking the sea. As we could only check in after 3pm, we had the morning to spend and we decided to visit the Wakayama castle.

That was a good move, because it turned out to be a much nicer place than the touristic and crowded Osaka castle.

On out way back to the hotel, looking for a suitable place for lunch. That can be really a problem in Japan, because local eateries are not always conspicuous. Fortunately often the signs use Chinese characters (with Japanese meaning) so Aric could guess the meaning. Like was the case with this canteen where we had lunch.

As the Manpa resort is a bit remote, we took a taxi. The resort has a nice view of the sea and also here one complete floor is reserved for the onsen. We had a nice room in Japanese style with a sea view.

Of course we went a few times to the onsen. There were not many guests, so we had the bath for ourselves, and even could take a few pictures.

The (expensive) Manpa package includes a traditonal Japanese dinner and a breakfast the next morning. The dinner was a delight, although we could not read the menu. But the waitress was very nice

Manpa dinner

Manpa dinner

The departure time for our flight back to KL from Kansai airport was at 11 am, so we had to wake up early for our last onsen and then our breakfast. The breakfast was again very traditional Japanese, very fishy, actually not easy to eat so early in the morning….:-)

Manpa breakfast

Manpa breakfast

It was a remarkable trip. Not always easy, I needed quite a few days to recover. But it will be worthwhile to come back again.

 

Japan trip, October 2014: Kyoto

Our host in Osaka had advised us which train to take to Fushimi, one of the “wards” of Kyoto, where Aric had booked accommodation in the Kuretake Ann-Inn . We arrived early, so  we dropped our luggage and explored Fushimi. A pleasant surprise compared to hectic Osaka.

The main tourist attractions of Fushimi are the Inari shrine (see below) and the Sake museum. The water here has a reputation for being very clear and natural and one of the large Sake distilleries, Gekkeikan,  is  located here.  It is easy to get addicted to this Japanese rice wine…:-)

After our museum visit we went to our guesthouse where we received a warm welcome from our host Adachi san. After retiring as a lawyer, he had developed the family house in a ryokan , a traditional Japanese inn. Our room had tatami flooring, sliding doors, there was a tea set and and kimonos were prepared for us. Recently he had added hot spring baths to the inn, and he was eager to explain how to use these baths in the correct way.

When we asked if we could have breakfast in the inn, he became even more enthusiastic,cooking was his hobby, but we could have it only two days later, because he needed time to prepare! We really felt at home in his inn, adn took a hot bath every evening. Following his suggestion to have a glass of sake while having your bath. Heaven!

The breakfast, in very Japanese style, was a delight, both for our eyes and on our tongue. The last night we movd to another, even more splendid room. Ryokans are not cheap, but it was one of  the highlights of our trip

Kyoto is a town of temples and shrines and visitors run the risk of developing a temple syndrome after a few days. We decided to limit ourselves to a few of the most interesting temples and started with the Kinkaku-ji temple, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

Kinkaku-ji

It is a Zen Buddhist temple and the temple gardens are considered a prime example of Japanese garden design. The weather was beautiful, some of the trees were already in autumn colors. Of course we were not the only visitors..:-) It was nice to see quite a few Jaoanese girls in traditional dress.

 Four our lunch Aric had discovered on the Internet what must be the smallest sushi restaurant in the world! With our data plan enabled it was no problem to find the place. The restaurant has a tiny bar with only five seats. When we arrived, we had to wait until there was free space.
The man was preparing the food, his wife was serving tea and sake, The other customers were two ladies, very shy in the beginning, but after one of them had finished two (!) beers, they became more talkative. The food was delicious. Another highlight of our trip…:-)

In the afternoon we visited another temple, the Fushimi Inari shrine. Characteristic for this huge temple complex are the walkways lined with thousands of torii . A torii is the traditional Japanese gate, and, as Inari is the patron of business, each of these torii has been donated by a Japanese business.

Fushimi InariIt is a photographers delight…:-). The temple complex is located on a hill and it takes a few hours to explore everything. Also here of course many visitors. Here is a collection of pictures. The temple complex contains numerous smaller shrines and visitors carry small torii up, with a prayer written on it, and leave them at these shrines.

Even the sunset was red…:-) We could not reach the top of the hill, it was already dark when we left the temple. When you have only time for one shrine, I would suggest this one..:-)

The following day we visited two more temples. First the Ginkaku-ji temple, another Zen temple, famous for its sand garden. The sand mound symbolises the Fuji mountain.

Ginkaku-ji

Personally I like this kind of quite austere temple design.  Very pleasant garden, nice autumn colours.

In the afternoon we went to the Kiyumiza-dera Buddhist temple. It was a Saturday afternoon. there was a festive crowd, quite a few in traditional dress.

Kiyomiza dera

The Kiyumiza temple  was founded in 798, and its present buildings were constructed in 1633 It is is famous for its three “waterfalls”. Visitors can catch and drink the water, which is believed to have wish-granting powers

I found Kiyoto more attractive than Osaka. It still a big town, and the general townscape is ugly, but here and there you can still find nice old buildings, especially in the Gion district. Lively markets and everywhere temples. Here a mix of various scenes.

Talking with our host the night before our departure, he asked us, did you visit the Byodo-in temple in Uji? We had to confess that we had never heard about it. It is nearby, he explained,  and the temple figures on the 10 Yen coin. As we had some time in the morning before going to Wakayama, we decided to add one more temple to our list…:-)

And an attractive temple it was! An old one too. The central hall was built in 1053

Byodo-in

After visiting this temple it was time to leave Kyoto and travel to our last destination Wakayama

Japan trip, October 2014: Osaka

For many years we have been thinking about a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. China and Taiwan are “easy” countries for us (i.e. for Aric). Would the language be a problem in Japan? Finally we decided to give it a try, so we booked an Air Asia flight to Osaka. A 9D8N trip, two nights in Osaka, three in Kyoto and three in Wakamaya. Aric was the organiser, I just followed him…:-)

In Osaka he had booked, via Airbnb , a nice studio, near Dotonbori, the nightlife and entertainment district of Osaka. We walked around and bought snack food at several stalls.

The next morning we visited our first temple, just beside our apartment, the Namba Yasaka shrine . It is a Shinto shrine, old but rebuilt after the war. The enormous lion head-shaped hall is quite spectacular. Religion in Japan is a confusing mixture of (animist) Shinto and Buddhism. Devotees write their prayer on a small plaque, called ema, and hang it in the shrine, where the kami (spirit/god) can read it.

After this quiet start, a hectic morning followed, as we had to solve two problems. First we had to find an ATM machine that accepted my (Dutch) bank card. Surprisingly many ATM do not have  the “Maestro” option. Fortunately we had exchanged already some money in KL. We also needed a data plan, because we use Internet a lot while exploring a town, especially Google Maps. At the airport we could not get it. Using WiFi in our studio Aric had found a Citibank and a big telecom shop near the Umeda Sky Building, so we decided to go there, using the subway. The Osaka subway is not for the faint-hearted, but we managed..:-) . The Citibank accepted my ATM card, later we discovered that most 7-Eleven stores also have ATM machines which accept Maestro. We also found the telecom shop where Aric bought a data plan. But we could activate it only in our studio, so that first day, we did not have our Google Map.

Our next destination was the Castle of Osaka, the main, and according to many the only tourist attraction of Osaka…:-). The origins of the castle date back to the 17th century, but also here it was severely damaged in the war and later reconstructed. Located in a park, surrounded by a moat. Quite impressive. Lots of tourists.

Castle Osaka

For lunch Aric had chosen a local restaurant where they served BBQ-ed Kobe Beef. He had the coordinates, but we had no Google map. What do to? We walked a lot, partly underground from one subway station to another, we crossed shopping streets. We even asked policemen. Finally we found it. But it was closed…haha

Instead of Kobe beef we had some snacks and then went to the Harukas 300 building, the tallest skyscraper of Japan, 300 meter high. From the observatory floor we had an impressive view of Osaka. We spent some time there because we wanted to see the sunset (which is early, around 5:30 pm).

Before looking for dinner we first visited the nearby shopping center, where Aric bought a samurai sword! The customs in KL was at first a bit suspicious about it, but this was a ceremonial sword, not sharp, so it was not confiscated…:-). Walking back through the market, we finally found a BBQ restaurant, where we had Kobe beef. Expensive but delicious, almost melting on your tongue.

It was a long day, with many new impressions. The town architecture is not attractive, gray and boring.  Streets are clean, we did not see any graffiti. The Japanese people are friendly, but communication is difficult. And they are very disciplined, when the pedestrian lights are red, nobody will cross. The school children are wearing identical uniforms, quite cute.

We stayed two nights in Osaka and that was enough.

 

Journal 5-10-2014

On September 8,  the Mid-Autumn Festival was celebrated in the Chinese world. It is also called the Mooncake festival because of the tradition to eat mooncakes during this period. We went back that weekend to Aric’s hometown and decided to combine it with a visit of Teluk Intan. I had visited Teluk Intan numerous times and knew that it was famous for its landmark, the leaning tower.

Leaning tower

But there is more to see. A friend of mine maintains an interesting  website Malaysia Traveller and he has published an article about the Teluk Intan Attractions. It has a map with the location of the various points of interest. Here is a collection of interesting buildings. Visit his site for more details.

On our way back home, after the weekend, Aric suggested to stop for a while in Sekinchan. The village is famous for its seafood restaurants, but there is also a nice beach, Pantai Redang. In general I am not that keen on the beaches of the Straits of Melaka (Port Dickson, argh!) but this was a pleasant surprise. Local people have built a number of tree houses along the beach, using driftwood, parts of old boats, fishing nets etc. The result is very attractive. There is also a Chinese temple with a wishing tree. Will probably be crowded during weekends. Worth a visit!

Back home, we had dinner with Caroline, her boyfriend Dave and her brother Julian. Caroline is the daughter of my dear friend Yian Tze Ang, who passed away in 2010. Since then we have kept in touch, so when she came back from New Zealand to Malaysia for some time, we met for chitchat and dinner. One topic of conversation was that I had taken up playing flute after many years, but that I was unhappy with the condition of the instrument. “Why not use the flute my mother has been playing”, Caroline said, “She would have been very happy with the idea”

With some hesitation I accepted this generous offer, so a few days later I met them again, the flute was handed over ceremoniously and I am now playing it…:-)

Dinner withCaroline

Handing over the flute

Here is a first result, Paul and I are playing the famous Canon in D by Pachelbel. Keep in mind that both Paul and I have not been playing for several decades! We will have to practice more, and maybe Caroline will join us on guitar…:-)

The next weekend I went to Lenggong and Taiping with Joe Yap for a heritage trip, You can find a detailed report here.

My daily routine is still to walk in Bukit Kiara followed by breakfast in IKEA. When you have been following my blog, you will have read quite a few posts about Bukit Kiara, for example: Bukit Kiara, Not All is Well

I am pessimistic about the future of this unique piece of nature within the city. But still beauty can be found there.

Bukit Kiara Bukit Kiara

Yesterday we attended a Chinese wedding dinner. Hundreds of guests, a huge banquet hall. A nice-course dinner, quite good food. But the hall was freezing cold.Good that the hosts were generous with Hennessy XO..:-)  The Master of Ceremony was in drag, quite funny (if you understand Chinese, that is). After the official toast, he made a round through the hall, making fun of the guests. And as I was the only Kwai Loh in the hall, of course he had to pick me, LOL.

 

The Ig Nobel Prizes

Last week for the 24th time the yearly Ig Nobel prizes have been awarded. The ceremony took place at the prestigious Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts , USA

The Ig Nobel prizes?

Here is what the supporting foundation for Improbable Research says about it:

IG Nobel prizes are awarded for research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK

This year the Ig Noble prize for physics has been given to the Japanese scientist Kiyoshi Mabuchi of Kitasato University for studying the hazards of stepping on a banana peel!  Here he is, during the official ceremony

Ig Nobel prize

 

Don’t underestimate his research! Here is the official paper: Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin.

A few more examples of Ig Nobel prizes.

2014 Neuroscience:  to Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, and Kang Lee, for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.

2013 Biology/Astronomy: Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke Scholtz, and Eric Warrant, for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way.

2012 Medicine: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti, for advising doctors who perform colonoscopy how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode

Click here for the complete list. In the beginning the prizes sometimes had a sarcastic undertone, like for example

1998 Physics: Deepak Chopra of the Chopra Center for Well Being, La Jolla, California, for his unique interpretation of quantum physics as it applies to life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic happiness

But now it has become more serious, the prize winners eagerly travel (at their own expenses) to Harvard to attend the ceremony and the prizes are given by “real” Nobel Prize winners.

There is even one scientist who has won BOTH the Ig Nobel prize AND the Nobel prize! Andre Geim, a Soviet-born Dutch-British (!) physicist, won the Ig Nobel prize for physics in 2000 experimenting with magnets to levitate a frog. Here is a picture of the poor critter. If you are wondering how this is possible, it is because of diamagnetism

Levitating frog

Ten years later, in 2010, Geim received the Physics Nobel prize for his research about the new wonder material of graphene, a two-dimensional layer of carbon atoms.

Graphene

The way he and his collaborator Novoselov managed to make a single layer of carbon atoms? They used Scotch tape!

Ok, here is one more Ig Nobel prize…:-)

2009 Public Health: Elena N. Bodnar, Raphael C. Lee, and Sandra Marijan of Chicago, US, for inventing a bra that can be quickly converted into a pair of gas masks—one for the wearer and one to be given to a needy bystander

bra_gasmask

By the way, ever heard about the Darwin Awards?  Maybe a suitable topic for another post…:-)

Elusive Batangsi

In my last Journal I mentioned an unsuccessful hike to a remote waterfall, where we went back because I felt “discomfort”. After my cardiologist had given me a clean bill of health, of course I wanted to go back and give this Batangsi waterfall another try..:-) This time with Aric, Edwin, Janine, Nick and Siang Hui as our guide. We met at Sg Long for breakfast, after which we bought our lunch at the lively pasar pagi.

Before I start the report about our hike, it may be useful to explain first why we are so interested in the mysterious Batangsi waterfall…:-) Here is a Google Map of the region (click to enlarge). At the top you see part of the Semenyih reservoir. The green marker gives the location of the well-known Nirwana Memorial Park and to the right you see the border between Selangor and Negeri Sembilan. And in the middle of nowhere there is a marker for the Batangsi Falls!

Could there really be a waterfall there, or is it just a mistake of the map maker? On the topo map of the region there is no mention of a waterfall.

Google Map

Intrigued by this mysterious fall, we have been exploring the region several times during the last ten (!) years. We found the Batangsi river with a few cascades and small waterfalls. It resulted in a webpage Batangsi Fall on my Waterfalls of Malaysia website. Here are two of the small waterfalls/cascades we found.

Batangsi

Batangsi

Were there more waterfalls upstream? In 2008 I joined Aurelius and his friends, we followed a farm road until the end. From there we river trekked upstream for about three hours. Nice hike but no waterfalls.

Batangsi Aurelius

Here is a Google Map with our hike. Black is the farm road, blue the river trekking.

Google_Aurelius

In 2012 Siang Hui and Harry (†) did another hike, following the river much further. Coming to a split in the river, they decided to follow the right branch and finally found a real waterfall…:-)

Google_SH_Harry

Batangsi Fall

During this hike they had come to a split of the Batangsi river and decided to follow the right branch. Could there be another waterfall in the left branch? Studying the contour lines of the topo maps, Siang Hui thought there might be one.

When you look at the first map picture in this blog, you will notice that there are two farm roads leading inland and for our next recce we took the other one. It ends at a temple, from where a clear trail starts. Unfortunately I did not feel well after about one hour hiking , so we turned back. Here is a Google Maps screenshot. The possible waterfall is marked with a red star.

Another Recce

The yellow marker indicates the location of the temple. As you see our hike (green track) brings us quite deep into the interior! On our way back we went down to the river for a bath (brown line)

After this “longish” introduction, here is the report about our latest hike. Again we followed the farmroad, passing flower and vegetable farms, until we reached the impressive Buddhist temple.

We started our hike from the temple at 9:15 am and were back at 5pm. It was an interesting, tough hike, but we did not reach the waterfall! However, we have now a clear idea how to proceed on our next, and hopefully final hike…:-). Here is our hike (in green) on Google Earth, only the main part is shown  (click to enlarge) and I have numbered a few points of interest. The coloring is a bit different, dark blue is my trip with Aurelius, light blue the hike of Siang Hui and Harry and red our aborted hike.

Our hike

From the temple it took us about one hour plus to reach point (1) where I went back during our last recce. Until there the trail was well kept so we were expecting that from there it would continue. But after another half hour hiking, the trail disappeared (2). We backtracked  to see if we had missed the trail, but it was really gone.

From that point Saing Hui had to do a lot of chopping. After a while we reached a small stream (3) and we decided to follow it back to the Batangsi river. In retrospect that was a mistake, as we were only about 400 meter away from the river split we wanted to reach. After we reached the river (4), we trekked upstream to a small waterfall where we had lunch and a bath (5).

It was already getting late and we decided not to continue, but river trek back. River trekking is fun, but also slow, so when we reached a run-down biker camp (6) near the river, with a trail going uphill, we decided to take that trail.

Also here we lost the trail and it took us quite a long time, after even going in a completely wrong direction (7) for a while, to reach the logging road (8)!

We were very lucky with the weather during this trip. It was only a few hundred meters before reaching the temple that a downpour started. And a real downpour it was…:-)

Siang Hui and Nick had to go back home early, so it was only the four of us who could enjoy a delicious seafood dinner in Semenyih.

A memorable trip. We are thinking about a (hopefully) final attempt. After reaching the small stream (3) not following it but chopping our way to the confluence. From there river trekking. Then basically the same way back. The black line in the map below.

Next recce

Journal 1-9-2014

Time flies. My last journal was published seven weeks ago, just after I came back to Malaysia. After recovering from jet lag (not so difficult this time), I settled down in my usual routine. A morning walk in Bukit Kiara followed by breakfast (RM 1 only!) at IKEA. Spending a lot of time with my laptop, actually too much, especially now that I have become addicted to acomputer game called  Hay Day  :-(

But of course also quite a lot of social activities, like meeting friends and enjoying food. Here is a selection of (food) pictures.

Soon after I was back home and acclimatised, the urge came to visit a waterfall. So I eagerly accepted my friend Siang Hui’s invitation for a recce to a remote waterfall in the Semenyih region. It would be a long hike, we had to leave early. Three of us, my friend Teoh also joined. Maybe because I did not sleep well the night before, but after about one hour on our way, I did not feel well, a tight feeling in my chest. After a discussion with my friends, we decided to go back.

I was worried (and not only I…haha), so I made an appointment with my cardiologist for an echo and a stress test. I could see him only after Hari Raya (the end of Ramadan), so I kept quiet a bit for a while.  Quite relieved when the results were ok!

With Hari Raya we visited Aric’s hometown. It is an old Malay custom to fire impressive coconut palm canons, celebrating the Hari Raya Aidilfitri festival. And impressive it was, I was worried for a while that it might affect my hearing. I wrote a separate blog about it: Boom Boom!!

Hari Raya

After I had received my clean bill of health, I was looking forward to meet Akke and Pim and show them a few nice places in my 2nd home…-).  Akke is the daughter of friend of mine, who, with her future husband, was traveling in Malaysia. We visited the Kanching waterfalls and the Batu Caves and completed it with a delicious dinner, prepared by Aric.

Here are a few recent pictures of Bukit Kiara, where I have my daily exercise. I have written many blog posts about it, you can find them here . I am quite pessimistic about its future, JLN (the National Landscape Department) is trying to transform it into a concentration camp, including barbed wire fencing ..:-(  But still beautiful, along the budding Penchala river I have hidden another of my geocaches.

I am a member of the Taiping Heritage Society. I joined them in May on a trip to Lenggong. A few weeks ago they organised a members night and asked me to give short talk about this trip. Here are some pictures. I had prepared too much material for my talk, so I have published this material in a separate blog post  Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley

On my way back from Taiping, I decided to stop at Pos Dipang to meet my Orang Asli friend Jinnah and his family. Recently he has been our guide to the spectacular Pos Dipang waterfalls.Very nice people. They belong to the Semai tribe, my Bahasa (Malay language) is bad, but we could communicate quite well in broken English.

Jinnah & family

To end this journal, a few pictures of a trip made with Aric to a Hot Springs near Bentong. I had passed the place before several times, the hot springs were not well maintained. But now some renovation had taken place, itr looked a lot better. The water was not too hot and you could use the mud from the bottom to scrub your skin…:-)

 

Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley

In May the Taiping Heritage society has organised a trip to the Lenggong valley, see my blog THS excursion . Last week THS organised a members night and they had asked me to give a talk about the trip. Preparing for my talk, I  collected a lot of information from the Internet, but I had not enough time to present everything in my talk…:-) That is the reason for this post.

In 2012 the Lenggong valley was declared a Unesco world heritage site, because of the many archaeological discoveries made during the last decades. Most notably, the discovery in 1991 of the Perak Man, a well preserved skeleton, dating back to ~ 11.000 BP where BP stands for Before Present and Present is defined as 1-1-1950. In Geology and Archaeology  BP has replaced BC (Before Christ) and the politically correct BCE (Before Common Era)

Here is a GE map of the Lenggong region with the location of the various archaeological sites (click to enlarge). The mighty Perak river is clearly visible. The green track is from a trip made in 2007 with my friend Liz Price, Caves and Waterfalls Google Earth Map

Some comments about the various locations.

The skeleton of the Perak Man has been found in the Gua Gunung Runtuh. It is now exhibited in the Lenggong Museum. The Gunung Runtuh cave is at the moment closed to the public, but in 2007 we could still enter the cave after a steep climb..:-)  The skeleton was originally surrounded by grave gifts, in the museum now it is surrounded by high-tech gadgets to control humidity, etc!

In 2004 another skeleton has been found in the nearby Gua Teluk Kelawar, now called the Perak Woman, dated ~ 8000 BP. I will not be surprised if more discoveries will be made in the future. Because it is clear that this region around the Perak river has been very suitable for human habitation throughout the ages! Limestone caves for shelter, a river (in the past a lake) nearby, etc

The other archaeological sites in the Lenggong valley have until now only shown evidence of human activity in the form of tools and “tool shops”, where these tools were manufactured.

The oldest of these sites is Bukit Jawa,  a palaeolithic tool workshop site on the shores of an island in a lake now long ago disappeared. About 200.000-300.000 years ago. Who made those tools? This is before our species, Homo Sapiens sapiens, started the emigration out of Africa. We will only know when fossil remains of hominins are found. We visited Bukit Jawa in 2007, there is not much to see.Bukit Jawa Bukit Jawa

The toolshops at Kota Tampan are younger, about 70.000 year old. Also here no fossils of human remains have been found, but it is quite possible that the people making these tools, belonged to our species (see below). Activity in these workshops came to an abrupt end when the Toba volcano erupted, Kota Tampan tools have been found covered wit the thick layers of ash. At the Kota Tampan location the Lenggong Museum has been built.

Next in age are the toolshops at Bukit Bunuh, about 40.000 years old. Followed by the two caves where the Perak Man and Woman were found.

Much younger, about 4000-3000 BP are the graves found in Gua Harimau. And in the nearby Gua Badak, rock paintings have been found, made by the Negrito Orang Asli. Very recent, maybe only 100 year old. But interesting as rock paintings are rare in Malaysia

Altogether an impressive collection of archaeological sites, hopefully they will be preserved well after being declared a World Heritage Site.

Human migration, Out of Sundaland ?

It is about 200.000 years ago that our species, homo sapiens sapiens evolved in Africa. All humans, living these days, have a common ancestor, both in the maternal line (Mitochondrial Eve) and the paternal one (Y-chromosomal Adam). Between 95.000 and 75.000 year ago one of their descendants (Eurasian Adam), started to migrate to Europa and Asia. By analysing the mutations in the DNA of the Y-chromosome of present humans, it is possible to get an idea about the migration route followed by the ancestors.

A few years ago both Aric and I had our DNA analysed (by the Genographic Project). Here is the route followed by our (paternal) ancestor. Our routes split about 35.000 year ago, in what is now called Tajikistan. My line developing into a Caucasian, Aric’s line into a Chinese…:-) See my blog My ancestors for more information about this fascinating topic. Our ancestor

What has this to do with Lenggong, you may ask. Well, the theory of human migration is still a developing theory, with many variations. In the prevalent version, humans migrated to South East Asia from around Taiwan, going south. An alternative option is that  the migrants followed more or less the coastal line, via India, arriving in Sundaland, from there spreading in northern direction

migration

Sundaland? Yes, in the period we are talking about, the world was in what is called the Ice Age. The huge amount of ice covering the Arctic and Antarctic resulted in very low sea levels, more than 100 meter lower than nowadays. Present day Sumatra, Borneo, Malaysia formed one land mass, called Sundaland Sundaland

In the map above, the location of the Toba eruption is indicated. This dismal eruption and the following volcanic winter may have had a dramatic effect on the still very small global homo sapiens population, killing most of them and causing what is called a genetic bottleneck It is estimated that the global population of our species at that time was no more  than 10.000 – 20.000! It certainly stopped the operation of the Kota Tampan tool shops. But the people living there may have survived in small numbers, because the prevailing winds were westwards. Could it be that after the Toba eruption, further migration took place out of Sundaland?

A fascinating, though rather controversial theory, proposed by the British geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer. No surprise that USM, responsible for much of the archealogical research in the Lenggong valley, is quite happy with this theory.  Malaysia as the cradle of humanity!

A meteorite impact at Bukit Bunuh

In 2009 USM announced a spectacular discovery at  Bukit Bunuh. At this location many boulders were found of a very special material, called suevite. Suevite can be formed when a meteorite collides with the earth. The ages of these rocks, using fission track dating, has been determined as 1.8 ± 0.6 million year. There are indications of circular craters in the Bukit Bunuh region, so it could well be that between 1.2 and 2.4 million year ago a meteorite has hit here. In itself already an interesting discovery. It became spectacular when in 2007 a hand-axe was found, embedded in a suevite boulder. Meaning that around the time of impact, 1.8 million year ago, hominins were already living at Bukit Bunuh! Here is a newspaper article about the discovery: Early axes found in Perak. The picture shows  Dr Mokhtar Saidin, holding up the axe. Prof Mokhtar

After the jubilant announcement in the media, now already five years ago, it has become disturbingly quiet. I have not been able to find any reference on the Internet to a scientific publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The meteorite impact was supposed to be registered at the Earth Impact Database, but that too has not yet happened. In interviews an age of 1.83 million year is mentioned, without giving the error margin of 0.6 million year, which is scientifically bad practice. Here is a typical example: Interview with Dr. Mokhtar Saidin

Honestly, I have my doubts. Here are a few more links, in case you are interested

Bukit Bunuh, oldest Paleolithic site , quote:  “There should be on-going research to get a true picture of the people who settled in this area since 1.83 million years ago and this can change several theories about the Paleolithic people such as the nomadic theory and movement of prehistoric man.

USM Discovers Concrete Evidence That Can Chance (sic!) The History Of Early Man