November 30 – Anniversary of the only documented case of a meteorite hitting a human!

Posted on November 30, 2013

Alabama resident Ann Hodges was just minding her own business, taking an afternoon nap, on this date in 1954.

When suddenly – CRASH! – a meteorite bulleted through her roof, bounced off of a radio (thank goodness, this was in the days when radios were large pieces of wooden furniture!), and hit her as she lay on the couch.

She was badly bruised where the meteorite hit her—but she was basically fine, and of course the bruise healed.

The meteor was so bright in the sky, as it burned through the atmosphere, that people in three different states saw it as a fireball in the sky even though it was daytime! Some witnesses reported hearing an explosion or boom, which was probably an air blast or shock wave created by the chunk of space rock pushing through the air at such a tremendous speed.

(By the way, did you notice that a chunk of space rock is called a meteor when it is streaking through the atmosphere? The chunks that are large enough to reach the ground (most burn all the way up in the atmosphere) are called meteorites once they make impact. And when they are still floating around in space, they are sometimes called meteoroids!)

The U.S. Air Force sent out a helicopter to take the meteorite from Hodges. (I guess they were worried it might be a piece of some sort of Soviet technology.) 

Hodges and her husband were briefly famous—and offers to buy the meteorite poured in from all over—so they hired a lawyer to get it back from the government. The owner of the house that the Hodges rented felt that she should be able to own the meteorite, and sell it to cover the cost of the repairs. Finally, a year after the meteorite impact, the government awarded ownership to Ann Hodges.

By that time, however, people were “over” the excitement, and Hodges couldn't find a buyer. So she donated it to the local university's museum of natural history.

It's pretty cool because the meteorite is commonly called the Hodges meteorite!


By the way...
I mentioned in my title that Hodges was the only human to be documented to have been hit by a meteorite. However, there is a written but unconfirmed report that a man in what is now Italy died after being hit by a meteorite in 1677, and in 1992 a really tiny fragment of a meteorite hit a boy in Uganda—after being slowed down by a tree. So I am not entirely sure why the Hodges meteorite is called “the only documented case of a meteorite hitting a human”!

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November 29 – December 7 – Marrakech International Film Festival

Posted on November 29, 2013

For the thirteenth year, aspiring film makers will meet with luminaries of the movie world in an international festival! Famed director Martin Scorsese will head up the jury who will judge the films.

You can have a mini-film-festival yourself by watching some indie movies, documentaries, and cartoon shorts.
  • Have you seen the 2010 animated feature A Cat in Paris? How about the stop-motion film A Town Called Panic? I've heard some really good things about The Secret of Kells (although apparently there is cartoon violence, so it might not be okay for younger kids). All these movies should be available streaming on Netflix.







  • Netflix streaming offers such wonderful documentaries as Chasing Ice, Waste Land and Exit Through the Gift Shop.







  • I Googled animated short films for kids and ended up with Fishing with Sam, on You Tube, and a whole bunch of other suggestions on the sidebar!




Where in the world is Marrakech?

If you are in Africa, and you travel the farthest you can go northwest, you'll be in Morocco; and, in the heart of the nation of Morocco, you will find the city of Marrakech. It is an old, fortified city near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, and it is packed with vendors selling Berber rugs, handicrafts, and modern electronic devices in stalls; it also has modern neighborhoods and brand new hotels and resorts.

Wouldn't you love to go to a traditional Berber market, where you can buy from people who specialize in lemons, or pickles, or green and red and black olives? Another souk might offer all sorts of dried fruits and nuts, and yet another will offer hand-woven baskets, natural perfumes, and iguana skins. Go to one souk for ironware and lanterns and another for tee shirts and slippers.


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November 28 – Thanksgivukkah

Posted on November 28, 2013

Many people are saying that this has never happened before. And that it won't happen again until the year 79,811!

Which is more than 77 THOUSAND years from now.

But....that's not quite true.

What are we talking about? This year a very rare event is going to happen: Hanukkah will start on Thanksgiving!




Gobble tov! Get out your menurkey! Light the candles on the tur-norah! Spin the drumstick dreidel and collect the giblet gelt!


Now, why, oh why am I disagreeing with the people saying that this has never happened before and won't happen again for tens of thousands of years?

Breaking it down:

Although the Pilgrims and their friendly Native American neighbors ate the first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621, and President George Washington declared a national day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November in 1789, Thanksgiving didn't become a regular, predictable national holiday until 1863, when Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be henceforth a national holiday. (He was of course honoring the date that Washington had established as a one-time thing 74 years earlier.)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt later changed Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday in November; still, we will start counting from the 1863 Thanksgiving. And here is how Thanksgiving stacks up with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah:

(Wait! First I'd better mention that Hanukkah is always celebrated on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. Also, Jewish holidays always start at sundown of the evening before. So, keeping those things in mind...)


Thanksgiving 11/29/1888 – first day of Hanukkah (but it started the evening before, so light two candles on the menorah)

Thanksgiving 11/30/1899 – fifth day of Hanukkah (light 6 candles)

Thanksgiving 11/28/1899 – Hanukkah eve (light 1 candle)

Thanksgiving 11/28/2013 – first day of Hanukkah (light 2 candles)

And, assuming that Thanksgiving continues to be the fourth Thursday, and that the Gregorian calendar remains in use without alteration, AND assuming that Hanukkah remains Kislev 25 on the unaltered Hebrew calendar:

Thanksgiving 11/27/2070 – Hanukkah eve (light 1 candle)

Thanksgiving 11/28/2165 – Hanukkah eve (light 1 candle)

Where did the 79,811 date come in? A Jewish scholar computed that date as the next time that the FIRST day of Hanukkah (light two candles) would happen on the fourth Thursday of November. I feel just a little bit skeptical that it will take that long for the calendars to synch up again...but I can see that this is a different question than “When will any part of the Hanukkah celebration (from sundown of the 24th of Kislev to sundown on the last day of Hanukkah) coincide with Thanksgiving?”

For more on Thanksgiving, check out these earlier posts:




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November 27 – Happy Birthday, Bill Nye (the Science Guy)

Posted on November 27, 2013

A lot of “science guys” aren't famous. Perhaps especially the mechanical engineers who apply every few years to NASA to become astronauts, but are rejected each and every time!

But Bill Nye crafted an entertainer / educator role for himself, somehow, and has become one of the most famous science educators around.

Perhaps he was inspired by one of his college professors, who also became a science educator and media darling, Carl Sagan. Perhaps he realized that he liked being in front of a camera when he worked at Boeing starring in training films. Perhaps it was because a television show host teased him and created that famous rhyming name, Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Why would a TV show host tease a mechanical engineer? Well, the host of Almost Live! mispronounced a word, gigawatt, pronouncing it jigawatt. Bill Nye called in to correct the mistake. And the host asked him, “Who do you think you are—Bill Nye the Science Guy?”

Perhaps the host didn't like being corrected. Or perhaps the host was a genius who knew how to use a call-in to recruit a new actor for the sketch comedy show.

Because Nye became “the Science Guy” on the show. From there he earned a nonspeaking role as an assistant and demonstrator on Back to the Future: The Animated Series, and eventually his own show—called, of course, Bill Nye the Science Guy. That show lured a wider audience than expected, including adults, and became popular as a teaching aid in schools. And Nye wasn't just the eager science buff on-camera—he wrote for the show and became a producer as well. Nye's Science Guy persona became popular enough to be the subject of parody, and Nye joked right back.
Nye is sometimes called
"a firebrand for science."

Becoming a cultural icon

Even though Nye's show ended after 100 episodes, in 1998, Nye continued to act and teach science and act some more. From acting in movies to being the voice-over in features at Walt Disney World, from hosting TV specials to guest starring in shows such as Numb3rs and The Big Bang Theory, from being one of the “stars” on Dancing with the Stars to being an on-camera expert on television news programs, Nye has continued to help people understand science, help people laugh, or both at once!


Bill Nye is very involved with two organizations I like to promote. He is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and he is the Executive Director of The Planetary Society.


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November 26 – Anniversary of the First European to See Maui

Posted on November 26, 2013

In 1778, James Cook was already a well known British explorer, navigator, mapmaker, and captain in the Royal Navy.

He had already surveyed and mapped the entrance to the Saint Lawrence River in Canada, and he had led an expedition to record the Venus Transit from the Pacific island of Tahiti. 

He had mapped out the coast of New Zealand, become the first European to explore the east coast of Australia, and had claimed for England islands such as South Georgia and “Sandwich Land.” 

He had searched and searched the South Pacific for the hypothetical Terra Australis that many scholars thought MUST exist to balance out in the Southern Hemisphere all the landmass in the Northern Hemisphere. (Cook and others before him had “discovered” Australia, but it wasn't large enough to qualify for what scholars believed must be there.) Cook was able to firmly establish that there was no such huge southern landmass.

And then there was Cook's third and last Pacific expedition. He was supposed to seek for a Northwest Passage—the long-hoped-for and expected way to sail from Europe to Asia, without having that pesky North American continent in the way.

On his way northward through the Pacific Ocean, in January of 1778, Cook became the first European to see the Hawaiian Islands. Afterwards he successfully explored and mapped the western coast of North America, from Oregon to Canada to Alaska. When he returned to the Hawaiian Islands, he may have been thought to be a god named Lono—although when he returned to the islands for repairs he and his men quarreled and fought with the Hawaiians. During one of these fights, attack, Cook was killed.

Although Cook saw Maui on this date in 1778, he didn't land on the island, because he couldn't find a good harbor. Here's what he missed:

  • Haleakala is a dormant volcano, and when you stand at the top and look into the crater, you can often see swirls of subtle colors on the cinder cones inside...unless you are lucky enough to see clouds inside the crater!



  • Pools of 'Ohe'o (once called the Seven Sacred Pools) are a series of pools connected by waterfalls. People love to take a dip in these pools!











  • Waterfalls. Lots of waterfalls. These days, the road to the Pools of 'Ohe'o and Hana features a waterfall practically at every turn. Each one more lovely than the last. It took a long time for us to get to Hana, because we spent so much time looking and photographing and even hiking to waterfalls and the jewel-like pools below them!

  • Iao Needle, a sudden, unexpected ridge covered with greenery. This lava remnant rises 1,200 feet (370 m) from the valley floor. It looks like a spire (or needle) when the ridge is viewed end-on.

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Day of the Covenant in the Baha'i Faith




 Giving Tuesday 







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November 25 – St. Catherine's Day

Posted on November 25, 2013

St. Catherine lived and died a long, long time ago – from around 282 C.E. to 305 C.E. A princess from Alexandria, Egypt, Catherine is said to have been a scholar who converted to Christianity at age 14, and who was beheaded by the Roman Emperor Maximinus II when she was in her early twenties.

The holiday began in the Catholic church but soon became a pretty secular celebration (like St. Valentine's and Patrick's Days). These days, it is especially popular in French Canada and Estonia.

From a revolving wheel of firecrackers (called a “Catherine's Wheel) and the baking of “Cattern cakes” in England to the celebration of “Catherinettes” (unmarried women) with greeting cards and outrageous hats (and sometimes parades wearing those hats) in France – St. Catherine's Day is celebrated in many ways in Europe.



In French Canada, girls make St. Catherine's taffy for boys that they like. The holiday is sometimes called “Taffy Day” (but, you know, in French). The reason for the association of candy with this feast day is kind of random – a woman named Marguerite Bourgeois started a public school in a tiny town that would eventually grow into Montreal; she wanted to lure First Nations children to the school, so November 25, 1658, she laid a trail of wrapped taffy on the ground from the nearby First Nations settlement to the door of the school! That seems pretty creepy to me!

In Estonia, the holiday is a sort of feminized version of St. Martin's Day. On the evening of St. Catherine's Day, people dress up as kadri “beggars” in clean white or light-colored clothing, and they go from door to door, singing songs, giving “blessings,” and collecting “gifts.” Because women traditionally kept the herds of sheep while men farmed, the songs and blessings deal with wishes for flourishing sheep herds, and the gifts are food, cloth, or wool. (On St. Martin's Eve, people dress up in dirty men's clothes and go door to door wishing other families harvest luck and collecting gifts of sweets .)

By the way, the reason for the clean and white clothing for kadri beggars is because St. Catherine's Day is associated with the start of winter and the coming of snow.

How about a mash-up of celebrations? Buy a big bag of taffy, and make an amazing and flamboyant hat. Tonight, dress up in your best white clothing and the hat, and go door to door to wish your neighbors well and spread the taffy cheer. You can represent the Catherine's Wheels by spinning glow necklaces on your arms as you walk from door to door! When you get home, enjoy taffy apple cake!

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Independence Day in Suriname 













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