Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas 2007!

Merry Christmas!

Don't Forget The Reason for the Season

All we want for Christmas is a Championship!  Geaux Tigers!

Traditional Louisiana Bonfires on the Levee

Traditional Louisiana Bonfires on the Levee

Christmas Eve 2007 - Mars with the Full Moon in tow - photo by Renegade
Christmas Eve 2007 - Mars with the Full Moon in tow
photo by Renegade

GRAMERCY — The Gramercy Volunteer Fire Department has been on more than 150 calls this past year, but few if any were actual fire emergencies.

“Some years we have no fire calls,” Gramercy Fire Chief David Detillier said. “Other years we have three or four.”

Christmas Eve was a different story.

Detillier, his crew and firefighters from other departments kept a careful watch as more than 130 Christmas Eve bonfires burned atop the Mississippi River flood protection levee in the St. James Parish communities of Gramercy, Lutcher, Paulina and Convent.

Detillier said his Fire Department was mainly concerned about the ones within the Gramercy city limits.

“We’re going to have to watch about 40 fires tonight,” Detillier said before the bonfires were lit. “Most will burn themselves out by about 10 p.m.”

If Detillier’s attitude toward the bonfires seems nonchalant, it’s only because the ritual lighting of bonfires atop the Mississippi River levee is a longtime Christmas tradition in St. James Parish.

Thousand of visitors began flooding into the river communities at 5 p.m. Monday to jostle for best position to watch the 7 p.m. lighting of the tall pyramid-shaped bonfires.

Once the fires are lighted, a stream of cars, trucks, vans, buses and motorcycles cruises past the bonfires to take in the entire spectacle of the burning conflagrations.

Many residents along River Road opened their homes to the visitors and served a variety of gumbos, including red bean, seafood, and chicken and sausage.

Detillier said he conferred with the Lutcher and Paulina fire chiefs earlier in the day and determined the bonfires posed no hazard to nearby homes.

The chiefs recommended to Parish President Dale Hymel Jr. that it was safe to light the fires.

“As long as we have a north wind, it’s not usually a problem,” Detillier said.

Many residents, mostly those under the age of 7, believe the bonfires burn on Christmas Eve to light the way for PaPa Noël, the river parish version of Santa Claus.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette folklorist Marcia Gaudet says there is historical evidence to suggest the bonfire tradition harkens back to at least pre-Civil War days.

“It’s interesting that the tradition is mainly practiced in St. James Parish,” Gaudet said. “I think the French Maraist priests in Convent helped to preserve the tradition.”

Gaudet, in her 1984 study “Tales from the Levee: the Folklore of St. John the Baptist Parish,” speculated that the students of the Maraist priests of Jefferson College (now Manresa Retreat House) carried the custom to their hometowns.

Detillier said that even though the bonfires are not supposed to be lighted until 7 p.m., there is always one group that jumps the gun.

“They put diesel fuel on these things and then a firework or something goes astray and bam, one of the bonfires is lighted early,” Detillier said.

Does Detillier, a firefighter with more than 25 years experience, believe the fireworks story?

His response was tongue in cheek. “Well, that’s what they say.”

Check out the article at The Advocate.

Hope you caught that awesome astronomical display last night! The full moon was bright, and so was Mars... or was that Rudolph? Check the photo above, which I snapped around midnight.

Merry Christmas... and don't forget the reason for the season!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Manned Asteroid Mission?

NASA Manned Asteroid Mission

NASA Manned Asteroid Mission

NASA Manned Asteroid Mission

Here we are, nearly eight years into the 21st century, and the most spectacular manned mission NASA can pull off is a trip to the International Space Station, a mere 210 miles above the Earth. Even the most ambitious part of NASA's current plans for human spaceflight involves visiting a celestial body we've already been to: the moon. Astronauts, space buffs and an unimpressed public hunger for space exploration that's more dramatic, more heroic, more new. Something like, say, landing astronauts on a distant rock hurtling through space at 15 miles per second.

That's exactly the kind of trip NASA has been studying. In fact, scientists at the space agency recently determined that a manned mission to a near-Earth asteroid would be possible using technology being developed today. The mission wouldn't be easy. A crew of two or three would spend months riding in a cramped spacecraft before reaching their barren, nearly gravity-free target. That such a mission is even being considered, though, says a lot about the versatility of NASA's next fleet of spacecraft and the ambitions the agency has for them. If nothing else, it's a signal that space exploration could soon get much more exciting.

The Allure of an Asteroid

This wouldn't be our first trip to an asteroid. We've been visiting them by proxy for years now, using unmanned space probes. In 2000 NASA's NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft arrived at 433 Eros, which a century earlier became the first near-Earth asteroid known to man; five years later, the Japanese Hayabusa probe touched down on asteroid 25143 Itokawa.

Yet unmanned probes have their limitations. NEAR Shoemaker and Hayabusa gathered a good deal of data, but we still don't know the exact composition and internal structure of the asteroids they visited. And although Hayabusa was designed to collect two small samples from Itokawa, it's doubtful the probe will actually have anything onboard when it returns in 2010.

Humans, however, could be much more effective. Unlike robots, we adapt to our environment in real time. "We spend weeks at a rock with a Mars rover, trying to determine what it is," says Rob Landis, an engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center and one of the co-leaders of the mission feasibility study. "An astronaut could make that determination in a matter of seconds."

A human crew could travel across an asteroid more intelligently than a robot, making it easier to deploy scientific instruments, collect samples, and zero in on the areas of greatest interest. "No doubt, on a human mission we would characterize an asteroid better than we ever have," says Bruce Betts, director of projects for the Planetary Society.

Plenty of characterization needs to be done. While most asteroids are a safe distance from Earth (in an approximately 190-million-mile-wide expanse between Mars and Jupiter), Jupiter's gravitational tug and, less often, collisions between asteroids can kick these objects into orbits that pass uncomfortably close to Earth. The 270-meter-wide asteroid 99942 Apophis, for example, will pass within roughly 24,000 miles of Earth in 2029, and could come back for a direct hit in 2036.

And if we're to have any hope of deflecting asteroids, we need to know a lot more about them than we do now. First off: What, exactly, are they made of? Measurements taken by Hayabusa indicate that 40 percent of Itokawa's volume is empty space. If some asteroids are truly this porous, that's helpful information for any plan to destroy or deflect an Earth-bound object.

Averting the apocalypse isn't the only reason to study near-Earth asteroids, though. They could be floating gold mines for future deep-space expeditions. Preliminary observations suggest that some asteroids are rich in useful minerals and, better yet, frozen water—the most valuable resource a space traveler could hope to find. If water could be extracted from asteroids, it could not only be used for drinking, but also broken down into oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for rocket fuel. "It might be an ultimate way to get to Mars," Landis says.

Check out the article and the slideshow at Popular Science.

Just image the resources that could be discovered and the knowledge that would be gained by this venture. Truly exciting stuff!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Christmas Came Early...

2007 SEC Champions!
Les Miles is NOT going to Michigan!
LSU will play in the 2008 BCS Championship!

Happy Holidays from the LSU TIgers!Christmas has come early... We're going to the 'ship!

LSU's case for the National Championship game!

LSU's Ryan Perrilloux showed fans that we have a lot to look forward to next year!

LSU's Demetrius Byrd and Brandon LeFell celebrate!

LSU's Jacob Hester is an NFL-bound locomotive!

LSU's Head Coach Les Miles celebrates!

BATON ROUGE -- Fresh off an SEC Championship game victory, the LSU football team knew it was going to New Orleans for a January bowl game. But, few thought the stars would re-align and the Tigers would face off with Ohio State for the Bowl Championship Series National Championship on Jan. 7.

After beating Tennessee, No. 7-ranked LSU looked forward to possibly facing undefeated Hawai'i in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

However, key upsets of No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia while the Tigers were at 35,000 feet en route to Baton Rouge from Atlanta Saturday night sent the Delta charter flight into a frenzy, as the team found they may have a shot at the title despite two triple-overtimes losses in the regular season.

Two of the other five teams ahead of LSU in the BCS standings didn't win their conference's division -- Kansas and Georgia -- while LSU beat another by 41 -- Virginia Tech. The pollsters and computers thought the Tigers' resume was too good to miss out on the BCS National Championship Game.

LSU's computer average was No. 2, while it's BCS average was .9394. Ohio State's was .9588. Virginia Tech finished third in the BCS (.8703), Oklahoma was fourth (.8572) and Georgia rounded out the Top 5 (.8392).

LSU (11-2), which was ranked No. 1 twice during the season, was ranked No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series standings released live on FOX Sunday evening. The Tigers were ranked No. 2 in preseason polls.

Ohio State (11-1), champions of the Big Ten, haven't played since defeating Michigan on Nov. 17. However, the Buckeyes watched as four teams ahead of them in the Nov. 18 polls -- LSU, Kansas, West Virginia and Missouri -- each lost over the next two weeks.

LSU season ticket holders requested more than 60,000 tickets to the BCS National Championship game this year. The school's 16,000-ticket allotment will mostly be distributed by LSU Priority Points.

The Tigers and Buckeyes have met twice on the gridiron, first with a 13-13 tie in 1987 in Baton Rouge before Ohio State won 36-33 in Columbus in 1988.

LSU has won National Championships in 1958 and 2003 -- beating Oklahoma 21-14 in the New Orleans Superdome on Jan. 4, 2004.

Bowl Championship Series Games

  • Sugar Bowl - Hawaii vs. Georgia
  • Rose Bowl - USC vs. Illinois
  • Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma vs. West Virginia
  • Orange Bowl - Virginia Tech vs. Kansas
  • BCS Championship Game - LSU vs. Ohio St.


“I would like to thank the voters and those people who are responsible for allowing us to play in this great game. We are humble by the selection. We will honor that game with our finest effort.”

“How it unfolded certainly could not have been scripted. We had a very difficult Saturday (last week) against Arkansas. We go to the championship game and fight and scrape to win the conference. Low and behold, No. 1 and No. 2 fall and it becomes a very talented LSU team that is voted into the game. We are excited and honored to have the opportunity. We will play a great Ohio State team that is very talented and well coached.”

Check out the article at LSU Sports.

Chrsitmas has come early for the LSU Tigers and fans! We won the SEC Championship, kept our head coach (Les Miles), and managed to squeak into the National Championship game! We'd better take care of business, because we've used up all of our luck!

Of course there will be the anti-BCS crowd whining about the decision and how a 2-loss LSU team doesn't belong, but it makes total sense if you look at the numbers, which no other team can come close to matching:

  • SEC Champions -- The toughest conference in the nation
  • Outright SEC Western Division Champs
  • Posted an 11-2 mark, the third straight year LSU has won 11 games
  • Beat school-record 6 top 20 teams, including 2 wins over top 10 teams
  • Didn't lose a game in regulation (only 2 losses came in triple overtime by a total of 8 points)
  • Beat No. 5 Virginia Tech, 48-7
  • Beat 9 bowl-eligible teams
  • 7 of 11 wins came against SEC teams
  • Twice ranked No. 1 in the nation

I'm curious how many first-round draft picks will be coming out of LSU. We have a number of players who will be there, including Glenn Dorsey, Craig Steltz, Matt Flynn, and Jacob Hester. Speaking of Jacob Hester, check out this devastating hit he made in the SEC Championship game...

When the train is coming, get off the tracks!

Geaux Tigers!!!