Category Archives: Nature

Travel Theme: Purple

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Purple.

What's this??

What’s this??

Several times during our recent paddles through Southern Florida, we came across these large squishy creatures, brown with white spots, flapping their wings just under the water’s surface—

A swimming sea hare!

How is this connected with the theme of Purple, you may ask? Well, the connection was established as soon as I picked this one up out of the water. It immediately started oozing a dark purple liquid onto my sprayskirt. I hastily put it back into the water.

Actually, I was expecting this (although I wasn’t expecting the animal to be quite this trigger-happy). For this was an Aplysia, a sea-slug commonly known as a sea hare—and, as it happens, one of the experimental animals that we work with in the lab (although we work with a slightly different species). So I am very familiar with its defensive mechanisms. Rather like squid, a disturbed Aplysia releases, along with other secretions, a cloud of defensive ink.

This ink is deep purple—perhaps the most intense purple color I have ever seen. No wonder that such ink (from a different species of mollusc) was in antiquity the basis of a much-prized dye, Tyrian or Imperial Purple.

I don’t have a photo that does the color of the ink justice, so here’s one by another photographer that begins to give some idea—

Aplysia californica releasing ink

For much more about Aplysia and its ink, including a video of the ink release, see here.

Celebrity Sun

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Manhattanhenge 17

In Manhattan we get our share of celebrities. Some live here year-round. Many zoom by in a blaze of flashbulbs and applause.

And some show up reliably every day, unapplauded, but make a celebrity entrance a few minutes out of the year. That’s what happens at Manhattanhenge. Twice a year, roughly three weeks before and after the summer solstice, the setting sun lines up precisely with the east-west streets of Manhattan’s street grid.

It’s  a well-known phenomenon, and has become more so with each passing year. Photographers gather at major intersections, awaiting that perfect moment when the sun touches the horizon, framed precisely between buildings on either side. For a moment or two, the sun is a celebrity.

I’ve heard about it, and Vlad has taken pictures of it many times. But this year was the first time I’d actually experienced it.

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Storm, Saved to Disk

By Vladimir Brezina

6:00 PM

Yesterday in the early evening a line of strong thunderstorms rumbled through New York City. This happens often in the summer and the sight can be awe-inspiring. But I was working all afternoon in a windowless room, and later, when I got to a window, it was too late to discern much. The building was already submerged in thick green fog. Lightning flashed and thunder cracked directly overhead.

What to do under those circumstances? Let’s go to the video replay!

And from where better to observe the arrival of the storm over New York Harbor and the Manhattan skyline than the Statue of Liberty?

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Shine On, Happy Summer!

By Vladimir Brezina

The Summer Solstice occurred this morning, so we in the Northern Hemisphere are now officially into Summer. Happy Summer, everyone!

(Or, of course, to those in the Southern Hemisphere, Happy Winter!)

And, very appropriately for the occasion, Ailsa’s photo challenge this week is Shine

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(Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts, 2011. Story and more photos here.)

Travel Theme: Shine

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Shine.

Moonshine, inside and out—

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Extra, Extra

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Extra, Extra.

You’re fishing! Would you like some extra help?

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This looks like a fair division of labor…

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More photos are here and here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Room

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Room.

I wonder what it’s like to always be inside your room, to carry it with you everywhere you go—

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—or does your room become so much a part of you that it no longer stands between you and the world around?

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(Florida fighting conch: more photos are here.)

This is in fact a real question in philosophy (Heidegger comes to mind), neuroscience and neuroethology (mind-body relations, motor learning, tool use), artificial intelligence… see for instance here.

Weekly Photo Challenge & Travel Theme: Split-Second Story in the Big City

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Split-Second Story, and Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge is Cities.

A perfect conjunction!

For yesterday and today were days of Manhattanhenge, that urban astronomical phenomenon in which the sun appears, for a brief moment just at sunset, at the ends of the cross-streets of Manhattan’s street grid.

Of course, the sun has to be visible at sunset. Yesterday was cloudy. Today was more promising. So I joined the Manhattanhenge-watching crowd—smaller than usual this year because of the uncertain weather—at 57th Street and Park Avenue. As we waited, a rain shower moved in. (Now I know how astronomers must feel, waiting nervously for that once-in-a-century conjunction or eclipse, only to have clouds move in at the last minute…)

But just at the moment of sunset, the sun appeared through the mist!  I got a few photos.

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But the visibility was not ideal, and in addition I realized only too late that at the end of 57th Street there is a big building, across the Hudson in New Jersey, that blocks the view! As another photographer standing next to me remarked, Jersey always screws things up…

The spectacle was much more impressive last year at 42nd Street:

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… and in 2011 at 34th Street:

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But there’s always another chance—Manhattanhenge repeats on July 11th and 12th!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second Story

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Split-Second Story.

What are the stories here? We can only guess—

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Another Split-Second Story is here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Twist.

A twist of twisted lemon, anyone?

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Yes, it’s a citrus fruit: Buddha’s Hand.