The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


Earth As Art: 'How Did Nature Do That?'

Feb 20, 2013
Originally published on February 20, 2013 1:04 pm

Satellites are powerful tools. They beam our TV signals, phone calls and data around the planet. They help us spy, they track storms, they power the GPS signals in our cars and on our phones. But they also send back striking, totally disarming images of planet Earth.

This set of images is all about showing off the "beauty of the Earth," says Lawrence Friedl, the director of NASA's Applied Sciences Program and the editor of a project called Earth as Art. "We want people to look at these images and say, 'How did nature do that?' "

The project, which NASA has released in iPad and book form, spans the world, from cold peaks to desolate deserts to ocean islands. But these aren't your typical snapshots.

Look again. Deep reds outline Greenland's ice. Golds, oranges, greens and purples color a desert. Electric blues swirl against blacks.

Are these images real?

Friedl says NASA maintains a fleet of Earth-observing probes trained on our planet that constantly monitor the "Earth system" — the oceans, the atmosphere, the land, the plants. These satellites — 16 in all — ship back loads of data and images.

Some of the instruments aboard the satellites collect data in different ranges of wavelengths of light. These "spectral bands" break up all the visible and invisible light into chunks: the reds, the blues, the greens and even infrared, a wavelength of light that humans can't see.

When researchers piece the image data back together, they can be selective about which "bands" of light are displayed in the final image. "The selection depends on the intent of the analysis," Friedl wrote in an email. "An analysis of vegetation would probably select the red, green and infrared bands — vegetation is 'bright' in those bands and the analyst could differentiate between the types or health of vegetation."

Friedl says analysts generally don't go out of their way to make images look surreal, but this kind of spectral analysis can be used to great effect. "There are whole books written on what band combinations to use to bring out certain features," he told me. Like rocks: When studying the retreat of the glaciers of the Himalayas, Friedl says, you can train software to recognize the light signature of exposed rock. And instead of directly measuring the glaciers themselves, you can see where new rock is getting exposed year over year.

Friedl says the 75 images in the Earth as Art collection don't have an explicit scientific purpose: "These are for visual entertainment purposes," he says. "Part of it is to try to get images of the Earth in front of people who aren't scientists and researchers."

But beyond this collection, images like these can be really valuable to scientists, Friedl says. "We now have 40-plus years of data, and we can look at trends on the decadal scale, put that into a model and start doing predictions."

And what's hanging on his wall? A blown-up version of this phytoplankton bloom in the Baltic Sea.

"It's land. It's ocean. The patterns that are on it are so symmetrical — it seems like they're almost rhyming," Friedl says.

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