In a Film About Land, Stories About People
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1953, Ken Burns is a Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker whose career spans over 30 years. His first film, "Brooklyn Bridge," was nominated for an Academy Award in 1981. He was the director, producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director, and executive producer of the groundbreaking documentary "The Civil War," the highest-rated series in the history of American public television. His other major films include "Baseball," "The West," "Jazz," and "The War." His most recent film, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," premiered on PBS in 2009.
Question: What are the most compelling human stories in your new film?\r\n
Ken Burns: Well I think we’ve been surprised, certainly, in a lot of the work that we’ve done, but particularly so in “The National Parks” by the amazing diversity of the story. This is not just a top-down history. I mean most people think American history is just a series of presidential administrations punctured by wars and that gives you a fairly, you know, I suppose superficial handle on things, but it’s much more complicated than that, and the bottom-up view that we’ve always tried to adopt delivers you much more complexity and undertow. It allows you to penetrate more fully into the number one subtheme of American life, race born as we were under the idea that all men are created equal, but the guy who wrote that sentence owned a hundred other people and never saw the contradiction, never saw the hypocrisy, and more important never saw fit in his lifetime to free any of those people, and set in motion an American narrative that in almost every way is constantly bumping up against this question of race.\r\n
The Civil War, the most important event in our history, wouldn’t have happened had slavery not existed in a country that was proclaiming to the world this new idea of individual liberty. So that is there and diversity, naturally occurring diversity is an important part of the films that we make and in this one to understand that the Buffalo Soldiers, the celebrated African-American cavalrymen of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were the first park defenders in California’s Sierra Mountains at Yosemite and General Grant, what was then called General Grant National Park and Sequoia National Park and what an amazing phenomenon that in the first decade of the twentieth century, a decade by the way when more African- Americans were lynched than in any other time in our history that African-Americans might be telling other Americans what to do in a national park was interesting and that compliments the top down of the more top down story of John Muir, the Scottish-born naturalist beaten by his father until he memorized the entire New Testament and three quarters of the Old Testament, could find a new faith in nature that was utterly American, utterly transcendental, therefore in wild nature that he could dispose of the dogmatic devotion that the European tradition worshipping cathedrals and representatives of God meant and could free himself and his countrymen, his adopted countrymen and women by sharing a new faith in the mountains, and he is the most important prophet of not just the national parks, but the idea behind the national parks and that’s why we made the film. This is not a travelogue or a nature film per se. This is the history of individuals and ideas, and we say it’s America’s best idea knowing full well it’s provocative and challenging, but once you’ve started a country on the idea of individual liberty you’d be hard pressed to find a better idea than setting aside for the first time in human history land not for kings or noblemen or the rich, but for everybody and for all times. We invented it. It’s an utterly American idea and could have only happened where people are struggling to figure out how to govern themselves however flawed that original conception might have been.\r\n
Question: What do you hope “The National Parks” will contribute to the conservation movement?\r\n
Ken Burns: I finished a film on the Civil War in 1990, and a couple of years later I was back at Gettysburg, which is a National Park site, walking across the lawn of the visitor’s center with the superintendent, and he stooped down at one point and picked up a popsicle wrapper and waved it in my face and said, “It’s all your fault.” And what he meant was that his attendance had gone up 100, 200, 300% after my film on the Civil War and had stayed there, so I guess what I want is for every superintendent of every national park unit, and there are 392, to be mad at me because they’ve got people coming and they don’t know what to do with them and that’s already happened. All of the things I want have already taken place. We had a huge… tens of millions of viewers on public television. People are rearranging their plans to go to the national parks and that in and of itself without having a specific political agenda will change the agenda of the United States with regard to parks.\r\n
The parks have undergone years of neglect. The previous administration allowed upwards of eight or nine billion dollars worth or maintenance, deferred maintenance to take place and we now have to go back and figure out where that money comes from and how to bring the parks back up to snuff and how to think about wild places for the twenty-first century and that’s a challenge which I think the parks reminded people that they were invested in, that you know you say you’re working on the national parks and it’s like uh-huh. It doesn’t sound so cool and everybody just assumes they’ve already been there. They haven’t, and therefore that threatens them. They assume the National Park Services have always been there to take care of them. They haven’t. They don’t show up until 50 years into the existence of the National Parks and therefore they’re threatened. And they assume they’ll always be there, and if people believe that, then they’re most definitely threatened because once you lose a place it’s lost forever. Once you’ve saved it the saving is like liberty itself, and it requires a kind of eternal vigilance, and I think that what we did was help re-instill some of our fellow citizens with that sense of the vigilance required, and in that case it’s already a success and we’ve gotten what we’ve wanted.
Recorded November 25, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
Filmmaker Ken Burns describes how he hopes "The National Parks" will succeed both as a topical statement about conservation and a timeless human story.
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The images and our best computer models don't agree.
A trio of intriguing galaxy clusters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNDA0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTkzNzUyOH0.0IRzkzvKsmPEHV-v1dqM1JIPhgE2W-UHx0COuB0qQnA/img.jpg?width=980" id="d69be" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2d2664d9174369e0a06540cb3a3a9079" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The three galaxy clusters imaged for the study
Mapping dark matter<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d904b585c806752f261e1215014691a6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fO0jO_a9uLA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The assumption has been that the greater the lensing effect, the higher the concentration of dark matter.</p><p>As scientists analyzed the clusters' large-scale lensing — the massive arc and elongation visual effects produced by dark matter — they noticed areas of smaller-scale lensing within that larger distortion. The scientists interpret these as concentrations of dark matter within individual galaxies inside the clusters.</p><p>The researchers used spectrographic data from the VLT to determine the mass of these smaller lenses. <a href="https://www.oas.inaf.it/en/user/pietro.bergamini/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Pietro Bergamini</a> of the INAF-Observatory of Astrophysics and Space Science in Bologna, Italy explains, "The speed of the stars gave us an estimate of each individual galaxy's mass, including the amount of dark matter." The leader of the spectrographic aspect of the study was <a href="http://docente.unife.it/docenti-en/piero.rosati1/curriculum?set_language=en" target="_blank">Piero Rosati</a> of the Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Italy who recalls, "the data from Hubble and the VLT provided excellent synergy. We were able to associate the galaxies with each cluster and estimate their distances." </p><p>This work allowed the team to develop a thoroughly calibrated, high-resolution map of dark matter concentrations throughout the three clusters.</p>
But the models say...<p>However, when the researchers compared their map to the concentrations of dark matter computer models predicted for galaxies bearing the same general characteristics, something was <em>way</em> off. Some small-scale areas of the map had 10 times the amount of lensing — and presumably 10 times the amount of dark matter — than the model predicted.</p><p>"The results of these analyses further demonstrate how observations and numerical simulations go hand in hand," notes one team member, <a href="https://nena12276.wixsite.com/elenarasia" target="_blank">Elena Rasia</a> of the INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, Italy. Another, <a href="http://adlibitum.oats.inaf.it/borgani/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Stefano Borgani</a> of the Università degli Studi di Trieste, Italy, adds that "with advanced cosmological simulations, we can match the quality of observations analyzed in our paper, permitting detailed comparisons like never before."</p><p>"We have done a lot of testing of the data in this study," Meneghetti says, "and we are sure that this mismatch indicates that some physical ingredient is missing either from the simulations or from our understanding of the nature of dark matter." <a href="https://physics.yale.edu/people/priyamvada-natarajan" target="_blank">Priyamvada Natarajan</a> of Yale University in Connecticut agrees: "There's a feature of the real Universe that we are simply not capturing in our current theoretical models."</p><p>Given that any theory in science lasts only until a better one comes along, Natarajan views the discrepancy as an opportunity, saying, "this could signal a gap in our current understanding of the nature of dark matter and its properties, as these exquisite data have permitted us to probe the detailed distribution of dark matter on the smallest scales."</p><p>At this point, it's unclear exactly what the conflict signifies. Do these smaller areas have unexpectedly high concentrations of dark matter? Or can dark matter, under certain currently unknown conditions, produce a tenfold increase in lensing beyond what we've been expecting, breaking the assumption that more lensing means more dark matter?</p><p>Obviously, the scientific community has barely begun to understand this mystery.</p>
Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
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