Scoping out the rowdy neighbors and baking Apophis cake

It’s been a pretty exciting week to be an asteroid researcher: you’d think the sky was falling!  Really, it was just a confluence of some rowdy neighbors checking in on earth asking, “How’s that space program coming?”  An ordinary chondrite meteorite exploded over Russia, and later that day a 150-foot-wide piece of spacerock skimmed 17,000 miles above the earth, just ducking inside the orbits of geostationary satellites.
We had nothing to do with either: the Russia bolide was detected maybe seconds beforehand by some satellites; 2012 DA14 was too low in our sky for Arecibo to observe.

The media guy here is still getting calls, almost a week later.  Univision came by, Dish Network wanted to interview someone…
Inline image 1 What are we doing in the midst of all this?  Regularly scheduled observations of asteroid (99942) Apophis, everyone’s favorite potentially hazardous asteroid that we’ve known about for almost nine years now.  None of these recently discovered raucous interlopers for us this week, pshaw.  Even so, the events of last week underscore the importance of “finding them before they find us” and commercial solutions to asteroid problems.

A stony, elongated, near-Earth asteroid about 0.2 miles across (315 meters, or bigger than the Arecibo dish) named after a recurring villain on Stargate (and therefore the Egyptian god of destruction), Apophis generated all sorts of fear and excitement in 2004 when there was some uncertainly regarding whether it’d hit earth or not in the coming decades.
Our co-conspirators at JPL/Goldstone (I toured there in 2009) found in January that Apophis wasn’t going to hit us in either 2029 or 2036… or any time before 2070, for that matter.  So you can sleep well tonight, knowing you’re safe for the foreseeable future from big asteroids that might fly low enough to skim inside satellite orbits but large enough to be detected.  The smaller ones we can’t find before they find us, so duck occasionally and don’t hang out near windows when you hear sonic booms.

We had all sorts of transmitter and receiver problems in the first days of our Apophis observing time: the crowbar circuit wasn’t working (which is a problem at 65,000 volts and 33 amps!), and then the receiver chilling system stopped keeping things cold.  Thus, when Apophis was as close to Arecibo as it was going to get, we couldn’t observe it, until a few nights later when it was too far away to take images.  Ah well.  At least we helped to refine Apophis’s orbit to rule out any future impacts.

If you’ve visited, you know Arecibo is very isolated: 30 minutes up the hill from the nearest grocery store in the Puerto Rican equivalent of a rustbelt town.  Not a lot happening here.

To keep myself occupied at night after sunset at 6:30, I’ve been cooking and baking.  Tonight’s dinner involved things I’ve only seen twice at the grocery store: salmon steaks (baked with lemon and dill) and green beans (!).  If there’s daikon at the grocery store, I nab it: my second gallon of kimchi is now fermenting in the refrigerator with Korean red pepper and fish sauce mailed here by Louis.  With the food processor I bought for about 50% off at Thanksgiving, I’m unstoppable in my galley-sized kitchen.  I chop starfruit, make avocaladas (avocado + piña colada), and perfect pumpkin-based custards.  I pulverize vegetables with eggs for soufflé. Or just cut up vegetables for green “soups”.  It’s something to do at night after dark that doesn’t involve braving terrible roads and worse drivers.

My G-d, it&#8217;s full of stars!<br /><br /> Happy Christmas from the bachelor units.

My goodness, it’s full of stars!

Over the weekend I baked two versions of what I’m calling Apophis cake: elongated, battered, thermally processed… but this one hits the spot (womp womp).  A modern take on red velvet cake, perhaps, inspired by Thunder Cake, a childhood favorite.  What’s to be afraid of when you’re eating cake (especially one full of vegetables)?   Use raw beets if you have them and unprocessed, natural cocoa powder so the final batter turns red from reacting with the acids in the yogurt, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar.  If you’re not into beets, use pumpkin purée or even spinach (!) as the vegetable flavor entirely disappears under the cocoa powder in the baked cake.  Add some fresh ginger in with the beet purée, or some Chinese five spice powder for extra kick.  This is sort of a “kitchen sink” recipe, involving everything in the cupboards, pantry, and refrigerator.

You can halve the recipe to fit into a loaf pan.  Unmodified, this recipe makes about 18 cupcakes and an 8″x8″ cake.

Apophis Cake

recipe modified from here


  • 2 cups raw beet purée (about two medium beets run through the grating attachment on your food processor)
  • 1 cup melted butter (or coconut oil)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup blanched almond flour (about 3 oz; could substitute almonds spun in the food processor along with coconut flour for about five minutes… but don’t run too long, you don’t want nut butter!)
  • 3/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1 cup 100% natural cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup sweetener (honey, maple syrup, etc. for less overwhelming sweetness; sugar if you have a sweet tooth)
  • 2 teaspoons plain yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (optional; extra acid increases the red color)
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 ˚F.  Mix all ingredients together and pour into cupcake liners, or into a parchment-lined glass baking pan.

Bake at 350 ˚F for 20 minutes for cupcakes; 35 minutes for cake until a fork or toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Give it an extra five minutes after that, as this is a very fudge-y, moist batter.  Cover the top with foil if it’s browning too quickly.  Let sit for ten minutes before removing from baking pans onto wire cooling racks, then frost.


  • 1 cup of cashews
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter
  • 3 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Soak a cup of cashews in water for at least an hour (before you start the baking process?), then purée with 2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter, 3 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Add Korean blackberry wine if you’re feeling like you need an extra kick.

The antioxidants in the beets will protect against free radical damage in the event of killer asteroid impact, though if you elect to use pumpkin purée the beta-carotene will help your night vision in case the earth is shrouded in dust post-impact.  Ginger helps you digest whatever’s growing in the post-apocalyptic environment.  Coconut oil is a good fat and source of energy, though use butter, palm oil, or whatever’s on hand (medium-chain  triglycerides and omega-3 fatty acids are always a great bet).  And of course, dark chocolate is good for your heart, brain, and mood—plus antioxidants, minerals, and fiber, all things that help when you’re fighting for the survival of your species after the next extinction-level event.

Leave a Reply