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.
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The 56-pound pumpkin

October 25, 2011

October around the Bay Area means clear days, cold nights, and gorgeous produce. The neighbors had planted some pumpkin seeds in the spring in the center of an old Bay Laurel stump, fed with chicken and horse manure. Months later, out came ten giant Rouge Vif d’Etampes pumpkins, better known as Cinderella pumpkins, ranging in weight from 20 to 56 pounds.

The largest of the beasts dwarfed my torso as I lugged it up the hill into a wheelbarrow.

56 pound Cinderella Pumpkin, Rouge Vif d'Etampes
You can see a variety of its cousins of both the Cinderella and sugar varieties.

How do you cut open a pumpkin of this size? Normal kitchen knives won’t cut it (haw).

Sawzalling the Rouge Vif d'Etampes
A reciprocating saw, like a Sawzall, is generally the best choice. Ear and eye protection necessary.

What’s this pumpkin like inside?

For its size, the Cinderella pumpkins have a very small seed cavity that’s not as gooey as a sugar pumpkin, making it easy to clean.

The flesh is somewhat like that of a spaghetti squash in that it’s stringy.

Three slices
However, it’s sweet enough to eat raw.

It took the course of several days to properly chop, bake, and peel the ribs of this pumpkin.

Half the pumpkin produced about 12 pints of puree
This single squash resulted in about 2-3 gallons of puree, which turned into pies, curries, soups, omelets, more pies, custards, soufflés… For scale, the 20-pound sibling of this 56-pounder turned into 13 pies. I worry I’ll turn orange from eating so much pumpkin. Happy harvest holidays!