We don’t mean to concern you, but Earth is receiving signals from space. We couldn’t help but mentally cue the theme music from the old TV show “Twilight Zone” when we read last week that Canadian researchers have discovered a pattern of mysterious radio signals coming from a single source a half billion light-years away. Fast radio bursts, or FRBs, are millisecond-long flares of electromagnetic energy. They are among the most puzzling phenomena in deep space. Scientists don’t know what causes them or where most come from. But between September 2018 and this past October, astrophysicists with the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment/Fast Radio Burst Project collaboration say they detected a pattern of FRBs that occurred regularly every 16.35 days. Over the course of four days, the signal would release a burst or two each hour. Then, it would go silent for another 12 days. The signals have been traced to a nearby galaxy. Researchers are hopeful that the patterned signal will help them determine what FRBs really are. Some scientists think they might be caused by the orbital motion of a star or a planet. Others say it could be coming from a neutron star. Thankfully, few scientists believe aliens are sending the signals.
Speaking of mysteries, an article in “The Atlantic” explains the biscuit enigma. Anyone who has traveled north of Richmond knows it’s nigh impossible to find a good, fluffy southern-style biscuit up that way. But Amanda Mull, a southern transplant to New York City, writes that she combed the Big Apple looking for a decent replica of that Southern buttermilk delicacy. In a December 2018 column that is once again making internet rounds, Mull confesses that after meeting with constant disappointment, she finally called her mom for the family’s three-generation old recipe. But even with the heirloom recipe, her homemade biscuits were a disappointment. Finally, she consulted Robert Dixon Phillips, a retired professor of food science at the University of Georgia. It turns out the secret ingredient is the type of flour used. The secret to a good biscuit, Phillips says, is “a flour made from a soft wheat. .. It has less gluten protein and the gluten is weaker, which allows the chemical leavening — the baking powder — to generate carbon dioxide and make it rise up in the oven.” In most of the United States, grocery store flours are made from hard wheat — which is good for bread but terrible for biscuits. And, apparently, the very best flour for creating those fluffy bits of Southern-style rapture is a brand called White Lily, which seems to be unavailable north of Richmond. But, never fear, it can now be ordered online, albeit at many times its in-store retail price. Today, anyone willing to pay the price can have their biscuits and eat them too. Now, if we can figure out where to find a decent order of grits north of Ashland, we’ll be in hog heaven.
Lots of dog owners are used to Fido presenting them with “gifts” of small wildlife, but how about a baby bear cub? A Washington County resident called the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VGIDF) to report the family dog had brought home a tiny bear cub. Bill Bassinger, a wildlife biologist with VGIDF, went to the home to retrieve the animal. He said the cub was unharmed and it appeared the dog had handled it very gently. The cub was cared for at The Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro until officials were able to use a radio collar to track another mother bear in the wild with cubs of her own. Officials said the baby was placed with that mother earlier this week and is expected to do well. “The mothering instinct is just very strong in most animals,” Bassinger told the Wytheville Enterprise. “Generally, most females will take the young back, even after it has been handled by humans.”
Here’s another Virginia-based good news story about being lost and found. Turner King was a senior at Roanoke Catholic back in 2005 when he lost his high school ring. King was playing for the school’s basketball team, the Celtics, when the team bus broke down outside of Charlottesville. The entire team was stranded for hours at a hotel while the bus was being fixed. At one point, Turner went to the restroom and took his ring off to wash his hands. He forgot about his ring and didn’t remember it until after the bus was on the road. Although he called the hotel repeatedly, it was never turned in — until this past October. That’s when Debbie Stump, Roanoke Catholic’s director of development, received a call from a woman who found the ring at a store in Nellysford. From engravings on the ring, she was able to track down the school and the graduation year. Stump immediately knew who the ring belonged to. She informed King’s wife, who was a teacher at Roanoke Catholic. The finder mailed the ring to Mrs. King, who wrapped it and gave it to her husband as a Christmas Eve gift. When asked if she wanted a reward, the woman who found the ring asked only that a donation be made to a local hospice. We say this with all sincerity: Bless her heart.
— Robin Beres