Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Fall Back   Leave a comment

Feel the chill in the air?

How can one tell it’s the changing of the season? Just look at all the Christmas decorations filling the shelves at your favorite department store. Yes, it’s that time of year when we start picking out what’s going to twinkle twinkle on our boughs of poly. After all, who wouldn’t want to squeeze out the waning days of summer any other way?

Wait…what’s that you say? We have several other intervening holidays? Like Three Day Weekend in October, Overpriced Candy & Costume Day and the Day Before Black Friday? Oh, them.

As for me, well, it’s autumn when the sun crosses the celestial equator, known as the ecliptic, and enters the constellation Virgo on or about September 21-22 each year. As I labor at my job tomorrow, oh, let’s say around 20:02 UTC, the season will officially change. Day and night won’t exactly be equal, but they’ll be close enough.

Looking for some interesting ways to celebrate the season? Here’s a random list of suggestions:

  • Hold your own MST3K party and dig out the film “Barb Wire.”  Shot in 1995 and set in 2017, it stars Pamela Anderson in the lead role (she tacked on her married last name “Lee” in this film), it’s an utterly unwatchable film wherein our leading lady won a Golden Raspberry award for the worst new actress of 1995. Crack open something cold, chow down on Chinese and let those comments rip!
  • For a much better nightmare, why not check out John Carpenter’s “Halloween.”  Filmed on a minuscule budget and panned by critics, it marked the debut of a vastly talented actress, Jamie Lee Curtis and went on to launch a highly successful franchise. It’s considered a classic these days.
  • If you’re passing through the Hudson Valley of New York, check out Sleepy Hollow, formerly known until 1996 as North Tarrytown. It’s the legendary home of Washington Irving and his headless horseman. Visit his grave and say hi to his fellow cemetery mates Andrew Carnegie, Brooke Astor, Walter P. Chrysler, Elizabeth Arden and more. Fun facts: Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” is a native son. Caityn (“Bruce”) Jenner went to high school here. It’s also the setting for many a film and TV series, notably “House ofDark Shadows,” “Curse of the Cat People” and an episode of “Property Brothers.”
  • Can’t make the drive? Go gaming! Sleepy Hollow is also the location of 2014 game Assassin’s Creed Rogue.  Why not explore its dystopian milieu?
  • How about looking upward on a dark clear night? Spectacular meteor showers await. On October 21, the Orionids peak after midnight. And if the weather cooperates, this’ll be a grand night for viewing – it’s a new moon and unless you’re near a city or other bright lights, it doesn’t get better than this. For other meteor shower activity, visit Sky and Telescope’s web article.
  • Dress up on Halloween, no matter how old you are, just for fun. Throw on your taco costume with a unicorn head and freak out kids coming to your door for treats and trick them, instead. Then give them a pile of processed packaged sugar products.
  • Instead of cheating Thanksgiving out of the respect it deserves, gather your friends and family together, cook up your best free grocery-store bonus turkey and pig out. If holding dinner parties isn’t your thing, go volunteer. Share some kindness. Be a pal and visit an old friend or family member you haven’t seen in ages, or better still, invite them to share a plate at your dinner table. Don’t worry about catching bargains at War-Mart and standing out in the cold to be the first to get a 55″ LED screen for $199. Memories aren’t made of that. Sharing your time and opening your heart will do the trick much better.

So, what are you waiting for? Go out and celebrate! After all, nature’s tossing all of its leafy confetti just for you. Run under its shower with flailing arms and live!

Otherworldly Saturn   Leave a comment

Few places capture our imagination like Saturn. With its myriad of rings and moons, it shines above us in the night sky as it travels along the ecliptic.  It’s always been inspiration for sci-fi fans too. Anyone who’s ever glanced at pulp sci-fi fiction covers might have noticed ringed planets hovering in the background as a elongated oval-shaped finned spaceship rocketed past.

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“Tommy Tomorrow,” created by Jack Schiff, George Kashdan, Bernie Breslauer, Virgil Finlay, and Howard Sherman, DC Comics

Take, for example, our friend Tommy Tomorrow. Created in 1947, he roamed the heavens in his futuristic 1988 space jet, zipping past a rather featureless Saturn-like planet, as illustrated above, while another Saturn-ish red planet with gold rings spins in the distance.

Systema Saturn

Early drawings of Saturn. From the Systema Saturnium (Fig. 67)

Early astronomers struggled to draw what they’d seen through primitive telescopes. While they seemed to understand that its appearance changed in relation to its orbit around the sun and the earth, they couldn’t always account for its rings. A quick glance tells the viewer that something’s going on with Saturn, but just exactly what, they couldn’t be sure.

As telescopes grew more sophisticated, astronomers were able to recreate more accurate  images of Saturn.

Antique Saturn

19th century Illustration of Saturn

 

And photographers capabilities grew, so did their ability to capture Saturn.

1879 Jupiter and 1885 Saturn

A composite photo of  Jupiter (1879) and Saturn (1885)

In 1973, NASA launched Pioneer 11. Its mission included photographing Saturn. While previous photos of this planet taken from the Earth resulted in blurry, yellowish images, Pioneer 11’s photos revealed tantalizing clues about its nature, as well as its moons.

Saturn Pioneer 11

NASA image, Saturn and Titan as seen by Pioneer 11

None, though, can compare to the 20-year mission of Cassini. Launched in 1997, the Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative partnership between NASA and ESA to conduct an exhaustive exploration of the ringed jewel of the solar system. The images sent back are like none other.

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NASA, Cassini-Huygens mission image of Saturn

On September 15, 2017, the Cassini mission will come to a fiery end, as it crashes into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending a glorious 13-year run. It’s been an amazing journey, and without a doubt, its legacy will continue to fascinate astronomers and ordinary folk like me. You’ve done well, Cassini!

 

 

Dead Alive   Leave a comment

Few witnessed the death, and even if more had, they’d likely not report it. With civilization so remote, so distant, who’d be around to determine the cause? No one.

And so, the body began its slow decline.

Within a few days, a hard snow fell, encasing the body, preserving it. Winter turned fierce and harsh, almost without end. The cold turned the snow into ice, and before long, the body’s grave filled around it, until the snow and ice smoothed over the land, creating a featureless, anonymous plain.

As travelers came upon the area, others trod upon the grave, unknowing of its presence. Some stayed and began new life, some died nearby, but none possessed the knowledge of the body buried a thick distance below.

Centuries passed without incident until a certain curiosity occurred: the seasons lost their sting. Winter winds carried less snow, ice retreated early, summer grew in importance. Soon the bare earth revealed itself as hadn’t been seen since a forgotten era. With it, the ancient body greeted the sky and within it, an awakening occurred.

Curious nomads happened upon the frozen body, now becoming soft in the glowing sun. A few touched it. To them, it seemed as if it had only fallen asleep for a brief nap. They remarked how full of life it appeared.

And it was.

Life takes many forms. Humans are quick to consider life as an embodiment of themselves, or animals, a favored pet. Even the trees and blossoms constitutes life, especially when it serves to please.

What the nomads hadn’t counted on was the darker side of life – the bringers of death.

When they touched the body, they released what had been preserved in slumber, hiding in the folds and innards of a long-dead reindeer. Anthrax had been the cause of its death, and remarkably, it’d been able to survive many years. It didn’t take long for the disease to sicken approximately one hundred lives and cause the death of a child.

This event actually happened in Siberia in the summer of 2016, when melting permafrost revealed a reindeer’s anthrax-infested remains. Simple curiosity infected, sickened and killed a vulnerable population, unaccustomed to such diseases occurring at random.

It’s also a larger symptom of an inevitable situation – climate change. Geographical regions such as the Arctic tundra are now revealing their long-buried secrets, causing situations not even imagined. While so much focus has been placed on rising sea levels (with good reason), there are other side effects to rising temperatures. So if anthrax can be released so casually to an unsuspecting population, what other diseases are rising to the surface, ready to strike, under similar circumstances? Especially on those with limited or no natural immunity?

If this seems like science fiction, well, it’s not.

It’s worse.

Posted April 22, 2017 by seleneymoon in Climate, Nature, Sci-Fi, science fiction

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Menacing Tides   Leave a comment

A recent New York Times article discusses how theories first put forth in science fiction might provide a few insights on how to curb global warming. Despite the naysayers and deniers, with each passing Storm of the Century and inundating flood, it’s become obvious that nature is retaliating against mankind’s environmental unfriendly ways.

As one who’s spent her lifetime at the New Jersey coast, I’ve witnessed the rising seas. It’s subtle, at first. As a kid in the second half of the last century, I roamed the wide beaches, chasing seagulls and digging up clams. Our beach’s jetty stretched far out into the waves, ending in a massive pile of black mussel-covered rocks. During low tide, I could walk out behind those rocks. Even after a destructive hurricane, the beach might have been ravaged, but there was plenty of sand to place a blanket and enjoy the rough surf.

Occasionally, during a pounding thunderstorm or unusually high tide, water would back up by the storm drains. We’d use these as excuses to splash around, jumping off the curb and into the puddles. Nor’easters and hurricanes flooded the roadway and sometimes the garage, but usually the water went down fairly quickly. But as the century advanced, the beach retreated.

Skip to today. Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc with the island I grew up on and wiped out the beach, taking with it a few houses built on dunes that shouldn’t have been placed there. Surprising? Shocking? Well, yes, but no. Over the years, I’ve watched the shore disappear, growing shorter and shorter with each tide. That jetty and rocks that provided hours of entertainment buried itself under the sand. The streets flooded and became impassible with every rainstorm and high tide. One nearby restaurant posted a sign, “Occasional Waterfront Dining” because the street in front of it developed a sizable pond twice a day, as water backed up from the storm drain each high tide. That’s also how we knew the tide came in without ever going up to the beach.

It only gets worse with each storm. A major rebuilding of the beach, including jetty removal and berm construction, will only temporarily halt the rising seas. In the past, though storms took away the sand, in time the ocean swept it back towards the beach. That natural flow has ceased. Now, outraged citizens demand that something be done to halt nature. Little do they realize that’s impossible.

What’s even more fantastical about all this is the utter denial about what’s really happening. More and more houses are going up on this island without regard to the slow destructive forces overtaking it. Those looking for a place to relax during summer weekends and perhaps a nice place to stay over the off-season holidays refuse to acknowledge, or even notice, what’s going down. “It’s so beautiful,” says many a shoregoer. And yes, I’d agree. But not for much longer.

Sometimes it seems as if I’m part of a “Twilight Zone” episode, where a concerned citizen shouts to the crowd about the impending danger awaiting them, only to be at first ignored and then vindicated. Building houses on the coast will not stop anytime soon.

Neither will the rising seas.

 

Posted April 8, 2017 by seleneymoon in Nature, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Weather, Writing

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September in Space   Leave a comment

September’s usually a loaded month, for all sorts of reasons. Kids head back to school, there’s a big holiday capping off the traditional summer holiday, all the zucchini’s either ripened at once and your neighbors run from you as you clutch your harvest, chasing them, and we turn the season from boiling to pleasant.

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There’s all sorts of things going on above our heads as well. We started off the month with a solar eclipse today, in Africa. That means in two weeks, we’re going to see a lunar eclipse on September 16.  Solar and lunar eclipses always appear in pairs, about two weeks apart. This time, the penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible throughout all of Europe, Asia, Australia, but not North and South America, except for the easternmost part of Brazil.

 

scorpio

If you know your constellations, Scorpio is crawling back down southwest to get away for the winter. It’s taking with it a colorful trio of two planets, a star and one moon…but just for a day or two. Around the second week of September, you’ll see Antares, a big red star located in the upper portion of the constellation, Saturn to the upper right and Mars to the upper left. The moon on the half-shell will add its glow to the grouping.

summer-triangle

September’s a fine month to spot the so-called Summer Triangle, a trio of constellations (The Swan, The Eagle and The Lyre) forming a jewel of a triangle consisting of two first magnitude stars and one zero magnitude: Vega (0.14 mag) in The Lyre, Altair (0.89 mag) in The Eagle and Deneb (1.33 mag). With luck, you can see this grouping almost all year round, but the best time for it is during the summer, when it’s nearly overhead in the Milky Way. Vega is especially close to Polaris, the North Star, and only goes below the horizon at latitudes 40 degrees for a handful of hours. The further north you go, the longer you can see it.

On Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 14:21 UTC, autumn officially begins in the northern hemisphere. That’s when you start thinking about how fast that summer went past, you still didn’t get to the beach, but that’s okay, because you can’t get into your bathing suit anyway. So why don’t you do yourself a favor? Toss on a sweater, take a chair and have a seat, looking up at the greatest gift we all have at our disposal: the heavens.

Almost, But Not Quite   Leave a comment

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How many of you look forward to gazing at the moon and witnessing one of Nature’s Greatest Wonders, such as the lunar eclipse pictured above? They happen twice a year, about two weeks apart from a solar eclipse. It’s the dance the moon and the sun do, shading the earth in a few places, and giving us a fabulous show.

But on August 18, something odd’s going to happen. The Sun, Moon and Earth will be closely aligned that day, but their shadows will not meet. It’s as if they’re all flirting with each other, yet don’t quite know whom to choose. So they hold off a bit.

Then, one month later, the Moon gets its chance with a Penumbral eclipse (also, not quite total, but almost), crossing two dates, on September 16 & 17. But here’s the thing with a Penumbral eclipse: you might not notice anything. In fact, most people see a normal full moon. A keen eye will notice it’s a bit darker, but only just. See, this kind of eclipse happens when the Moon passes through the faint part of the Earth’s outer shadow. The Sun, Moon and Earth are imperfectly aligned, so they can’t do what naturally should come to them – an eclipse – so they go through the motions and orbit away.

Sandwiched between those two almost lunar events is an Annular solar eclipse on September 1. That, too, is an almost-but-not-quite event, with the Moon standing a hair’s breadth too far from the Sun to block its light entirely, but enough to cast a pretty decent shadow and darkening things in its path. It’s kind of like going to the movies and someone with an enormous head sits directly in front of you. You can’t really make out the whole film, but at the screen’s edges you see a tidbit of the action. What a viewer will see is a “ring of fire” around the edges of the moon. The sky does darken and if you glance at the sun (eyes protected with a filter!), it’ll look pretty darn cool.

So look out, folks! Or you might miss something…

Posted August 6, 2016 by seleneymoon in Eclipses, Moon, Nature, The Sun

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June’s Nighttime Sky   Leave a comment

2016-june-2-mars-saturn-antares-scorpius

Credit: earth sky.org

Look up, folks!

This month proves to be a bonanza for Mars and Saturn fans! Take a look in the southeast and you’ll notice the giant fishhook that is Scorpio. You can’t miss it and if you glance at the top three stars, they form a crooked line. Here’s a better example of the constellation:

scorpio

Credit: H.A. Rey, “The Stars”

Mars slips across the southern sky, so incredibly bright, you can’t miss it. If you’ve been keeping your eye on it, you’ll notice every night it’s in a different spot, competing with Scorpio’s Antares (magnitude: 1.22). Mars is a fair distance ahead of Antares, so you can’t get them confused.

Saturn isn’t in as much of a hurry as Mars, but still commands attention. During June, the ringed planet is its closest to the Earth, and, as an added bonus, has its rings nicely tipped at a 26 degree angle, showing them off nicely for you. It, too, is in Scorpio, just above it.

Scorpio also happens to be one of my favorite constellations, glimmering all summer long. When I see it rise, in earnest, in May, I know summer isn’t far behind. It glimmers and shimmers. It never rises that high, but you can’t miss it when it’s here.

In the early morning sky, you can also see Comet Pan-STARRS near the constellation Capricorn low in the souther sky. It comes into view around 4:00 am.

If you happen to have a telescope, all of these are worth seeking out. Even a strong pair of binoculars make a difference, especially with the comet.

Here’s a brief video from NASA JPL with more details regarding Mars, Saturn and Comet Pan-STARRS. Take a moment this weekend and look south – nature will reward you with its charming beauty!

 

 

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