Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

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!

 

 

Einstein Was Right   Leave a comment

Gravitational Waves

To watch a fascinating video from the New York Times, click http://nyti.ms/1SKjTJ5

It’s all over the internet: Einstein was right – there are such things as gravitational waves.

In a seemingly impossible experiment, a group of astrophysicists announced on Thursday, February 11, 2016 that they now had aural evidence of gravitational waves. An international mega-group of 1000 scientists published a report in Physical Review Letters confirming their findings.

For those of you who might be asking, “What are gravitational waves?”, here’s a quick definition. They’re ripples in spacetime created by any particle or object with mass. Einstein predicted them in his theory of relativity in 1916.

In a classic case of “if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound,” two black holes collided so impossibly far away – a billion light years – and only now is the Earth receiving the noise from that cataclysmic event.

Two antennas designed for receiving any sound a gravitational wave would generate, located in Washington State and Louisiana, and part of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), picked up a brief chirp on September 14, 2015.

This event’s also a significant achievement for astronomy, where so much is dependent upon what can been seen. This experiment delivers another dimension from which to observe and measure the universe.

If you’d like to read more about this important confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity, here are a few sources:

 

All Things Being Equal   Leave a comment

Autumn Picture

 

Autumn, fall, change of the seasons, whatever you call it, occurs in the northern hemisphere on September 23 at 8:20 UTC.  It’s a time when things start winding down in gardens, the kids are probably already back in school and you’re looking at your heating bill with a bit of trepidation, knowing that winter’s beating a steady path to your door.

But let’s stick with autumn for now.

Autumn occurs when the sun hits a point in the sky called the autumnal equinox, or here:

Virgo

Credit:  H.A. Rey, “The Stars”

It’s the little “V” you see underneath Virgo’s head, as if she fell down and tripped on the ecliptic (the path in the sky where the sun, moon and stars “travel” along the zodiac).  The sun hits this spot on or about 21 September each year, but as noted above, this year it falls on the 23 September.  But if you look in the newspaper or even on many weather web sites, you’ll notice that the times of sunrise and sunset are anything but equal.  It’s close, but not exactly 12 hours of day and dark.  A lot of that depends upon your latitude.  The further south you go, that date creeps into October.

Here’s a handy chart to show sunrise and sunset times for New York  You’ll see day and night aren’t equal until September 26.  Why?  You’ll find an explanation here.

This National Geographic video explains not only the autumnal equinox, but also nifty cultural practices that go along with it.

(You might want to watch it before Rupert Murdoch gets ahold of it and turns it into an exploitive clip about the sun ripping off the nighttime sky by getting dark earlier and earlier).

Perhaps it’s a good time to sit and read a sci-fi novel about autumn.  Why not try “Autumn in Carthage”? or “Runes of Autumn? Or learn the meaning behind The Pillar of Autumn in Halo, a video game.

Want to hear the definitive theme song of autumn?  Here’s a short, catchy tune by the band Screeching Weasel called  “First Day of Autumn”:

Most important of all, nighttime sky watches CAN’T MISS the total eclipse of the moon!  It takes place on September 27/28, 2015.  Click here for details to look out for it in your neck of the woods.  In New York, it actually begins at a decent time, starting at 8:11 pm, with the full eclipse occurring at 10:11 and lasting until 10:47.  If you haven’t seen a total lunar eclipse, it’s worth watching.  It’s a slow process, but you’ll have time to truly enjoy it.  Don’t take your eyes off of it between 9:50 and 10:15 – watching the moon turn red is the coolest thing ever.  Break out your binoculars!

Have a great fall and see you next trip!

 

World’s End   Leave a comment

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Credit: Don Davis/NASA

Hope you didn’t make any plans to take that much-needed restful vacation to Puerto Rico from September 15-28, 2015.  And while that’s the heart of the hurricane season, this wrath-of-nature event’s going to create giant waves not as the result of intense low pressure, but the crashing of a honking huge space rock.  Yes, folks, this sucker’s got our name on it and it’s that apocalyptic nightmare we’ve been long warned about.  So if any of you were thinking about paying bills or going to college, your time’d be better spent making plans of an otherworldly sort – the kind that involves a sudden belief in religion and hoping that all of those priests, preachers and other sorts are right.

NOT!

Oh geez, here we go again.  Once again, life on Earth is going to end.  Or that’s what they’d like you to believe on the internet.

So much buzz and inquiry flew around in cyberspace that the American authority on such matters, NASA, had to release a statement that categorically denied our home planet’s days were numbered.

As things go, this latest rumor of our planet’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  There is no asteroid, the Earth is still planning to turn and as far as vacations to Puerto Rico are concerned, it’s still hurricane season and you still might want to check the forecast before you leave.

Back in 1982, a rare alignment of all nine planets (back then, Pluto was considered one) occurred.  Our entire solar system lined up within a 95° arc, all on one side of the sun in March of that year.  This amazing event prompted horrific rumors of devastating earthquakes, shifts in gravitational forces and life as we know it’d go the way of Betamax players (also popular at the time).  And no Earth-ending force would be complete without California’s San Andreas fault sliding off the West Coast and offering the residents of Arizona the beachfront property they’d been longing for.  Of course, no one would have even given this planetary lineup a second thought had it not been for the book written by John Gribbin, Ph.D., and Stephen Plagemann, called The Jupiter Effect, published in 1974.    For some reason, nothing really happened except nighttime sky observers had a fantastic view.  Not long after, Gribbin and Plagemann published, The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered, backtracking to say the actual event occurred in 1980 and was responsible for the monumental eruption of Mt. St. Helens.  Finally, in 1999, Gribbin admitted he might have been mistaken about the whole thing.

There seems to be no end of apocalyptic predictions, it seems – humankind thrives on them.  Most of them seem to revolve around Christ coming again and bible predictions, or some deity wreaking havoc, or even a random event magically pull the plug on our planet.  To illustrate, Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive (although by no means complete) list of popular end-of-it-all predictions.  Suffice it to say, we’re all still here.

Why is it seemingly so popular to want life to end on our planet?  Lots of reasons.  Those in power used it as a means to control less sophisticated types, while others, through limited means of scientific understanding, considered such celestial events as comets to be a omen of death.  The same goes for plagues, droughts and other extreme weather events, earthquakes, eclipses and more.  I remember as a kid hearing Pat Robertson of the 700 Club predict the world would end in 1982.  Why?  He was a big fan of the Antichrist and figured that’d be a good time as any for the devil to show up.  That, and this prediction bolstered viewers for his popular TV show.  Hey, wouldn’t you want the latest details of your demise?  Of course, if you were God’s Chosen, you’d be lifted up in The Rapture…and all of his viewers were special, natch.

Alas, as long as humans trod the earth, there will be naysayers for its future.  The Assyrians are famously known for making this oft-quoted prediction, way back in 2800 BC:

“Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”

Oh, if only it’d be true…

 

The Adventurer Returneth…   2 comments

US & Canada Flags

I’ve been back for a week, yet I’m struggling to figure out what to write in this blog.  I’ve so much to say about Pluto, the near miss up in the ISS and Ant-Man, but my thoughts keep drifting back to my recent vacation.  So why not blog about that?  It was, after all, the last subject of my blog.

Andrew and I took a trip that amounted to 4000+ miles/6437+ kilometers, driving through New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, all in 15 days.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with such places, check it out on a map.  Looks doable, right?  That’s what we said.  And sure, it is.  However, possibilities always come with caveats and, in our case, ambition met with reality.  Our car ate up the miles and burned through its recent oil change all in one journey, but it didn’t complain once.

I have to tell you, it was an AMAZING adventure that I hope to repeat…just not all at once.  Be that as it may…

We started out one early morning and drove clear up to Maine in one shot – nine hours – and settled in Freeport, Maine, home of L.L. Bean and their grammatically incorrect sign, unless you really don’t want people kissing outside your store:

LL Bean

It’s a charming town, so we stayed overnight, shopped a bit at the 24-hour L.L. Bean, then continued on the next morning through the vast expanse that is Maine.  Traveling along State Highway 9, we discovered its beauty – and its remoteness.  Feeling hungry and needing a pit stop, there wasn’t a single place to pull over and eat.  Sure, there were a few convenience stores with take-out menus, but no toilets.  Luckily, we found a place just when our bladders and stomachs nearly gave up hope.  About an hour and a half later we arrived at Lubec, where we crossed into Canada.

Up until relatively recently, Americans and Canadians had to show only a driver’s license to cross the border.  Now, we need passports or an enhanced license, which contains much of the same information one has on its driver’s license embedded in it.  But that doesn’t stop anyone from enjoying each other’s nation’s treasures.

Our goal was Campobello Island, where Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had a summer cottage (a term I’ll use loosely) and also the location where he caught crippling polio that prevented him from walking for the rest of his life…but didn’t stop him from becoming the greatest American president ever.

Campobello 1Campobello 2Gretchen at Campobello

From there, we took a tiny ferry across to Deer Island, and because the tide wasn’t going the right way, we missed the world’s largest natural whirlpool – looks like a sink draining.  Another ferry put us into St. John, NB, and quite possibly the worst motel room we’ve ever had, ever.  But it was only for one night and the drive to it was quite beautiful – saw a moose! – and then it was up to Moncton.

We eventually wound up at Confederation Bridge, a bridge so long it took three songs playing on the radio to keep us entertained while we crossed.  It was totally cool, though.  PEI is one of these magical places that you trip upon at some point in your life and swear you’re coming back.  Lucy Maud Montgomery felt sufficiently inspired to write “Ann of Green Gables,” and we were lucky enough to stay across the street from the home that inspired her to write said book.

Gretchen at House 1

 

The next day, we rode horses on some Martian-red sand and hopped a ferry from PEI to Nova Scotia, just in time to celebrate Canada Day.

PEI Lighthouse

Tides are insaaaaaane!  Check out the below photo:

Nova Scotia Tides

Now this is a low tide!  Andrew’s in the lower right hand corner, crouching as he snaps a photo.  That’ll give you some perspective on how empty the beach becomes after the water ebbs.

After Nova Scotia we drove north and headed to Newfoundland.  We took the 8-hour ferry to Port-aux-Basques, giving me ample time to finish “The Caves of Steel” by Isaac Asimov, nap, eat and take artful selfies.

G&A Selfie

Hey, we were bored…

Newfoundland’s AMAZING.  Nothing short of.  However, take my advice – DO NOT plan to drive from Port-aux-Basques to St. John’s in one day.  It’s something like 570 miles/913 km/12 hours in one go.  Andrew and I are idiots.  We said f*** it, let’s go.  So we did.  Along the way, we saw this:

Moose Alert

…which led to this:

Moose 2

Yes, he boldly went where many moose dare to go – in the middle of the highway – and I was driving, but luckily he chose to run back into the woods and not total our car, but not before Andrew took his incriminating photo.

Because Newfoundland is packed with pristine beauty, we stopped frequently.  Even took the time to nip into Terra Nova Provincial Park.

Terra Nova 1  Terra Nova 2

Finally, we came to St. John’s, saddle sore but relieved.  Loved that city the moment I stepped into it, not because it was the end of the road (finally), but because it’s a happening town all lit up like an Easter basket under a Christmas tree.

St. Johns 1  St. Johns 2

However, we had a mission: icebergs.  We were not disappointed.

Gretchen and Iceberg   Iceberg 1  Iceberg 2

There are no words to describe that iceberg that accurately conveys its size or majesty.  That’s the ice field an iceberg leaves behind – just as dangerous as the iceberg itself.  Later on our tour, Andrew and I were screeched – listened to a Newfie recite the history of the province, taught us a saying in Newfie tongue, we had to repeat said (incomprehensible) phrase, kiss a frozen cod and take a shot of rum.  Afterwards, we received a certificate declaring us Screeched and honorary Newfoundlanders.

Alas, we turned around and headed back towards the ferry (another 13-hour drive) and over to Nova Scotia once more to enjoy Bras d’Or Lake and a coastal assortment of lighthouses, then a fun-filled evening in Halifax, only to have lunch in Moncton once again and depart Canada over a very friendly crossing at St. Stephen, New Brunswick to Calais, Maine.  In fact, both towns are so close you see license plates from both New Brunswick and Maine in each town’s streets.

A quick stop in Bar Harbor, Maine and Sturbridge, Massachusetts over the next two days ended with our arrival at home.

Whew!  Took two days to write this!

Oh yeah…we certainly DID have fun!

Next post – back to work!  Sci-fi and space await…

 

Epic Adventure!   1 comment

Newfie Iceberg

 

Iceberg!

It’s that time of year, in these parts of the world, at least, that one rises off of one’s bottom and seeks adventure, or a break from the routine, at least.  This New York State person is headed out, way out, to the above pictured place.  Can you guess where that might be?

Gas is relatively cheap now.  Put that together with the American love of cars.  The result?  Pack it to the gills and set off somewhere that you’ve never been before.  See, the advantage of a road trip is that you don’t have to juggle weights in suitcases to shove them in a 747’s cargo hold.  You have the absolute freedom to take every single pair of pants you own, twenty pairs of shoes, all your T-shirts, most of your sweaters and about eighty percent of your socks and underwear.  So what if the trunk won’t close – there’s no weight restriction!

Andrew and I decided we’d head off to Atlantic Canada: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.  I’ve been to Canada a bunch of times, just not there.  Andrew’s never set foot in the country.  I happen to think it’s a fine place worth visiting over and over again.  It is, after all, right next door.

As a kid, I dreamed of going to Nova Scotia after seeing such dramatic photos of the Bay of Fundy in a National Geographic magazine.  Having grown up on the New Jersey shore, the Atlantic there seemed pretty tame, only eating up a relatively small chunk of the beach at high tide.  Here, the beach either vanished entirely or the ocean disappeared.  Wow!  Years later, after Andrew and I married, he showed me the dramatic tides in Cornwall, England, where he’s from.  That was pretty cool, but my curiosity about the Bay of Fundy never abated.

I trolled the Internet looking for cool places to visit and pretty soon, the itinerary filled up with New Brunswick – we’re crossing in Maine and I want to see Campobello Island (where President Roosevelt contracted polio and left him crippled).  Then up to Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland added spots in our must-see list.  Tell you what, though, this website for Newfoundland won me over.  It’s not like I didn’t want to see it, this quirky website made it impossible not to.

No trip is complete without a reading list.  It’s going to be time for me to catch up on my classic sci-fi and I’m bringing along a selection of Asimov, Bradbury and one or two others to read, mostly on that 8-hour ferry ride between New Sydney, NS and Newfoundland.  Andrew’s reading “Existence” by David Brin and “The Martian” by Andy Weir.  I fully intend to abscond with both at some point.

But for now, as we set out on our epic adventure, I might just stare out the window and enjoy the sites on our own fair planet.  Or look up and see my favorite constellations in different places.  Cross fingers, there could be an aurora – sunspot activity’s been kicking up.  I’m hoping to find enough wi-fi sites to do a few postings.  And who knows?  Maybe I’ll see one of those icebergs drifting by.

 

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