Ending, Starting, and Stars

Whew. My graduate class in fundraising just ended. It was an eight week course (with luckily one textbook, not four like the previous class) that felt like it lasted forever.

But now, now comes starting my fifth season with the Park. Since I used most of my hours over the winter, I have to miss the first week of training with all the new folks. I get to make up what I missed by conducting a short training session on Monday, and two on Wednesday! DOH!

I have managed to sneak in some recreation in the last couple of weeks. I conducted a star talk/full moon hike, found some lovely flowers, and climbed a rock, making my atrophied upper body ache the next day. See photos.

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Looking south. Orion’s Belt is above the light on the right. Look for three evenly spaced stars.

Even on a nearly full moon night, constellations are hard to find!

Even on a nearly full moon night, constellations are hard to find! How did the constellation-makers do it when ALL the stars are visible??


Calochortus elegans?

Calochortus elegans?

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Arnica sp?

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Lupinus albifrons

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Delphinium

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Hey! That's an elephant seal molting. At Trinidad State Beach

Hey! That’s an elephant seal molting. At Trinidad State Beach

View off Strawberry Rock, looking towards McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka

View off Strawberry Rock, looking towards Trinidad Head (big mound right of center), McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka

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Here They Come!

Here They Come!

Perhaps you’ve been watching the amazing Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Cosmos television series? Last night, he touched on the fact that stars have long been used as a calendar, indicating when new seasons are around the bend [get planting, you!]. Certain constellations are tightly tied with seasons–such as Orion and Winter.

Less than 45 miles from Indianapolis, Brown County State Park is flooded with light pollution.

Less than 45 miles from Indianapolis, Brown County State Park is flooded with light pollution.

This winter, I’d been fussing about how slowly Orion moves. He’d climb over the eastern mountains, dangle over the Golden Gate Bridge [from the Marin Headlands, of course], and all and all, be a slow poke about his waltz across the sky. My impatience, stemming from the fact that I don’t usually look at the winter night sky, kept growing. It’s so difficult to live in a place where the temperature is mild year round [Ha! But I don’t ever feel warm.]. We made several trips up to Kneeland, a patch of human-created prairie where the astronomy club meets, this winter to stand in a forest of telescopes and gawk with like-minded folks and only encountered nippy conditions, but no frostbite.  To me, looking at the stars says very loudly SUMMER! My brain, in that warm, wind-swept prairie of South Dakota-mode, wondered why long underwear was necessary, and why the stars weren’t as familiar. Sirius? Isn’t that some form of radio?? Aldebaran? Don’t you mean Altair? And who is this Orion fellow anyway? Hercules! Hercules! [In my defense, my star gazing occurs between the hours of 9 and 12 pm–no early morning viewings for me, hence the missing the “other” part of the sky.]

So last night, after what feels like a long winter [probably since there was hardly any rain–hardly a winter!], the Big Dipper pointed to two bright stars [and one planet] creeping over the eastern mountains–Arcturus and Spica [and Mars–that’s a story for another day]! Summer stars, the stars I’m most familiar with, were shining and climbing. Soon they will be directly overhead, crowning the night skies of summer. Good Bye Orion! Good Bye Stars of Winter!

Orion sinks into the Pacific [center left], Sirius, the brightest star we see, glows in foggy conditions [left]. Taurus and the Pleiades follow to the right. All of these are topped by the Milky Way running horizontally across the top of the photo.  The orange glow of Eureka competes with the blue light from the Trinidad Head Lighthouse [on right].

Even with some light pollution but less-densely populated, we are lucky to live in such a dark area. Orion sinks into the Pacific [center left], Sirius, the brightest star we see, glows in foggy conditions [left]. Taurus and the Pleiades follow to the right. All of these are topped by the Milky Way running horizontally across the top of the photo. The orange glow of Eureka competes with the blue light from the Trinidad Head Lighthouse [on right].

Friday Night Lights: Blue and Yellow

Friday Night Lights: Blue and Yellow

I know it’s not Friday, but it was when I took this shot, and I’ll be honest, I can’t wait until next Friday. I haven’t done a meme in a long time either, so maybe I’ll try this out for a while.

Here goes:

The Pleiades are the bright blue cluster to the left of the power pole. Seven [or eight] brighter stars can be seen, but the cluster as a whole has more than 1,000 stars in it. They are young, ~100 million years old, and currently passing through a ‘dust cloud’ that reflects their light.

Capella is a yellow star straight to the left of the Pleiades and the brightest star in this shot. While very similar to our Sun in color, this star is actually two [much more common in the universe than our single star] giant yellow stars that are nearing the end of their lives. They are older than the Pleiades at 400 million years, but only have about a tenth of the years compared to our Sun’s age.

Milky Way at Houda Point

Milky Way at Houda Point

It’s not too often, except for this summer it seems, that you can see the stars on the beach around here. The marine layer/stratus/ground fog/plain ol’ fog gets in the way most nights. Lucky for us, the haziness held off just long enough for the Milky Way to show. By the time we started to head back up the hillside, everything–including the dog, was covered in dew! Not good if you’re toting camera equipment around.

This is the Milky Way as you face south. Scorpius is to the right, including Antares, a red supergiant so large that, if it were our Sun, it would extend past Mars until almost Jupiter [in other words, we’d be toast!]. It is in the top 20 of brightest stars in our sky.

Looking Up at Stars [and Over at Wildfires]

Star photography produces interesting glimpses of our skies, almost like pulling back a thick, dark curtain from your eyes. My favorite way to think of long exposure photography is, instead of unrealistically portraying a scene, it shows a world in which we live, but don’t see due to our perception of time.

Fires are at our pace–quick to burn, their duration is measurable within our frame of reference. This fire in particular might burn until winter, but likely we will be able to mark the end on our calendars.

On the other hand, stars are not as measurable. They may burn out during our lifetime, but our perception of those events are delayed. When we look up at the sky, we are seeing the past, not perceiving the present moment. An example is the North Star, known also as Polaris [a group of five stars, actually!], that currently serves as a pole star, ‘around’ which the Earth’s axis of rotation currently spins. The star group is 323 light-years away, meaning the light from those stars is 323 years old by the time it reaches us. Not only is it old light, but its role as pole star has not always been so. In 100 years or so, the axis will shift to another star, as it has in the past. In fact, somewhere around 300 BC, the axis rotated around an area of space without visible stars!

It is amazing to think that, as a free natural resource that inspires wonder, awe, and provokes us to think about the possibility of life off of our planet, the night sky isn’t seen by nearly 80% of Americans due to light pollution from suburban areas! [from: http://www.darksky.org/assets/documents/Nightscape/NS89%20news%20high-res2.pdf] And on a more altruistic level, our light pollution affects many species of wildlife, from lightning bugs to sea turtles.