Posted by: Kelly Rae at 11:27AM PST on October 30, 2009
Image of the Witch Head Nebula, Credit: NASA/STScI Digitized Sky Survey/Noel Carboni
One of my favorite nebulas in the Universe is the Witch Head Nebula, or IC 2118. The nebula looks strikingly like a Halloween hag seen in profile, and it rises late on the evening of October 31, a wonderful treat on a night known for its tricks.
The Witch Head Nebula lies next to Rigel, the brightest star in the constellation Orion. Bluish Rigel marks the bottom right corner of the constellation and is sometimes described as Orion’s left knee. The gas and dust of the Witch Head Nebula is reflecting the light from the blue supergiant star, which is off the image to the right. In larger images of this scene, the “eye” of the witch appears to be looking at Rigel.
The nebula itself is quite enormous, more than two degrees across, or four times the size of a full moon. The star that appears near the ear of the witch is 65-Psi Eridani, shining at magnitude 4.8. Even though the Witch Head is identified as being close to Orion, technically it lies across the border in the constellation Eridanus the River. The Witch Head Nebula is approximately 1,000 light-years from Earth.
This year on Halloween, another interesting astronomical sight lies in the east late at night. The reddish dot that marks Mars can be found at the center of the Beehive Cluster for this evening only. It will make a hauntingly beautiful target for astrophotographers, who are sure to capture an image to die for as the God of War enters a hive full of swarming bees.
Don’t forget you’ll have an extra hour to stargaze on Halloween night because November 1 marks the end of Daylight Saving Time.
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Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy
Posted by: John Gould at 11:20PM PST on October 29, 2009
Photo courtesy John Gould.
We, the mortals, touch the metals,
the wind, the ocean shores, the stones,
knowing they will go on, inert or burning,
and I was discovering, naming all these things:
it was my destiny to love and say goodbye.
—Pablo Neruda, “XV,” Still Another Day
Nothing is more satisfying, I think, than to read an accomplished poet nearing the end of his life, with no sign of slowing down, intellectually or spiritually.
When I first read Pablo Neruda’s Still Another Day, I was struck by a poet who knew he did not have long to live, and by a body of work with no indication of backing down, or fading into the sentimental or romantic. In two days in 1969, Neruda wrote 433 verses of a sustained and fierce poem that squarely meets nature and the human condition.
Life is fleeting, and nature is both in and beyond us. Neruda gave me a profound insight, and left the mystery still intact. That’s what I want from poetry.
Wednesday October 28, 2009
Posted by: Philip Eager at 4:33PM PST on October 28, 2009
You know it's a cardinal by sight. But would you recognize it by its song alone? Photo © by Motorrad67
If you’ve ever gone on a birding walk with a local expert, you might have been amazed (and jealous) about his or her ability to pick birds out that you can’t even see. Many good birders use their ears as much as their eyes, having spent years refining the art/skill of birding “by ear”, or the ability to find and identify birds by their song or their simpler call notes.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not at all good at birding by ear; my wife (who also has an uncanny knack for remembering song lyrics) is much better at it than I am. But I certainly appreciate how it helps and enhances your overall birding experience. And you don’t need to be like some of our friends who can stand outside at 4 a.m. during fall migration and identify the chip notes of warblers and thrushes flying overhead. Talk about jealousy!
I once read a great piece of advice about how to get better about birding by ear.
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 1:07PM PST on October 27, 2009
Eagle Cliff on Cypress Island, British Columbia. Photo by Ann Kruse.
Something that struck me as I watched the National Parks series on PBS last month was how much John Muir loved being outside. He also loved getting other people out there, so they could experience the same joy he felt. And there were also times he took them along so they'd be motivated to help protect wild places.
I'm proud to say that, thanks to Muir and other early Sierra Club leaders, our Outings program has 100 years of experience as an outfitter for environmental travel. We've got it nailed -- and you don't have to believe me. Sierra Club Outings has been named one of the "best adventure travel companies" by National Geographic Adventure, and is in the "50 Tours of a Lifetime" listing (see Camp Glacier) by National Geographic Traveler.
What I like is that there are trips suited for those who want to stay in a lodge and take short hikes during the day; paddle in to tropical climes or near glaciers; backpack in extremely remote corners of the U.S., or in exotic international locales. There are trips that focus on birding, art and writing, women-only backpack trips.
Here's a sampling.
With more than 350 trips to choose from, I'm betting you'll find something that calls your name.
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 8:01PM PST on October 25, 2009
I've never had the pleasure of traveling to the Northeastern states to check out the autumn colors I've heard so much about.
But I was just poking around Trails, looking for some yellows, reds, and oranges, and happened on Gonzo John's Hoosier National Forest photos on his profile page
, and David Scarbrough's images in the main Trails Gallery, taken on the East side of the Sierra Nevada in California, like this one
. And there's Larry Mix's photo of the White Mountains
in New Hampshire, too.
If you've posted photos of fall colors recently, comment on this blog and provide a link so we can all check them out, whether they're in the gallery, part of a trail description, or in the photo gallery on your profile.
Posted by: Kelly Rae at 11:11AM PST on October 23, 2009
In our solar system, the farthest object visible without optical aid is the planet Uranus. This takes exceptional skill, however, because not only do you need great conditions and excellent eyesight, you need to know just which one of those faint dots is the seventh planet from the Sun. Uranus at its brightest shines at magnitude 5.6. Occasionally the odds of seeing Uranus are improved because another planet passes close by, such as Venus or Jupiter. These brighter guideposts help observers to be sure they are looking at the right point of light. (Next September Jupiter moves within less than a degree of Uranus, providing one such opportunity.)
The Andromeda Galaxy: The view is going to get better! Image credit:NASA
Have you ever wondered what is the farthest object you can see with your unaided eyes? Truly dark, clear skies, such as those far from civilization, will improve your odds at seeing deep into space.
Posted by: John Gould at 11:35PM PST on October 22, 2009
Photo courtesy John Gould.
…fish are starving to death in the Great Barrier Reef, the new age of extinction is / now / says the silence that precedes—you know not what / you / are entering, a time / beyond belief….
— Jorie Graham, from “Positive Feedback Loop,” Sea Change
Publishers Weekly recently called Jorie Graham, “our most formidable nature poet.”
I got mixed reviews from my poet friends on that pronouncement. And it’s not very surprising.
Poets argue. They fight. At the poets’ café in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheé, they even brawl. Our relationship to the natural world has always been problematic and open to debate.
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J Gould has been exploring wild places and writing about them since age 6. He was one of the first "beach-watchers" and newsletter editors for NOAA out at Point Reyes National Seashore. He reads sporadically across the spectrum of poetry and poetics, without any discernible pattern, and toils in virtual anonymity as a poet with annual chapbooks and publications in obscure journals -- the first being Toyon at Humboldt State, where he taught and earned an MA in English. Friend J Gould here, and join the Poetry and Nature group to meet others who share your interest.
Wednesday October 21, 2009
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 11:37PM PST on October 21, 2009
Hey Trail-heads -- Birding Phil is out today, so I promised him I'd blog about our feathered friends myself. This gives me the great opportunity to make sure you know about one of the coolest-ever books from Sierra Club Books, which just so happens to be about birding.
It's called "Birding Babylon," and it's by a National Guardsman from Connecticut -- Sergeant First Class Jon Trouern-Trend -- who arrived in Iraq
for a year's posting in 2004. He'd been a birder since age 12, so when he arrived in Iraq he started looking for birds. He found them -- in surprising number and variety around Anaconda Base in the Sunni
Triangle, where he was stationed: old-world warblers near the laundry
pond, kestrels at the dump, wood pigeons by the airstrip, owls on the
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 1:47PM PST on October 16, 2009
If I told you the above photograph of the Big Dipper was taken at 10 p.m., could you tell me in what season it was taken?
The Big Dipper is one of the most recognizable groupings of stars in the sky. It is part of the constellation Ursa Major the Great Bear. These seven stars circle around Polaris in Ursa Minor and never set for observers in the Northern Hemisphere. Constellations such as these that never set are called “north circumpolar”.
Let’s assume you go outside at 10 p.m. and look north to find the Big Dipper. Depending on what season it is, the Big Dipper will look “right side up” with the bowl pointing up, upside down with the bowl emptying toward the ground, or tipped on its side either handle down or handle up (like in the picture above).... (more)
Wednesday October 14, 2009
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 11:17PM PST on October 14, 2009
When geometric diagrams and digits
Are no longer the keys to living things…
And when light and darkness mate
Once more and make something entirely transparent,…
Then our entire twisted nature will turn
And run when a single secret word is spoken.
— Novalis, from “When Geometric Diagrams…,” Translated by Robert Bly, News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness
Every once in a while, I haul this beleaguered Sierra Club Books volume of poetry out from the shelf—old candle wax and dog-eared pages, notes in my handwriting that don’t sound familiar.
I rediscover an old poet who has something solid to contribute to our modern understanding of the natural world.
Whether they respect Nature’s power and want to be a part of it (Whitman) or fear a source that has the power to kill us (Dickinson), all poets are nature poets. It is our relationship to the natural world, one perceived or inflicted, that defines our work, and our existence.
Posted by: Philip Eager at 11:09AM PST on October 14, 2009
Hermit Thrush -- doing okay so far!
Last week on my way to work in downtown San Francisco, I found a dead bird lying in the middle of the sidewalk. At first, I walked past it along with all of the other commuters, and then my mind clicked in and I had to go back and at least figure out what it was. Turned out to be a Hermit Thrush. Not having anything to put it in (and not wanting to walk around all day with a dead bird in my pocket!), I picked up the bird with a tissue, looked at it to confirm the ID, and then wrapped it up and put it in the nearest trash can. Although unsatisfying, that somehow seemed preferable to leaving the bird right in the middle of so many unknowing footsteps.
The thrush was most likely the victim of a collision with a downtown office building during its migration, which is a common and increasingly well-documented phenomenon during spring and fall migration. It often happens on foggy or cloudy nights during those periods, when birds can easily get disoriented, and it's particularly dangerous when large office buildings leave their lights on overnight, as that only increases the disorientation of the birds. The numbers can be alarming: In Toronto, it's estimated that 10,000 birds a year are killed in building collisions in their downtown area alone.... (more)
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 5:41PM PST on October 9, 2009
Friends: Here's a perspective on national parks (and protecting them) from guest blogger U.S. Congress member Raúl Grijalva (Ariz-07)
This past summer, my family and I took a week-long trip to the Grand Canyon. It was the first time my two young grandchildren had ever been to the park. And even though they might be too young to remember this trip, their enthusiasm reaffirmed my commitment to our National Park System.
As a representative from Arizona, a state in the heart of the Southwest, I am naturally interested in the environment. I grew up near Saguaro National Park
, a place of profound beauty and symbol of the Sonoran Desert. I feel a great obligation to be a responsible steward of our natural heritage, and as such, I am proud to be a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
Posted by: Tioga Jenny at 5:14PM PST on October 9, 2009
This image of M15 was taken on the 36-inch telescope at Kitt Peak National
Observatory. Credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF
Few astronomical sights grab the public's attention as much as the marvelous view of a giant full moon rising above the horizon. When the moon is close to the horizon, whether at moonrise or moonset, it appears especially large due to the horizon illusion. While the effect has been observed for thousands of years, it is still not well understood. The moon is not the only object that is subject to the horizon illusion; constellations also appear larger when they are low in the sky.
The Great Square of Pegasus looks particularly grand this time of year as it rises in the East. This large, boxy asterism in the constellation Pegasus enters the fall night sky at sunset. As it rises, it is not angled parallel to the horizon but with one point up and one point down like a diamond. The Great Square measures twenty degrees across from point to point, or two fist-widths held at arm's length.
Posted by: John Gould at 11:41PM PST on October 8, 2009
Photo courtesy John Gould.
There are more fish than there are leaves
on a thousand trees, and anyway the kingfisher
wasn’t born to think about it, or anything else.
When the wave snaps shut over his blue head, the water
remains water—hunger is the only story
he has ever heard in his life that he could believe.
-- Mary Oliver, “The Kingfisher,” Owls and Other Fantasies
OK, so this is an easy one. But Oliver was on my mind after last week’s entry, because she has read at the Tuolumne Poetry Festival.
About a year ago, I drove with a poet friend out to St. Mary’s College, out in the big trees, on windy roads. The hall was packed, and my friend was dubious. She is not usually one for poets with big popular followings. And definitely not sentimental.
Posted by: Canyon Kyle at 4:12PM PST on October 8, 2009
I recently came across a blog post that took issue with a Sierra magazine article written by one of the writers of Ken Burns's new series The National Parks. The article, "Collect 'em All," was about Dayton Duncan's quest to visit all 58 national parks, and the blogger took issue with the idea that the Sierra Club would promote such an activity. So-called park bagging "leave(s) a massive carbon footprint" and is "an elitist pursuit, a game that very few can play," says Keith Goetzmann, an environmental editor at Utne Reader.
Goetzmann raises some interesting points, most notably that we should
get to know the land intimately. Better that we should acquaint ourselves with one, two, or a few parks very well than attempt to superficially survey them all in baseball-card-collector fashion.
And who could disagree? I think we might all agree with Kent Ryden, who says in Mapping the Invisible Landscape, "A sense of place results gradually and unconsciously from inhabiting a landscape over time, becoming familiar with its physical properties, accruing history within its confines." This sense comes from living on a piece of land, and from hiking the same trails over and over again. It is a worthy pursuit. But one can know the land without being married to it – intimacy in this case does not mean cutting oneself off from other vistas.
Duncan acknowledges in his article that simply passing through a park is no great feat. He quotes John Muir: "Nothing can be done well at a speed of forty miles a day. . . . Far more time should be taken." And it seems time is really the issue here. For hitting every national park in the span of one, two, or a few years would mean that you would have to travel fast and could only gain the most superficial understanding of these lands. But Duncan made his visits over the course of a half century. Surely there is enough time in five decades to experience both a sense of place in one's home, and to see the majesty of many -- if not all -- of the national's greatest treasures.
But if it is possible in a lifetime to visit all of the national parks, is it not elitist to do so? This question is a good one, and it can be asked to all people heading out into "nature." I don't think there is anything more elitist about the national parks than other lands. Yes, there is a fee to get in, but as we are reminded in Burns's film, the parks are for the people. As Duncan says in his article
these sacred places are not only to be preserved "unimpaired," but are also to be accessible to the people. They are to be shared--shared now, and also shared with the future, just as people from our past shared them with us.
The parks are a democratic concept. They are not locked up for the wealthy, but rather set aside for everyone. Of course, that does not mean that everyone visits them. I once spoke to a resident of Moab, Utah, who leads outdoor trips, and he told me that 80 percent of the schoolchildren in town had never been to Arches or Canyonlands National Park. That's a spectacular percentage, if accurate, given that Moab is a stone's throw from both parks.
Seeing many or all of the parks is not the problem; allowing schoolchildren to grow up without visiting at least one is society's failure. Watching The National Parks
, and reading Duncan's article, has brought excitement to many people. They have spurred parents to think about where they would like to take their children. And perhaps the film has prompted some children ask their parents if their family could visit a park together.
We cannot ignore climate, of course, and it is reasonable to question how much we fly or drive our cars. But in the course of a lifetime, surely there are some pilgrimages worth making. For some it is a holy site in Rome or Mecca, for others the Cathedral in the Desert, and for one man, at least, it is Paka O Amerika Samoa, 7,000 miles from his home in New Hampshire.
Posted by: Canyon Kyle at 9:47AM PST on October 8, 2009
For many people who love the outdoors -- myself included -- it’s easy to separate our connection to the wild places we care about from our commitment to other environmental issues, like climate change. After all, we can burn a lot of fuel getting out to the trails. I know I can be pretty committed to public transportation and biking for most of the year, and then hit the road for an epic road trip to the Southwest so I can wander through slot canyon narrows and watch the full moon rise over graceful sandstone arches.
But the two are connected, of course. Many of us would not be so passionate about the environment if we had not been introduced to the outdoors by a parent, a teacher, or a friend. We might not be so concerned about climate change
, or the plastic piling up in the Pacific
, or the hundred or so other things that motivate us to work on behalf of the planet.
So we make our annual pilgrimages to landscapes that capture our imagination – much like people have done for millennia – in search of something lasting, beautiful, and perhaps sacred. And we make our shorter trips to the mountains, the seashore, and the river to connect the natural world. We follow John Muir’s advice
Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
These places set aside and left relatively untouched by modern society might also be one of society’s greatest allies in its fight to prevent a climate catastrophe. Deforestation and other disruptions cause up to 25 percent of the emissions
that cause climate change. That’s why I was interested to see that this fall the 9th World Wilderness Congress
, in Yucatan, Mexico, carries the theme: “Wilderness, The Climate’s Best Ally.”
As important as small changes are to helping avert climate change, protecting our last large tracks of forests is essential to safeguarding the planet. Whether or not you can make it to the Wilderness Congress, which takes place once every four years, it’s a cool event to check out. Thinking about the Congress made me consider the connection between protected land and our warming climate.
The lands we hike on, those beautiful spots that wash your spirit clean
, are also cleansing the air that is the lifeblood of the world. Perhaps we can all do a little more to protect the lands around us and also the forests of Brazil and Indonesia
. Perhaps we can carpool with our friends when we head out to the trails, and also remember that we do not lead two lives but one. That we cannot separate hiking from the rest of life. Or as Muir said:
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
Wednesday October 7, 2009
Posted by: Philip Eager at 4:51PM PST on October 7, 2009
This cluster of migrating Monarchs gathered on a tree branch in Santa Cruz, California.
If you’ve been out and about the last few weeks, whether birding or hiking or just wandering around your town, you might have noticed that birds are not the only winged creatures that are migrating at this time of year. The fall migration of Monarch butterflies is well under way, as Monarchs from across Canada and the United States head south to their wintering grounds. Other butterflies are definitely more noticeable as well, but Monarchs are the one species of butterfly that everyone notices and knows.
I’ve even seen migrating Monarchs and Swallowtails (another group of large, colorful butterflies) in downtown San Francisco, which is both inspiring and a bit nerve-wracking as they often fly low to the ground, zigzagging in between traffic.
Posted by: Adam Kapp at 5:16PM PST on October 5, 2009
Greetings Trail-heads! Today we're pleased to bring you a special guest-blog by Congressman Mike Quigley (IL-05), a Sierra Club member and admirer of our national parks.
From Rep. Quigley:
I've been a card-carrying member of the Sierra Club since I was in high school. Through the years I've become a father, a husband, a hockey player, and a policy-maker, but I remain an active member of the Sierra Club (and I still have my card to prove it). It's why I got involved in politics in the first place. During weekends at home in Chicago, I spend a lot of my time doing restoration work in our local Forest Preserves because, well, the environment is important to me and my district. I came to Congress to continue to work with similar-minded, conservation-focused legislators across the country, to push the green agenda onward and upward.
The National Parks play an integral role in preserving natural treasures across our country and across the world. Just as the Sierra Club joins like-minded environmentalists and links them to common causes, the Natural Parks bring people together, to honor and cherish a truly special place.
I've been to many of these places, and it never ceases to amaze me how meaningful the experience is. Every time I visit the Grand Canyon I'm humbled by the experience once again. Whether you've been there for a sunrise, a sunset, or an unexpected cold gust of mid-summer wind, you can't possibly imagine any place more magnificent or awesome (in the truest sense of the word) than the Grand Canyon.
Sadly, my last trip left me with visions unbecoming of National Parks and the pristine and delicate lands they protect. Smog from Las Vegas blows through the Canyons on a regular basis. A man-made overhang protrudes across one side of the Canyon, a blemish on an otherwise miraculous natural landscape. These Natural Parks are not amusement parks and must be kept to retain their sense of authenticity.
If we dare disrupt these natural treasures, we will forget why we have protected them in the first place. We protect these beautiful, powerful, and spiritual landmarks for our children, so that they may know the great lands of our lifetime.
Posted by: John Gould at 11:08PM PST on October 2, 2009
Polly Dome Lakes area, near Tuolumne Meadows. Photo courtesy John Gould.
I LIVE IN A FALLING SHACK
I live in a falling shack
everything waiting to be tossed out
slant floor torn screens—
My neighbors ask
Why do you live like this?
The owl flies in
and perches on the table
ruffled wings and keen eye.
I say look, the wilderness enters
homes like mine.
-- Patti Trimble, co-founder of the Tuolumne Poetry Festival in Yosemite National Park. Used with permission.
They say, start where you are. So, when the Sierra Club began its current showcase of national parks, in concert with the new Ken Burns series on PBS, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, I took advantage of the fact that Yosemite is the Bay Area’s backyard wilderness and looked for poets.
My neighbor had been telling me about the Tuolumne Poetry Festival for years. About Gary Synder, Li-Young Lee, and Kay Ryan packing the readings at the old Parson’s Memorial Lodge. People peering in through the windows, attending workshops with local poets, and catching solo acoustic guitar performances by artists like Bill Horvitz (Tuolumne Songs) .
It sounds so idyllic, and now I’m sorry I didn’t listen to her prodding -- grab my sleeping bag and my chapbooks and show up at open mike. It’s a close-knit community of poets, with a unique relationship to the park -- and a venue as inspiring as any, a half-hour walk through Tuolumne Meadow in the high Sierra.
Posted by: Kelly Rae at 11:15PM PST on October 1, 2009
Image credit: Fall Colors along Lake Superior as Seen from Space: Liam Gumley, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Terra-MODIS
One of my favorite Green Day songs is Wake Me Up When September Ends. Well, September is over, and for anyone who wants to see the best planetary conjunctions in October, you’ll have to wake up before sunrise. Saturn lies right beside Mercury on the morning of October 8 and then Saturn moves up until it is also less than a degree from Venus on October 13. These planetary duos will appear in the east in the darkness before dawn.
As the sky above is shifting its constellations from summer to fall, the world around us is putting on its autumn garb. Did you know that the change of seasons is visible from space? Satellites observe not just the slash of tornado damage or the swaths of snow storms, but also the beautiful tinge of orange that spreads from north to south as October progresses. The image seen here was taken by NASA’s Terra satellite in early October of 2003.... (more)