Quantcast

Explore: July 2011


« June 2011 | Main | August 2011 »

9 posts from July 2011

07/28/2011

Astronomy: August Observing Highlights

7-29-11 Scorpius and Antares Whitt-1 The constellation Scorpius is low in the south on summer evenings. The reddish star near center is Antares. Credit: Kelly Whitt

This August’s night sky will provide much in the way of peaceful contemplation. Begin the month under dark skies with a crescent moon that sets soon after sunset. The Perseid meteors will be steadily on the increase from month’s opening until the 12th, when they are supposed to peak. Unfortunately, the full moon on August 13 will outshine many of the meteors on the most active nights.

For the week following the 13th, the moon will be rising in twilight as it shrinks ever-so-slightly night to night. The last week and a half of August will return to dark evening skies as new moon approaches, allowing for excellent Milky Way viewing.

Saturn is still visible in the evening sky after sunset low in the west. It has been the planet to watch all summer and will continue to be so through most of September. But Jupiter is slowly rising in the east in late evening hours and will reach opposition in October.

Read more about the August Night Sky and how to track down two elusive solar system targets, Neptune and Vesta, or just enjoy the constellations of summer.

-- 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 writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

07/27/2011

Inner City Outings Well Represented in This Year's Sierra Club Awards

St Peter's outing
Anne, crouching in the center, on a hike in the NH White Mountains.

Just for a moment, take your hands off the keyboard and give these two a hearty round of applause.

Anne Monnelly Carroll, a 13-year volunteer with Inner City Outings (ICO) in Boston, and Colin Tysoe, chair of Chicago's ICO program, have been named among this year’s recipients of the Sierra Club’s annual awards. Their remarkable and tireless work in bringing the outdoors to inner city youth has touched and inspired countless kids.

Colin Tysoe
Colin, in the cowboy hat, during a River Day Service trip with McCormick Boys and Girls Club.

Anne Monnelly Carroll has won this year's Madelyn Pyeatt Award, which recognizes a Club member's outstanding work with youth. Under Anne's tenure as chair, the Boston program has networked with several other youth and community groups, and has funded, organized, and led more than 75 trips, involving more than 1,300 kids.

Anne has come a long way since her first ICO experience, when she was working in an office and was invited by friends to partake in a canoe trip.

"I was instantly hooked," Anne recalls. "For most of the kids on the trip, this was their first time in a canoe. I remember worrying that the overcast weather and scattered showers would disappoint the kids, but they were jubilant."

Continue reading "Inner City Outings Well Represented in This Year's Sierra Club Awards" »

07/22/2011

Astronomy: It's Like a Heat Wave

7-22-11 Sun and Planet NASA
The Sun … it’s coming. Credit: NASA

Writing a blog on a day when the temperature is expected to reach 96 degrees F with a heat index near 110, it’s hard to think about any celestial object other than the Sun. Although the Sun cannot really be blamed for this heat. The Sun is not any hotter today than it was a week ago. Day-to-day weather is caused by the atmosphere. And the Southern Hemisphere is trudging along with their regularly scheduled winter. In fact, Earth reached aphelion, its farthest point from the Sun, on July 4.

For the past several billion years since its birth, the Sun has been remarkably steady in its output, with occasional minor changes but nothing so severe as to keep life from flourishing on Earth. This is typical for a G-type main-sequence star like our Sun. G-type stars spend about 10 billion years busily converting hydrogen to helium. We are about midway through the Sun’s helium production phase. About 5 billion years from now, the Sun will run out of hydrogen for fuel, and that’s when Earth will really begin to feel the heat. The Sun will swell into a red giant, its outer layers bulging outward until it swallows Mercury, Venus, Earth, and probably Mars, too. As the sun’s heat nears Earth it will boil off the oceans and the atmosphere, leaving our planet a decidedly lifeless place well before it is enveloped in a solar embrace.

I bring this up not to alarm you, but to reassure you that our Sun still has a long happy life in front of it. Last night my friend was watching the movie The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s bleak book about an apocalyptic future. My friend made me promise her that the world will never end. The best I could promise her is that it wouldn’t happen in her lifetime. While a global nuclear war or deadly pandemic could surely decimate our Earthly population, neither of these things are guaranteed to happen and even if they did, I like to think that there will always be pockets of life that make it through the calamity. The fate of the Earth is assured by the eventual demise of the Sun, but that is such a long way down “the road,” that it is the least of our worries.

I made a point not to bring up meteor strikes. Nothing good can come from thinking about that.

The best you can do is go out and enjoy the hot summer day, or wait until the sun sets and the air begins to cool, then sit back and look at all the stars shining in the night sky. Look south at Scorpius the Scorpion with its low, looping tail and pincers facing west. See the brightest star by the head? That’s Antares, which is a red giant star. Imagine that it has finally reached this stage after billions and billions of years as a quiet, gentle Sun like ours. And then imagine that any inhabitants circling Antares have long ago discovered how to pack and move to a more suitable location before their own planet was eaten in the encroaching stellar atmosphere. Imagine whatever you want. There’s no rush. You have plenty of time.

-- 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 writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

07/21/2011

Nature Art: Sketches from Honolulu

Hflower2-1
At the top of this 14 x 10 inch sketchbook page, you'll recognize the two beach scenes from last week. Next, on the lower right, I painted the orange birds-of-paradise. After that, I fit in the blue ginger, blue as a delphinium, but with smaller flowers on a long stalk. I was afraid I'd run out of paper in my sketchpad, so I crammed the little paintings together; there were so many new flowers to draw! I had one small space between the orange and the blue, so I filled the space between them with a purple hibiscus.

Big sketchbooks can be heavy to carry. Day to day, I use one that measures 8 x 6 inches, easy to fit into my bag. But on a trip, carrying a large sketchbook gave me the chance to collect many quick images. It's fun to arrange sketches by theme or location on a larger page, and I like to challenge of fitting them together to make one big composition.

Koi
The Japanese bronze koi was one of two guardians facing visitors to a Big Island restaurant. It balanced on its front fins, like feet; the tail section acted as an anchor. Its eyes were gentle for such a large fish! I drew it last, although it appears first on this page, and I fit its shadow around the drawing of the Polynesian banana leaf. The wooden leaf was four feet high and carved from wood. I went back and darkened the leaf to make it stand out against the fish and give the page a a three-dimensional look.

When I look my sketchbook drawings, the light, sound and perfume of the Hawaiian air surrounds me again. I hope your sketches do the same for you!

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

07/15/2011

Have You Seen the Milky Way?

Milky Way Summer 2011 John Chumack
The Milky Way as seen in summer 2011 from Rice Lake, Canada. Credit: John Chumack

I once read that only one in five people alive today have seen the Milky Way. This statistic is a bit hard to believe, but when you consider how many people live in urban areas these days with light pollution blocking out all but the brightest stars, it might not be that far-fetched.

It's really not at all hard to see the Milky Way provided you have a couple key elements working in your favor. The first is that you need to escape the city lights and find a nice dark-sky location. This doesn't even mean you have to go camping or hike into the back country. I live in the suburbs and despite light pollution intruding to the east, I can easily spot the Milky Way from my backyard.

The second factor working in your favor at the moment is that this is a great season for viewing the Milky Way because it stretches overhead. (Instead of hugging the horizon, like it does in spring.) The Milky Way crosses the zenith over the course of the evening. If you look straight up, you’ll find the bright star Vega in Lyra, one of the three points in the Summer Triangle. Deneb and Altair can be found to the northeast and southeast, respectively. Inside the triangle is a portion of the Milky Way.

If you trace the Milky Way toward the north, it is narrower and less dense because you are looking away from the center of the galaxy. If you look toward the southern horizon where the Milky Way lies you are looking toward the center of the galaxy. The galactic center is located just above the spout of the teapot asterism in Sagittarius.

If you haven't yet seen the Milky Way, go out and have a look. Seeing the cloudy band of our own galaxy should be on everyone’s bucket list.

-- 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 writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

07/13/2011

Nature Art: No Water? No Problem!

Icecoffee1
Say you're in Honolulu. You're sitting in the shade, on a seawall, and you have your sketchbook, brush, tiny traveler's paintbox next to you. And your ice-coffee. Birds whistle as they fly past into the palm trees. In front of you is Waikiki Beach, all amazing blue-green water and pale sand. A woman opens her beach umbrella in front of you, and it is the perfect complement to the water, a gorgeous orange-red. You have to paint it.

You sketch the scene, open your paintbox, grab your brush and...you have no water. You can't paint. Unless you empty out your full cup of ice coffee and fill it with sea water. So...

I painted with iced coffee.

Icecoffee2
I poured a bit of coffee into the lid and used it instead of water to wet the paint. The colors are duller than they would have been, but the coffee-stained sand is the perfect shade of tan. The coffee dried slick and shiny, so I couldn't go back and fix the color once the sketches had dried. When I tried, the new paint simply beaded up on the surface. The colors in my paintbox smelled like ice coffee for a few days afterward but it didn't affect the colors.

Bluesinwc
French ultramarine, second from the left, is the blue-gray of the Atlantic up in Boston. But Honolulu takes its water from the blue-green Pacific. For the trip, I treated myself to a tube of cobalt teal, a color one I use nowhere else, and the perfect color to use on Waikiki Beach. Cobalt teal runs along the bottom of the card.

So, iced coffee will work, but I hope you won't have to sacrifice a cool drink to do your painting this summer!

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

07/08/2011

Last Chance to Observe the Space Shuttle

7-8-11 Space Shuttle Launch

A 2009 Launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis. Credit: NASA

If you haven’t already watched the space shuttle as it sails silently overhead in the night sky, your last chance is approaching. The final space shuttle is scheduled for launch on July 8, 2011. After launch, the path of the shuttle will be tracked by websites such as NASA and Heavens-Above.com. Simply input your location to find out when to look for the shuttle above your area.

STS-135, the final flight of Atlantis and the final mission of all the space shuttles, is scheduled to spend 12 days in space while it docks with the International Space Station (ISS). Only four astronauts will partake in the final mission. Many people have asked what comes after the space shuttle, but the truth is there is no rocket waiting in the wings to take Americans back into space. There is a lot of debate over whether ending the program without transitioning into the next phase of space exploration is a smart idea, but we’ll concentrate instead on our last view of this historic time.

The space shuttle can be seen after sunset when the sun’s light still reaches up high into the layer of atmosphere above Earth known as the thermosphere. The sun reflects off the space shuttle, making it visible as a fairly bright light that glides silently across the sky. When the shuttle connects up to the ISS, the “point” of light looks more oblong and shines more brightly. Catch it in binoculars to see the separate objects. Spotting the shuttle before sunrise is also an option for some locations.

Sunlight hitting the upper atmosphere and illuminating objects above the night side of Earth is also how we view satellites and noctilucent clouds. The Heavens-Above.com website can also inform you as to what other manmade objects are sailing overhead each night. Noctilucent clouds have been spotted recently as far south as the northern tier of the United States, so you may want to keep an eye out for them as well while you are looking for the space shuttle.

Read more about satellite gazing.

-- 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 writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

Nature Art: Gone to Seed

Lettuce1 
Lettuce. It may be the party girl of April, all spring crispness and curly leaves, but now it's July and the party's over. We have to start lettuce in March (or even February under row covers) in the mid-Atlantic region. Our 90 degree days, some even in May, guarantee that lettuce will bolt by mid-June.

But is that a bad thing?

I know, I know, lettuce sending up flowers instead of new leaves is a sign of a garden (and a gardener) gone wrong. After all, the lettuce leaves from a flowering plant will be bitter, inedible. And then the comments: "If it's too hot for lettuce, just plant basil and be done with it." Or, " Ornamental flowers? Haven't you heard of petunas?"

But I leave the bolted lettuce for a bit longer. In the photo, above, the arugula flowers the largest, a creamy white cross, and the mustard flowers tiny, acidic yellow puffs. Mache flowers white, like tiny alyssum blossoms on a periscope of a stem. I didn't plant iceberg lettuce, so I don't know what flowers it might have had. Bees love the four-petaled blossoms, and attracting bees will help pollinate other crops in your garden. And some bolted broccolis are actually ornamental. Barbara Damrosch, in her Washington Post column "A Cook's Garden," tells of planting a cabbage called "Happy Rich," a cross between Chinese and western broccoli. She let it go to seed and it bore clouds of lush, snow-white blooms.

This wasn't my week to paint pale flowers in watercolor! Here, instead, is a botanical drawing of bolted lettuce from 1757. Drawn by Elizabeth Blackwell, one of the most famous 18 century botanical illustrators, her Herbarium was so successful that it supported her family for two years while her husband was in a London prison...or so the story goes.

Lettuce2 

Set aside a corner of your garden for the unusual! Let your lettuce bolt!

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.

07/01/2011

Astronomy: July Observing Highlights

7-1-11 Pre Fireworks Jan Willem Stad
Before the fireworks start, point out the planets in the darkening sky. Credit: Jan Willem Stad

If you can steer clear of mosquitoes, July nights are some of the best for observing the heavens. Lie back and gaze at the Milky Way and watch for meteors shooting across the sky.

The summer's best meteor shower occurs this month. Normally that title goes to the Perseids in August, but because that one coincides with a full moon, July’s Southern Delta Aquarids shower will be the preferred event.

The Southern Delta Aquarids occur around new moon. The peak of activity will happen between nightfall on July 28 and sunrise on July 29. Look for the constellation Aquarius. It will be rising in the southeast in late evening, bringing with it the radiant from which the meteors appear to emanate. At peak you can see up to 20 meteors an hour.

Saturn and Mercury are the planets to watch in July. Saturn is visible after sunset as the bright starlike object in the southwest. Saturn is currently located in the constellation Virgo. Mercury shines a bit brighter than Saturn at the beginning of the month from its location in the west. But because it never ventures far from the sun, it will be in the twilight glow and hard to spot.

On the Fourth of July, Earth will reach aphelion, the farthest it gets from the sun all year at a distance of 1.017 Astronomical Units. As the sun sets and before the fireworks begin, look for a crescent moon below the star Regulus with Mercury to its right and Saturn to its left.

For more stargazing attractions, see the AstronomyToday.com SkyGuide for July through September.

-- 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 writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.


User comments or postings reflect the opinions of the responsible contributor only, and do not reflect the viewpoint of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any posting. The Sierra Club accepts no obligation to review every posting, but reserves the right (but not the obligation) to delete postings that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

Up to Top


Sierra Club® and "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet"® are registered trademarks of the Sierra Club. © 2009 Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club Seal is a registered copyright, service mark, and trademark of the Sierra Club.