Quantcast

Explore: August 2011


« July 2011 | Main | September 2011 »

9 posts from August 2011

08/31/2011

Nature Art: August Around the World

It was an exciting August in Washington, D.C. We not only had a hurricane, but also a 5.8 magnitude earthquake! Our natural world is usually gentle, and hot, well in to October. In fact, kids rarely need to wear coats over their costumes when they trick-or-treat on Halloween.

My Japanese calendar shows the same lush, humid climate in August. The Japanese morning glories are blooming sky blue, the Japanese fireflies are still out, though fewer than in June, and the Japanese mosquitoes ... sadly, the Japanese have them, too. The Japanese send syo-chuu-mimai, or traditional summer postcards, with classic images from their own hot summers and, over at the blog Tokyobounce.com, I found these lovely graphics. The first image is of morning glories, the second of fireflies, and the third of, not a pig, but a pig-shaped incense burner with a mosquito repellant coil in its mouth:

Morning glories

Fireflies

Pig

The writers at tokyobounce go on to say: "Of course, there are plenty of symbols that don't quite make the postcard cut – handkerchiefs doused in sweat, Salarymen in cool biz-ware, cicadas ...."

So summer is lingering here at 39 degrees north, about the latitude of Washington and Tokyo. But I've saved a calendar from Aeroflot, the airline of the former Soviet Union, a relic from 1992. What's August like there?

Russian Calendar

At 55 degrees north, it's autumn...in fact, it's a scene from Washington's November, yellow maple leaves and all.

This year I could draw torrents of rain (from the hurricane) and cracking earth (from the earthquake) for Washington's August symbols. I'd draw an air conditioning symbol, too, another one that wouldn't make the postcard cut!

But what are your symbols? What's late summer like where you are?

-- 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.

08/26/2011

Astronomy: Hunting Comet Garradd

8-26-11 Comet Garradd by Chumack

Comet Garradd with a satellite passing through. Credit: John Chumack

On a quiet, clear evening this week I took my telescope out to stargaze. It was nearly an ideal night except for the stiff breeze. While the breeze may be great to keep the bugs away (which are slowly becoming fewer anyway), it’s a bit of a problem for my eyes. As a contact-lens wearer, the wind dries out my eyes and I have to constantly blink to keep the stars from appearing smeared through the scope.

My goal this night was to spot Comet Garradd (C/2009 P1). I started out with binoculars, ever hopeful but not expecting much due to the light pollution where I live. With my Nikon 10x50, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the location it should be hiding in, back in the interior of the Summer Triangle, which we talked about last week. I saw nothing comet-like that couldn’t be explained by my fuzzy vision. At magnitude 8, finding Comet Garradd would have been an enormous coup because, due to light pollution, I have trouble finding magnitude-8 galaxies even through my scope.

After some unsuccessful scanning, I moved on to my telescope. But first I wanted to catch a few other objects as long as I had the scope out. I spent quite a bit of time oohing and ahhing over two deep-sky targets in Sagittarius, globular cluster M22 and a behemoth nebula known as the Lagoon, M8. When I moved on to sweeping the sky inside the Summer Triangle, I once again found the Ring Nebula, Dumbbell Nebula, and Coathanger Cluster. The Coathanger Cluster really does resemble the object it was named for and actually looks better in binoculars than through the telescope.

Standing at the scope and craning my neck sideways at the eyepiece is not the most comfortable of hobbies, so I would take breaks to sit on my front step and just gaze at the constellations. I was still without a comet in the eyepiece after quite a long time searching for it when suddenly my peripheral vision was flooded with light. My son had turned on the lights on his way downstairs to grab another library book to read in bed. I turned to say hello to him through the screen door and discovered a fat green frog positioned on the front step between me and the door. I imagined how easily it would have been for me to sit on him as I was resting on the step, or for it to have hitched a ride on my back, or even for me to have just stepped on him in the dark. My son headed back upstairs and switched off the light, sending the area back into blackness. I fumbled for the phone in my pocket, turned it on and found the flashlight app, all of which couldn’t have taken more than 30 seconds. When I went to shine the light on the frog, it was gone. I swept the area, looking for where the frog might have disappeared to, but it was simply not to be found. The frog had become as elusive as Comet Garradd.

If you also have trouble spotting Garradd, it’s supposed to brighten to magnitude 7.0 in February. In addition, a brighter comet will be low in the west next month. At approximately magnitude 5.8, Comet Elenin will lie close to the star Porrima, which is the same star that Saturn paired up with over the summer. And if comets Elenin and Garradd both give you trouble, there’s always another comet waiting in the wings.

-- 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.

08/25/2011

Nature Art: Islands

Why do we love islands? Do we think of them as sentinels, as guardians, like lighthouses? Or is it the magic, the promise of an island, something cut off from our mainland regular life?

I grew up on an island, Kwajalein, in the South Pacific, but I didn't realize the hold islands had on my imagination until I began to paint. In my first sketch, below, you can see Childrens' Island at the bottom of the image, and you may be able to read my notes about the incoming fog at the top:


Childrens 1
During my time in Marblehead, I ended up sketching Childrens' Island almost every day. I was playing with my new sketchbook, trying to draw one full sheet of images each time I want out for a walk. Marblehead has lots to draw, the old town in particular with its pre-1700s houses, its harbor, its lighthouse...but I always came back to the island. When I draw it now, I know every little shape: the two shelters in the middle, the tiny water tower on a hill, the fan of trees near the end. In the image below, you can see I was drawing in a stiff northeast wind--the water is choppy and the sailboats are turned to catch the wind:


Childrens 2
I'm painting in gouache, the opaque watercolors, these days, so I tried it next in a quick, color sketch of a sunrise:


Childrens 3
Wherever you go in the last days of summer, I hope you bring your sketchbook with 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.

08/19/2011

Astronomy: Inside the Summer Triangle

8-19-11 M27 Chumack
The Dumbbell Nebula, M27, is part of the constellation Vulpecula. Credit: John Chumack

While it’s still summer and the Summer Triangle is easy to find, it’s a good time to explore what lies within its three walls. Look straight overhead to find the brightest star near the zenith on these nights — Vega — and to the south is Altair and the northeast is Deneb, the other two corners of the triangle. Deneb’s home constellation, Cygnus the Swan, lies within a large part of the Summer Triangle. But two small constellations, Vulpecula the Fox and Sagitta the Arrow, can also be found huddled near Altair.

Near the middle of the Summer Triangle is the head of the Swan, a star named Albireo. This double star appears readily through a telescope as a bright yellow member and a slightly dimmer blue star.

A couple weeks ago we talked about Vega’s constellation, Lyra, and the Ring Nebula that resides there. If you were to draw a line from the Ring Nebula to Albireo and then continue it toward the horizon, you would run across Vulpecula and then into another large nebula known as the Dumbbell Nebula, M27. The brightest portion of the Dumbbell Nebula has a rectangular shape with the two ends looking heavier and more distinctive. At magnitude 8.1, you will need a telescope to see the Dumbbell.

While searching for the Dumbbell Nebula, you may run across a small cluster of stars that draws your attention. This grouping is most popularly known as the Coathanger, but it also goes by the name of Brocchi’s Cluster or Collinder 399. These stars are not actually a physical cluster but just a smattering of stars that look like they are in close proximity due to the direction from which we are looking. In reality, the stars lie from between 218 and 1,132 light-years away. The stars of the Coathanger shine at magnitudes 5 and 6, within reach of keen eyes, but better with binoculars.

-- 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.

 

08/11/2011

Astronomy: Things That Go Bump in the Night

8-12-11 Perseid Meteor Chumack A Perseid meteor soars over a house in 2010. Credit: John Chumack

When you stand outside your house for an hour in the dark, you become the unofficial neighborhood watch. On a recent night I lugged my telescope outside and set it up on the sidewalk not far from my front door. I had all the lights off, as is required to actually stargaze. When I first got outside I heard voices coming from my next door neighbor’s, but it soon became quiet and all I could hear was my cat meowing through the screen door and the very strange and persistent cry of a bird in the meadow across the street.

As I was gazing at Saturn and the moon, my cell phone rang. My friend was calling to ask if I saw my next door neighbor’s post on Facebook alerting our subdivision that a strange man had just frightened her daughter when he walked into their garage asking for a certain girl by name. No one knew that I had been outside but I was able to tell them that no one had passed me (we live on a dead end street and they would have had to go by me to leave). We soon found out it was an innocent case of another neighbor looking for his daughter.

Now, I spend a lot of time alone outside, standing in the dark looking through my telescope. In general I feel rather safe. Because I’m in the dark, I can usually see better than other people who have wandered outside from their house lights or are driving by in their cars. My eyes are already dark-adapted and I’m standing in the shadows, and most of the time no one knows I’m out there. Plus, stargazing is not exactly a noisy activity. I’m happy to keep my eye out for cars cruising down the street or night walkers, especially because their lights interfere with my gazing and photography. But it’s true that I can get rather involved in my observing, focusing on the eyepiece and the sky above, and it wouldn’t be impossible for someone to sneak up on me, if that’s what they were wanting to do. But I think that, for the most part, all I really have to fear from the dark is a cranky raccoon or wandering skunk.

If you’re out stargazing this weekend, the full moon will provide you with natural night light to keep you from being completely in the dark. August’s full moon is on Saturday the 13th and is sometimes called the Sturgeon Moon. The peak of meteor activity from the Perseids is scheduled to occur on August 12, but with the moon being nearly full on Friday, many of the meteors will be lost in the light of the moon. Expect some beautiful moonrises over the coming week as the slowly waning moon appears above the eastern horizon early in the evening.

-- 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.

08/10/2011

Nature Art: The Lighthouse

In Honolulu, it was Diamond Head that followed me everywhere--on the beach, through the city streets...  Here in Marblehead, Massachusetts, about 20 miles north of Boston, it's the lighthouse.

Marblehead Harbor is famous for its summer sailing and its lobsters. Some even call it the birthplace of the American Navy and, from anywhere in the old town, you can see the lighthouse that marks the harbor mouth. Here's a sketch with the lighthouse at the top and a tiny fleet of sailboats below:

Lighthouse1
All the artists in town paint the lighthouse. If you're a realistic marine painter, it's important to include all the bracing on each of its four legs, just as you would include accurate drawings of the rigging of a boat you were painting. It took me years to realize that I could let the legs go, that I could just hint at them and trust you, the viewer, to understand what I meant. I painted the view below on a 90-degree day, and I chose unrealistic colors to emphasize how hot I felt. No sea breeze ever came up:

Lighthouse2
I'm painting with opaque watercolors, called gouache. They have a velvety finish when dry and clean up with water. They come in small tubes, and I simply squirt color (about the size of a dime for a sketch) onto a coated white paper plate when I'm setting up my palette. I throw the plate away when I'm done painting. You could also use a white glass plate or metal butcher tray as your palette, but I like to travel very light when I'm painting outdoors. I paint on regular watercolor paper with the usual brushes. Because gouache is opaque, I can paint over an area that didn't work and try again, which makes it a relaxing, vacation-like medium to use. You can find tubes of gouache at your local art supply store or at most online art supply stores. Here's my finished painting of the lighthouse:

Lighthouse3
Gouache is easy to travel with and, if you're traveling by air, the tiny tubes will fit in the zip-lock bag required by the TSA. I hope you give it a try wherever you may be in August!

-- 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.

08/09/2011

Creating the Next Generation of Environmentalists

Young-hiker

Experiencing the great outdoors is an unforgettable, wild, exciting feeling—at any age. I remember spending countless hours as a child in my neighborhood’s open field, playing on my rope swing, and picking flowers. Beach days, hikes, and camping trips were among my favorite pastimes. 

But for too many children these days, nature experiences are constantly interrupted by the world of video games, technology, and a fear of the "unknown." Which raises concerns: who will be the next generation of environmentalists, and who will care to protect our oceans, wild lands, forests, and the health of the planet, if everyone is busy typing, clicking, and staring at the screen?

Tubing

Many outdoor enthusiasts and advocates believe that in order to inspire appreciation for nature and care for the environment, young people must connect first-hand to nature. In his bestselling book, Last Child in the Woods, author and journalist Richard Louv explains that exposure to nature increases children's creative thinking, stimulates positive childhood growth, and fosters positive environmental ethics and values. By contrast, children who are not introduced to outdoor play are more susceptible to attention disorders, depression, and the most relevant childhood trend, obesity.

ICO-trip

"I think if kids are exposed to the outdoors they will develop a relationship with nature, and if they don’t they will develop fear," says Melanie MacInnis, program manager for the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings program. "There is a lot of fear of the unknown."

This fear can stem from encountering wild places like a deep forest or a vast beautiful ocean, where it is unknown what or who is in there.

 Rafting

Today, many parents are reluctant to let children play outside for safety reasons, or because of time constraints. "Parents would rather have their kids safe inside watching TV, because they know where their kids are at and what their doing," explains MacInnis. In addition, many public schools have cut down on field trips to reduce the risk of accidents and lawsuits.

ICO-trip

In Last Child in the Woods, Louv coined the term, "Nature Deficit Disorder," which can be defined as a disconnect modern American children have with the natural world. Louv's research indicates that children are spending 40-65+ hours using electronics, and only 1 out of 5 children walk or ride a bike to school.

"Absolutely, there is a growing concern with children facing Nature Deficit Disorder," says MacInnis.

ICO-service-trip

But there is hope for future generations. MacInnis explains that with repeated exposure to nature and natural settings, kids form relationships with the environment—insects, animals, landscapes, trees—whether at the playground, hiking in a forest, or rafting on a river.

Florida-ICO-trip

Organizations like the Sierra Club organize outdoor trips locally, nationally, and internationally for people of all ages. The Club's Inner City Outings (ICO) program offers wilderness experiences to inner-city children and adults who may not otherwise have the opportunity to venture out of the city.

Paddling

There are 50 volunteer-run ICO groups across the USA, with each group selecting specific age groups and outdoor activity. For example, the Seattle Inner City Outings group works with selected elementary, middle, and high schools to provide and ensure repeated exposure of the outdoors.

Programs like ICO are actively recruiting future environmentalists. A positive next step could be introducing environmental curriculum in schools that is not technology-based. For now, it’s up to all of us to create and make accessible outdoor experiences for our current and future children.

At-the-Grand-Canyon

Creating environmental stewardship and fostering appreciation for plants and animals is vital. It’s time to make those childhood dreams of hiking in parks, swimming in the ocean, and sitting around a family campfire, into a reality.

Mountain-vista

All photos courtesy of Inner City Outings.

-- Samantha Van Gent is a media intern with the Sierra Club.

08/05/2011

Nature Art: Painting Diamond Head

What do you bring home from your travels?  Seashells?  Photos? T-shirts?  Me too.  And I often bring home another thing: drawings of a natural symbol, or something I've drawn repeatedly, or a new shape that caught my eye.  I can never predict what it will be. One year it was crab claws.  I drew them open, folded, on top of seaweed, in the sand. I didn't realize myself how often I'd drawn them until I looked back at my sketches. 

Last month, I drew Diamond Head, the volcano at the east end of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Its iconic silhouette is a background for the city; if you forget for a minute that you are in that Hawaiian city, you have only to look to the East to remember.  Diamond Head's Hawaiian name, Le'ahi, means "ridge "and "tuna," perhaps referring to the dorsal-fin like shape of the volcanic cone itself.
Here are two sketches of the very top ridge I made looking back at the volcano from the beach. It was hard to capture the exact angles at the top ridgeline.

Diamondhead1 
Below, I used a wax-resist paper called Bateeko to make the white lines in the painting I'm working on. This wax creates lines on the watercolor paper that resist paint, and they show up as white lines. You can draw right on the Bateeko, so I placed it on top of my watercolor paper and drew, pressing hard to transfer the Bateeko wax onto the watercolor paper. When my drawing was finished, I lifted the wax sheet and began to paint with watercolors on the paper. As I painted, the white lines stood out against against the colors, as if by magic. I have also drawn directly on watercolor paper with a wax candle (unlit!) or a white crayon to create a resist. You can order a pack of 25 sheets of Bateeko from enasco.com
Diamondhead2 
Wax and water can mix! I hope you'll give this playful technique a try over the 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.

Astronomy: Stargazing Gems in Lyra

8-5-11 M57 Ring Nebula NASA STScI AURA 
M57, the Ring Nebula, can be found in Lyra using a telescope. Credit: NASA/STScI/AURA

The bright star Vega, seen just overhead at this time of year, is the anchor for the constellation Lyra. Lyra the Lyre is a relatively easy constellation to pick out among the background stars of the Milky Way. Face east and then look nearly straight up. With its brilliant beacon of Vega, the parallelogram shape of the body of the lyre is found below and to the right (south) of the star.

The star Vega certainly needs no optical equipment to see. But there is an unseen element to this star, lurking beyond the reach of backyard telescopes. Vega is home to a disk of gas and dust. This star is about 400 million years old and may have an infant planetary system forming around it.

Double stars are rampant in Lyra. You don’t have to be looking for them to find them. Binoculars will pull out many by just sweeping across the stars nearby Vega, and a telescope will give you a closer view. One of the famous double stars in Lyra is to the lower left of Vega. This star system is called the Double Double, or Epsilon Lyrae. Use binoculars to show the two stars of Epsilon Lyrae, and then turn a telescope on them to show that each of those stars is also a double system.

For a great telescopic treat in Lyra, aim midway between the farthest two parallelogram stars from Vega and then look just a bit above this spot to find the Ring Nebula. The Ring Nebula is a curious creature to look at through the telescope because it makes you want to adjust the focus knob to get a better look at this blurry, blobby object. The nebula is rather large through my 8-inch telescope, which makes it easier to spot — at 1 ½ arcminutes across it sets itself apart from the bright pinpricks of stars. Take some time to gaze at it and allow your vision to make out the ring shape that stretches into a bit of an oval. This nebula was created when the star at the center of the ring reached the end of its life and puffed off a huge cocoon of gas. Images of the Ring Nebula taken at observatories show the true colors of the cocoon, which is rainbow-hued and a bit reminiscent of Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

-- 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.