Explore: August 2012

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4 posts from August 2012


Observing Highlights for September: The Harvest Moon and Opposition of Uranus

In early August, Mars, Saturn and Spica formed a triangle. Credit: John Chumack

The Harvest Moon, which is defined as the Full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox, can occur in September or October. Most years the Harvest Moon is in September, as it is in 2012. The equinox, and therefore the first day of fall, lands on September 22 at 7:49 a.m. Pacific Time. With days and nights of equal length, the sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west. The closest Full Moon to this date is on September 29. The Harvest Moon rises in the east just before it hits 100 percent illumination at 8:19 p.m. pacific.

Moonrise in September occurs as little as a half hour apart from night to night as opposed to other times of the year when moonrise from one night to the next can fall more than an hour apart. The full and nearly full moons after sunset in September provided the extra light for farmers in the fields and earned this moon the name of Harvest Moon.

The planet Uranus reaches opposition, or opposite the sun in the sky when it rises at sunset and sets at sunrise, on the same night as the Full Moon, September 29. Normally opposition is considered the best time to observe a planet, but when it occurs simultaneously with a Full Moon in the same region of sky, this is not the case. The moon will be just four degrees above Uranus, washing out the sky around the dim planet.

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7 Crazy Caves of the Southern U.S.

Caves of southern USAh, a spelunker's paradise! Caving, or spelunking, is a popular and dangerous sport among adventure-enthusiasts and explorers seeking the thrills of undiscovered deep, dark, and sometimes cramped spaces. Caves are mysterious and house a lot of geological history. But not all caving excursions need to be so, um, claustrophobic.

Here are some caves and caverns in the southern U.S. accessible enough that anyone can visit, yet crazy enough that visitors will be glad to have a tour guide — and a camera — by their side. 

1. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky 

The longest cave in the world, Mammoth Cave is not just any old cave (though it is really old.) Visitors can take a number of tours through the cave system, namely an intense "Wild Cave Tour" spelunking adventure through miles of Mammoth Cave tunnels (shown in the video below.) For those not so spelunking-inclined, head southwest towards Bowling Green, KY and take a boat ride in Lost River Cave, where you can sit, listen to cave folklore, duck under low ceilings and explore cave rooms all from the comfort of your guided raft. 

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The Olympics on Mars


The Olympics and the Mars rover Curiosity are the two hot topics of the day. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted up a storm last week about his own Mars curiosity.

He asked to his followers, "How about a Mars Olympics? Yes, all the athletes would suffocate. Ignoring that complication, way cooler than Earth #Olympics." Tyson speculated about how the Games would go down on the red planet. Many sports would have a new element of danger added. We're not talking minor injuries. Here are our favorite Tyson tweets.

Cycling: "If there was Cycling on Mars, try Olympus Mons — a volcanic mountain 5x taller than Mont Blanc in the Alps."

Some estimates say that the last Olympus Mons eruption was 25 million years ago. Unsure when to expect the next one, we have to wonder what the chances are of that volcanic mountain erupting mid-ride. If the height of the mountain doesn't get you, the lava might. 

Badminton: "With 1% of Earth's air density, Badminton on Mars would be different — a shuttlecock to the face lands you in the hospital."

We're not saying that badminton is a boring sport, but we certainly think more people would tune in to the fast-paced event if it took place on Mars. The players wouldn't know whether to go for the shuttlecock or to run from it. Now that's an interesting game.

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6 of America's Coolest Trees

Remember the Lorax who spoke for the trees? As colorful as they may be,Truffula Trees have nothing on the ones in our own backyard. These six magnificent trees would leave even the Lorax speechless — and you don't have to venture into a Dr. Suess book to find them.

1. The Banyan Tree; Lahaina, Maui. 

Banyan Tree Lahaina Maui










Don't you just want to stretch out on one of these branches and read a book in the Hawaiian sun? Yeah, we do, too. Planted in 1873, this banyan tree was only eight feet tall. Today it stands 60 feet tall and has 11 more trunks than when it was first brought to Maui from India. It's also a community center for the town of Lahaina, providing shade for almost an entire acre of land next to the beach. 

2. The Lone Cypress; Monterey Peninsula, CA.

Lone Cypress Monterey Peninsula








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