Explore: January 2013

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6 posts from January 2013


Mercury, Jupiter, and Solar System Rubble

February Orion Taurus Jupiter ChumackThe always-tricky-to-catch Mercury creeps up into the evening sky in February. It will remain low to the horizon, fighting against the glow of sunset for most of the month. Mercury and Mars lie less than a degree apart after sunset on February 8. A flat, unobstructed western horizon will be needed to see them, along with an absence of light pollution.

On February 11 you can try to spot the 4-percent-lit moon, just a day past new, setting in the west after the sun. Mercury, at magnitude -0.9, will be below the moon and an even dimmer Mars will be below that. The weekend of February 16 and 17 brings Mercury highest into the sky but it will already be dimming, down to magnitude -0.3, and will grow darker on succeeding evenings as it falls back toward the horizon.

For an easy planet to bag in February, Jupiter will be shining brightly among the stars of Taurus. On February 17 and 18 a first quarter moon lies on one side and then the other of the giant planet. Take some time with binoculars to explore Jupiter and its moons, our moon, and the nearby cluster of the Pleiades. All three objects are some of the best targets for binoculars and are a great way to bring new observers into the hobby. Ask a new observer how many stars they can count in the fuzzy Pleiades cluster with their eyes alone and then show them the dozens more that pop into view through binoculars.

February’s full moon reaches its peak at 12:26 p.m. PST on February 25. The moon will be just below Leo the Lion as the sky gets dark. Late on February 28, look for the 87-percent-lit moon rising in Virgo in the east, and the constellation’s brightest star, Spica, about 1 degree away from the moon.

Small solar system objects seem to be flinging themselves in our direction lately, begging for attention. The asteroid that will make its close approach to Earth on February 15 at around 11:30 p.m. PST is named Asteroid 2012 DA14. At only 45 meters across, it’s not going to be a good observing target for the amateur astronomer.

However, another object headed our way, Comet 2011 L4 (PANSTARRS), will pass close to the sun in March and is brightening every day. Making its closest encounter past Earth on March 5 and its closest encounter past the sun on March 10, the comet could become bright enough to rival the brightest stars in the sky. Comet PANSTARRS will be in the west after sunset passing from Cetus into Pisces. On March 12 the comet will appear to swing past Uranus, an opportunity to catch that distant planet in binoculars. More precise information on the comet’s brightness will be available closer to March.

Photo by John Chumack. Peering out the observatory window, Orion lies below Jupiter in Taurus. The Hyades cluster is below Jupiter and the Pleiades cluster floats above.

HS_KellyWhittKelly 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.


Giant Celestial Hot Gas Cloud Looks Like a Manatee

ManateesJust in time for Florida's Manatee Festival, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory reveals the Manatee Nebula, a celestial gas cloud that bears an extraordinary similarity to Florida's most adorable (but anti-Biblical) endangered species. And the similarity doesn't stop there, says the NRAO:
  • The cloud is the remnant of a star that exploded in the constellation Aquila, about 18,000 light years away, and is impossible to spot with a common telescope; you need a radio telescope like the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array that can detect the low-energy radio wave light radiated by the nebula’s gases. Manatees can be hard to see in murky shallow waters. Spotters detect their presence by air bubbles and wakes.
  • The nebula bears arc-like scars carved into it by particles blasted from the jets of the exploded star’s remnant, a black hole, at its center.  The scars bring to mind the scars many manatees bear from boat propellers that have gotten too close.
  • The nebula took more than 10,000 years to assume its manatee-like shape. Manatees also have a long gestation and infancy period – well, at least compared to other earthly creatures. Gestation lasts 12 to 14 months; infancy, two to five years.

Sierra Club Outings sponsors regular "Manatees and Mermaids" kayak trips. You could get on the waitlist for this year's trip, or watch the Outings listings for future opportunities. Or, you could turn your telescope to the constellation Aquila . . .

W50 supernova remnant in radio (green) against the infrared background of stars and dust (red). Credits: NRAO/AUI/NSF, K. Golap, M. Goss; NASA’s Wide Field Survey Explorer (WISE). A Florida Manatee rests underwater in Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida. Image used with permission from Tracy Colson.

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.



Q&A: Underwater Photographer Cathy Church

© CathyChurch.com 2012, ALL rights reservedUnderwater photographer Cathy Church has been exploring the ocean world since the 1960's. Inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in 2008, Church is also a fierce activist and ocean conservation advocate with a background in marine biology and a keen eye for the underwater world. Sierra caught up with Cathy in her art gallery and photo center on Grand Cayman, where she shared her experiences with crocodiles and turtles, her fight to protect the ocean, and how she captures each moment behind the lens. --interview by Allison Montroy

Sierra: Do you ever feel that you build a relationship with the creatures that you're photographing?

Cathy Church: You do build a relationship with the feeling of being there. You may not have a relationship with a particular nudibranch — but yes, you can have a relationship with what a nudibranch is because you know how they behave and what they are going to do next. And yeah, they do talk to you — not with words — but with the way they look at you. I like to be in the water long enough and often enough that when I see something in a scene, that scene talks to me. I relate to it. The photography, the seeing the image, is definitely in your heart. 

So, how did you first get into underwater photography? 

I was a birdwatcher. I loved nature — anything natural was wonderful for me. But I knew that there would not be much future in birdwatching, and that I should become a marine scientist, because I just always loved the ocean. So, as a marine biologist it was obviously a good idea to take up photography to document my theses. And I fortunately met a fellow named Jim Church who did photography, and we continued to pioneer underwater photography together in the 70's because there wasn't a lot known about it. We had primitive equipment and flash bulbs and we would take our light meter and put it in a Skippy peanut butter jar — so there wasn't a lot of sophisticated equipment, but it was enjoyable to figure it out. And I liked the science part of it. 

Science comes into play? 

Continue reading "Q&A: Underwater Photographer Cathy Church " »


A Moose and His Girl

A Moose and His GirlThe "Survive" department in the March/April issue of Sierra is "Moose Romance," the tale of trail-runner Sallie Shatz's frightening encounter with a pair of amorous moose in Utah's Wasatch range. Our expert commentary was from Matt Heid of the Appalachian Mountain Club, author of Best Backpacking Trips in New England, who knows from moose. "If a moose approaches you, it's generally trying to drive you off because it sees you as a threat," he says. "In most situations, retreat immediately."

Fresh from her encounter with Bullwinkle, Shatz forwards the following clip from the movie Alaskan Moose: A Journey With Giants, "the greatest ode-to-moose movie ever made," according to the Anchorage Daily News. The clip was shot by moose biologist Vic VanBallenberghe, who warns viewers not to try this at home: The woman here raised the moose from a calf, something you also would not want to try at home. Nevertheless, it is quite touching:


HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.


PHOTO GALLERY: Animal Families

The 178-Day Hike Across America

VIDEO: Bear Rescue Mission


10 Places to Explore in 2013

The Subway, Zion National ParkA new year means new adventures. So empty your bucket lists and fill them with these 10 travel destinations for 2013.

1.) Farm Sanctuary--Orland, California 

This place does more than just offer you pastoral bliss and an amazing view of Black Butte Lake. Farm Sanctuary is a definite must for familial bonding whether it be with humans, animals, or both. The sanctuary is a place for rescued farm animals such as pigs, cattle, sheep, and chickens that you can meet face-to-face on a guided tour. Revamp your knowledge or learn about what you can do to help stop cruelty to animals at this destination that will surely become a family favorite. 

2.) White Sands National Monument--New Mexico

If you're tired of life here on earth, come to White Sands National Monument. You'll feel like you've stepped into a whole other world. Enjoy the surreal landscape and learn about the native plants and animals that live here and have come to adapt to both the weather and color of their surroundings. You may even gain inspiration to film your next science fiction movie from these parts!

3.) Nihiwatu--Sumba, Indonesia 

Continue reading "10 Places to Explore in 2013" »


Jupiter and the Winter Hexagon

January 2013 Jupiter Europa ChumackOn January 1 at 9 p.m. PST the Earth passes closest to the sun in its yearly orbit, or perihelion. During perihelion, the Earth is 0.9833 AU from the sun, as compared with aphelion, when Earth is 1.0167 AU from the sun. The difference is about 5,000,000 kilometers between the two, out of a distance that averages around 150,000,000 kilometers. This small variation is not what causes the differences in our seasons, but the angle of the sun’s rays as they strike our tilted Earth. Because perihelion happens to coincide with the winter season in the north, it is possible for the coldest day of the year to be the day we are closest to the sun, and vice versa.

The year begins with Mars low in the southwest at sunset and Jupiter high in the southeastern sky in Taurus. Mars shines at magnitude 1.2 with an orange hue and Jupiter is an eye-catching point of light at magnitude -2.7.

Jupiter is lying between two star clusters, the tightly knit Pleiades and the V-shaped Hyades. A reddish star named Aldebaran is the brightest of the stars that make the V-shape of Taurus’s head. Over the course of the evening on January 21, a gibbous moon will pass between Jupiter and the Hyades with Aldebaran. The moon will come within about a degree of Jupiter, making for a nice photo-op.

Continue reading "Jupiter and the Winter Hexagon" »

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