Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.

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May 14, 2014

Turning Fishnets into Skateboards on the Chilean Coast

Bureo Skateboards turn fishnets into boardsThis summer, you could be surfing the streets on a skateboard made of fishy nets. Bureo Skateboards, is a skate company that recycles discarded fishnets into stylish plastic skateboards. Three crazy gringos came together to start a fishnet recycling company in Chile, and are now hoping to bring the end product to stores, and skateparks, near you. 

While working in Chile as an environmental consultant, Ben Kneppers saw first-hand the immense amount of waste produced by the robust Chilean fishing industry. According to Bureo, discarded fishnets amounts to 10% of the oceans' plastic waste. "It's not the fault of the fishermen," Kneppers said. "They're just dealing with an incredible turnover of this material that is constantly becoming waste."

Encouraged by the Chilean government, Kneppers came up with the idea of Net Positiva, Chile's first collection and recycling program for fishnets. "I approached World Wildlife Fund Chile and said, 'How about my two crazy gringo friends come down here and we set up the first ever fishnet collection and recycling program in Chile,'" he said. 

Those three crazy friends, Kneppers, David Stover, and Kevin Ahearn, made a formidable team. "We had this great trifecta, where I was on the ground in Chile with this environmental sense, David had this business sense, and Kevin had a product engineering background," Kneppers said.

Just collecting and recycling fishnets wouldn't sustain a business, so that business sense came into play early. The plastic would need to be parlayed into something valuable in order for the business to grow and increase its recycling capabilities. "We didn't want this to be a non-profit," Kneppers said. "We wanted it to be a social business, where as the business succeeds, our abilities to improve the environment and community will also grow."

It needed to be a product that required very little plastic, but also a relatively high intrinsic value. They found their solution in plastic skateboard decks. It takes one kilo of plastic per board, and a complete skateboard is worth more than $100.

Bureo has a Kickstarter page and hit its initial fundraising goal in three days. This will fund its first production run and help market the boards to skate shops. The company plans to road trip from San Diego to San Francisco this summer, engaging with the skateboard industry and hosting beach cleanups along the way.

Bureo has an interesting dilemma: it needs a constant source of material for the boards, yet its goal is to eliminate as much waste as possible. So would it be a success if Buereo ran out of material and were no longer able to make boards?

"Absolutely. That would be an incredible achievement," Kneppers said. "Right now, the material is probably 100 times greater than we can deal with, but if we could scale up production to a level that eliminated waste, that would be an incredible accomplishment and something we aspire to."

--Images and Video courtesy of Bureo Skateboards

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.



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May 12, 2014

The Clean Dozen

Stanford UniversityLast week, Stanford University announced that it would not make any direct investments in coal companies, making it the twelfth U.S. college, and the most prominent, to eschew coal. While the university doesn't disclose its investment holdings, its endowment was worth $18.7 billion in 2013. The ban on “direct” investments applies to about 100 publicly traded companies for which coal extraction is their primary business. The university will divest itself of any current coal holdings.

While Stanford is obligated to maximize the financial return of its investments, natch, its Statement on Investment Responsibility, adopted in 1971, states that if the university’s trustees conclude that a company’s “corporate policies or practices create substantial social injury,” they may factor it into their decisions. "Stanford has a responsibility as a global citizen to promote sustainability for our planet,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. "The university's review has concluded that coal is one of the most carbon-intensive methods of energy generation and that other sources can be readily substituted for it. Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future."

Much credit for the move goes to Stanford’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing, composed of students, faculty, and staff, which conducted an extensive review of the impacts of fossil-fuel investments and recommended the changes to the Board of Trustees. The student group Fossil Free Stanford got the ball rolling last year when it petitioned the university to divest from 200 fossil fuel extraction companies. In a recent student referendum, 78 percent of students voted in support of divesting from fossil fuels. The group continues to push the university to divest from all fossil fuels, not just coal. (So far, Stanford is holding on to its oil and gas investments.)

"Stanford, on the edge of Silicon Valley, is at the forefront of the 21st century economy,” wrote Bill McKibben, Middlebury College professor and founder of climate activist group 350.org. “ It's very fitting, then, that they've chosen to cut their ties to the 18th century technology of digging up black rocks and burning them."

Image by iStock/JimFeliciano

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”


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May 09, 2014

Do the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks?

IStock_000031960502SmallLet's face it: Cycling--particularly in the city--can be downright scary. It doesn't take too many encounters with stressed cabbies or oblivious texters to make a cycling commuter wonder whether it's worth the risk. Sure we know there are lots of advantages to cycling (not least of which is that it's a lot of fun), but you're pretty exposed out there. Is it worth it? 

Luckily for us, someone has done the math to figure it out: Jeroen Johan de Hartog and Hanna Boogaard have a paper in Environmental Health Perspectives called--wait for it--"Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks?" They looked at what would happen if half a million people in the Netherlands (they chose it because there's such good data available) switched from driving a car to riding a bicycle for short trips. Here are some key takeaways:


  • Since cyclists are breathing harder, their exposure to air pollution may actually be greater than motorists. On the other hand, with all those people cycling, air pollution levels would be lower overall--providing a benefit to the general population of about the same order of magnitude as the increased risk to cyclists.
  • Any change in the number of fatal accidents would depend on which people are cycling. Overall--if the risk to other road users is factored in as well--the impact is practically zero. "But if young car drivers switched to a bicycle, it would decrease the number of fatal accidents. The opposite is true for elderly car drivers." 
  • However! All those new cyclists would benefit greatly from the physical exercise. Balanced against the risks, in fact, the health benefits are roughly 9 times greater compared to motorists. That means that cyclists would live from 3 to 14 months longer. Even if the lowest level of physical activity is assumed along with the highest level of air pollution and traffic accidents, cycling is still the hands-down winner. 


Photo glinton/iStock

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 ProgressOtherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

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May 08, 2014

Everest Photographers Fundraise for Fallen Friends

The serac avalanche that killed 16 men last month on Everest was the largest, single-event, loss of life in Everest’s history and it has sparked political mobilization among the Sherpa people. Anger and sadness have reverberated throughout the climbing community across two continents and resulted in a massive fundraising campaign by Outside magazine Senior Editor Grayson Schaffer and National Geographic photographer Aaron Huey. Thereturn

They raised $425,000 in just eight days.

Schaffer and Huey recruited a group of 10 climbing photographers to sell $100 prints of Everest that have been published in National Geographic and Outside. The flash sale was so successful that they have reopened the sale until midnight Sunday, May 11. Click Here to see the prints for sale and/or make a donation.

All proceeds garnered through this sale are going directly to the Sherpa community via the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (ALCF). Half of the money will be donated to families of deceased climbers through ALCF’s Widows Relief Fund (which has been serving bereaved families of Sherpas for about a decade) and the American Himalayan Foundation’s Sherpa Relief Fund. The other half of the proceeds will go to “long-term community assistance” which will be split between the Khumbu Climbing Center and the Everest Base Camp Medical Clinic.

The climbing center has become an important part of Sherpa guide training, which recognizes that guiding is lucrative but dangerous work for mountain communities. A certificate from KCC has become a sort of union card for guides. The school employs over 17 Nepali instructors, one of whom Ang Kaji Sherpa, died in the April 18 avalanche. A number of other victims also attended KCC, notes Jennifer Lowe-Anker, co-founder of the ACLF.

ShivlingWhen word of the death toll reached Huey, he and Schaffer spent three sleepless days pulling together photographers and assembling the website. “The question was not do I do this, but how do I do this,” said Cory Richards, accomplished mountaineer and NatGeo photographer. “Photos made it more than just an ask, it made it an offer,” says Huey. Instead of throwing money into a fund, donors get a striking piece of art that represents a community that needs support.

Some of the most well-known names in alpine photography have lent their wares to this sale, including Richards who has been to Nepal over a dozen times and worked closely with Ang Kaji at the climbing center. Richards was also on the 2012 NatGeo Everest expedition and passed under this serac several times, commenting, “There’s a reason Conrad [Anker] calls the icefall the ‘ballroom of death’.”

Huey said he would like to see changes made on Everest to provide more safety for native guides. Barring removal of all commercial guiding expeditions, he thinks “better pay, better insurance, and better education,“ are the best ways to support them.

Richards sees this fund as a way to show their friends that “their value cannot be equated the value of the Everest industry,” which yields the government over $3.3 million a year in permits alone. “It’s time to get organized and get political,” he said.

And that they have.  Hands

When the Nepali government offered families of deceased climbers about USD$400 for funeral expenses the Sherpas remaining at base camp went on strike. Their demands included an increase in the amount paid to families of the deceased to $1,000, a $10,000 payment to severely injured staff unable to return to work, 30 percent of royalties collected by the government from all western permits to create a relief fund, double the amount of insurance to mountaineering workers, a guaranteed salary for the rest of this season even if they choose not to continue working, and a memorial park to honor the deceased in Kathmandu. 

In late April the Nepali government agreed to meet a majority of these demands.

--Images courtesy of Aaron Huey, Pete McBride and Cory Richards, all for sale at http://sherpasfund.org/

-- Caitlin Kauffman is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is a sea kayak and hiking guide in the Bay Area and the Greater Yellowstone area. She enjoys good eye contact and elk burgers.

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May 06, 2014

John Muir on Cliven Bundy

John MuirCliven Bundy talks a big game, but he's nothing new. Bundy, of course, is the racist Nevada rancher whose refusal to pay $1 million in fees and fines for illegally grazing his cattle on public land protected for the threatened desert tortoise led to an armed standoff with federal agents. The BLM withdrew after being confronted by hundreds of Bundy supporters, many of them armed. " 'The gather is now over,' said Craig Leff, a deputy assistant director with the Bureau of Land Management. 'Our focus is pursuing this matter administratively and judicially.' " 

Sierra Club founder John Muir had a different view of dealing with those grazing their animals illegally on public land. In a speech printed in the January, 1896 Sierra Club Bulletin, Muir welcomed the arrival of U.S troops to put a stop to illegal sheep grazing in the brand new Yosemite National Park.

Blessings on Uncle Sam's blue-coats! In what we may call homeopathic doses, the quiet, orderly soldiers have done this fine job, without any apparent friction or weak noise, in the still, calm way that United States troops do their duty. Uncle Sam has only to say "There is you duty," and it is done. . . .

Nine Portuguese shepherds and eighteen shepherd dogs were marched across the park from the extreme northern boundary, across the Tuolumne Cañon and the rugged topography of the Merced basin to the southern boundary at Wawona, and were presented as prisoners before Captain Rodgers, who had charge of the troop guarding the park. 

These shepherds submitted to being driven along over hill and dale as peacefully as sheep, notwithstanding they had a little previously been boasting of their fighting qualities and the surprising excellence of their guns, and with what deadly effect they would use them if interfered with in their divine right of stealing pasturage. But when they were calmly confronted by a soldier, armed with the authority of the United States and a gun of much surer fire than theirs, they always behaved well, and became suddenly unbelligerent.

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 dad. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber


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May 05, 2014

A Surcharge for Smoggers

Traffic congestion in MadridIf you live or work in a big city and scratch your head any time you see a driver of a gas-guzzling SUV crawling through the concrete canyons looking for a place to park, you may be impressed by Madrid’s new plan to charge higher parking rates for vehicles that pollute more than average.

Scheduled to be implemented in July, the scheme will charge electric cars nothing to park, hybrid cars 20 percent less than average, and diesel cars made in 2001 and earlier 20 percent more. (Spurred by tax incentives not seen in the U.S., diesel vehicles account for 70 percent of new cars sold in France and Spain. While diesels post admirable mpg figures, which reduces their greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline-powered cars, the story isn’t so cheery when it comes to their emissions of smog-forming pollutants such as nitrogen oxides. Older diesel vehicles are particularly noxious.) Madrid’s pricing will also vary depending on how congested a street is at any time of the day.

According to the Guardian, Madrid “continually exceeds the EU limit for nitrogen dioxide in the air – mainly released through car exhaust systems – with rates that have at times spiked five times above the limit deemed safe by the EU.”

It’s unclear how Madrid’s smart parking meters will identify a specific vehicle, whether using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology such as that used for electronic toll-collection systems, or by requiring a driver to punch in their license-plate number, but that’s not much of a hurdle with today’s smart parking meters. Already, San Francisco uses “demand responsive pricing” to raise and lower on-street parking fees based on congestion. And London has charged “congestion fees” for driving in central London on weekdays for more than a decade using plate-recognition technology.

--Image by iStock/scottyh.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”



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May 01, 2014

Wait... Bears Can Rock Climb?


Well, the answer is yes! Bears can rock climb, as seen in this viral video filmed by youtuber Stephanie Latimer. These bears aren't quite poetry in motion; they seem too clumsy, shaky and husky to be testing their vertical limits. And since they climb free-solo (meaning without ropes or protection because they are bears), you're left on the very edge of your seat with every reach and paw shuffle.  

Cedar Wright, a North Face athlete, seasoned professional rock climber and writer, was particularly impressed with the daring bears:

"These are the best bear climbers I've seen since 1999 in Yosemite when I witnessed the impressive free-solo of a 50-foot 5.9 off-width by a bear....The mom employs some masterful stemming at the crux, while the cub realizes that this is a reach problem and is forced to establish a more difficult variation." 

These are Mexican Black Bears, a subspecies of black bear listed as endangered in Texas, and they grow to weigh 200-400 pounds--not an ideal weight for such miniscule paw holds. Yet somehow the little cub, after watching her mother traverse like a furry Alex Honnold to the safe ledge, learns quickly. She nervously negotiates the route and tops out in dramatic fashion.

These black bears are often spotted by campers in Santa Elena Canyon, part of the 800,000-acre Big Bend National Park in the lone star state. Campers and hikers might witness them lumbering around and foraging near the river with their cubs. But seeing these bears crimp, traverse and jug up the canyon walls, claws and all? That's another story.

"Rarely are [black bears] seen scaling the walls of the canyon," says a Park Ranger of Big Bend who prefers anonymity. But, he says, it happens, and it's not as impressive as the video suggests. "The cliffs actually aren't all that vertical," he says, and it's common for bears to climb anything that they perceive is climbable.

Photo (4)Plus, rock climbing in Santa Elena Canyon isn't conducive to human methods of climbing. The canyon rock--soft igneous and limestone flutes--is much less dense than say Yosemite's granite.  Drilling and placing climbing protection are risky for the climber and damage the rock's integrity.

Wright (pictured, tall), however, remains awestruck. "After careful examination," says Wright, "I can confidently say that this is a cutting edge ascent that in bear grades is in the upper stratosphere of what is possible. I would guess it is a solid B.15." Wright equates the "B" scale (for "Bear") to the highest-rated climb in human standards, 5.15. 

"Even by human standards this is one of the great ascents of our time. A new bar has been set. I think it's time for [Chris] Sharma, Honnold and [Tommy] Caldwell to hang up their hats and give respect where it's due."


Video credit: Stephanie Latimer

Photo credit: Cedar Wright

J. Scott Donahue is a former intern at Sierra. He will soon obtain an MFA in nonfiction writing, and his thesis is composed of travel essays about trekking, mountaineering and running Nepal's Himalayas.

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Throwback Thursday: Chiura Obata and His Sierra Legacy

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Throwback Thursday: Chiura Obata and his Sierra Legacy

ChiuraObatabyCedricWright3Part of an ongoing series exploring the Sierra Club's archives, because with such a long, rich history we don't throw back, we throw way back.

Chiura Obata is known for his striking Sierra landscapes and bald depictions of internment camps. Despite a tumultuous, life this master never stopped teaching others. Born in Sendai, Japan in 1885, Obata moved to California in 1903 and continued to paint using the sumi technique he had learned at home. His signature ink brush illustrations of Yosemite would become his legacy. 

Some of his earliest subject matter was the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fires in San Francisco. In 1921 Obata established the East West Art Society in San Francisco which held exhibitions to promote cross-cultural discussion about art. 

A trip to Yosemite in 1927 would introduce him to the landscape that would become the focus of his future work. He became an art professor at UC Berkeley in 1939, where he would teach Gary Snyder, a man known more for his artistry with words than a brush.

After the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Obata and his family were "evacuated" to an internment camp in 1942. During this period Obata continued to teach others and produce his own works. Putting out a call for help from his Bay Area community, he raised funds for art classes, supplies and exhibitions for fellow prisoners. His haunting depictions of his imprisonment can be seen in Topaz Moon, a collection of his sketches, woodblocks and paintings from that time. 


After his release he joined the Sierra Club on their high trips and captured the “Great Nature” on his canvasses. 


Obata held painting demonstrations during these trips, passing on his unique perspective of the iconic sceneries.

ChiuraObatabyCedricWright2Check out some of his paintings today and consider bringing painting supplies on that next hike. 

-- images courtesy of the Sierra Club Archives. Taken by Cedric Wright in the 1950s. 

-- Special thanks to Ellen Byrne, Sierra Club Librarian.

Bianca Hernandez is the Acting Web Editor at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.



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Throwback Thursday: Retro Hiking Style

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April 29, 2014

Poems to Inspire Outdoor Adventures

National Poetry Month Environmental PoemsWe often lose sight of the environment in seeking to conquer it. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in better gear, tougher trails and higher climbs, and forget what got you out there in the first place. Humans do not seek suffering solely for glory, there has to be some reward to keep us coming back. The same applies to great writing. What makes us reread a sentence? Come back to a poem? We may read hundreds of pages of drivel to discover one nugget of truth; we may hike days in the rain for one hour of sunlight. The great moments are the ones that keep our boots on, our chins up and our spirits high.

What if you could get that feeling by reading a poem? These poems were written in a bygone era and yet they still drive us out of the house. Even now, their words inspire action and ask us to consider our environment. They ask us to take responsibility for and enjoy the Earth. These poets embody the Sierra Club’s motto to “Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet.”

In honor of the conclusion of National Poetry Month here are some poems that will light a fire in the belly of anyone who’s ever been outside. 


William Wordsworth’s 1798 poem quickens the heart with frantic pleas. He urges us to quit our books, shut down our laptops and get “Up! Up!”

The Tables Turned

William Wordsworth

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you'll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun, above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your Teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.


As a Sierra Club charter member, Charles Keeler worked to preserve the Berkeley Hills and went on to direct San Francisco's Natural History Museum at the California Academy of Sciences. Keeler bemoans man’s victory over nature and suggests one last conquest. 


Man the Conqueror

Charles Keeler

One by one hast thou conquered the elements, masterful man,
Taming the stream and electrical spark to thy will,
To speed thee o’er land and o’er sea at thy beck and thy nod;
Boring like mole through the mountains and under the rivers,
Diving like penguin beneath the wild waters and rising
To ride on the waves unconcerned by thy triumphs surpassing.
Now thou hast mastered the air, and thy ships go careering
Skyward to vie with the eagle, by danger undaunted.

What is there left for thy conquest, unsatisfied monarch?
What but thyself, Cosmic Caesar, who owns none for master!
Of old it was said, “Know thyself,” but I say to thee and further,
“Go, conquer thyself” – that will make thee commander-in-chief,
With armies of passions rebellious subdued and submissive,
A monarch ‘twill make thee, with hopes and with fears for thy subjects;
Nay, ‘twill make thee a god, and the world will be thine where thou walkest.


What are your favorite poems?  Who inspires you to get outside?


-- top image courtesy of iStock/mothy20

-- Images courtesy of Sierra Club Archives

Caitlin Kauffman is an editorial intern for Sierra. She is a sea kayak and hiking guide in the Bay Area and the Greater Yellowstone area. She enjoys good eye contact and elk burgers.


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April 28, 2014

May Night Skies

May 2014 Jupiter and MercuryApril was the month to observe Mars, but May is for Mercury and Saturn. Mercury is appearing in the west in the early evening, trying to shine through the colors of the sunset. This is the best month of the year to see Mercury, with the end of May giving you your greatest chance to spot it. Mercury is brightest when it is closest to the sun, but it will be hard to see Mercury until after it has risen a bit higher in the sky and dimmed from its peak of brightness. On May 8, both Mercury and Mars shine at magnitude -1.0. Both planets get dimmer after this date, but Mercury dims more quickly. However, it also climbs farther away from the sunset’s glow, which actually makes it easier to see.

Each evening as Mercury has been climbing higher in the sky, Jupiter has been sliding down to meet it. But Mercury starts sinking back toward the horizon on May 25, which means their meeting will be left for another day. On May 30 Mercury shines at magnitude 1.2 and should be easy to spot beside a crescent moon.

Jupiter spends May in Gemini, and the moon passes through its vicinity on May 3 and 4, and then again on May 31, when the moon is a 10-percent-lit crescent. Mars and Saturn are trailing behind Jupiter on the ecliptic. Saturn reaches opposition on May 10 on the same evening that the moon nears Mars, and three days later the moon reaches Saturn just a little shy of full phase. The Full Moon is on May 14 at 12:15 p.m. PDT.

Last month before sunrise it was Neptune that came within two degrees of Venus, but in May it’s Uranus’s turn. On May 15 you can find Uranus less than two degrees to the upper left of Venus. If you want to see Venus and Uranus together in the evening, you’ll have to wait until March 4, 2015, when they will be less than a degree apart.

The Eta Aquarid Meteors peak on May 6 when we pass through an old stream of dust left behind by Halley’s Comet. These fast-moving meteors with long trains are best in the early morning hours of May 6 and may produce up to 70 meteors an hour.

Before sunrise on Saturday May 24, Earth will pass through a debris trail left behind by comet P/ 209 LINEAR, giving us the chance for an outburst of meteors. With a possibility of 400 meteors an hour, it’s worth a peek.

May Observing Highlights: Mercury and Saturn

(Photo: Jupiter and Mercury as seen in 2011. Credit: John Chumack)


KellyKizerWhittKelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomymagazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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