Monday/ only in Alaska

Check out this mama lynx and her seven kittens that visited Tim Newton’s porch in Alaska.  (They picked the right porch! He is a photographer).  These are called Canada lynxes.  Its cousin from the lynx genus, further south in North America, is the bobcat. Other species of medium-sized wild cats are the Eurasian lynx and the Iberian lynx, the Indian jungle cat, and Africa’s caracal, which we have in South Africa as well.

[Photo by Tim Newton] Anchorage resident Tim Newton awoke to the sound of something running across his deck in the area of Flattop, last Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. So naturally, he went to check it out.

Friday/ Lake Lenore & Dry Falls

(These pictures are from Wednesday).  We made a stop at Lake Lenore on Wednesday. Lake Lenore is a long, narrow lake (8 mi long, 15ft deep) formed by the Missoula Floods in the lower Coulee just north of the town of Soap Lake. There is a trail that leads up to caves in the basalt rock.

Driving further up north on Highway 17 brings one to Dry Falls, named for the massive waterfalls that existed there during the Pleistocene Epoch, when ice sheets and glaciers covered huge parts of Earth’s surface.  This area was at the southern end of the Cordilleran ice sheet, and the melting of the glaciers carved out the coulees in the basalt rock that we see today.

Clockwise from the top: looking southwest & northwest toward the ‘coulee monocline’ bluffs over Lake Lenore, with Highway 17 below; dry vegetation and a black beetle; Lake Lenore lies alongside Highway 17; view from inside one of the caves formed by the plucking out of pieces of the basal rock by the rushing Missoula Flood waters; footpath to the caves; beautiful lichen. Lichens are composite organisms that emerge from algae or cyanobacteria living among the filaments of two fungi in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship.
The main picture is from inside the visitor center at Dry Falls. The picture that I took (bottom right) is the view looking south, away from the cliffs of the Dry Falls. The Pleistocene Epoch began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. The most recent Ice Age occurred then (there have been at least FIVE in Earth’s history). At the time of the Pleistocene, the continents had moved to their current positions. Large parts of the northern continents were covered by glaciers, but they did not just sit there. There was a lot of movement over time, and there were about 20 cycles when the glaciers would advance and retreat as they thawed and refroze.


Friday/ happy equinox!

The September equinox* arrived today at 20:02 UTC (1.02 pm here in my outpost on the globe), ushering in autumn.  So for a moment, night and day are each 12 hours long**, sunrises are due east and sunsets are due west, for all creatures on the globe. The sun’s position crosses the celestial equator (an imaginary equator above the real one on Earth’s surface), and this happens no matter where one is on Earth.

*Equinox from Latin equi (equal) and nox (night).
**Precisely speaking, there is more daylight than nighttime on the day of the equinox, an additional 8 or so minutes of daylight, at mid-temperate latitudes.

Earth’s axis is tilted 23.44° to the vertical*, which makes for the four seasons as it makes a trip around our solar system’s Sun every year.  Autumn has started in the northern hemisphere, and spring in the southern hemisphere. The sun has set on the North Pole, and will only appear again in March.   *Fun fact: due to slight changes in the elliptical orbit of Earth around the Sun, the 23.44° oscillates between 22.1° and 24.5° in a 41,000 year cycle called the Milankovitch Cycle. Earth is about 10,000 years away from the lowest tilt of 22.1°.

Wednesday/ glowing in the deep

Pictures from the NYT. Fireflies, anglerfish, and other organisms produce the light-emitting pigment luciferin and the enzyme luciferase. Luciferin reacts with oxygen to create light.

This New York Times article points out that creatures of the deep sea use light much as animals on land use sound — to lure, intimidate, stun, mislead and find mates. I love the pictures of the creatures.


Monday/ The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

Tintin used his knowledge of an approaching solar eclipse to his advantage in Hergé’s ‘Prisoners of the Sun’, published in 1949.  (He is praying to the ‘Sovereign Sun’ to decrease its rays. The locals that took them captive were freaked out by his powers, and Tintin and his companions were released).

It’s 12 noon on Monday here in the Pacific Northwest, and the solar eclipse has just ended. It started at the Oregon coast, and the moon shadow traveled at about 1,400 mph across the continent. Here is a collage of (mostly) my own pictures of what we saw and experienced here in Seattle (92% of the sun obscured).  We had blue skies; eclipse watchers in South Carolina had cloud cover, though.   My takeaway: the sun is a mighty, mighty source of heat and light, radiating a lot of light even at 92% obscured.  The ambient temperature did feel as if it went down by 5 to 10 degrees due to the obscured sun, though.

Clockwise: The background picture is from NASA’s feed of the view of the eclipse from an aircraft; the path across the United States; a selfie with crescent partial eclipses on my shirt from the sun filtering through a tall tree; NASA having a little fun with its ‘NASA Moon’ account, doing a Twitter block of the sun; the 92% obscure view captured on a yellow sticky with a card with a pin-hole; also on aluminum foil; on black, the start of the eclipse with the moon shadow just starting, captured on my iPhone through solar glasses; finally, the reduced sunlight cast through a prism made for intense rainbow colors on a rock, surrounded by the crescent sun images.


Update Tue 8/22: I added a few more interesting pictures that I found on line!

Taken while the sun was over Wyoming, as an overexposed close-up, showing the dark side of the moon, with the sun’s corona visible around it. Scientists still do not know exactly why the sun’s atmosphere is millions of degrees warmer than the surface of the sun. Source: From The Astrophysicist‏ @ThomasMoszczuk, posted on Twitter.
Multiple exposures on one image, as the sun moves across the sky, while at the same time, the moon comes between it and Earth. Source: From The Astrophysicist‏ @ThomasMoszczuk, posted on Twitter.
Here’s a picture of the moon shadow on Earth, as seen from the International Space Station.
This is a rough flight plan of a flight by Alaska Airlines that was plotted so that the total eclipse can be seen from the airplane.



Monday/ another successful SpaceX launch

A robotic arm on the ISS will grab the payload as it inches closer to the Station. Those panels on the payload are the deployed solar panels, used to fire its boosters. (Diagram from the SpaceX webcast).

Of the things that came to my attention on Monday – for real, on TV and on-line – I was thrilled most by the webcast of the SpaceX launch.  The mission is dubbed Commercial Resupply Services mission number 12 (CRS-12), and the launch went without a hitch.

Reportedly, there are 30 small cups of real ice-cream for the ISS astronauts* in the 6,400 pound payload of cargo, that also has live mice and science experiments.   The first stage booster rocket made a perfect landing back to the launch pad, a nice bonus.

(The moment of lift-off, streamed live on YouTube).   From YouTube: On August 14, 2017, SpaceX successfully launched its twelfth Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-12) from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Liftoff occurred at 12:31 p.m. EDT, or 16:31 UTC and was followed approximately two and a half minutes later by separation of the first and second stages. The first stage of Falcon 9 then successfully landed back at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Friday/ the AWPAG is thirsty

We are all ready for cool weather, and a little rain, to take away the heat and the haze here in the Puget Sound.  And yes! – there is rain in the forecast for Saturday night! (The expected 56 days of dry weather by Saturday will be a new record on the books).

Seattle-Tacoma airport has a state-of-the-art AWPAG* rain gauge (a far cry from the graduated cone we once had in our backyard when I was young!).  The gauge is surrounded by two shields to improve readings under windy conditions, and will melt snow so that it can measure the liquid equivalent accumulation.  Fancy.

*All Weather Precipitation Accumulation Gauge (AWPAG)

Update Sun 10 am: 0.02 inch of rain at SeaTac late Saturday evening ended the record streak of 55 days (June 18-August 11) without measurable rain.

The AWPAG at Seattle-Tacoma airport (installed in 2006). The gauge has a so-called Tretyakov shield around it, as well as an 8-ft diameter Alter windshield.
Here’s a close-up of the guage. If it catches snow, the snow will be melted.  I’m not sure of the inside of this specific gauge, but some gauges will mix precipitation (rain, ice or snow) with glycol to melt any ice or snow; the oil reduces evaporation loss – and then the reading is calculated every few minutes and transmitted to a control center by a radio signal.

Saturday/ the weather’s fine but there may be a meteor shower

The Leonids made for a prolific meteor shower. Here is a famous depiction of the 1833 meteor storm [Source: Wikipedia].
‘Here is the news 
Coming to you every hour on the hour 
Here is the news 
The weather’s fine but there may be a meteor shower’
Songwriter: Jeff Lynne
Artist: Electric Light Orchestra, Album: Time (1981)
One of the downsides of living in the city is that the night sky is not dark enough to see faint stars and meteors.   Saturday and Sunday nights were good ones for the Delta Aquarid meteor shower, and one viewer here sent in a nice ‘shooting star’ video clip to the local TV news station.  The Perseids are starting to appear as well, and should peak August 11, 12 and 13.  These are known as the best summer meteor shower, with 50 or more meteors per hour.
Graphic from the USA Today (via web site, indicating where to look for Delta Aquarid meteors.

Wednesday/ osprey and Seahawk

Three ways to get to Kitsap Peninsula: take the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, take the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry, drive around on south of Puget Sound.

Bryan and went out to Hansville on the Kitsap Peninsula on Wednesday (to our friend Paul). Instead of taking the ferry, we drove around the Sound.  The time is about the same as with taking the ferry provided there is no rush-hour traffic to deal with.    

Here’s an on-line picture of an osprey, the feather that I picked up, and the atlas that shows it is a wing feather, toward the tip of the wing.

Out in Hansville, I picked up an osprey* feather.  I found a handy feather atlas online that says it is a wing feather.

*Two side notes on the osprey:
1. Ospreys are sometimes called sea hawks but that is not really its correct name.   2. The Seattle Seahawks’ “Seahawk” is not actually a sea hawk. The 10-year-old bird that the football team’s name is lent from, is an augur hawk.  Let’s just say then, that ‘Seahawk’ is short for Seattle hawk!


Monday/ on Northern Lights watch

Seattle is on North America’s west coast, slightly below that speck that is Vancouver Island.

There were reports on Sunday night that Seattleites may see the Northern Lights*, and indeed, it was visible from here.  (For the record: I did make an effort to get a clear look at the northern skies look at around 11, but did not see anything!).

*The Northern Lights (‘aurora borealis’) are generated during geomagnetic storms in Earth’s atmosphere. During solar flares, clouds of electrons, ions, and atoms are expelled through the corona of the sun into space. When these clouds of particles reach Earth a day or two later, they interact with gas molecules in the atmosphere, resulting in the greenish color displays.

Skunk Bay is near Hansville out on the Kitsap Peninsula. Yes, this sighting is not nearly as spectacular as the ones one would get further up north in Alaska, but hey, there it is. Pretty cool.

Wednesday/ my elements collection (so far)

Check out my elements collection, mostly metals.  The little cylinder of pure Tungsten (W), and the mini-ingot of Zinc (Zn) are new additions.  I’m trying not to buy everything all at once from the wonderful website for Metallium Inc. based in Watertown, Massachusetts!

Admittedly, my collection has a long way to go.  I don’t even have pieces of iron or chrome in there, for example.  The hunt for those is on!

My elements collection counts only 14 elements so far. It has coins made from pure nickel, aluminum, silver, copper and gold. The yellow metal cone is brass (alloy of copper and zinc, so not an element).  That drill bit does not count as an element either: it is stainless steel with tungsten carbide cutting edges.

Thursday/ building the sun

Check out these illustrations from the New York Times, of the world’s first nuclear fusion reactor, underway in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance in Provence, France.   It is a structure that will be some 100 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall, with the largest stainless-steel vacuum vessel ever made, and an electro-magnet so strong that it could lift an aircraft carrier.

This is the stuff that science fiction is made of.  The first major operating goal for the plasma chamber is to contain pure hydrogen that will not undergo fusion, ‘first plasma’ (target: 8 years from now).  Then the goal is to establish a so-called burning plasma, which contains a fraction of an ounce of fusible fuel in the form of two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, which can be sustained for perhaps six or seven minutes, but will release large amounts of energy (in the form of heat).  This goal will not be achieved until 2035 at the earliest.

[From the New York Times] ITER, short for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (and pronounced EAT-er), is being built to test a long-held dream: that nuclear fusion, the atomic reaction that takes place in the sun and in hydrogen bombs, can be controlled to generate power. First discussed in 1985 at a United States-Soviet Union summit, the multinational effort, in which the European Union has a 45 percent stake and the United States, Russia, China and three other partners 9 percent each, has long been cited as a crucial step toward a future of near-limitless electric power.

Tuesday/ forever spin

‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ said Leonardo da Vinci once, a quote that appears on Toronto-based metal top maker ForeverSpin’s web site.

Tops are among the world’s oldest toys, and it really is fascinating to watch a spinning top, no?  (But yes, we live in the real world, and so due to the hard reality of friction, the top does not really spin forever, of course).

I think I should go for Tungsten, the heavy one, with the added bonus that chemical symbol W for wolfram matches my first initial. Hmm, yes.

It’s just so hard to choose which one of the 17 tops (ForeverSpin does a fine job of marketing, romanticizing the metals): titanium (the ‘strongest one’), 24kt gold mirror (the ‘luxurious one’), stainless steel (the ‘original one’), copper (the ‘classic one’), aluminum (the ‘playful one’), Damascus steel (the ‘unique one’), rose-plated gold (the ‘romantic one’), 24kt gold plated (the ‘stylish one’), magnesium (the ‘lightest one’), cast iron (the ‘medieval one’), zirconium (the ‘exotic one’), brass (the ‘mature one’), stainless steel mirror (the ‘shiny original’ one), bronze (the ‘ancient one’), nickel (the ‘fine one’), tungsten (the ‘heavy one’) or black zirconium (the ‘elegant one’).

Still from the website, showing how the tops are fashioned with a numerically-controlled (NC) lathe.




Tuesday/ creatures from Hansville

Here are some pictures that I took while I was in Hansville this weekend.   Be sure to check out the Wikipedia entry that shows the hummingbird’s wings in slow motion.

Clockwise from top left: Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) at Paul’s house (yes, the flower is plastic: it’s a hummingbird feeder); sand dollar skeleton close-up from the water’s edge; sand-dollars (Echinarachnius parma) are flat sea urchins and this one still has some of its dark covering of tiny spines; this tiny crab is just an inch across, and can melt into the sand to hide from larger crabs and sea gulls.

Monday/ the Webb space telescope

The Hubble space telescope turned 27 on Monday. After a troubled start with a faulty lens, it has by now provided many years of discoveries and spectacular pictures of the universe.  Plans are progressing nicely for the launch of the new James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Telescope’s replacement.  It is a project so ambitious, that it ate the whole NASA budget for some years, and was almost scrapped a number of years ago. Now, after 20 years, and with a budget of $8.7 billion, the James Webb telescope is on track to be launched in October 2018.  (New York Times article here).

Entirely new technologies had to be developed for it, such as the tennis court-sized sunshield for the lens. The shield has five layers and is made of a material called kapton. ‘It will then be unfolded in space in a series of some 180 maneuvers that look in computer animations like a cross between a parachute opening and a swimming pool cover going into place’ .. a process that will cause 6 months of high anxiety, says Bill Ochs, a veteran engineer at the Goddard Space Center in Maryland.

Picture and caption from NASA’s web site : It’s springtime and the deployed primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope looks like a spring flower in full bloom. Once launched into space, the Webb telescope’s 18-segmented gold mirror is specially designed to capture infrared light from the first galaxies that formed in the early universe.

Thursday/ asteroid watch

A large asteroid that ‘brushed’ by Earth (less than 5 lunar lengths away) on Wednesday was in the news recently, but I see we get smaller ones brushing by with a berth less than one lunar length just about every year.   In 2013 there was the Chelyabinsk meteor, that made a spectacular entrance into the atmosphere, even though it was just 20 m (65 ft) across.    So celestial objects larger than 100 m are serious trouble, since they might wipe out whole towns or cities.

Then there was the 10 km (6 mi) wide asteroid of 65 million years ago that killed the dinosaurs – and an even bigger one, thought to have hit Earth some 3.26 billion years ago, that was 37 km (23 mi) wide.  That last one caused an earthquake that would have measured 10.8 on the Richter scale.  Whoah.

YearAsteroids > 100 m (except 2013)SizeLunar Distance
2004Toutatis5,000 m (3.1 mi)4
Nov 2011(308635) 2005 YU55360 m (1,180 feet)0.84
Dec 20112011 XC2100 m (328 feet)0.9
2013Chelyabinsk meteor20 m (65 feet)0
20172014-JO25 'The Rock'650 m (2,000 feet)4.7
A graphical representation of the size of the asteroid thought to have killed the dinosaurs, and the crater it created, compared to an asteroid thought to have hit the Earth 3.26 billion years ago and the size of the crater it may have generated. A new study reveals the power and scale of the event some 3.26 billion years ago which scientists think created geological features found in a South African region known as the Barberton greenstone belt. Credit: American Geophysical Union

Monday/ the giant shipworm, alive

Check out the Washington Post report of an elusive mollusk called the giant shipworm.  It is as big as a baseball bat (and technically a bivalve, not a worm).  Scientists had known of it for hundreds of years, from shell fragments and a handful of dead specimens.   Recently a local TV station in the Philippines ran a short documentary about a strange shellfish living in a lagoon : the giant shipworm (kuphus polythalamia).

Saturday/ it’s a plume moth

What’s this strange T-shaped bug?  I thought, when I found it on my front door.

Well, it’s is a plume moth from the insect family Pterophoridae. Since there are more than a 150 species of these bugs found in North America, it’s hard to tell which specific one it is.

Wednesday/ the Greater Adjutant Stork

I like to read animal stories that is about saving them from extinction, since so many species are at risk.  This black bird – with a soulful glint in its eye – is the Greater Adjutant Stork, found in India and South-east Asia.  The Associated Press reports that the bird is a carnivore and scavenger, and had long been thought to bring bad luck.  The sentiments against it have turned, though.  Locals in areas close to its habitat are now making an effort to help it survive.