Another eclipse

Yesterday’s solar eclipse wasn’t as total as the last eclipse I posted about:

Unfortunately, I was on the road, didn’t have an opportunity to see the light filtering through the tree branches as before, and the roughly 40% lunar coverage  wasn’t enough to see noticeable dimming of the sunlight, but I did pull over at a rest area and got out a welding helmet I had brought with me.

These are the best photos I could muster using a cell phone taking a photo through a welding glass.

CAM00712 CAM00714

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Size comparison

Speaking of the Museum of Natural History in New York…

This museum is home to manly large dinosaur skeletons.  But – it’s also home to a life-size model of an adult Blue Whale.

After seeing the blue whale first, the dinosaurs looked tiny.  Take a look:


Pretty cool that one can see examples of both modern and prehistoric large animals in the same place.  It is claimed the Great Blue Whale is the heaviest animal that has ever lived.  While I had previously known that, being able to see examples of both a large sauropod dinosaur and a blue whale in the same museum certainly illustrated that fact, and is definitely worth checking out.

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Glacial striae in Central Park

With the intense urbanization of Manhattan, one may not expect to find much to look at in regards to natural history or geology. Of course, the fantastic Museum of Natural History displays many natural items brought in from all around the world.  Or, one can cross the street into Central Park and see a good example of geologic history exposed right in the middle of Manhattan.

Amongst the landscaped masterpiece of Central Park, a few exposures of bedrock poke out under the trees and though the grass.  While the intensely foliated Manhattan Schist may capture the eye of some, what’s carved into the schist certainly brings attention of its own.

Take a look at this photo I took last week:


You may immediately notice the swirly foliation pattern of the schist.  But notice anything different?  Here is an annotated photo from another angle:


Yep, those grooves that cut across the foliation are glacial striae.  I didn’t have a compass with me (well, I suppose I could have used my phone but I wasn’t that crafty), but the striae trend in a North-South direction.  Nearby exposures have similar striae oriented in the same North-South direction.

The striae record the movement of the Laurentide ice sheet as it dragged along the bedrock of Manhattan on the way to the Atlantic ocean.  Smaller rocks called “tools” trapped under the weight of the ice sheet were dragged along with the ice, carving the striae in the bedrock below. The direction of the striae is a record of the direction of ice movement.

Around 25,000 years ago, during the Last Glacial Maximum, a mile-thick lobe of the Laurentide Ice Sheet was flowing south down what is now the Hudson River valley, calving icebergs into the Atlantic Ocean.  Much of the modern topography of the New York City area and Long Island can be attributed to glacial activity.

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“please excuse the lateness of my reply”

When I started this blog, I swore to myself that I would never post one of those “blogs about blogging” blogs.  But then I logged on, realized that it had been over a year since I posted anything, noticed the wordpress interface had even changed, and contemplated why it has been so long.  The following are a list of my excuses:

1)  Busy with other things.   It’s not like I have been lazy.  I’ve gotten quite a bit done in the past year.  But, much of it does not relate to the theme of this blog.

2)  Lack of focus.  I actually have a few draft blogs that I never published because I started writing them, had to go to work, and then never completed them.

3)  The feeling that it doesn’t matter in the long run.  Who am I writing this for? Do I care if few people read or leave comments?  I’ve spent considerable time over the past year writing in a personal journal.  Is that what this is if nobody reads it – a personal journal?  Am I trying to attract readers or teach people something?  It’s hard to stay focused if I feel that it has no purpose.  In the past, I hoped for the “breakthrough” post – the one that gets me recognition or the feeling that I taught something to someone.  And that kept me posting.

4)  i wonder if this is the best format for what I want to do.  If I want to share scientific and natural curiosity – is there a better format these days for doing that?

So, there is my “blog about blogging” blog. I will try to get back into this – but no guarantees.

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What would a good science blog be without mention of last night’s breathtaking solar eclipse?

I set up on my patio with a welding mask, a notebook and pencil and glass of iced tea.  The nerd in me says I should take notes about an event that I am unlikely to see again.  While it seems silly to take notes of some well-recorded event, society gains much information from handwritten personal notes.  You never know when such notes or journals will be useful to someone.

I wrote down the time when I first observed the moon crossing the face of the sun.  At my location, that was 5:30 PM.  I then drew the solar disc every ten minutes until the sun set about 7:15 PM.  I reduced the interval near the eclipse maximum to 5 minutes or less so that I could note the time when I thought the eclipse was at maximum.  In my case the eclipse was at its maximum extent at 6:36 PM.

I also paid attention to my workshop wall. The sun was filtering through the leaves and branches of my orange tree, effectively acting as a hundred or more pinhole lenses, and projecting the multiple images of the eclipse onto the wall.  It’s much the same as the pinhole viewer you may have used to observe the eclipse, but this time mother nature did it for me.  I remember seeing this phenomenon once in my youth.  I remember being on a hike and seeing the sunlight from a solar eclipse filtering through a pine tree, projecting the image of the eclipse onto the trail. [I should ask my parents if they remember this and where this was.  My recollection is that we were in Yosemite National Park.]

Here’s my wall.  You can see all the crescent shaped eclipse images, all oriented the same way.  Pretty damn cool!

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Photos from plateuland

A recent business trip brought me to the Colorado Plateau country north of the Grand Canyon.  The area is well known for its scenic beauty, as evidenced by the numerous world-renowned national parks in the area. It’s also a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts, naturalists, and people seeking spiritual connection to the Earth.  Few people inhabit the area, and cuts and folds in the Earth’s surface expose hundreds of millions of years’ worth of rocks in towering cliffs and deep canyons.


I always stop at Navajo bridge over Marble Canyon of the Colorado River to stretch my legs and look down.  The river serves as the western boundary of the Navajo Nation in this area.




The river flow is regulated through Marble Canyon by Glen Canyon dam.  That means, the river flow is about the same on most days, and one can no longer see the variation in flows depending upon the season.  The trees along the river banks are invasive Tamarisk trees, a noxious plant that is rapidly spreading throughout the Colorado River system.


Looking north toward Kanab, Utah, the land is flat and desolate, but a staircase of steep cliffs occupies the horizon.


The land isn’t completely lonely, I see dozens of these snakes every time I am in Utah.  They tend to lay across rural roadways late in the day, and one must have good eyes to avoid them.  I call them “black and tan” snakes because I don’t know what kind they are.


I consider Kanab, Utah a poor man’s Sedona (Arizona).  It has the natural beauty, the red rocks, and spiritual presence, with smaller crowds, less commercialism, and less social interference.  In Sedona, someone will sell you a spiritual connection to the Earth.  In Kanab, you have to go out and find it.

There’s a small intermittent stream flowing through Kanab, appropriately named “Kanab Creek.”    Entrenched in an arroyo about 150 feet deep, the creek really doesn’t flow through town, but below town.

Most of the town lies on gently-sloping ground.  But as you can see, the road has to traverse a steep gradient in order to cross the creek.

Sandy sediment forms the walls of the arroyo, and many buried soil horizons are visible.

Also visible are these root casts, where the voids from old roots were filled by calcium carbonate, fine sediment, and other minerals.

Soil horizons take a long time to develop – hundreds to thousands of years.  The buried soil horizons in the sediment along Kanab Creek indicate the creek was depositing sediment over a period of thousands of years.  Some time later, the creek eroded through the sediment creating the arroyo. This erosional process probably occurred with just a few big floods over a span of just a few decades.  Those are typical timescales in the geomorphic world, sediment accumulates over thousands of years, but erosion of gullies happens in just a few catastrophic events.

Also along my route was Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (Utah).  It’s just north of the Arizona border and Northwest of Kanab, and very close to where I was doing work.

Sandstone composes most of the cliffs in the area.  When the sandstone weathers and breaks down, it reverts back into sand.  West and southwest winds blow constantly over the Colorado Plateau in the spring, funneling through a gap in the cliffs where the sand accumulates, forming the dunes.  The wind blows the sand, and this happens to be the area where the sand gets trapped, similar to how a ceiling fan causes dust and pet hair to accumulate in the corners of a room.

The wind also exposes the underlying sandstone in swales between dunes, demonstrating how the wind is constantly moving the sand and reshaping the dunes.

Dunes are constantly changing landforms.  Wind is constantly reworking the sand into new shapes.  My boot print was only a few seconds old when I took the photo, and was completely obliterated within just a few minutes.

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Simple and cheap raised garden bed

I somehow wound up with two extra tomato plants and nowhere to plant them.  Tomato plants take up a lot of space when they get mature, so my preference is to plant them away from the rest of the vegetables.  I solved my dilemma by building a raised bed in a sunny location on the edge of my yard.

Here is a photo of the basic materials – three six-inch wide by six-foot long cedar fence boards.  Also used were a few screws, and 4 pieces of re-bar about two feet long.  The boards cost about two dollars each at my home center, the screws and rebar I already had – so my total cost was less than ten dollars.  It’s important to use cedar or redwood because these woods don’t rot.  I chose cedar because it is cheaper and doesn’t split as much.  I used 3-inch general purpose screws, but ideally stainless steel or galvanized deck screws would be best so that they won’t rust.

The fence boards have angled corners on one end, so I cut that end off, leaving each board 70-inches long.  Two of the boards became the long ends of the raised bed.  The third board, I cut into two 35-inch pieces to form the short sides of the bed.  You can certainly use a circular saw or table saw, but a hand saw works perfectly fine, is just as fast, and burns a few calories.  Next, I simply screwed the long sides to the short sides to make a rectangle.

The area where I wanted the bed to go previously had bermuda grass.  Uggh.  For a few weeks prior, I sprayed the grass with glyphosate-type herbicide to kill the grass the best I could. This type of herbicide is supposed to only be absorbed by the growing green parts of a plant and not remain active in the soil.  Unfortunately, about the only way to get rid of bermuda grass is poison. I dug up as much of the mostly dead grass as I could, turned over and loosened the soil, leveled the area and laid down the cedar rectangle I had made previously.

After checking to see that the bed was level, I used rebar staked around the edges to secure it in place and keep the edges from bowing out once I filled it with soil.  Next, I filled it with about 8 cubic feet of garden soil and steer manure  from my home center, and set in my tomato plants.

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Something changed in the western sky!

Take a look at the positions of the planets and the moon in this photo I took last week:

Now compare to the photo I posted in my blog a few weeks ago:

Notice anything different?  Venus and Jupiter switched places!

If you have been watching the past few weeks, Venus crept closer and closer to Jupiter, then passed it, and then moved higher and higher relative to the horizon.

Before Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo figured out that the Earth and planets orbited the Sun, seeing two planets switch position in the night sky must have been absolutely confusing.  There were complicated explanations, but most people probably saw something like this in a spiritual sense, and marked events and performed sacrifices by such astronomical oddities.  Now that we know the solar system is heliocentric, a “planet swap” such as this is not difficult to figure out.

Draw a model of the solar system with the orbits of the planets, as you probably did in grade school, and think about a few things:

1)  All plantets orbit the Sun in the same direction.

2) The closer a planet is to the Sun, the faster it makes a complete orbit, or the shorter its year.  Mercury takes a much shorter time to orbit the Sun and return to its original position than Jupiter.

3) Venus is inside Earth’s orbit, and Jupiter outside.

It may help to know the current position of the planets.  Several websites, such as this one,  offer interactive diagrams that show the current positions of the planets.  Still can’t figure it out?  Try thinking of yourself as an observer on Earth, and draw lines to both the current positions of Jupiter and Venus.  Use the viewer in the link above and backdate the image to February 1st, and then draw lines to the positions of Jupiter and Venus.  I had to change the size to “1024” and enlarge my browser window to see things clearly.

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April showers bring May…

Actually, that title is a double lie right now.  It’s not April, nor have there been any showers.  In fact, this week was the first rain I’ve seen at my house all winter, and it was less than half an inch.  Yes, this will be another drought year in the American Southwest.

But, I do have flowers, thanks to a garden hose, abundant sunshine, warm weather, and a bit of love.  I’ve put a bit more of an effort into my yard this year.  My schedule is freer this spring, and through a bit of odd luck and patience, I have some more money to spend this year.

Enjoy these photos of my spring flowers!

Mint, with some cilantro blooming in front.

My roses look great, and should be blooming any day.

Native Brittlebush.

Pink Fairy Duster

Penstemmon and Brittle Bush

Everyone likes a little spring sunshine on their face!

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Garden update 3/13/2012

Wow.  It’s been awhile since I posted photos of my garden.  I’ve been busy with so many projects, and I simply got a little lax on posting weekly photos of plants growing.

The good thing is, one project that has kept me busy is cooking and eating my bounty!  Yep, fresh salads every day where the only ingredient I didn’t grow myself was the dressing.  The lettuce was awesome, as were the carrots, endive, radishes, turnips, and peas.  And let’s not forget the chiles that I get year-round, and the asparagus which just started sprouting.

The lettuce and carrots are done. In their place are cucumbers and beans.  My tomatoes are in the ground, and I am thinking I need a few yellow squash.  Here are a few photos of my veggies:

And finally, the salad I had for dinner tonight.  The lettuce, endive, carrot, radish, and peas were all mine.  The tomato and feta came from the store.

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