Night skies at Yosemite, in time-lapse

September 6, 2012

Yosemite National Park, watching stars, with time-lapse photography.  The only way life gets better than this is to go there and film it yourself.  Yosemite Nature Notes 19.

Description from Nature Notes:

Yosemite’s vast acreage and remote location protect some of the darkest night skies in the country. Astronomers, photographers and city dwellers flock to the park to take advantage of this unique opportunity to view planets, stars, and galaxies.

Producer is Steven M. Bumgardner, and it features, inter alia, an interview with Shawn Reeder, whose time-lapse work I’ve highlighted before.

For classroom use, some topics and questions to pursue:

  • For geography, where is Yosemite N.P.?  Flying commercially, which airport is the best to get to the park?

    President Teddy Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir at Overhanging Rock, Glacier Point, Yosemite

    President Teddy Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir pose at Overhanging Rock at the top of Glacier Point, near which the men camped in a hollow and awoke to five inches of snow in 1903. National Park Service image

  • Map reading and orientation:  In the time-lapse sequences, you can frequently see lights streaking across the sky.  Those are commercial airliners — can you tell what airport they are headed to, or from?  Can you tell which ones are coming, which going?
  • Science:  What star formations do you see in these photographs that you can see from your house?  What star formations are not visible from your house?
  • Government:  Who signs the checks that pay the rangers pictured in the film?  For which agency do the work, in which branch of which government?
  • People in the film discuss light pollution from nearby cities.  Is there an agency in the federal government who has jurisdiction over light pollution?  How about an  agency in the state government?  What are the rules on light pollution for cities around Yosemite?
  • Can you identify the landmarks, the cliffs, rocks, mountains and rivers, portrayed in the film?  (Students might use a USGS topographical map, California state tourist promotion maps and websites, National Park Service databases, Google Earth, Google,  and a wide variety of other sources.
  • Who was president of the U.S. when Yosemite was set aside as a National Park, and what were the controversies surrounding it?
  • Who was John Muir?  Who was Frederick Law Olmsted?  What were their roles in the history of Yosemite?
  • Who lived in Yosemite, if anyone, before the Spanish missions were established in California?  When were the missions established?  How did the U.S. gain possession of the Yosemite Valley?

Cool solar flare this week

June 9, 2011

Old Sol spoke out this week:  Huge solar flare on June 7.

For scientists, it was a cool deal — especially since the flair was on the side of the Sun facing us, and there were cameras of various types trained on the action.

But just watch:  The internet will light up with concerns about 2012, and those who deny warming occurs or that humans cause it, will find some reason to claim the solar flare shows that Al Gore is fat and Rachel Carson is a mass murderer, plus Darwin was the inspiration for Adolf Hitler.

If the Sun knew it would get such a reception, would it bother?

Take a look:

June 7, 2011 solar flare -- NASA/SDO

Still shot of the June 7, 2011 solar flare -- NASA/SDO via PopSci

Here’s a pixillated video of the event in UV at 304 Angstroms — it runs under 30 seconds, but the time covered is about two-and-a-half hours; from SOHO – SDO via

Another view, again UV, but at 171 Angstroms:

Tip of the old scrub brush to PopSci.


The Case of the Purple Squirrel

December 22, 2008

Little mysteries pose a lot of fun.

How did this come to be?

Pete the purple squirrel -

Pete the purple squirrel -

Pete, as the squirrel has come to be known, shows up most days at Meoncross School in Stubbington, Hants, England (near Portsmouth, in southeast England).

“We don’t think he is a mutant squirrel but he may have had a mishap around the school, [said Dr Mike Edwards, an English teacher at the school.]

“The old building where we have seen him nipping in and out is a bit of a graveyard for computer printers. He may have found some printer toners in there.

“We haven’t seen any purple baby squirrels yet.”

TV wildlife expert Chris Packham believes Pete will moult and lose his purple fur in time for spring.

He said: “I have never seen anything like it before.

“Squirrels will chew anything even if it’s obviously inedible. It is possible he has been chewing on a purple ink cartridge and then groomed that colouring into his fur.

“Alternatively he may have fallen into a bucket containing a weak colour solution that has stained his fur.

“Underneath there’s a normal grey squirrel who has just given himself an unusual hair colour – you would pay a fortune for that in some salons.

What will creationists make of this?

Squirrels come in different colors naturally, too.  The squirrels common throughout the eastern U.S., the eastern grey squirrel,  have a black variant in some parts of Canada and the U.S.  Some of these black squirrels were imported to Washington, D.C., during the Theodore Roosevelt administration.  When we lived in Cheverly, Maryland (1983-1987), we had families of black squirrels spotted among the grey squirrels in our next-door forest.  The two groups rarely mixed, oddly enough.

East of the Russell Senate Office Building there was an albino squirrel for several years, prior to 1985.  One friend said she’d seen at least two at the same time in the same park.  White squirrels show up from time to time, either albinos or mutants.  Naturally, squirrels tend to be either grey or reddish-brown, most of the time.

Tip of the old scrub brush to


What Lucy will see, leaving Houston . . .

June 22, 2008

What Lucy saw will see, leaving Houston . . .

[The exhibit on Lucy, our Australopithecus afarensis ancestor, has been extended at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, through September 1, 2008. Go. Go see the exhibit. Don’t put it off.]

Coming out of the display on Lucy at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, coming back down the staircase, this is the painting on the wall. In my imagination, this is what Lucy saw will see as they carried carry her, crated up, out of the building. In reality they probably took will carry her down a freight elevator.

This one’s for you, P.Z. — drop into the Houston museum next time you’re down there:

Whale and Squid mural at Houston MNH

%d bloggers like this: