3 Days – 3 Trails

   This past week I was in the Phoenix Arizona area enjoying some unusually cooler weather and the mountain and desert scenery. My goal was to hike as many days as possible until the weather got too hot – which was by Thursday. Morning temperatures were in the upper 60sF low 70sF but by around 9:00 am the temperature was in the upper 80sF heading for 100oF or higher.
   Nonetheless I got in two warm up morning hikes on Sunrise Mountain and Calderwood Butte. Both were typical of what I call City Mountains. They are largely igneous masses with considerable rocky rubble on most of the trails. Locally the trails are described as ‘ankle busters’ as it is easy to step incorrectly and injure yourself. What is neat about these ‘city mountains’ is that they are very easy to get to – many of which are parts of city park systems. Trails are fairly well marked although I use the AllTrails App to keep me on the right path.
   The 3rd day I spent several hours wandering around the Phoenix Mountain Preserve That morning I pushed it and completed 3 different but connected trails. Trail 1Trail 2Trail 3. This was an incredible area with trails every which way with many taking you away from the city sounds but nearly all required some uphill and downhill navigating. I encountered a few trails that going up or down were very steep but well worth the effort. Lots of interesting rock formations along the way.
   The geology of the area is a fantastic combination of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. Much of the level ground is outwash deposits from the surrounding mountains while the mountains are a mixture of igneous and metamorphic rocks. I saw what looked like either marble or chert, schist, and outcrops of slate among the types I recognized. There was a very obvious lean to many rock exposures and according to the geology of the area the rocks have a northeast strike.

   The video below shows some of the geology I encountered on these hikes.

   
   
   

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Rock On

Landsat Image of Mt. St. Helens - September 1980

Landsat Image of Mt. St. Helens – Sep. 1980

   Whether you are a teacher of Earth Sciences, a ‘closet’ Geomorphologist like me, or one who is interested in the Earth, then you will probably agree that the following web sites have a lot to offer for teaching or learning more about our active planet.
   NASA’s web site, Earth Observatory is the home of images of the Earth from the many orbiting satellites dedicated to monitoring changes in the Earth – in this case the surface features. Look for a link on the web site for the ‘World of Changes’ where you may see the many pictures of the Earth’s surface and changes in forests and oceans, for example, that have taken place over the past several decades. This picture was taken by a Landsat satellite four months after the May 1980 eruption of the volcano Mt. St. Helens. At the World of Changes web site you can view a series of images of the volcano that span thirteen years and show how the area that was devastated has slowly recovered. Click here to see the images of Mt. St. Helens.

   Here are links to three short videos on YouTube produced by the USGS, United States Geological Service, that explain in basic terms some interesting information about the ways scientists measure volcanic activity.

    Volcanic Deformation
    Gas Monitoring
    Volcanic Earthquakes

   Our National Park Service, NPS, has enhanced their web site with some useful resources for teachers on part of their web site called, Come and experience your America in a new way.

   Here is a link to a WordPress science writer I follow. Stephanie Sykora is a Geologist living in Australia. However from her writings she never seems to be at home! Instead she is somewhere in the world exploring and writing about many of the Earth’s geological features and processes. Since my blog today is about volcanoes I thought it appropriate to include a link to her recent blog, The Real Mount Doom… and The Real Mount Doom – Volcanoes in Taupo, New Zealand.

   
   
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

It’s Our Home

   “It’s our home, our only home” is a quote I came across and copied into my collection. It is from a video I used in my classroom many years ago. Can’t remember the video name nor find it but nonetheless it makes a powerful statement about our home planet. So this posting is in the spirit of celebrating our home planet.
   Monday the 22nd is Earth Day, an annual event sponsored by individuals, groups, and organizations who are activists (this is a positive use of the word), or stewards striving to create a more healthy environment for all. This is accomplished through education as well as events such as Earth Day.
group-large   Two years ago I joined with a group of musicians to form Dark Matter, a group of educators, scientists, musicians, and artists with the initial purpose of producing a series of Astronomically-based videos that would accompany a live musical performance. The videos were originally developed for use in the full dome video system at the Gottleib Planetarium at Union Station in Kansas City. The dome was approximately 60 feet in diameter and could seat around 150. The original videos were warped to suit the projection system however the two below are flat screen versions of the videos.
   The performance was called Orbit and with that as a theme I developed the videos with the compositions the composers provided. The style of music is described as electro-acoustical and was a combination of live combined with digitized sound samples and real-time sound sampling as the musicians played. The videos below were the opening and closing compositions and both were called Water Meditation. In the first piece the flute is played by Rebecca Ashe, and the second piece has a clarinet played by Cheryl Melfi. Music is composed by Daniel Eichenbaum and Richard Johnson with Richard also doing the real-time sampling during the performance.

The Banner graphic is from a high altitude balloon launched as part of the production for another full dome video and live performance called Ascent. This was during the fall of 2011 and is a view from 95,000 feet of the two neighboring cities of Kansas City Missouri and Kansas Kansas City Kansas.

   Click here to go to the Dark Matter web site.

   Water Meditation – Flute by Richard Johnson: Earth is a water world with more than 70% of its surface covered with water. Gain a different perspective of the planet as you orbit the Earth with a satellite. Flute is played by Rebecca Ashe.

   Water Meditation – Clarinet by Daniel Eichenbaum: As the closing composition I wanted to leave the audience with a sense of what it would be like to orbit the Earth with the International Space Station. So from that perspective we see a sunrise from orbit and our home planet as the rising Sun brightens the daylight side of the Earth. Clarinet is played by Cheryl Melfi.

ed   Click here to go to the Earth Day web site.

epa   Click here to go to the Environmental Protection Agency web site for Earth Day information.

      Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Losing the Dark

night sky

   Loch Ness Productions, in collaboration with the International Dark-Sky Association, is proud to announce the availability of a new free-for-download planetarium show highlighting the issues regarding light pollution. It’s called “Losing the Dark”.
   Written and narrated by Carolyn Collins Petersen, produced by Mark C. Petersen, and soundtrack music from Geodesium, “Losing the Dark” introduces and illustrates some of the issues regarding light pollution, and suggests three simple actions people can take to help mitigate it. The show gives planetarium professionals a tool to help educate the public about the problems of light pollution.
   The 6.5-minute public service announcement is being distributed in two forms. Of course, it’s a fulldome video, for digital dome theaters. We’ve also made the show as a high-definition flat screen video; classic planetarium theaters without fulldome capability can show this version using their traditional video projectors.
   The show is currently available in English, but translations are underway that will allow the program to reach a worldwide audience — and if you can help in the process, the IDA would love to hear from you!
   Major donations from Starmap and the Fred Maytag Family Foundation funded “Losing the Dark”. The project was launched with seed money from the International Planetarium Society and donations from IDA members.
   Help bring back the dark of night to planet Earth!

   “Losing the Dark” on the Loch Ness Productions website: http://www.lochnessproductions.com/losingthedark
   “Losing the Dark” on the IDA website: http://www.darksky.org/losingthedark

Read a little more about light pollution and the Globe at Night project.
      
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

The Bird is the Word

mo-buzzard-snowed   This coming weekend take part in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count by counting birds in your area and submitting the count to the GBBC web site.
   Here is a link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web sites.
   Here is another link about birds from the National Zoo.
   
   
   
      
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Icy Worlds, and Life?

Location of Lake Vida

Location of Lake Vida

   In a unique setting somewhat reminiscent of our ideas of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, and Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, bacteria colonies have been discovered living in Lake Vida, a small lake in Antarctica’s Victoria Valley. Lake Vida is an underground lake covered by around 20 meters of ice. Sunlight does not reach all the way through the ice, the water temperature hovers just above freezing, and the water is many times more salty than sea water – yet bacteria is able to survive under those conditions.

   Life has not (yet) been discovered on those two moons, Europa and Enceladus or elsewhere in our Solar System, however the conditions at Lake Vida may be an indication what conditions on Europa and Enceladus may be like with respect to harboring life.
   Researchers from NASA, the Desert Research Institute and others have been living and working in the Victoria Valley conducting studies of Lake Vida by drilling through the ice into the Lake below. Use the preceding link to go to the D.R.I. web site to learn more about this research project.

   On a related note data from the MESSENGER mission at Mercury is providing more evidence that there is ice at the polar regions of Mercury.

   Here is a short Planetarium video about ‘icy worlds’.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Waterlife – Water for Life

  Fresh water is a commodity that I think most of us sort of take for granted. You just twist the knob and there is clean ready to drink fresh water. Lately, and probably stemming from the drought conditions my part of the country is experiencing, I have looked at the stream of water coming from the faucet and wondered how long will I be able to do that? Will water always be available as it is now?
   Living near large lakes and two large rivers that supply much of the water we use there has always been a steady supply of water, yet several times this year we were put on water use restrictions. The reality is that we are not the only ones living along these rivers using the water. And we are not alone in our situation of sharing water resources.
   So with this in mind I would strongly encourage you to visit the Waterlife website for a visually impressive look at the environment of the Great Lakes and their significance to the 35 million or so people whose lives and livelihood depend on one of the world’s largest sources of fresh water. It is a an important story that is told with an awesome use of graphics, music, and narration. In fact while working on this post I had the Waterlife web site open in another browser so I could listen to the music. The larger images are photo-mosaics with each of the pieces opening to a particular story and additional graphics.

   The web site is developed in part by the National Film Board of Canada. If are unaware of this web site check it out, and if you have small kiddos or grand kids around take a look at the films for children. My grand daughter and I have spent a lot of time watching and listening to some great stories.

   On a related note, one of the videos that I watched in a geology class during my undergraduate college years, as an Earth Science major, was the one below – The Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes. Actually that was long enough ago that it was on 16mm film! Nonetheless the film is a fun but geologically sound story of the formation of the Great Lakes. It also talks about the effects of pollution in a rather unforgettable way. I have used this film over the years even now in my astronomy classes. Enjoy!

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Salinity Maximus

Area of Highest Salinity

SPURS (Salinity Processes in the Upper Ocean Regional Study) is a project funded by NASA, NOAA, and NSF that is studying how changes in the salinity, salt content, of the oceans affects weather patterns like rainfall. The project is a combination of Earth-based and orbital observations and measurements where scientists aboard the research vessel Knorr will be on site at a location in the mid-Atlantic coordinating their studies with science data collected by the Aquarius satellite. This satellite measures salinity on a global scale providing additional data for climate change studies.
The significance of these missions should not be understated because increases in global temperatures has an affect on the water cycle. Rates of evaporation increase with an increase in temperature which in turn affects rainfall patterns. The recent and still on-going drought in my part of the United States, the mid-west, may be a forerunner of things to come – or not, depending on which climate model is used. Nonetheless scientists know that parts of the oceans have become saltier due to higher rates of evaporation while other areas have become less saltier due to an increase in rainfall. These changes in ocean salinity, they believe, have an direct impact on the water cycle.
To me the bottom line is that changes in salinity and their effects on climate are like the El Nino and La Nina in that we are dealing with global changes that more than likely have always been here but only in recent times have we recognized them and begun trying to understand what they are about.