Saturday, December 22

Bright Mars

20 December. We gazed at Mars in the early evening about 8:30. Looking to the east and a little north, it was easy to see — big, bright and yellow. It was even brighter than Sirius, and stays brighter until 3 January.

On the 18th of December Mars reached its closest distance (54,783, 380 mi, 88 165 305 km) to Earth; it will not get closer until 2016.

It's lucky we looked when we did. Mars will actually get brighter on 24 December, when its in opposition with the Sun (exactly opposite the Sun with Earth in the middle). But during January, Earth leaves Mars fast: The distance between them increases by about 30% — from 56.7 to 72.3 million miles, in a month. And Mars fades in brightness a full magnitude.

Saturday, December 15

Examining snowflakes

14 December.

Snow on our mountain home with a warm fire burning inside.

Snow fell all day long, covering trees and ground. Watching snow fall, Lanney and I wondered what a snowflake looked like close up. Sure, we'd seen pictures of symmetrical beauties glistening in the light, but would we really see such beauty, or would we see just globs of snow?

We fished out a small magnifying glass (not the big 'Sherlock Holmses' kind) that magnified about 5 times. We stuck a tee shirt in the freezer, and let it get cold. Then, armed with proper equipment, we went to the upstairs balcony, where snow was falling all around. We held the cold tee shirt out to catch flakes, then closed in on individual ones with the magnifier. Our breath tended to melt the flakes.

The flakes melted fast. Finally, I managed to spot a lacy-six-pointed individual snowflake next to a cluster. It shimmered like a small diamond. Soon after, so did Lanney. Most flakes were not symmetrical. All melted fast, so we looked fast. But they are just as lovely as pictured. And fun, when you discover them yourself.

Friday, December 14

A few flakes

Photo courtesy of Jerome Mathey and Wikipedia.

11 December. By the time I went escarpment hiking, today, it was in the low 40's. Got colder as I climbed. To the east, rain (or snow?) squalls swirled across parts of the city and mountains. To the west, a misty veil crept over the volcanoes. Fearing rain heading my way — I started to jog home. The squall, however, did not come directly east to me. Instead, it swept from the volcanoes in a great arc to the north. Snow (not rain) started to fall, as I headed out. The first snow of the season.

Tuesday, December 4

A warm December ride

Just got back from a bike ride. Beautiful day --- high near 65 degrees. Going, I battled a north wind; coming back, I scooted with a tail wind.

Saw many animals, especially around Mariposa Park: a ground squirrel dashed across my path; I almost had to brake for it. Only a couple of pedal strokes farther a roadrunner darted, stopped and let its tail rise and darted again. I whooshed down into the park, and found land swampy from a recent rain. About a half dozen mallard ducks paddled in the small pool. When I first glanced their way, four of the six had tails in the air scrounging at the bottom for food.

Mallard duck. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I peeled down a steep hill into central park, and circled to the duck pond. More mallards --- maybe, a couple of dozen. I cycled across a small bridge, while a duck paddled underneath, it emerging just as I finished crossing.

As I left, a yellow butterfly fluttered in front and led the way. Mariposa is Spanish for butterfly.