Explore: May 2013

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6 posts from May 2013


June's Observing Highlights: A Supermoon Shines Bright

June 2013 Full Moon ChumackThe term "Supermoon" only became popular in recent years as the press got hold of the idea and it became a buzzword in the populace. In June, the moon reaches perigee, or the closest point in its orbit around Earth, on June 23 at 4:09 a.m. PDT, just minutes before the moon becomes 100-percent lit, at 4:32 a.m. PDT. This moon, which is closer and larger than other full moons of the year, has earned it the nickname Supermoon. While you’ll hear plenty of talk with this new nickname, the full moon of June has also historically been known as the Strawberry Moon.

The moon, no less super although not full, will pair up with a couple objects earlier in the month providing for decent photo-ops. On June 10 the crescent moon is to the left of Venus and Mercury. On June 18 catch the moon just to the left of Spica, while Saturn observes from just a bit farther away to the moon's left.

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Haleakala from Summit to Coast

Explore HawaiiIt's 7 a.m. on Haleakala's summit, Maui's 10,000-foot volcano, and I can't get the car door open in the wind.

Yesterday was spent swimming with turtles in the light-blue balmy water in Kihei, now I'm freezing my butt off despite a down parka and long underwear, lugging my backpack into a moonscape of rouge- and charcoal-stained cinder cones — remnants of a fiery undersea hotspot that birthed all the Hawaiian islands.

The sunrise seekers are gone, and I'm alone in the ranger station — watching the wilderness safety video. Permits for tent camping in the national park are first-come, first-serve, but in late February I'm the only customer. Temperatures can range between 30 and 80 degrees, and the ranger quizzes me about gear on my way out. Tent? Check. Rain gear? Check. Sunscreen? Check.

Cascading rocks on the Sliding Sands Trail sound like truckloads of tinkling glass being dumped down a metal slide. The sound makes me happy. I like new experiences, extremes. It's why I like to backpack. And as the blown-out side of the volcano (Kaupo Gap) unfolds in the morning mist, I can see where I'll be in 3 days and about 26 miles — the coast near Hana.

tentIn less than an hour I'm sweating bullets. Down to a T-shirt and second-guessing my choice of sock-less garden clogs as my only footwear, now choked with pumice shards. Quail-like chukars peck invisible seeds in the dust. A single evening primrose here and there, yellowing succulent leaves of the na'ena'e, dot the sweeping lava sands. And the first silver swords appear around the base of the cinder cones like graying stubble in a thin goatee.

I take a hesitant long drink of water; the only source is what I'm carrying in my Nalgene bottle until camp at Holua.

Day 2

Nestled up against the wet side of the crater, Holua swirled with wind and rain all night. Nene, endangered Hawaiian geese, honked overhead, and a family of them, with little gray fluff balls on wobbly legs, greeted me as I packed up my wet tent and eyed longingly the remote cabin nearby. A couple had come in on horseback, and their wood stove trailed an enviable comfort across the lava fields. Still, I would rather be out here — each to his own. And besides, the cabins get snatched up months in advance.

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Q&A: "Wild Ones" Author Jon Mooallem

Wild Ones_Jon Mooallem

Every good story needs hope.

That’s what an editor once told me when I asked how to broach a somber and potentially depressing article I was working on. "Find the hope."

Dark green stories — inside baseball for environmental pieces that are serious, are scary, and can make you feel sad — sometimes only offer readers a sort of conscious-tithing solace in having taken the effort to read them. Infusing a little hope can make hard truths go down easier. 

Journalist Jon Mooallem, 34, doesn’t manufacture a bright side; his lovely, lucid prose reveals that perhaps grasping for a silver lining is intrinsic to being human. Mooallem’s debut book, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, came out this May. It's the latest and longest in Mooallem’s oeuvre of wildlife reportage that’s revelatory about the human condition. See “Who Would Kill a Monk Seal?” in the New York Times Magazine and “The Last Buffalo Hunt” in Slate for a sense. 

Wild Ones could have been very dark green. Mooallem investigates the plights of the polar bear, the Lange’s metalmark butterfly, and the whooping crane — all endangered — as well as the humans working to save them. Many anecdotes are heartbreaking. A pilot with the whooping crane conservation group Operation Migration admits he has wished he didn’t have his daughter, disillusionment with the world's trajectory weighing on him.

Mooallem’s daughter Isla, around age 2 as he worked on the book, actually inspired her dad's interest in the state of the animals printed all over her pajamas. She often accompanied Mooallem during his reporting, swaddled or strapped to him on buggy rides to spot polar bears in Alaska or hikes to net butterflies in a sand dune. Her presence sweetens and saddens a bleak portrait of our scrambling to preserve what's left of nature.

“I don’t have a totally sunny outlook on these things,” Mooallem told me during a recent interview. “As a parent, I worry about what the world’s gonna be like. That’s why I started this book. I actually thought it would be really kinda cool and important. I’d like my daughter to see some of these species that may not be around.”

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3 Incredible Interspecies Moms

With Mother's Day on the horizon, we've become a tad sentimental about how amazing mothers are. Check out the squee-inducing evidence that motherhood knows no (species) bounds.

A cat nurses baby squirrels:

A monkey bottle-feeding a tiger:

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What Did the Big Bang Sound Like?

The big bangThe Big Bang, the current theory behind the universe's existence, kind of sounds like a spaceship descending alongside you and hovering overhead -- or maybe a protracted electronic whoopee cushion.

Physics professor John G. Cramer of the University of Washington in Seattle originally created an aural interpretation of the Big Bang a decade ago, according to the university. (The 2003 version sounds like a sound effect from '60s-era Star Trek.)

Armed with data from the European Space Agency's Planck mission, which currently maps relic radiation from the Big Bang, Cramer produced the latest audio rendition of our universe's infancy. The data's higher frequency spectrum gave Cramer a more accurate representation of the expanding universe, which he likens to the sound of a bass.

"The expanding universe 'stretches' the sound wavelengths and thereby lowers their frequencies," Cramer writes. "To account for this effect, the program shifts the waves downward in frequency to follow the expansion in the first 760 thousand years of the universe."

Hear the Big Bang rendering as 20-, 50-, 100-, 200-, or 500-second recordings on Cramer's UW site. Cramer recommends listening to the 100-second version.

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Wet Goods: The Newest Paddling Gear

About 70% of this planet's surface is water. If that's not reason enough to spend some time this spring having liquid fun, this season's slew of innovations might be. 



Get both a whitewater kayak and a flatwater tourer in the WAVE SPORT Ethos. Available in 9- and 10-foot lengths (we tested the 10-foot on an overnighter on Utah's Green River), it handles touring, easy surf, and up to Class III rapids. Deploy the drop-down skeg for touring or pull it up for whitewater. There's a roomy cockpit, ample storage space, and hinged hip pads that fold up into a carrying cushion for your shoulder. $999

The 17-foot, 5-inch fiberglass Koru from OLD TOWN CANOE is a masterful blend of function and art — the same elegant features that made it a classic hunting canoe back in the day have been revamped for recreational use. An extended waterline makes for efficient padding, while a shallow arch hull adds stability. This 60-pound craft worked well in the Colorado River's light waves and flats. $2,300

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