Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stargazing Thwarted By Forest Fires

For the last week, the days have been ridiculously hot and dry. There's baking sun all day and almost no breeze. It's the height of fire season. Luckily, the nights have been very cold. This allows us to open up the cabins at night and trap the cold air. With a sleeping bag to insulate the door, my cabin stays 20-30 degrees cooler than the meadow all day, allowing me to do my weaving work. It's impossible for me to operate a machine that basically amounts to a treadmill when the temperature inside the studio gets above 85.

[Orange light with smoke shadow]

[Smoke in the sky]

Tonight after dinner I exected to sit at the top of the meadow and bid my last farewell to Venus and Spica for the season. The Sun is about to overtake them until November, when it will have passed and allowed them to show up at dawn.

These plans were scrapped when I came out of the house this afternoon to find the sky full of smoke. There's a fire about ten miles away in Glendale. During dinner we noticed things falling from the sky. They were leaves, burnt to white ash, looking a lot like snowflakes.

We're very lucky that it isn't closer to us. We spend much of our energy on fire preparedness because it's a serious threat up here.

[What I expected to see: the last glimpse of Venus, Mars and Spica as the sun set.]

The funny thing about stargazing at Wolf Creek is the effect of the hills. When I look at sky maps and astronomy programs, I have to remember that we can't see the lowest 20-30 degrees of the sky. Things rise almost two hours later and set almost two hours earlier than in other places. All told, our days are about 3 1/2 hours shorter than flat places at the same latitude. We have much longer twilight time instead.

This means that the full moon rises at 8:00 in other places, but we don't see it until 9:45. It also means that most people will see Venus in the evening until late September and again in the morning starting around Halloween this year, but we will miss her from late August until late November. It gives me more appreciation to know that the objects in the sky move quickly and won't always be around very long. I can't procrastinate if I want to spend time with them.

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