Moons Big & Small: Perigee & Apogee Moons

A comparison of the perigee and apogee Moons of 2011.

Moons Big and Small, photo by Kevin

Last night I learned that the full moon was at apogee, and with all the love I’ve given to supermoons, I figured that I should throw a bone to the tiny ones as well. Kevin is a regular on Michigan in Pictures with his stunning photos of the night sky. He made a comparison of the perigee and apogee Moons of 2011 and shared this explanation:

The Full Moon of October 2011 was near apogee, which is the furthest point in the Moon’s orbit of the Earth. Back in March, you may recall, the Moon was at it’s closest point in its orbit to Earth, and the media dubbed it the “Supermoon.”

According to several sources, the difference in size between the March Full Moon and the October Full Moon is 12.3%. Why is there such a difference, you may ask?

Well, the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is elliptical, just as the Earth’s is around the Sun. That means that as the object – the Moon in this case – orbits the “parent” object (the Earth) it will never be the same distance away.

The image I put together shows the difference between the size of the Moon at perigee (March 2011) and apogee (October 2011). This comparison makes the size difference quite clear.

Kevin adds that both images of the Moon were taken with exactly the same equipment. View it bigger and see more in his massive The Moon slideshow.

PS: This full moon is the strawberry moon, and you can click that link for more about that and (unsurprisingly) a photo from Kevin!

Sunset Waterspout

Sunset Waterspout, photo by Kyler Phillips

The National Weather Service in Gaylord has a page on the Science of Waterspouts that says in part:

Dr. Joseph Golden, a distinguished waterspout authority with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), defines the waterspout as a “funnel which contains an intense vortex, sometimes destructive, of small horizontal extent and which occurs over a body of water.” The belief that a waterspout is nothing more than a tornado over water is only partially true. The fact is, depending on how they form, waterspouts come in two types: tornadic and fair weather.

Tornadic waterspouts generally begin as true tornadoes over land in association with a thunderstorm, and then move out over the water. They can be large and are capable of considerable destruction. Fair weather waterspouts, on the other hand, form only over open water. They develop at the surface of the water and climb skyward in association with warm water temperatures and high humidity in the lowest several thousand feet of the atmosphere. They are usually small, relatively brief, and less dangerous. The fair weather variety of waterspout is much more common than the tornadic.

Waterspouts occur most frequently in northern Michigan during the months of August, September, and October, when the waters of the Great Lakes are near their warmest levels of the year. Waterspout formation typically occurs when cold air moves across the Great Lakes and results in large temperature differences between the warm water and the overriding cold air. They tend to last from about two to twenty minutes, and move along at speeds of 10 to 15 knots.

Kyler caught this spout when checking out the storm front last Monday evening. View the photo bigger and follow Kyler on Instagram at KingKPhil.

Possum Power!

Caught In The Headlights, photo by James Marvin Phelps

Tick season is upon us, and with the added threat of Lyme disease, it’s serious business here in Michigan. My friend Tara with the Leelanau Conservation District shared some information about opossums from Opossum Awareness & Advocacy (opossum facts image below that you can share):

Did you know that opossums eat up to 5000 ticks per season thereby reducing our risk of contracting Lyme Disease and other tick-born diseases? They kill vermin, including mice, and garden pests. They are not dirty; they are very clean animals and groom and clean as much as cats. Better still, most opossums cannot contract or spread rabies. Opossums are the United States and Canada’s only marsupials.

They may look a little scary to the uninitiated, but they are actually timid and do so much good for humans compared to most other creatures. If you see an opossum consider yourself lucky, leave it alone and please do not harm it. They have a hard time surviving in cold climates because they don’t have very thick coats. Sometimes opossums play dead because they are afraid. Please don’t hit them with your car. Spread the word and please help protect opossums!

View the photo background big and see more in James’ massive Michigan slideshow, and follow James Marvin Phelps Photography on Facebook.

Dance of Light, March of Science

Dance of Light, photo by Eric Hackney

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
― Marie Curie

The NOAA/NWS Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has forecast a G2 level storm for tonight, which may very well produce Northern Lights! The SWPC is an invaluable scientific resource that is wholly produced by our tax dollars. In addition to letting us know when northern lights are possible, the SWPC helps to maintain our modern communication grid when the Sun gets a little extra exuberant.

It’s my heartfelt belief that one of the duties of our government is to work to make our country the leader in scientific advancement. As threats in public health, the environment, and a host of other realms increase, we need to be investing much more in science, not less.

To any who are participating in any of the 15 local Science Marches in Michigan today, the March for Science in Washington DC, or anywhere else, I salute you.

View Eric’s photo bigger and see more in his Personal Favorites slideshow.

PS: Happy Earth Day everyone.

Automotive Old Guard Leading the Race to the Future

Autonomous Fusion Hybrid research vehicle in Dearborn, courtesy Ford Motor Co

While Uber, Tesla & Google are getting most of the ink, WIRED magazine’s article Detroit Is Stomping Silicon Valley in the Self-Driving Car Race says:

IF YOU’RE BETTING on Silicon Valley stars like Google, Tesla, and Uber to free you from your horrorshow commute with autonomous driving technology, don’t. That’s the key takeaway from a new report that finds Ford—yes, the Detroit-based, 113-year-old giant—is winning the race to build the self-driving car, with General Motors running a close second. Renault-Nissan, Daimler, and Volkswagen round out the top five. Meanwhile, Waymo—aka Google’s driverless car effort—sits in sixth place, with Tesla in twelfth. Uber languishes in sixteenth, behind Honda and barely ahead of startup Nutonomy and China’s Baidu.

That may sound all kinds of wrong to anyone who has seen Uber, Waymo, and Tesla flaunt their tech, and regards Detroit’s old guard as ill-prepared for the robotic future. But it’s the state of the race according to Navigant Research, whose newly released “leaderboard” report ranks these players not just on their ability to make a car drive itself, but on their ability to bring that car to the mass market.

Ford and GM both score in the low to mid 80s on the technology front; it’s their old-school skills that float them to first and second place. They’ve each spent more than a century developing, testing, producing, marketing, distributing, and selling cars. Plus, each has made strategic moves to bolster weak points. Ford just dumped a billion dollars into an artificial intelligence outfit. It acquired ride-sharing service Chariot and invested in Velodyne, a company producing lidar, the laser scanning tech many argue is necessary for self-driving cars. GM scooped up self-driving expertise via a startup called Cruise, and partnered with Lyft to put the eventual result on the road.

Lots more in a great article from WIRED!

View the photo of an autonomous Ford Fusion hybrid bigger on Ford’s website.

More cars & autos on Michigan in Pictures.

#TBT Jungle Love in Prehistoric Michigan

Jungle Love, photo by Matt Stangis

The Rapidian has a feature on prehistoric Michigan’s tropical seas, jungles and inhabitants that’s a great read and the ultimate Throwback Thursday! Here’s a small slice:

After about 60 million years, warm, shallow seas came down again from the Arctic and covered Michigan during the Silurian period. At this time the land would have been in a subtropical climate that gave rise to large coral reefs across the state. Fossil findings show that the largest and oldest reef extends through the center of the Upper Peninsula. A species of coral that lived during this time period would eventually become fossilized and become what we refer to as Petoskey Stones.

The seas retreated over time, leaving a desert scattered with fossilized remains that eventually formed the limestone that is located over one hundred and twenty feet below us today. The sections of this exposed limestone is what created the Grand Rapid’s famous rapids. Much of the salt deposits that were left from retreating seas of this period are still mined in Detroit.

The Devonian period around 400 million years ago saw the rise of vertebrates in Michigan. North America was covered with up to 40 percent of water. There were a great number of fish swarming the salt and fresh water seas. The Ganoid species were in a crude state of evolution. Many of them had armor plating with two of their relatives, the Gar Pike and the Sturgeon, still existing in Great Lakes today. Primitive plants, such as the seed fern, developed from marine algae. On land the Tiktaalik, the link between finned fish and early amphibians, started to use its muscular fins to drag itself around land.

…At the end of the Carboniferous Period, known as the Pennsylvanian subperiod, Michigan was a semi-tropical jungle featuring primitive vegetation. Ferns without bark, some of which bloomed scentless unattractive flowers, grew to almost 100 feet. Millions of generations of trees grew and died in the jungle. The trees that fell in the swampy parts of the jungle were covered up by water and soil that became rock over time. The forces of time and pressure on these trees would eventually see this prehistoric jungle become the coal basin that sits underneath a large area of the U.S. including the upper northeast part of Kent county.

In the sky above one foot long dragon flies swarmed in droves on the ground and cockroaches the size of a man’s palm crawled around. Reptiles started to appear, evolving from amphibians, not dependent on water to lay their amniotic eggs. Towards the end of this period the rain forests gave way to deserts which decreased the amphibian populations and caused an evolutionary shift in reptiles.

Definitely click through for more – there are some cool links as well!

I’m pretty sure Matt took this photo at ArtPrize in 2013. View it background bigilicious and see more in his slideshow.

22-Degree Radius Halo

22 degrees at Van’s Beach, photo by Andrew McFarlane

Atmospheric Optics is an excellent resource for rainbows and similar phenomena. Their page on 22-degree halos says:

22º radius halos are visible all over the world and throughout the year. Look out for them (eye care!) whenever the sky is wisped or hazed with thin cirrus clouds. These clouds are cold and contain ice crystals in even the hottest climes.

The halo is large. Stretch out the fingers of your hand at arms length. The tips of the thumb and little finger then subtend roughly 20°. Place your thumb over the the sun and the halo will be near the little finger tip. The halo is always the same diameter regardless of its position in the sky. Sometimes only parts of the complete circle are visible.

Much smaller coloured rings around the sun or moon are a corona produced by water droplets rather than ice crystals.

Lots more at Atmospheric Optics!

See the photo bigger and view more on my Instagram.

More rainbows, sundogs, etc. on Michigan in Pictures – seriously cool stuff in here folks!