Author Archives: Jim R

About Jim R

Teacher of Science, Astronomy, Nature, among other things

SuperMoon | 3 Dec 2017

There it was shining into the bedroom windows low in the western sky. By the time it reached the full SuperMoon phase at 9:46 am CST, it would be well below the horizon. I give you the almost SuperMoon just before setting. Sorry about the trees being in the way.

Click to embiggen

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Backbone | Our Private State Park

by Jim and Melanie

After a large breakfast at Johnson’s in Elkader, we drove south toward Strawberry Point. Did you know they claim to have the world’s largest strawberry on display above city hall? We’ve seen it many times. By our judgment, at 15 feet tall, it is the largest.

As seen in October 2013…

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Squirrels & Feeders

Some of us choose to do battle with our local squirrels at the bird feeders. I confess to being one of them. Both humans and squirrels are creative. The challenge of foiling the squirrels is one I accept and enjoy. They usually win.

Several years ago our daughter bought a feeder for us that was supposed to be guaranteed squirrel-proof. It has a motorized perch for the birds. If a squirrel gets on it, their weight causes it to spin rapidly throwing them off. The Yankee Flipper did a good job. We were entertained for a few days as squirrels hopped on and were flipped off. This video shows one of our locals giving it a ride.

They soon quit trying. Then it became just another feeder. And, last year the rechargeable batteries quit holding charge for long. They only lasted a couple of days. That really emboldened the squirrels. Most of them went out on the rope and hung their bodies down from the wire bracket by their hind feet and ate leisurely. I needed some way to make the bracket impossible to grip. The local Goodwill store had a plastic bowl the right size. I put it in place as you see in this video. It seems to work well. Their bodies are not quite long enough.

There is still the batteries problem. I need to buy a replacement part for the spinner. It is fun to see the squirrels who are passing through and are unfamiliar with the spinner. They get a few rides and then quit. The locals know better. On YouTube are several videos posted by people with the same spinner. One in particular made me watch in amazement. This guy hung on for over 2 minutes. The owners said it wasn’t harmed. It got up and ran in a straight line down the drive. Are squirrels not subject to getting dizzy?

Storm in Nature and Life

Jim’s story of the book “Storm,” with some fascinating and unexpected connections.

How I See It

Some things we keep over the years carry strong ties and meaning in our lives. In our house, we try to not keep very many things, only the most important. Given the chance, we part with some of the things we’ve kept that might not have much meaning any more. When we die, we don’t want to leave the job of sorting through our stuff to our children.

I sorted some books on the shelves to see which could be donated to the public library for their sale. I decided to keep this one. The book and I have connections that goes back several decades. I will explain.

The Book

Storm is a novel by George R. Stewart published in 1941. Each of the twelve chapters is a day in the life of the storm. Each details the impacts of a storm which began in the western Pacific. The storm…

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C-17 Globemaster Cargo Plane

by Jim and Melanie

The United States Air Force is cooperating with relief efforts for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico as they did for the Gulf Coast and Florida. Members of the 15th Airlift Squadron , 437th Airlift Wing, out of the Joint Base in Charleston, SC, have flown more than 70 missions supporting relief efforts after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria as detailed in this brief.

The planes used are the C-17 Globemaster. We recently toured one of the planes and felt others would appreciate seeing it up close and inside. First impression as you walk toward it is its imposing size. The loud noise is an auxiliary power unit providing electricity to the plane while parked.

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Cassini | Fireball Into Saturn

For those who want to watch the end of Cassini in a live broadcast…

How I See It

The astronomy community is active with posts and anticipation of the end of the Cassini Mission to Saturn early in the morning of 15 Sep 2017. This post serves as a brief reminder that you can witness the ending moments live by going online or via the NASA channel on cable. Set your calendar or clock.

Time to show up for the broadcast is 7 am Eastern Time, 6 CT, 5 MT, or 4 PT. I will leave the time calculation to others who live across the oceans.

Online sources include YouTube, NASA-TV, UStream, and Facebook. The table in the link includes links to each of those. You get to choose.

Consult your cable provider to see if they provide the NASA-TV channel.

For a huge number of links to current and past information about the Cassini Mission, please go to the Media Kit provided for reporters by NASA-JPL…

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Vespidae | Everyone Has To Eat

I spotted these on the trail as I returned from a walk this morning. According to Bugguide, they are Eastern Yellow Jackets Vespula maculifrons. They were feeding on something moist and fleshy I could not identify. It has been exceptionally dry here in eastern Iowa since mid-August. Yellow Jackets are found near anything with moisture.

They didn’t mind that I got within a few centimeters to record some video of their activity. Sort of gruesome. But, as Melanie says “Everyone has to eat.”

Three Planets and Regulus

Our view from Iowa this morning toward the pre-dawn sky was clear. High in the dark sky was Venus. Planets Mercury and Mars were supposed to be about halfway down toward the horizon. I have looked for them the past few mornings with no success. Either I was late to look and the sky was too bright, or some clouds were in the way. This morning I looked earlier at 5:55am and the sky was very transparent. Success!

Reg is the star Regulus in the constellation Leo. It photo-bombed the scene next to Mercury.

ISO100 @5sec | Click for bigger

ISO100 @2sec | Zoomed in | Exposure adjusted for detail

The view this morning actually included four planets if you count the Earth beneath my feet.

Backyard | Visitors Welcome

Frequent visits lately of Ruby Throated Hummingbirds and Black Capped Chickadees to the backyard feeders. My records show the last hummingbird sighting is in the final week of September for my eastern Iowa location. Chicadees stay all year long.

The video has been slowed to 70% for the hummingbird and 50% for the chickadee in order to view them more easily. Enjoy.

Metal Detectorist

We recently watched a delightful series on Netflix called Detectorists. Two friends in England belong to a small local club. They dream of finding gold and treasure. Along the way, their lives are connected with funny, amusing, and sweet events. It is well worth your time. Good News! Season 3 is being made.

It inspired me to resume using my metal detector. I usually scan around playground equipment at parks and schools. Kids drop their coins. A few days ago I went to the city park where music events and fireworks are held in the summer. I found nearly $2 in coins. While sweeping around the sand in a play area I found a car. It was a nice Hot Wheels™ car. As I walked to another area, the detector was in front of me skimming the ground when it beeped loudly. This find will come in handy for some gardening work.

Model CK5TBS