Friday, July 3, 2015

Making Progress

TWILIGHT:  It's been super duper hot up here in Seattle (yeah, I know, it's all relative), and so last night the kids escaped the heat of their bedrooms and slept out on the roofdeck.  

One of the bonuses of doing that is they get a great view of the moonrise (which was spectacular last night!), and the stars and planets and occasional meteors streaking across the sky.  

The cell phone shot of them inside their mosquito net above might not look like much, but it's the depiction of a golden, full moon rising over Queen Anne hill in the background, and the foreground is the launch of the Russian International Space Station cargo resupply mission, live. Super cool!

The ISS really really needs the cargo. Not even a week ago, a SpaceX supply mission to the ISS blew up shortly after takeoff. And earlier this year, a different Progress/Russian resupply mission launch went into a wonky orbit, with the spacecraft falling back down to Earth some days later (around Mother's Day, as I recall). And then a few months ago, an Orbital Sciences resupply mission barely made it off the launchpad.  In other words, the last three cargo supply attempts to the ISS have failed. An unprecedented string of failures, really.

However, so far so good for the Progress launched last night.

Progress 60 is carrying more than 6,100 pounds of food, fuel, and supplies. The craft will make 34 orbits of Earth before docking to the orbiting laboratory just after July 4th's midnight. 

photo: NASA TV

WISE WORDS: Spied yesterday, painted on the side of an outbuilding at the Bitterlake Community Center. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Flocking to Water

LOW DOWN:  We took a long walk this morning, destination Terminal 91.

I was hoping there would be a big cruise ship or two to ogle at, but none were in port upon our arrival.  However, we did have something to ogle - the lowest tide we've ever seen in that spot.

The water was waaaay out there, exposing a swath of seaweed and several sea critters. The kids ventured out to the far-off edge.

The dogs and I hung back, the canines cooling themselves by laying on the cool, smooshy seaweed.
On the land above the beach, the city is working to expand the park.  People have tied tags to a chainlink fence, sharing ideas about what they'd like to see at the new park.

On the way back up the hill, as we passed the in-progress South Magnolia Combined Sewer Overflow Control Project under the Garfield ("Magnolia") Bridge, I told the kids I'd just read about some artifacts unearthed during the operation's excavation phase. 
In fact, just last night, KOMO News featured a story about the find. Unfortunately, their video embed code doesn't work, but you can view the short piece at this link:

According to a King County Wastewater Treatment Department report, shortly after construction began, backhoes began turning up numerous boardwalk pilings and glass bottles. At that point, they contacted the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, and the site then became an archaeological dig. 

Finds included a pair of Pince-Nez (“pinch-nose”) glasses, a style made popular by Teddy Roosevelt. Image from King County Wastewater Treatment Department

As it turned out, the sewer project site used to the home to Finntown, a low-income, multicultural community that lived along Smith Cove in the 1920s, during the Prohibition era.  Many of the recovered artifacts were alcohol bottles. Some Native American artifacts were also unearthed, as were items with Japanese, Chinese and European ties.

Some of the artifacts discovered are expected to go on display at the Burke Museum later this year. We'll have to go pay them a visit.

GETTING CLOSER: The countdown to NASA's New Horizons spacecraft reaching Pluto is ticking every downward. Launched nine years ago, it's expected to arrive in twelve short days, after flying 3.6 BILLION miles!

New Horizons is the first mission to the Kuiper Belt, a sprawling zone of icy bodies and mysterious small objects orbiting beyond Neptune. 

To learn more about the mission, we began watching a one-hour documentary today, "The Year of Pluto."
New Horizons is already sending photos of the dwarf planet back to Earth. Check out this one, showing two different faces of Pluto.

On the Pluto shot to the right, there is a series of spots along the equator that seem to be evenly spaced. Per NASA, each of the spots is about 300 miles (480 kilometers) in diameter, with a surface area that’s roughly the size of the state of Missouri.

New Horizons was designed and built by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland, and they manage the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. 
WATERY DISCOVERY:  We had to run to the northern city limits this afternoon, and on our way back, we noticed a park next to the Bitter Lake Community Center with a small water feature. We flipped the car around and did a little splashing.

I loved the sound of all the happy kids cooling off. video
Turns out there is a bigger water feature a hundred yards or so beyond the little pond. ...The actual Bitter Lake.  It looks to be mostly bordered by private property, but there are a couple of small shore access spots for the public. However, not a single person was in its water on this 90 degree day, which I found surprising. I couldn't help but wonder if the enormous, brazen, kinda scary flock of Canada geese populating the beach had something to do with that. No doubt the lake is filled with goose doo.  According to a Wikipedia article, tannic acid from logs dumped into the lake gave its water a bitter taste and the lake itself a name. The King County Web site says the lake's surface area is 19 acres, and its maximum depth is 31 feet. Bass populate it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Above and Below

STAR GAZING:  Last night, we had our eyes on the skies, as a showy night sky occurrence was going down, the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. 

A conjunction is a celestial event in which two planets or a planet and the moon or a planet and a star appear close together in the night sky. Conjunctions have no real "astronomical value," per NASA, but they are pretty nice to view. :)

Here's NASA's Bill Cooke talking about the planetary conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

We're on the west side of a steep hill. While we get to see sunrises, we never get to see true on-the-horizon sunsets. And the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter was going to be on the west horizon. That meant we needed to go up the hill.

We piled the kids and dogs in the car about 9 p.m. and off we went.  When we got to the top, we had this lovely view ...  Venus and Jupiter in super close proximity!
After seeing that, we got greedy. We wanted the planets *and* the sunset *and* the water. And so, we headed to what we call "Eagle Beach," because on a couple of visits there, we've seen eagles up-close-and-personal. Its less fancy name is 

As soon as we arrived, the colors reminded me of a Hawaiian sunset.
And then I reminded myself we were there looking for planets dancing. Can you see them? They're lovely!
Even lovelier with the kids in the foreground!

UNSHAPELY: "Simple Trick Shows How To Draw A Perfect Freehand Circle Easily," read the headline, alongside an article I was reading online. I asked the kids if they'd ever read that tip.
"Clickbait!" Annabelle warned. 

I should have listened to her. Instead, we spent a couple of minutes watching a YouTube video ... 
Specifically, THIS YouTube video.

And then, with our new-found knowledge, we produced these lovely circles.

Um, wait, no, not quite ... 
 Very Not Good.
 Getting better but wait ... oh, that darn bump!
Suffice it to say, it was click bait. 

Yeah, OK, if we practiced X amount of times and everything was perfect, we could draw a perfect circle freehand. But, well, reality.

We talked about what needed to happen to make it work. One is the perfect pivot/plant point. The other is the perfect hold of the writing instrument. 

And we talked about how perfect is hard to achieve. Oh well, it was worth a try!

IN BLOOM: We've been taking long walks about the 'hood for the past few days, admiring flora and fauna.

Hydrangeas are in full bloom in these parts right now.  We have one in our yard (a transplant we got off last summer), which is a lace cap variety, like the one below. 
I explained to the kids, as we were walking that hydrangeas are interesting in that the color of the flowers can vary widely, depending on the type of soil they're planted in (pH is a big factor).  

FISHY:  One of our projects today was cleaning out the goldfish tank.

We have had said goldfish for at least 8 years, maybe longer. We've called our two fish Annabelle Fish and CJ Fish for all that time.

As we were draining and refilling today, Annabelle asked how you can tell a boy or a girl fish. I told her to do the Google while I drained and scrubbed and refilled. While doing so, I looked down at Annabelle Fish and noticed a bulge on her right side hindquarters.   Instantly, I thought, "Oh no, Annabelle Fish has a tumor!"  

Meanwhile, Annabelle is rattling off characteristics of female fish and she said having a bulge on one side was sign of breeding season/and egg build up.
How 'bout that!?

It might also explain why Annabelle Fish has, from time to time, kind of burrowed to the bottom of the tank and hung out there for a couple of days.

As she reviewed characteristics of female and male goldfish, and we checked off our observation points over the last eight or so years, we've pretty much concluded that Annabelle Fish is For Sure a girl, and CJ Fish probably is too (though she isn't maybe as fertile).  Interesting, enlightening exercise, cleaning the fish tank was.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Up and Around

FLYING HIGH:  Yesterday afternoon the kids enjoyed some indoor skydiving at a wind tunnel in Southcenter, iFLY Seattle.

We've been there a couple of times before, and it's a thrill each and every outing. You can't tell that by the look on CJ's face, awaiting his first go! Hahahaha!
What can we say? He's an intense wind tunnel flyer.  But I'll bet he was smiling when he (and an instructor) shot up a couple of stories in a second or two!
Just this side of Superman, wouldn't you say?  Christian has video we need to download. Hopefully that's to follow tomorrow.

SUMMER SCENES:  Last night, we were trying to escape the heat, and decided to head to the estuary between Lake Union and the Puget Sound, also known as the Ballard Locks.

It was postcard pretty. Sailboats on the sound and stand-up paddleboarders in the pond ...
an Amtrak rolling over the railroad bridge (with CJ hiding in the shadows) ...
and the first ripe blackberries of the season!

ROCKIN': Did you know today is Asteroid Day?  We puny humans here on our Earth should be aware of the threats a too-close-for-comfort asteroid poses for our planet. Dr. Brian May, an astrophysicist who also happens to the be guitar player for rock juggernauts Queen, is concerned. Here's what he has to say.

Asteroid Day even has its own trailer, complete with a Queen soundtrack.

As part of our asteroid awareness, we read a NASA handout we picked up at a science event, "Asteroids: Space Rocks with a Story." You can download a PDF of it here: file:///C:/Users/Kristine/Downloads/asteroids_fun_sheet.pdf

If you go to this NASA Web page:, you can also download a four-page "fun fact" brochure about comets and asteroids—what makes them similar and what makes them different. The booklet, Comets vs. Asteroids, includes lots of fun facts, plus a comet vs. asteroid wordfind.

WAIT A SECOND: Did it seem like a long day to you? Might be that extra second that was added to the clock today. For real!

NASA issued a press release to explain our "leap second.  In it, Daniel MacMillan of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, explained, "Earth's rotation is gradually slowing down a bit, so leap seconds are a way to account for that."

The rotational slowdown is due to a kind of braking force caused by the gravitational tug of war between Earth, the moon and the sun. According to NASA, scientists estimate that the mean solar day hasn't been 86,400 seconds long since about the year 1820.

Leap seconds are usually inserted either on June 30 or December 31. Per NASA, "Normally, the clock would move from 23:59:59 to 00:00:00 the next day. But with the leap second on June 30, UTC will move from 23:59:59 to 23:59:60, and then to 00:00:00 on July 1. In practice, many systems are instead turned off for one second."

So one little second is kind of a big deal!

"In the short term, leap seconds are not as predictable as everyone would like," said Chopo Ma, a geophysicist at Goddard and a member of the directing board of the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service. "The modeling of the Earth predicts that more and more leap seconds will be called for in the long-term, but we can't say that one will be needed every year."

This latest leap second is only the fourth to be added since 2000. 

For more information about NASA's Space Geodesy Project, check out:

Monday, June 29, 2015


ROCKHOUNDS:  So, we had a bit of an adventure on Saturday.  ...

We were invited to go along on a geology field trip, fossil hunting with a group which included a couple of real live geologists. 

We left home at 7:45, northbound, I-5, toward Bellingham. There, we met with our group, 19 in all, and drove east to Whatcom County, to an area above Racehorse Creek in the Mount Baker foothills. The area was of interest because in 2009, heavy rains triggered an enormous landslide in the area, and that event exposed a massive amount of Eocene epoch fossils, including lots of subtropical plant and footprints of birds who walked the area 50 million years ago. Fossil finds in the area include the first known footprints of Diatryma, a ground bird taller than today's average man.
Image from Dinopedia -

I'm rather glad we didn't cross paths with any live ones during our adventure! 

Leading our group was George Mustoe, of Western Washington University in Bellingham.
What a wonderful guide he was!  The trail started out sedately enough, with bunches of pretty wildflowers, and edible plants and berries. The one Dr. Mustoe is holding here is related to St. John's Wort.

He also showed us some edible wild lettuce.
Pretty scenery surrounded us.
But before too much longer it didn't seem quite so pretty any more.  

In an email about the hike we had to look forward to to get to the fertile fossil grounds, the trip was described as "a short steep scramble ... gaining 200 meters elevation in about a kilometer distance, but at a leisurely  pace."

Well, being from Seattle (steep hills everywhere and we live on a very steep lot), and fresh from walking the Chambers Bay golf course, where the elevation up and down is over 600 feet each way, (and we walked it in 85 degree heat), we thought Saturday's hike would be no problem. Turns out we were very, very wrong!

A geologist's idea of steep, as it turns out, is probably different that a soft-handed city dweller's, ha ha.  

I am sorry I don't have any photos of the face of the cliff we had to scale on all fours. I was too busy hanging on for my life. At one point I was stuck in the same place for about 15 minutes, afraid to move. Meanwhile, Christian was getting our poor children and himself up the bank, which was maybe 50 is feet high, covered in loose gravel and fine, loose soil, and not much else. There was no climbing equipment (for instance, a rope), and really hardly any vegetation you could even grab onto for a little sense of security.

Eventually, brother-in-law Jim the geologist was able to come and rescue me. I couldn't believe the way he scrambled about on that vertical surface. I told him he looked like he was just walking in his living room. 

After the sketchiest part it was more, more, more climbing, still very steep, but more big rocks and fallen logs to hang onto, thank goodness.

Have I mentioned it was 84 degrees out at ground level that day? And it felt significantly hotter up higher. 

Eventually, we all made it to the top.

All my whining out of the way, the rewards for making the hike were many.

For starters, it was very easy to see where the slide had occurred and its enormity was jaw dropping.
And there were fossils everywhere!

Below is a fossilized impression of "driftwood bark" (the horizontal printed concave at the top of the rock in the middle).
And it turns out palm trees were Northwest natives back in the day. We saw lots of fossils proving so.  

And here's CJ's hand by a fan-shaped leaf fossil. 

The professor also pointed out what he believed to be an ancient alligator's tail dragging marks along with its footprints. The long straight line the glove is point to is the tail drag mark. The yellow curved lines are underneath the 'gator's' footprints.
However, the stars of the rock show were the big bird prints.
 The professor outlined them lightly in chalk.

Here are CJ's thoughts about Saturday ... 
On June 27th, 2015, I climbed a mountain in Whatcom County, Washington, on a hunt to find fossils that were at the mountain. Before we started the hike up the mountain, we were introduced to a geology professor who worked at Western Washington University for 41 years. The professor taught us about some plants that we may have found fossils of on our hike. That gentleman was not the only geology professor in our hike, however, as my uncle Jim, who was also in our group, is an adjunct geology professor at the University of British Columbia. The first part of the hike was nice and calm, but it quickly came to a fork in the path. One path led to an area where we could go if we didn't want to go up the mountain, while the other led to a steep climb to the top of the mountain. Apparently, this time, everyone in our group went up the hill, including our family. Once we got to the top of the mountain, we found multiple footprints left in the rocks by long-extinct creatures, one of which was Diatryma, a large flightless bird. There were also some footprints left in the rocks by some smaller birds, but the Diatryma footprints were by far the most noticeable. On the way down, our family and one other lady who went up with us had to work together to get down to the ground from the top of the mountain safely. My dad used a large stick to help us move from one area to another, and at other times, we had to slide down the mountain from point A to point B. Overall, it was a nice, but somewhat scary experience visiting the mountain.
Here's Annabelle's account: 
On June 27, 2015 I took a 4-hour hike/cliff climb (a “short scramble” in geologist terms) up the Eocene Chuckanut Formation, in Whatcom county. The hike went up to the very top of the mountain, where I saw plenty of footprint fossils from a flightless bird called a Diatryma. The hike seemed long and it was very hard. There was one section where the rocks were very slippery and the slope was almost vertical. It was worth it at the top, though. We saw plenty of Diatryma tracks and even some crocodile ones as well. I also took a leaf fossil home with me. The climb was very difficult, and it was fun, but I don’t think I’d do it again any time soon. 
I should note that as terrified as each of the kids were at points on Saturday, they soldiered through, and by Sunday afternoon, CJ was even asking if we could go back there. :)

To learn more about the amazing find on that remote hilltop, check out the paper "Giant Eocene Bird Footprints From Northwest Washington, USA" by George E. Mustoe, David S. Tucker and Keith L. Kemplin, which was published in the journal Palaeontology in 2012.