Our Window on Nature

. . . exploring the world around us

Nature’s Fireworks

Filed under: Sky — Lowell Christie -- August 7, 2016 @ 6:18 pm

Leonid_MeteorSeveral times a year we rearrange our sleeping schedules to watch one of nature’s annual fireworks displays. Just like clockwork, during the second week of August, the early morning sky lights up with the castoff particles left by the passage of a comet.

Comets are the vagabonds of the solar system. Many of them travel in an ellipse, coming close to the sun at one end of their orbit, and moving towards the outer solar system at the other end. Although hundreds of comets pass through the inner solar system each year, most are so small that they go unnoticed. But occasionally a big comet travels by. (Read the rest …)

Busy Bees

Filed under: Bugs — Lowell Christie -- July 31, 2016 @ 7:41 am

Honey BeeHot biscuits wouldn’t be nearly as tasty without a liberal layer of honey, and this is the time of year when the local bees get back to work creating more of that magical syrup. After breakfast this morning we did a quick calculation. We just ate the equivalent of the lifetime production of several dozen worker bees.

Honey production is a very bee-intensive process. In order to produce the pound of honey eaten by the typical American each year, it takes bees about 55,000 miles of flight with visits to as many as 2 million flowers. Little by little, blossom by blossom, each worker bee produces only one-twelfth of a teaspoonful of honey. (Read the rest …)

A Flash of Green

Filed under: Sky — Lowell Christie -- July 15, 2016 @ 11:12 am

Green_flashJules Verne, among others, wrote about the “green flash,” but the first time we read about it, we concluded that it seemed about as likely as traveling 20,000 leagues under the sea. It was called “an intense spark of colored light visible at sunrise or sunset” – sure, with Nessie rising to greet it, no doubt. However, after considerable research we decided that if the green flash does not exist, it is a hoax that has survived for a couple thousand years.

Assuming that the right atmospheric conditions are present, along with a view of a distant horizon, and the sun sinking toward its nighttime rest, scientists explain the phenomenon as follows. Consider a prism and the way it splits light into its component colors. The green color comes from a leftover ray of sunlight still hanging in the sky after the red, orange, and yellow have dropped below the horizon. The blue and violet rays are scattered invisibly in the atmosphere, leaving a clear emerald green just at the edge of the sun – the same green rim we’ve seen many times when ignoring parental admonitions to “Stop looking at the sun. It will ruin your eyes! ”

(Read the rest …)

Chipmunk Chatter

Filed under: Mammals — Lowell Christie -- July 11, 2016 @ 7:34 am

ChipmonkChock, chock, chock, chock …. A metronomelike chirp resounded through the forest in Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains. The sound was so similar to a bird call that it puzzled us at first. What is it, we wondered. Doesn’t it ever shut up? For several minutes we peered into the gloom, watching and shifting position until we were far enough apart to triangulate on the sound.

We finally located the critter; it was a chipmunk perched next to the trunk of a tree. Chock, chock … you would have thought that its vocal cords were connected to its rear end, because – without fail – every repeat of its call was accompanied by a sharp jerk of its tail. (Read the rest …)

A Tale of Dragons and Damsels

Filed under: Bugs — Lowell Christie -- June 25, 2016 @ 10:03 am

DragonflyThese dragons don’t chase damsels in distress. As a matter of fact, they don’t chase much of anything except small flying insects acceptable as food.  Oh yes, and other dragonflies.

At a length of two to five inches, dragonflies are the modern world’s largest insects, but they’re puny by ancient standards. A dragonfly imprint dated to the time of dinosaurs boasts a wing span of 30 inches. That’s appropriate when you consider the size of the dinosaurs that frequented the same rivers and ponds, but imagine one flying into your hair. (Read the rest …)

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