The purpose of this feature is to give scout leaders, educators and naturalists an idea of some of the natural events coming up each month. We will try to cover a variety of natural events ranging from sky events to calling periods of amphibians, bird and mammal watching tips, prominent wildflowers and anything else that comes to mind. We will also note prominent constellations appearing over the eastern horizon at mid-evening each month for our area for those who would like to learn the constellations. If you have suggestions for other types of natural information you would like to see added to this calendar, let us know!
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Notes and Images From October 2016
It's been a while since we've bought a new long focal length lens, and we decided to upgrade from our 1983 vintage 300mm f2.8 lens to something a little lighter and more versatile. A new Nikon lens caught my eye recently, the Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 zoom. It received very good reviews, but the deciding factors were that, although the new lens was lighter than my old 300mm lens, it had much more reach, and much improved auto-focus and vibration reduction.
I made the exposure below from our front porch within an hour of the package arriving. I just "pished" a little bit and a Carolina Wren hopped up onto the Red Maple beside the porch to check me out. This is a handheld image at 500mm with the vibration reduction engaged.
The image was auto-focused, handheld, and is one of a burst of 4 images taken with the shutter button held down, shooting with the Nikon D750.
We were pleased with the result, and it's fitting that the first bird we photographed was a Carolina Wren, a bird whose song is as beautiful as its plumage.
On October 16th we did a little experimentation on a good wide-field setup for the Moon, both for still images, and for videos of the Moon rising. The image below, and the linked video, were made using our Nikon D750 attached to my trusty Televue 85mm Refractor with a 2 inch extension tube and a 2X Barlow lens. That setup gives us a focal length of 1400mm, enough to show some lunar detail as well as room to include interesting foreground features.
After making the image above we made a 6 minute video of the Moon rising through the field of view in real time, accompanied by a cast of thousands (it seemed) tree crickets. This is not time-lapse! Occasionally you can hear the rat-a-tat-tat call of Lesser Anglewings as well, and a northbound freight train passes by. I made the image and recording from a fixed tripod in our field, placed near our observatory. You can view the video here.
Most of the names of lunar features come from a map published by Giovanni Riccioli in 1651 and drawn by his student Francesco Grimaldi. Though Riccioli knew that there were no large bodies of water on the Moon, he followed the convention of the time in naming the dark features as lakes, bays and seas. I love the old names. I still have the big National Geographic poster of the Moon I got when I was sixteen years old on one wall of our library. The Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridum) borders the Sea of Clouds (Mare Imbrium). The Sea of Tranquility and the Sea of Serenity are there along with the Sea of Crises and the sinister Lake of Death (Lacus Mortis). As we watch the Moon clear the eastern tree line of our farm, the names come back to me, one by one.
In the image above, you can spot a dark-floored crater at about the 8:00pm position near the edge of the Moon. Riccioli named this crater after his student Grimaldi. For himself, Riccioli chose another dark-floored crater right next to Grimaldi, but much smaller and harder to see.
A great reference to the Moon for laptops is The Virtual Moon Atlas. Just as detailed is the map in the Sky Safari Pro 5 app for mobile phones and devices, and in both features down to the limit of visibility are labeled. Links are shown below in the Recommended section.
On November 14th, the full Moon will be closer to us than any time between 1976 and 2020. Seeing the full Moon slowly rise above a distant tree line is a majestic sight. Why not watch? In our area, plan on being in position by 5:00pm, with the Moon rising at 5:14pm CST. If you are looking towards a ridge, you'll need to allow extra time for it to rise into view. You can also bring your binoculars if you like.
Having seen the image and video of the Moon above, you might want a similar view of the Earth. The DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) satellite images the Earth on a continuous basis.
The DSCOVR satellite is about 900,000 miles from the Earth, or about four times the distance to the Moon. It orbits one of the five Lagrangian points in the Earth-Sun system where gravity is essentially cancelled out.
Since theEarth-DSCOVR distance is about a four times the Earth-Moon distance, and the Earth is about four times larger than the Moon, the Earth from the DSCOVR's position looks about the same size in the sky as the Moon does from Earth. The next time you watch the full Moon rise, imagine our blue oasis viewed from DSCOVR.
You can find the DSCVER images here.
Another great site that allows a unique perspective on our home planet is "Earth". "Earth" is a dynamic map that uses supercomputer modeling to portray Earth's winds, using satellite data that is updated every three hours. It also can display other data if you click its control panel, but the default opening screen is Earth's surface winds.
You can zoom in and get much more detail than you can see in this screen shot, and it's all in motion. The effect is mesmerizing! You can left click and drag to view anywhere on Earth, and be sure to use your mouse wheel to zoom all the way in for the best effect. The Tennessee River is shown on the screen shot above, and Nashville is located within the "bowl" that the river makes as it dips southward into Alabama and then heads back north again.
And it's accurate! Every single time I've checked the local winds as reported at Nashville BNA airport, they match the direction shown on the map. It's a way of seeing your local weather in a global context. If you have time, you may want to watch Cameron Beccario, the creator of "Earth," explain how he was inspired to create the program. You can find "Earth" here.
Sky Events for November 2016:
The Leonid Meteor Shower peaks on the morning of November 17th. A waning gibbous Moon will tend to wash out the sky and make fainter meteors harder to see.
Bright Venus sets in the southwest about two hours after sunset at the beginning of the month. It will gradually set later and later after the Sun as the month progresses.
Mars makes its way from Sagittarius into Capricornus this month. Look for it about 28 degrees above the southern horizon at dusk. By the end of the month the apparent size of Mars will shrink to below 7 seconds of an arc in diameter, making telescopic detail hard to see.
Saturn is in Ophiuchus this month. You can spot it about 10 degrees above the southwest horizon 45 minutes after sunset at the beginning of the month. This is too low to get good telescopic views, but you still may want to seek it out with binoculars.
As described above, the full Moon rises on November 14th around 5:14pm CST. Should be beautiful!
Jupiter rises about 2-1/2 hours before the Sun at the beginning of the month in Virgo.
Constellations:The views below show the sky looking east at 10:00pm CST on November 8th. The first view shows the sky with the constellations outlined and names depicted. Star and planet names are in green. Constellation names are in blue. The second view shows the same scene without labels.
Auriga, the Charioteer, with its bright star Capella is prominent in the northeast. Look for the bright stars Castor and Pollux as the constellation Gemini, The Twins, clears the horizon. In the southeast, mighty Orion clears the horizon with its bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel. Note the difference in color between the two stars. Betelgeuse is a red giant and looks orange. Rigel is very hot supergiant and looks bluish. Looking at the center of the three "sword" stars with binoculars, you can see M42, the Orion Nebula. Just poking its head above the horizon is Lepus, The Hare.
On Learning the Constellations:We advise learning a few constellations each month, and then following them through the seasons. Once you associate a particular constellation coming over the eastern horizon at a certain time of year, you may start thinking about it like an old friend, looking forward to its arrival each season. The stars in the evening scene above, for instance, will always be in the same place relative to the horizon at the same time and date each November. Of course, the planets do move slowly through the constellations, but with practice you will learn to identify them from their appearance. In particular, learn the brightest stars for they will guide you to the fainter stars. Once you can locate the more prominent constellations, you can "branch out" to other constellations around them. It may take you a little while to get a sense of scale, to translate what you see on the computer screen or what you see on the page of a book to what you see in the sky. Look for patterns, like the stars that make up Orion.
The earth's rotation causes the constellations to appear to move across the sky just as the Sun and the Moon appear to do. If you go outside earlier than the time shown on the charts, the constellations will be closer to the eastern horizon. If you observe later, they will have climbed higher.
As each season progresses, the earth's motion around the Sun causes the constellations to appear a little farther towards the west each night for any given time of night. If you want to see where the constellations in the above figures will be on December 15th at 9:30pm CST, you can stay up till 11:30pm CST on November 15th and get a preview. The westward motion of the constellations is equivalent to two hours per month.
Sky & Telescope's Pocket Star Atlas is beautiful, compact star atlas.
For skywatching tips, an inexpensive good guide is Secrets of Stargazing, by Becky Ramotowski.
A good general reference book on astronomy is the Peterson Field Guide, A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Pasachoff. The book retails for around $14.00.
The Virtual Moon Atlas is a terrific way to learn the surface features of the Moon. And it's free software. You can download the Virtual Moon Atlas here.
Cartes du Ciel (described in the monthly notes above) is a great program for finding your way around the sky. It is also free, and can be downloaded here.
Apps: We really love the Sky Safari 5 Pro. It is available for both iOS and Android operating systems. There are three versions. The Pro is simply the best astronomy app we've ever seen. The description of the Pro version reads, "includes over 27 million stars, 740,000 galaxies down to 18th magnitude, and 620,000 solar system objects; including every comet and asteroid ever discovered."
For upcoming events, theSky Week application is quite nice. Available for both I-phone and Android operating systems.
Another great app is the Photographer's Ephemeris. Great for finding sunrise, moonrise, sunset and moonset times and the precise place on the horizon that the event will occur. Invaluable not only for planning photographs, but also nice to plan an outing to watch the full moon rise. Available for both androids and iOS.
We think of November as the quietest time of year for Tennessee frogs and toads. However, some song can still occasionally be heard. Listen for Spring Peepers, Upland Chorus Frogs and Southern Leopard Frogs. Checking around ponds at night with a flashlight held next to your temple will often show the eye shine of Southern Leopard Frogs, Green Frogs and Bullfrogs. As in October, you can locate many of the frogs and toads that have been calling more frequently earlier in the year by driving the back roads slowly on rainy nights. This is a two person job. One person watches the road for amphibians and one person looks out for other vehicles.
Recommended: The Frogs and Toads of North America, Lang Elliott, Houghton Mifflin Co.
As the first few hard frosts of the coming winter hit us, we always enjoy seeing Frostweed ice sculptures early each morning. They are another sign of the season.
Frostweed, also called White Crownbeard, is a common wildflower in Tennessee that frequents roadsides, streamsides and weedy fields. Its white flowers bloom in August through October. When freezing temperatures arrive, the lower stem splits and water is forced out through the fissures as it freezes and expands, creating beautiful and unique "frost flowers" just above the ground.
Part of the beauty of these creations is their transient nature. Often they disappear shortly after the first rays of the sun reach them. For a brief time, though, these small marvels add a touch of fantasy to the brisk fall mornings.
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Natural Calendar December 2013
Nature Notes Archives: Nature Notes was a page we published in 2001 and 2002 containing our observations about everything from the northern lights display of November 2001 to frog and salamander egg masses.
Night scenes prepared with The Sky Professional from Software BisqueAll images and recordings © 2016 Leaps.