Monday, January 29, 2018

Celestial Trifecta Wednesday: A Super Blue Blood Moon

Posted By on Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 12:53 PM

Wednesday's super blue blood moon's path. - NASA
  • NASA
  • Wednesday's super blue blood moon's path.
In case you haven’t heard, a rare celestial event known as a “super blue blood moon” — try saying that three times fast — will be unfolding overhead Wednesday morning, if the North Coast’s notoriously gray skies don’t get in the way.

Despite the somewhat ominous name, a super blue blood moon is basically a cosmic triple  play, as NASA explains it:

“The Jan. 31 full moon is special for three reasons: it’s the third in a series of ‘supermoons,’ when the Moon is closer to Earth in its orbit — known as perigee — and about 14 percent brighter than usual. It’s also the second full moon of the month, commonly known as a 'blue moon.' The super blue moon will pass through Earth’s shadow to give viewers in the right location a total lunar eclipse. While the Moon is in the Earth’s shadow it will take on a reddish tint, known as a 'blood moon.'”

For the North Coast, viewing of what is being called a celestial trifecta begins before sunrise at 2:51 a.m. with the lunar eclipse reaching totality at 4:51 a.m. and lasting for just more than an hour. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is calling for early morning patchy fog along the coast and inland.

NASA will be showing a live feed of the moon beginning at 2:30 a.m. Pacific Time at NASA TV and Happy viewing.
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Is Bigfoot a Bear?

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2017 at 2:26 PM

Clap if you believe in Bigfoot. - FROM THE PATTERSON-GIMLIN FILM.
  • From the Patterson-Gimlin film.
  • Clap if you believe in Bigfoot.
In a tough break for cryptozoologists, a team of scientists says their DNA analysis of hair samples, scat and a tooth purported to be from Bigfoot’s Tibetan cousin the Yeti are, in fact, from bears.

The findings — based on the analysis of mitochondrial DNA from 24 samples, including some collected in the 1930s on a Tibetan plateau — were published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“This study represents the most rigorous analysis to date of samples suspected to derive from anomalous or mythical ‘hominid’-like creatures, strongly suggesting that the biological basis of the yeti legend is local brown and black bears,” the conclusion states.

Results from a similar study published in the same science journal back in 2014 also linked hair samples sent in from around the world — some as old as 50 years — back to known species.

But the lead scientist noted that true believers were not deterred by his research.

“I’ve had very good cooperation with the Bigfoot community, who are generally pleased that there is now a method of identifying their quarry in a way that would be universally accepted,” Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes told Science magazine at the time. “They are returning to the forests with renewed enthusiasm in search of the ‘golden hair’ which proves their beliefs.”
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Thursday, September 21, 2017

You Otter be a Citizen Scientist

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 1:44 PM

Otters mooching scraps at Trinidad Pier on Sunday. - PHOTO BY MARK LARSON
  • Photo by Mark Larson
  • Otters mooching scraps at Trinidad Pier on Sunday.

One doesn't have to go far to see local river otters in the wild. Just take a walk out on the Trinidad pier and you're likely to see one swimming in the harbor. But the best time is when local sport fishermen return to the floating dock below the pier to clean their catches. On Sunday, I spotted a group of five river otters swimming under the dock and climbing over the float looking for handouts.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Countdown to Partial Totality: Eclipse 2017

Posted By on Sun, Aug 20, 2017 at 4:00 PM

  • National Weather Service

The countdown is on for Monday’s eclipse.

While the moon will begin moving in front of the sun at 9:01 a.m. here on the North Coast, the event’s peak hits at 10:14 a.m. with 87 percent coverage, which will leave just a glowing crescent visible before the moon begins its slow retreat. Read previous Journal coverage about the solar eclipse — the first in 99 years to cross the United States coast to coast — here.

So, the main question for coastal residents is whether the customary morning gray will go away in time to enjoy the view. According to the National Weather Service’s Eureka office, all signs point to no and your best bet is to go inland.

A marine layer is expected to linger over the Humboldt Bay region on Monday morning. Some areas may also be impacted by the same wildfire smoke that have given the sky its eerie hue in recent days.

Safety reminder: Only look at the sun with the proper gear. And, yes, there’s a way to do that here if you haven’t been able to snag yourself a pair of those special eclipse glasses that have been flying off the shelves.

Humboldt State’s Department of Physics & Astronomy will have glasses, telescopes with solar filters and pinhole cameras at a viewing event taking place at the campus Events Field. Interested? Find out more below.

Press release from Humboldt State University:
Humboldt State University's Department of Physics & Astronomy hosts a special eclipse viewing on Monday, Aug. 21, from 9 a.m. to noon. The event is free and open to the public and takes place on the HSU Events Field, located at 17th and B streets in Arcata.

The department is making it easy to view the eclipse with telescopes with solar filters, free safe eclipse glasses, and pinhole cameras. The event takes place rain or shine.

While Humboldt County won't get to witness a total eclipse, the astronomers say the coverage should nearly complete. "If you are in Portland, you'll 100 percent of the sun covered," says Paola Rodriguez Hidalgo, HSU Professor of Astronomy. "Here in Arcata we've got it pretty good, we should see 87 percent coverage."

Safe viewing is an essential part of enjoying any eclipse. HSU Student Health & Wellness Center Director Brian Mistler urges anyone viewing the eclipse to take the proper safety precautions. "The eclipse presents a wonderful opportunity for our community, and it is important to do proper research to protect your health. Never look at the sun, eclipsed or not, through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical device or using homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, as doing so could damage your vision," says Mistler.

"The only safe way is through special-purpose solar filters, such as 'eclipse glasses' or hand-held solar viewers that meet ISO 12312-2 international standards. You should seek expert advice from a qualified astronomer before using any optical device for this purpose. NASA's Eclipse 101 page at is a great place to continue learning about how to safely enjoy this rare astronomical event."

More information about the solar eclipse viewing event is at

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Booklegger Recalls Eclipse Glasses

Posted By on Mon, Aug 14, 2017 at 12:23 PM

Booklegger is asking customers who purchased solar eclipse glasses from the Old Town Eureka bookstore to return them for a full refund after finding out the glasses may not be from a certified manufacturer.

In a recall notice sent out today, the store’s owners say they were notified of the possibility by Amazon on Aug. 12, even though the glasses had been advertised as ISO Certified.

“Amazon has urged people to not use these glasses to view the eclipse,” the notice reads. “Booklegger immediately pulled all eclipse glasses from their shelf.”

The news comes as the nation gears up for the total eclipse of the sun on Aug. 21 — with Humboldt County situated to receive 87 percent coverage at the height of the celestial event.

NASA’s website has safety tips for proper watching and the American Astronomical Society has a list of verified manufacturers of eclipse glasses and viewers that can be found here.

Read the Journal’s Aug. 9 blog post on the eclipse here to find out more about what you can expect on the North Coast when morning briefly turns to twilight later this month.

Recall notice from Booklegger:
On August 12th, Amazon notified Booklegger, a bookstore in Old Town Eureka, that a particular lot of glasses purchased by them should not be used for viewing the eclipse. The lot is described as: Solar Eclipse Glasses - Eclipse Viewing Glasses 2017 CE and ISO Certified Safe Shades for Direct Sun Viewing. Although the glasses were advertised as being ISO Certified, and this certification was printed on the glasses, Amazon stated that it has been unable to confirm from its supplier that the glasses were purchased from a recommended manufacturer. Amazon has urged people to not use these glasses to view the eclipse. Booklegger immediately pulled all eclipse glasses from their shelf.
Eleven sets of eclipse glasses were sold at Booklegger between July 31 and August 11. Booklegger requests that anyone who purchased eclipse glasses from them to please return them for a full refund. Booklegger deeply regrets the inconvenience caused to its customers.
Booklegger is located at 402 Second Street, corner of E Street in Old Town. Hours are 10am – 5:30pm Mon-Sat, and 11am-4pm Sunday. Phone 707-445-1344.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Eclipse 2017: Humboldt Sits on a Partial Path of Totality

Posted By on Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 9:28 AM

Stages of a total eclipse. - NASA
  • NASA
  • Stages of a total eclipse.
While we won’t get the full view, Humboldt County residents will still have some pretty good seats for one of the greatest celestial shows on earth when a total solar eclipse takes place Aug. 21.

At the height of the event visible here on the North Coast — where the maximum coverage will hit around 87 percent — the sun will appear as a glowing crescent sliver, much like a waxing moon, according to Ken Yanosko of the Astronomers of Humboldt club.

“It’s going to be a pretty good show, yes,” he says, noting that Mother Nature could still throw a wrench into the view, especially along our notoriously overcast coast. “Even for people who go to the path of totality it’s a gamble because you can always get clouds.”
The path of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse. - NASA
  • NASA
  • The path of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.
Locally, the moon will begin taking its place in front of the sun at 9:01 a.m., according to the website Time and Date, reaching a near total eclipse at 10:14 a.m. and wrapping up the two hour and 34 minute display at 11:35 a.m.

Obligatory safety warning: As tempting as it may be, do not look at the sun without the proper gear. See safety tips to avoid eye injury and a list of approved eclipse glasses here, and instructions on how to make pin-point viewers here.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hello, My Name is: Humboldt's Flying Squirrel

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2017 at 11:20 AM

Humboldt's flying squirrel gnawing a delicious pen cap (not its natural diet). - PHOTO BY NATHAN ALEXANDER
  • Photo by Nathan Alexander
  • Humboldt's flying squirrel gnawing a delicious pen cap (not its natural diet).
Say hello to Humboldt's flying squirrel, formerly known as the northern flying squirrel. Look into his black, marble-like eyes. Look at them. Smaller and darker than the northern variety, with which they share some territory, these little gliders have just been classified as a new species and named for our county's namesake, naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.

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Monday, April 24, 2017


Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 11:31 AM

The March for Science made its way through Arcata with a rising sea of signs. - PHOTO BY MARK LARSON
  • Photo by Mark Larson
  • The March for Science made its way through Arcata with a rising sea of signs.

Local scientists, students of all ages and other advocates for science-based decision making joined more than 600 other March for Science events in cities around the U.S. to both celebrate Earth Day on Saturday and protest the Trump administration's policies and positions with regard to climate change and other issue.

The largely non-partisan Humboldt March for Science in Arcata, following a science expo and rally at the D Street Neighborhood Center, attracted an estimated crowd of 2,000 or more. The march from the Center to the Arcata Plaza and back was filled with creative signs with quotes that ranged from Aldo Leopold to Dr.Seuss. Others were filled with optimism ("Make America Think Again"), science advocacy and humor.
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Sunday, April 16, 2017

HumBug: Dragons and Fairies

Posted By on Sun, Apr 16, 2017 at 3:20 PM

California darner. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • California darner.

On a recent dry day, I took my camera out to the garden and got what may be technically the best dragonfly photograph I have gotten. A member of the mosaic darner group, named for the mosaic pattern on their abdomens, the California darner (Rhionaeschna californica) is one of the first dragonflies to be seen in our area each year.
Volucella bombylans a bumblebee mimic. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Volucella bombylans a bumblebee mimic.
Along with that was a bumblebee-mimicking fly that was so nervous it was hard to get a shot. I tried again another day using a high powered telephoto lens. When I finally got a shot good enough to ID it, I found it to be Volucella bombylans whose young (larva) often live in bumblebee nests.
Calypso bulbosa are best left in nature as they're so difficult to cultivate and you'll most likely kill them at home. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Calypso bulbosa are best left in nature as they're so difficult to cultivate and you'll most likely kill them at home.
When I checked dates in my photo archive and I found my little patch of Calypso bulbosa orchids blooms right around tax day. Every year a marble sized bulb puts up one leaf and a single flower. They are considered very difficult to grow since they appear to be dependent on a symbiotic relationship with a specific soil fungus. When I got there, most were bloomed out but one specimen was still in good shape. This little “Fairy Slipper Orchid” has been a family favorite for generations.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

HumBug: The Birth of a Giant

Posted By on Sun, Apr 9, 2017 at 3:00 PM

California Giant exuvia. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • California Giant exuvia.
Today, near the end of my walk along the Van Duzen River, a little tangle near the tip of a naked willow sprig caught my eye. At first I thought it was a bit of storm deposited flotsam tangled on the end of the branch, but there was a “legginess” to it. Experience told me it was most likely a dragonfly exuvia, the empty husk left behind when the insect abandons its aquatic larval form, climbs out of the water, casts off its juvenile shell and takes to the sky, an air breathing aerialist for the rest of its days.

It was a cast off shuck all right. And although the size was right, long antennae indicated it was something else. Both dragonflies and their smaller cousins damselflies have millimeter length antennae, while this creature's had been at least 10 millimeters long.
California giant stonefly, about 70 millimeters. - ANTHONY WESTAMPER
  • Anthony Westamper
  • California giant stonefly, about 70 millimeters.
Although I'd never before seen this kind of exuvia, I had a suspicion as to what it might be. A few years back I got a picture of a California giant stonefly, or salmonfly (Pteronarcys californica).

A bit of careful scanning of the nearby willows revealed an adult, about 7 centimeters long. Its size, dark wings folded flat over its back and distinct red markings confirmed I had the right species. The largest member of order Plecoptera in our area, it is an indicator that the watershed and river are healthy as the larvae don't just live in the water but actually breathe it through gills.
A smaller stonefly, about 15 millimeters. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • A smaller stonefly, about 15 millimeters.
Stoneflies along with mayflies and caddisflies might be considered the “Holy Trinity of fly fishermen,” as they are the primary food for many species of game fish. Most artificial flies are tied to simulate one of them. I imagine the giant must be a tempting prize for a fish as it's one of the largest insect foods they are likely to encounter. 
Very large mayfly, about 20 millimeters. - ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Anthony Westkamper
  • Very large mayfly, about 20 millimeters.

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