Sliver Moon LII: About Time Edition

Perhaps the only bright side (heh-heh) to the horrible, horrible weather we’ve had the last two months is that the sky was actually clear a fair amount of the time. I didn’t think it possible to get any more grey an gloomy than Seattle during the winter, but there seems to be a law in Ohio that sunlight is prohibited from directly striking the state between December 1 and March 1. The stargazing is so poor around here (throughout the year, and not just during the winter) that I stopped buying the astronomical calendar with all the moon phases and conjunctions and stuff, because why bother?

Yet this winter I often gazed up at a starry sky (whilst freezing my ass off). Unfortunately, none of those clear skies contained a sliver moon—until last week.

I was all excited to look for March 21st’s sliver moon: the spring equinox is the best time of the year to view evening sliver moons, and it was only one and a half days old—old enough to be visible for hours after sunset, but new enough be exceptionally slivery. The evening was perfect: the sky was crystal-clear but it wasn’t too cold to linger outside for a while after sunset (unlike most of February and March). And the moon was, indeed, exceptionally slivery.

The following evenings 2 1/2-day sliver moon was almost as good: though not nearly as slivery, it was parked only three or four degrees away from a blazing Venus, and moon and planet didn’t set until well after 10:00.

Here’s hoping our luck will hold and we can see another sliver moon soon! It was far too long, and if we have to suffer through Alaska’s winter, at least we should get to see a few sliver moons as a consolation prize.
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Sliver Moon LI: Hat Trick Edition

Hot diggety dog—for the first time, I saw three sliver moons associated with the same new moon!

(I’m also setting a record for the most delayed sliver moon update: I’m talking about the new moon of 30 March, more than a lunar month ago. The subsequent new moon last Monday was a total bust for sliver moons.)

Can't believe I saw the early-morning sliver moon of 28 March. I just happened to be awake, and looking out the window, at precisely 6:36 that morning—the one minute it was visible before the scudding, silhouetted clouds enveloped it. Two minutes later—complete overcast. But for that moment it was Dawn © Mother Nature.

I wouldn’t have had a chance to view the 30-hour sliver moon of 31 March if it hadn’t been so close to the vernal equinox. Knew exactly where and when to look, and good thing, too: though it had been sunny (and butt cold) all day, the inevitable raft of stratus clouds was closing fast, and I just got a glimpse (and a photo!) of it ahead of the cloud front. This time, though, the solid overcast didn’t settle in for at least ten minutes; the western sky was obliterated almost at once, but a few lonely stars continued peering through the murk.


Wow—a 30-hour sliver moon successfully viewed from Cleveland. Never thunk it possible. That must be close to the theoretical limit for sliveriness at this latitude and climate.

After that, Tuesday’s two-day sliver moon should have been ridiculously easy to spot. And again, a brilliant sunny day with the threat of oncoming clouds from the west around sunset. Luckily, the sky remained visible for a while after dark; I was playing board games that evening and didn’t think to go look until around 8:30. A classic Cheshire Cat sliver moon, its lower horn starting to disappear behind filaments of cumulus, greeted me in the parking lot.

That’s three sliver moons within a span of five days, and each sighting occurred in a window of visibility scant minutes wide. Sometimes I’m just walking around lucky.
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Sliver Moon L

Looks like I’m about to set a new record for late-posting a Sliver Moon update. I actually have a sliver moon backup. And for good reason: to make a very long story short, thanks to being assigned a last-minute teaching duty this semester, I’ve done hardly anything the last six weeks except work, sleep and freak out (in every possible permutation).

And view the occasional sliver moon.

One of the very few advantages of this beastly cold pseudo-spring is that we’ve had an unusual amount of sunshine (i.e., any at all). And—more to the point—clear skies in the evening. All I had to do was look vaguely westward within a couple hours after sunset on March 3, and I’d see a blazing two-and-a-half-day sliver moon. Since this time of year is the very best for spotting planets and sliver moons in the evening (on account of the steep angle of the Ecliptic relative to the horizon), I’d have seen March 2’s one-and-a-half-day sliver moon as well, if it hadn’t been cloudy to the west, sigh.

The sad part of all this lovely sky-viewing weather is that apart from an occasional sliver moon, there is hardly anything worth seeing in the evening. Jupiter is riding high and bright, but other than that, all the planets are on the wrong side of the sun.
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Sliver Moon XLIX: Butt Cold Edition

After about two weeks of unrelenting overcast, we finally got some clear sky late yesterday afternoon—just in time for SLIVER MOON! The sky after sunset was one of those crystal-clear sunsets with an entire rainbow of colors and nearly infinite visibility—the kind we only get in the Midwest when it’s about 2 °F outside. In fact, it was fully ten degrees warmer than that: the last couple of days’ worth of unceasing gales has scoured out all the smog and cleared the air a bit.

Funny, that after a half a year of not even coming close to viewing a sliver moon, last night’s would be clearly visible for about three hours. Took most of an hour to shovel us out from Thursday’s blizzard, but the sliver moon was smiling over my shoulder the entire time.

When we got home from work, Katheryne pointed a little north of west and asked me what that star was. I said it couldn’t possibly be a star—it was far brighter than any star—and no planet should be that far north. At first I reckoned it had to be an airplane, but it stayed fixed relative to the stars. Later, I saw Orion below and east of it, and Aldebaran directly to the east along the Ecliptic, and realized it had to be Jupiter. The last time I saw Jupiter, and recognized it, it was half-buried in the glow of sunset—so that had to be at least half a year ago. That’s just sad. In Seattle I always knew where to look for all the visible planets. And Seattle is justly famous for its dreary skies. Oh SIGH.

For some reason this winter has already been much tougher on me than average. November was butt cold, and though December was far more annoying than its just below average temperature overall would suggest: we had five days with highs over 50 °F and a huge number in the twenties. And the Saturday before Christmas was so bizarre I didn’t even enjoy the warmth. The temperature peaked near 60 °F but we had torrential rain all afternoon and evening, during which we had to drive some 60 miles home. Cleveland got over two inches of rain that day. What the pluperfect hell? It didn’t help that I was barely starting to recover from the ’flu, which perhaps accounted for much of my sensitivity to the weather. Alas, it will get even colder: Monday night’s forecast low is –8 °F, the coldest we’ve been in at least three years. Nowhere left to go from there but up.

More Amusing Airline Safety Instructions

Another plane trip, and another post about airline safety cards! Here we have a selection from Southwest’s B737 300/500 Safety Features of This Aircraft, as Performed by People Who Have Taken Far Too Many Sedatives.

As I’ve mentioned before, airline safety card artists seem to have a rough time drawing children: they never come out accurately proportioned. In Southwest’s case, the kid being helped with his oxygen mask was a carbon copy of Alfred E. Neuman, shrunken down to child size. Alas, I didn’t get a picture in time. They recently changed the graphics: in the new diagram (Plate 1, panel 3), Alfred’s half out of shot. Even from just his right side, though, you can tell he’s a little scamp, and chock full of trouble. Look at that smirk!

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Yucatán, Part 2

Welcome to Part II of my Yucatán travelogue! Part I, in which we fly to Cancún and enjoy a late tropical storm, is here.

Sunday: Chichén Itzá.

We could not imagine visiting the Yucatán without a day trip to Chichén Itzá, the most famous of the Mayan archæological sites. Laura had contracted (with the same company who had provided our shuttle) for a guide who would drive about ten of us to Chichén Itzá, and then to a nearby cenote—a limestone sinkhole with a pond at the bottom, very picturesque and great for swimming—for a late lunch and a dip.

Javier, our guide, spent the entire trip, about three hours each way, talking nonstop. But he was well worth listening to, as he filled us in on all sorts of Mayan and contemporary Mexican lore, with some paleontology and geology thrown in as a kind of intellectual seasoning. Wished I could hear him better, but he was talking mostly to our companion riding shotgun. He kindly raised his voice, though, to tell us all the account of what it was like to live in Maya country during December 2012, when all the New Age folks in North America converged on Chichén Itzá to witness the end of the world from the officially sanctioned location. He said that the locals welcomed them at first, but changed their tune when they’d had a chance to observe how vast a quantity of illicit drugs was suddenly flowing into the region, and thence into thousands of insatiable hippie bloodstreams.

We crossed from Quintana Roo1 into Yucatán state and paid the heftiest toll I’ve ever seen on any highway, ever: a staggering 251 pesos (over 20 USD). How many dozen people in Mexico can afford to drive on this highway? We paid another toll (smaller, but still excessive, even compared to the Ohio Turnpike) on exiting at Chichén Itzá.

On the way in we stopped at a large shop selling Mayan jewelry and objets d’art. Javier informed us that we should stock up on souvenirs here, since the vendors on site at Chichén Itzá acquired their wares directly from China, whereas the stuff at the Mayan store was genuine. I had to wonder whether he had some sort of deal with the folks at this store, but he spoke truth about the vendor booths at the ruins: all their cheaper stuff looked exactly the same across all booths. Also, the variety was far greater at this store.

All around Chichén Itzá these trees were blooming a ridiculous flame orange. They’re aptly named “flamboyant trees.” Their blossoms are shaped a bit like ginkgo leaves (Plate 6; click on any photo to see a large version).

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Yucatán, Part 1

We spent a week in the Mayan Riviera, México, to see my friend Laura get married and to generally celebrate and have fun. We successfully did all three, and got quite a few surprises along the way.

(This travelogue will be heavier on the pictures than previous ones. I bought a nifty little Nikon Coolpix camera, and I’m delighted with it. Click on any thumbnail to see a larger version in Flickr. Most of the photos are 8 Mpx, so you can get nice detail if you want it.)


Paradoxically, from northern Ohio it’s quicker to fly to Cancún, México, than to Salt Lake City. That was my first geographical surprise on our way out. (The second was that Cancún is due south of Nashville; I’d pegged it as south of Washington, DC.)

Normally, the sun right outside our window would quickly get annoying, flooding us with too much light and warmth when all we wanted to do was either nap or goof around on a dimly lit laptop. But once we got over the Gulf of Mexico, my habit of staring out the window was richly rewarded with cool photo ops with reflected sunlight. We had just left the USA when I snapped this one of several richly branched rivers merging with the Gulf, reminiscent of the Mandelbrot set (Plate 1). The ocean has a lovely, silver matte finish, and the cloud shadows look like “reverse field” clouds.

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Cat Tales: More Fun with Cats

So I was goofing around on my computer just now; Yuki was lounging on the carpet just behind me, and Altair was perched atop my old Mac, peering out the window. Suddenly I heard, "Huk! Huk! Huk! Huk!" I spun around and lunged for Yuki-chan to toss her off the carpet—but she was still just sitting there, staring at me with an innocent expression. With a sinking heart, and a rising gorge, I turned to Altair, and here's what I found (with the culprit entering from left to inspect her handiwork):

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Sliver Moon XLVIII

It’s been a while, eh? Alas, I really haven’t felt like writing in yonks.

I haven’t seen many sliver moons recently, either. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve almost fallen out of the habit of looking for them. (As I’ve complained many a time before, the stargazing here is considerably worse than even in Seattle.) Last Monday I was typing away, around nine in the evening, getting some work done, and I saw outside an early-evening sky surprisingly free of clouds. Sure would be nice if we had a sliver moon tonight, I mused. Then I looked at the calendar. The new moon was on the 9th—two days previous—so there was a sliver moon out there somewhere. Kewl! I dashed out and got where I could see the whole western sky. Crap—a large bank of wispy altocumulus clouds extended from the horizon up to about where I expected the sliver moon. And it was early enough that the moon might not even be visible yet. But then, as my eyes adjusted, I spied a hair-thin crescent riding just about the top of the clouds. Now that was exquisite timing.

I hope to be posting again soon. We got back from a vacation to the Yucatán last week, and I’ve got an entire travelogue to write. Cheers all!