Looking up at the constellation Orion

Tonight – or any January evening – look for the constellation Orion the Hunter. It’s probably the easiest to pick out of all the constellations in the winter sky. It’s identifiable by Orion’s Belt, three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row at the mid-section of the Hunter. See these stars? They are easy to spot on the sky’s dome. As seen from mid-northern latitudes, you’ll find Orion in the southeast at early evening and shining high in the south by late evening (around 10 to 11 p.m. local time). If you live at temperate latitudes to the south of the equator, you’ll see Orion high in your northern sky at this hour. Pick out Orion’s Belt and the nearby bright stars in that part of the sky, and you’ve probably found Orion.

orion-sky

Stars in distinct constellations like Orion look connected, perhaps even gravitationally bound, but usually they aren’t. Certainly Orion’s stars aren’t bound to each other by anything but their general location near one another along a single line of sight from Earth. The stars of Orion just happen to make an easy visual pattern on our sky’s dome.

Meanwhile, the stars in Orion and most other constellations are located at vastly different distances from each other. For example, notice the two brightest stars in Orion—Betelgeuse and Rigel.  Betelgeuse is estimated to be located 522 light-years away, while Rigel’s distance is 773 light-years.

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Did the Star of Bethlehem exist?

The Star of Bethlehem – nowadays often just called the Christmas Star – is a major seasonal symbol throughout the world. Some astronomers believe the bright star is Regulus near the Leo I Dwarf Galaxy. Photo credit is from Chris Cook.

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Imagine, if you will, the silhouettes of three regally attired men on camels. They are gazing across gently rolling hills or dunes of white, to a tiny solitary building in the distance. The night is dark, and one exceedingly bright star appears to hover over the small building, sending a bright shaft of light earthward to illuminate its outline. Another light glows gently inside.  Astronomers argue that stars to not move this way, and fundamentalists feel the star was not a natural phenomenon.  The image is derived more from imagination and greeting cards than from the one place the Star is mentioned in the Bible, Matt 2:2, 7:10.  “When they (wise men) had heard the king, they departed, and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”

The card below adds an asteroid with the star.

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What is it about reindeer that spread holiday smiles?

Have you noticed all the reindeer inspired candlesticks, pillows, mugs, hats, slippers, and sweaters? It’s all fun and reindeer games this season with these whimsical finds inspired by Santa’s furry friends.

Beyond their sled-pulling capabilities and discrimination towards those with red noses, what do you really know about reindeer?

REINDEER AND CARIBOU ARE THE SAME THING.

Historically, the European/Asian reindeer and American Caribou were considered to be different species, but they are actually one and the same. There are two major groups of reindeer, the tundra and the woodland, which are divided according to the type of region the animal lives in, not their global location. The animals are further divided into subspecies, ranging from nine to thirteen depending on who is doing the classification. At least one subspecies, the Arctic Reindeer, is already extinct.

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Feral cats in Hawaii spell disaster for the endangered monk seal.

Did you see this on Newser today? The feral cat population has exploded in Hawaii, where they are not native and face no natural predators—and this could spell disaster for the endangered monk seal. That’s because cat poop often contains a parasite called Toxoplasmosa gondii, and when sewage and polluted runoff carry the infected feces to the ocean, it can prove lethal, reports Scientific American. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that eight Hawaiian monk seals have succumbed to the disease since 2001, which is a sizable number given that 1,100 are estimated to be alive today in the wild. The same bacteria have also killed California sea otters and helped send the Hawaiian crow into extinction, reports the Christian Science Monitor. For feral cats a trap-neuter-return project is going on.

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Plant nasturiums in hanging pots!

Not only are nasturtiums beautiful, you can put them in salads. I like them in hanging pots because they trail.  When friends ask me to suggest easy annuals to start from seed, I include nasturtiums on my list of suggestions. The seeds are fairly large and they can be planted right in the garden or in a hanging pot. In a hot climate they like a little shade.  In my neighbourhood we have zero lot lines.  Neighboring houses have no windows on side facing the other neighbor’s backyard. Don’t my hanging pots look charming against their tan stucco?  (I asked permission to mount them.)

nasturtiums

I’m cultivating wild roses

Wild roses stir thoughts towards Medieval times of knights, kings, queens, princes and princesses, as many of them date back well into our history. The botanical term for them is “Species Roses”, but this term does not conjure up the same emotions.  This is the classification which includes wild roses in a rose catalog.

Wild roses grow as shrubs in the wild without a gardener’s help. Wild species are single bloomers with five petals, almost all of them are pink with a few whites and reds, as well as a few that go towards the yellow coloration.  They grow upon their root systems and thrive upon neglect, die down in winter. I know not to overcrowd them so that air flow is not cut down.

Wild Roses

 

 

How do you feel about white walls?

If you read the home garden section of the L.A. Times article by Elaine Markoutsas, you know white walls are back.  In fact five of paint-maker Benjamin Moore’s top ten sellers are variations of white. Long associated with wholesome picket fences, cleanliness, and softness, white is endlessly versatile. Its reflective properties make it ideal for enlarging small or poorly lit spaces.

Personally I think white-on-white decorating needs color pop.  The more typical paint color is below– creamy coffee.  What do you like?

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white walls

Where will you spend Valentine’s Day?

A writer I admire, Phalon Smith, reminds us that natural features are romantic and come from Mother Nature.  Don’t you agree?
Take your partner to one of these romantically-named outdoor spots this Valentine's Day.

Photo is courtesy of PeterKirillov/iStock.

The great outdoors never fails to impress. This Valentine’s Day avoid long lines at your favorite Italian restaurant with a romantic excursion outside. Enduring wintry weather this Saturday? Take a brisk hike with your loved one and plan a visit for later in the year. These amorous (and wallet-friendly) sites will still be there in time for the next anniversary or birthday.

1.  Kissing Rock, Monterey County, California

This distinct granite arch in Pacific Grove, California, resembles two lovers kissing. It’s a heart-stopper, especially when the Pacific waves crash in at high tide.

2. Lovers Key State Park, Florida

Tucked away on one of four islands that comprise Lovers Key State Park in Florida, Lovers Key Beach is perfect for kayaking and paddleboarding. These islands are also home to bottlenose dolphins, bald eagles, and West Indian manatees. Here’s a great icebreaker: It is now commonly believed that many of the female figures (read: mermaids) witnessed by men at sea during the time of Christopher Columbus were actually manatees.

3. Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite, California

One of the most popular waterfalls in Yosemite Valley, Bridalveil Fall flows all year. Rainbows often accompany the enchanting mist that surrounds it, adding to its dreaminess.

4. Bridal Cave, Missouri

Bridal Cave has the highest concentration of onyx formations – from draperies that resemble curtains to chandelier-like clusters of soda straws — per square foot than any other known cavern in the United States. The spellbinding cave in Camdenton, Missouri has seen over 2,500 couples exchange vows within its stalactite adorned walls.

5. Lover’s Leap, Lake Tahoe, California

Native American legend claims two lovers jumped to their deaths from the summit of Lover’s Leap in Lake Tahoe, California, though no one knows why. A popular spot for climbers, Lover’s Leap offers a hard-to-beat view of the Eldorado National Forest lands and Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Today I repotted rootbound plants!

It’s bad business to buy a rootbound plant.  In my case the plants in the atrium of the house we bought two years ago were in need of transplanting.  I didn’t realize it until the leaves were turning yellow. Trouble would happen soon because rootbound plants are dehydrated. The soil is hard and water repellent.

I chose pots slightly bigger than the ball of the root and made sure the drains on the bottoms were open.

Doing one at a time, I padded the pot with fresh potting soil, trimmed yellowing leaves, placed the plant in its new pot, added more soil, and give it a good soaking.

rootbound