Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brown Snow Fell from the Ski + Winter Beach Hike -- Post 2

This past Sunday in the western U.P. there was something different falling from the sky. Brown snow was reported in many areas across the upper Midwest on Sunday. The cause? Strong southerly winds kicked up dirt and dust in the Plains. These winds were out ahead of a storm system that brought snow to our region. When the snow fell, it appeared to have a brownish tint. This isn't the first time this has happened. Two years ago we had the same type of occurrence, but that snow actually had a reddish hue to it because the dust came out of New Mexico or west Texas that was brought up in the storm system and transported all the way up here to Upper Michigan. Meteorologists were able to track the dust cloud as it moved northwards from Kansas. The dirt particles picked up reached thousands of feet in height. Below are satellite pictures as well as a picture of the brown snow.

Here are the rest of the photos I took the other day on my winter beach hike.

Even though there is shore ice, there are still some rocks showing up the beach.  For you rockhounds who are thinking about coming north to agate hunt -- it is still a bit early.  There are not enough rocks to make it worthwhile.  Notice the wave splashing in the background.  Some people call these "ice volcanoes."

I love the contrast between snow and sand.  Notice the agate-like banding.

I decided to head up the middle steps at Woodland Park.  When I got there, I realized there is a tree that fell over the steps.  I was able to crawl under the tree.

Here is a winter view of the park office. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Winter Beach -- Post 1

Yesterday I decided to put on layers and brave the ferocious winter beach.  Winds were fierce with a chill factor below zero.  The 8-10 foot waves were breaking up the ice resulting in floating ice chunks everywhere.  I am hoping that as the wind dies down, that the ice chunks will be accreted back onto the ice mounds.

I parked at First Creek and walked down the steps.

Then I walked east away from the wind. 

The waves carved neat natural ice sculptures.

Here is a close up of some of the waves.

A shot looking west....

Monday, February 27, 2012

Facts About Our Sun

I did go out and cross country ski again yesterday, but didn't take any pictures. How many photos can you take of the ski trails anyway?

I have been using my DVR to record all of the Universe and How the Universe Works shows. Yesterday I watched the one about our Sun. We perceive that the Sun rises each morning, shines all day, and sets each evening. But actually, the Sun does not rise or set. It just looks like it does because the Earth is moving. For the most part we take our Sun for granted.  Do we think about how important the sun is?

The Sun is by far the largest object in the solar system. It contains more than 99.8 percent of the total mass of the Solar System (Jupiter contains most of the rest).  It is often said that the Sun is an "ordinary" star. It certainly is not one of the larger stars in the universe, but the Sun is in the top ten percent by mass.

Our Sun developed 4.6 billion years ago along with the rest of our solar system when material from a supernova explosion was recycled. Like other stars, our Sun has a specific life cycle. Currently the Sun is a little more than half way through its expected life span. At present the Sun comprises about 70 percent hydrogen,28 percent helium,and 2 percent heavier elements. This changes slowly over time as the Sun converts hydrogen to helium in fusion reactions in its core. Here are a couple of shots from How the Universe Works representing the fusion reactions. Since the formation of the solar system the Sun's output has increased by about 40 percent.

One interesting fact is that the different parts of the Sun, which is a million miles wide, rotate at different rates. At the equator the surface rotates once every 25.4 days; near the poles it's as much as 36 days. This odd behavior is due to the fact that the Sun is not a solid body like the Earth.

Conditions at the Sun's core (approximately the inner 25 percent of its radius) are extreme. The temperature is 432 million Fahrenheit. At the center of the core the Sun's density is more than 150 times that of water.

The Sun's power (about 386 billion billion megaWatts) is produced by nuclear fusion reactions. Each second about 700,000,000 tons of hydrogen are converted to about 695,000,000 tons of helium and 5,000,000 tons of energy in the form of gamma rays. As it travels out toward the surface, the energy is continuously absorbed and re-emitted at lower and lower temperatures so that by the time it reaches the surface, it is primarily visible light. For the last 20 percent of the way to the surface the energy is carried more by convection than by radiation.

The surface of the Sun is at a temperature of about 9980 F (5527 C).  Sunspots are "cool" regions, only 6300 F (3482 C). They look dark only by comparison with the surrounding regions. Sunspots can be very large, as much as 31,068 miles in diameter (50,000 km). Sunspots are like hurricanes, except rather than rain and wind, they are intense magnetic storms caused by twisting tubes of magnetic energy that pop out to the surface from deep inside. Because they are magnetic in nature, sunspots always occur in pairs with opposite magnetic polarity. The Sun's magnetic energy is so powerful that it exerts its influence well beyond the orbit of Pluto.

The region above the Sun, called the corona, extends millions of miles into space but is visible only during a total solar eclipse.

Since its birth the Sun has used up about half of the hydrogen fuel. It will continue to radiate "peacefully" for another 5 billion years or so (although its luminosity will approximately double in that time).

The Sun’s diameter is about 870,000 miles wide (1.4 billion km). The Sun is 109 times wider than Earth, and is 333,000 times heavier. Over a million Earths could fit inside the Sun.

Without the Sun, Earth could not support life. The Sun gives off heat and light that the Earth needs to support life (us).

Sun loops are large loops caused by the Sun’s magma (molten rock) shooting off of the Sun’s surface. These loops can fly millions of miles into space. Our Sun is approximately 25,000 light-years from the galactic core of our galaxy (the Milky Way). 

Stars vary in size. They can be as small as 7,000 miles in diameter (11,265 km), or as large as 900 billion miles in diameter (1448 billion km). No two stars are exactly alike. The number of stars in the known Universe exceeds one billion.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Miscellaneous Winter Photos

Yesterday I skied the cross country trails in the national park. We received a few inches of snow the night before so they were able to finally groom the trails. Both the track and the glide was better than it has been all year.

Most of the winter the snow guage has shown a depth of around five or six inches.  We have had lake effect snow this week so now we have around ten inches.  There did seem to be a drift, however, in the area where the snow guage is located.

We had major wind the other night.  That combined with snow coming off my roof caused this tunnel like drift next to my wood shed.

The lack of snow continues to be seen with the lack of drifting on the south side of my house.  Normally the drifts are up to the middle or top of the windows at this time of the year.

Sometimes the wind blows and deforms the icicles.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tahquamenon Falls -- Upper Falls

After skiing around the lower falls, I drove south on M123 to access the upper falls. I had originally planned on skiing the trails but instead just skied to the falls and back. I wanted to get home before it was dark and I simply ran out of time.

There are 94 steps to get down to the platform at the top of the falls.  You can see the falls in the middle of the picture below.

With the warm temperatures as of late, there was a lot of flow going over the falls. The Upper Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. It has a drop of nearly 50 feet and is more than 200 feet across. A maximum flow of more than 50,000 gallons of water per second has been recorded cascading over its precipice.

The reason why people like to look at the falls during the winter is because of the ice formations next to the falls as well as coming off the rock walls to either side of the falls.  In some years the ice has dramatic colors.  This year there is a bit of color, but not as good as I've seen in the past.

I stopped at the Tahquamenon to get some soup.  My waitress told me that people have been driving the back way to Grand Marais, although she did clarify that a truck is required.  Since I have a Suburban, I decided to go for it.  I knew I was taking a risk of getting stuck, but she said she was 100% sure.  I would guess that no time in the history of mankind has this been possible in February.  Usually the snow is way too deep. 

It was a bit squirrelly in places but not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  Of course the most important thing is to not slow down.  However, there was an area where the snow was not deep so I left my car in the middle of the unplowed road on a straight-away and with my flashers on so I could get at least a couple of photos.    These pictures were taken about a half mile west of Perry's Landing.