Nature Notebook, April 6, 2017

04/06/2017

If the skies are clear on Friday, April 7, there will be a rare opportunity to see the planet Jupiter all evening, when the earth passes between the sun and Jupiter; astronomers call this an “opposition of Jupiter.” With the sun shining brightly on the planet, a strong set of binoculars and no fog may allow viewers to see the four largest moons of Jupiter as bright spots. The next day, Jupiter reaches its closest point to the earth for the year. The full moon of April 10 is called a “pink moon” in Britain, as it rises over the spring flower known as a pink.

Douglas irises are stretching out over Chimney Rock. This plant has a rhizome—a subterranean root stalk—radiating out from a central root mass. As its colonies grow larger, the core parent dies out, leaving circles of leaves and flowers usually seen in large fields. Irises take their name from the Greek word for rainbow; Iris is the name of the goddess of the rainbow in that mythology. Locally, Douglas irises are primarily a deep purple color, with occasional pale lavender variants.

At last, significant numbers of Pacific gray whales were seen from the lighthouse in recent weekends, with about 10 passing per hour. As spring progresses, calm, clear days make for great whale-watching, but check the webcam at nps.gov/pore for spring winds, which can be chilling. Look for the whales’ breath, like a wisp of smoke over the water, and then for the dark-colored back. Gray whales do not have fins, but rounded bumps called knuckles. The park shuttle bus system to Chimney Rock and the lighthouse will end on Easter, April 16.