“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”
~Vincent Van Gogh
As I begin this week’s Weather in The Foothills, so too has the rain begun to fall. With great anticipation I watch, hoping the much needed rain will add considerably to our meager seasonal rain total of 8.58 inches. The storm’s formation was in the Gulf of Alaska and was expected to be cold and capable of leaving two to four inches of snow at elevations between 4,500-5,000 feet. With a persistent drought pattern in place, any rain or snow will be accepted, with gratitude, in our parched valley. No matter the precipitation outcome, another happening of a more “celestial nature” will occur and promises a potentially amazing show.
Name three signs of spring … A kindergartener could easily answer. But ask an astronomer and the term zodiacal light would be mentioned. Every year in March and April, close to the vernal equinox, a lightened area appears above the western horizon. This is the zodiacal light. The old saying “nothing new under the sun” came to mind as I had never heard of such a thing! The following is the scientific scoop mixed with local detail.
I grew up in a house on Santa Carlotta. Our living room’s large picture window looked toward the west. Besides spectacular sunsets, we had good view of the “V” shaped La Tuna Canyon. Interestingly enough, I noticed at the fall and spring equinoxes the sun set directly within the canyon’s “V.” Crescenta Valley’s very own Stonehenge!
By Wednesday morning, all evidence of the brief day-before rain shower evaporated except the rain gauge collected an additional .12 inches for the season. With the now clear skies and a waning moon, the ideal viewing time for the zodiacal light draws near. This “light source” runs along the ecliptic – an imaginary semi-circle going across the sky from west to east. On a much grander scale it denotes not only the sun’s annual path, but defines the plane of the solar system where all the planets and constellations lie. Grains of dust or cosmic dust from asteroid collisions and leftover comets combine and form a zodiacal dust cloud along the ecliptic. As light from the sun is reflected off these various objects and particles, zodiacal light is created.
Vincent van Gogh’s quotation is perfect here. Around April 18, in the dark of a new moon phase, look toward the western horizon. Use La Tuna Canyon as a guidepost. Just past twilight and above the skyline, the elusive glow of the zodiacal light may be present. Adding dazzle to nature’s already awesome artwork is the brilliant planet Venus.
Looking ahead … Clear and cooler than average temperatures – highs around 70 and lows below 50 degrees – are expected to dominate. A cut off low is likely to move into Southern California by the first of next week, no precipitation included.
With hope and a prayer, our umbrellas will get a little more exercise before summer arrives.
Sue Kilpatrick is a Crescenta Valley resident and Official Skywarn Spotter for the
National Weather Service.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.