Monday, March 05, 2007


A pink shade of blue

Here's what my drive home from orchestra rehearsal this evening was like.

This time of year the sun sets at 6:45 or so (by next Monday it will be setting at about 8:00 after the time change), but the sky darkens so slowly, especially when it's clear. The high pressure cell remains stalled over the state, bringing us into a third week of spotless blue daytime skies and intense black, star-filled night skies. So although it has been 15 to 20 degrees colder than normal at least it isn't snowing and there are NO CLOUDS AT ALL!

As we approach the equinox, the sun actually rises in the true east and actually sets due west. At our location along Cook Inlet, that means the sun is currently dropping down more-or-less behind Mt. Redoubt, our dominating volcano (see my header for a daytime shot of Mt. Redoubt). This time of year is our only "normal" sunrise/sunset cycle (also for a brief period in September).

So at 7:30, driving home from orchestra rehearsal, the eastern sky is already black, the waning moon hasn't yet risen, and several bright stars are visible. Overhead, the sky morphs from black to dark, dark blue and then gradually fades to lighter shades of blue as I look further and further west. The light has faded enough that the dark trees contrast black against the white snow. The only colors at all are the fading blues overhead.

For a change, there is no traffic on the highway for most of my 17 mile trip home from town. So I get to enjoy this vista all by myself, with no oncoming bright headlights to ruin this late twilight. I drive slowly.

About five miles from home I crest the final hill which reveals the entire southern half of the sky. I pull over for a moment and douse my own headlights. To the east, the snow-covered Kenai Mountain range is white-bright against the black sky all the way along the horizon to the south. Overhead and looking to the south I can see the entire spectrum of black to blue to light blue skies. But my eyes are drawn to the west.

The western horizon is dominated by the Cook Inlet mountains, which are but one segment of a series of overlapping mountain ranges that extend from Fairbanks all the way out to the furthest tip of the Aleutian Islands. The Kenai Peninsula sits on the edge of the Pacific Plate that is moving westward and sub-ducting beneath the rigid tectonic plates to the west. The dividing (read: fault) line in our area is Cook Inlet. The Cook Inlet mountain range, on the opposite side of this fault is uplifting above this subduction zone. The edge of the Pacific Plate sliding under the western plate melts in the magma and some of it pushes back up to the surface through a whole lot of volcanoes along the western side of the fault lines...

Our western skyline is dominated by three prominent volcanoes, Mt. Spurr to the northwest, Mt. Redoubt to the west, and Mt. Iliamna to the southwest. On a good day from the right vantage point, the tip of Mt. Augustine is also visible far to the south. The gaps between these 10,000 foot cone-shaped peaks are filled in with glacier topped mountains ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 feet.

For some time after the sun sets behind Mt. Redoubt, the skies just above the mountains stay brightly lit. The eastern faces of these mountains across the water turn black in their own shadows. The mountain tops are outlined with dazzling bright yellow line from the reflection of the setting sun off their snow caps. The skies immediately above this yellow line fade to a layer of reddish-orange, which then fades to a bright pink. This pink gradually morphs into a bright light blue which extends on through the spectrum to dark blue overhead and finally to black.

Somehow the colder it is, the more intense these colors.

It's not often I get the chance to see this. You have to be there at the right time of year, and most importantly, the skies have to be clear. I wish I could capture these colors against those mountains with a camera, but not yet.

Oh, yeah, rehearsal was great tonight. My cello really sounded nice. My intonation was pretty good for a change. My timing was OK most of the time, but, er, I've still got some work to do on a few pieces.

What an amazing description. Isn't creation miraculous? Did you see the full moon eclipse the other night? Where we are in West Sussex, England, it was not a strong red as was described elsewhere, but a beautiful watermelon pink. Fantastic!
Unfortunately, we were too far west to see the eclipse...maybe next time.
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