2014 - A YEAR OF CELEBRATION AT GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY
by Jack McCurley, FOTO Director of Development
80 YEARS AND COUNTING: HONORING ICONS OF LOS ANGELES is FOTO’s 2014 umbrella theme for two major media events celebrating genuine icons of Los Angeles. A May 12th event will honor Griffith Observatory’s 80th birthday and Dr. E.C. Krupp’s 40th anniversary as Director. Think giant Observatory-themed cakes. On October 27th FOTO, Corporate Partners, and guests will gather again to recognize a singular stellar icon of Los Angeles, Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who never stops supporting his beloved Los Angeles and Griffith Observatory.
This year we’re celebrating our loyal members, too — by building on the momentum that was begun last year. In 2013 we delivered outstanding programs and opportunities to our members, including the Celestial Salon Mars: Canals to Curiosity and Cosmic Conjunction The Heavens: Inspiring Music and Myth, the Greenland trip to see the northern lights, and our spectacular Holiday Party in December. In October, a number of FOTO members volunteered to help us clean the astronomical jewelry collection, Timeline of the Universe, located in the Cosmic Connection at Griffith Observatory. Additionally, the wonderful speakers at our Cosmic Musings lecture series continue to inspire and ignite the passions for those who love astronomy and the night sky. Because of your support, we are making great strides in supporting Griffith Observatory and ensuring its excellent legacy.
In addition to providing these outstanding activities, we have introduced the Astronomers Society, a community of FOTO members who are committed to giving $5,000 or more annually. Several FOTO members have already increased their giving to be a part of this special group, helping us to advance our mission to support Griffith Observatory by preserving its excellence for years to come. Astronomers Society members enjoy unique benefits including access to behind-the-scenes tours, private Zeiss telescope viewings, Honor Roll recognition, and invitations to exclusive events like Celestial Salons and Cosmic Conjunctions. We are looking to expand membership in the Astronomers Society and we would love to talk with you more about this exciting opportunity. If you or someone you know might be interested, please contact us at (213) 473-0879 or fotofriend@FriendsOfTheObservatory.org.
In September 2013, Shauna Tate joined us as our new Development Officer, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to our development team. With more than 15 years working in non-profit organizations, she has held positions at Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, American Red Cross, and the American Cancer Society, to name a few. Prior to coming on board with Friends Of The Observatory, she worked as a marketing consultant advising both companies and nonprofit organizations. Please join us in welcoming Shauna, and be sure to look her up at one of our upcoming FOTO activities.
We plan to make this year even more energizing and exciting for our members! It’s a great time to be a FOTO member, and there is so much more in store for 2014 and the years ahead.
FOTO Executive Director's Report
by Camille Lombardo, FOTO Executive Director
Change is good, but it can be hard. It is a transition. It is missing the old. It is celebrating the new. It is finding new paths and exploring new territory. It was FOTO during 2013. We began the year by hiring Jack McCurley, who became the Director of Development in March. We added Shauna Tate to the development team in September. Until now, much of the impact of their extensive development experience has been behind-the-scenes: upgrading our donor database, expanding our prospecting system, and providing a professional perspective. Their efforts will become even more visible as we launch our 2014 fundraising efforts under the umbrella theme: 80 Years and Counting: Honoring Icons of Los Angeles. Watch your email or mailbox for information on the May 12th event honoring Griffith Observatory’s 80th birthday and Dr. Krupp’s 40th anniversary as Director.
A hard transition is wishing David Primes farewell as FOTO’s President for the past four years. His patient and wise leadership will be missed, but the good news is that he remains on the Board and the Executive Committee. By popular demand, Brett Rodda takes the reins as President of FOTO’s Board of Directors. January 13th was his first meeting raising the proverbial gavel. We welcome his leadership during this year of iconic celebration.
Please join me in embracing all our changes as we move confidently forward into a bright future.
Now you can follow us on Twitter and find us on Facebook!
Griffith Observatory and FOTO are tweeting up a storm! Be sure to follow us on Twitter and keep up with the latest goings-on, interesting tidbits, and much more.
Griffith Observatory: @GriffithObserv
Watch for postings on events, activities, and great photos!
Griffith Observatory Reopens Tuesdays
Councilmember Tom LaBonge held a press conference on the north steps of Griffith Observatory on July 2, 2013 to announce that the Los Angeles City Council had approved his proposal for additional funding in the Fiscal Year 2014 City budget to enable Griffith Observatory to be open again on Tuesdays throughout the year. Griffith Observatory staff members appeared with the Councilmember during his remarks.
FOTO Member Anita Goswami: Home Address? THE UNIVERSE!
FOTO MEMBER ANITA GOSWAMI has always been interested in the stars. “When I was five, I gave my address as 202 Main Street…United States of America, Continent of North America, Planet Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, The Universe,” she says. “The street, city, and state changed. The rest remains the same.”
With such an expansive view of her connection to the cosmos, it was only a matter of time until Anita would become an active and very involved member of FOTO. Anita and her husband, Tom Wilson, were at Griffith Observatory on Reopening Weekend and were taken by the beauty of the building. “My husband retired recently from JPL, where he was a technical editor. We wanted to continue the connection to space and meet others who were interested in astronomical sciences. That’s how it began, and then we learned more about FOTO and what it supports.” They joined FOTO in 2010.
Anita recently joined the FOTO Donor Relations Council, “because I want the Observatory to be available for fifthgraders, and for all of Los Angeles. Every single time I’ve been at the Observatory, I hear conversations in many languages. ‘Wow! This is fantastic!’ is easy to translate by the dropped jaws at the golden dome, the big smiles at the views, the gasp on seeing the Gunther Depths of Space, the not-so-joy on realizing how much I would weigh on Jupiter. The Observatory triggers curiosity and sparks imagination for kids, seniors, and those in the middle like me. The Observatory also costs a lot to run and many costs are not covered, hence the need for FOTO.”
Anita, who is a consultant focused on managing technology infrastructure projects, and her husband, Tom, bring the universe right to their backyard, too, with the help of the four telescopes they have collected over the years. “We typically go to dark sky to observe fuzzy objects,” she says, “although we have been known to bring them out for dinner parties to observe the Moon and planets from our backyard in the middle of the city.”
Thanks, Anita and Tom, for your support of FOTO. Your connection to the stars inspires all of us to keep Looking Up!
Dr. E.C. Krupp Wins AIP’s 2013 Andrew Gemant Award
Please join us in congratulating Griffith Observatory Director Dr. E.C. Krupp on winning the 2013 Andrew Gemant Award. This annual prize is given by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and recognizes significant contributions to the cultural, artistic, or humanistic dimension of physics.
In its award citation, AIP recognizes Dr. Krupp: “…for 40 years of extraordinary public outreach and education through planetarium shows and programs, award-winning popular books, articles, television programs, exhibits, lectures and public events, as well as for his outstanding archaeoastronomical research, exploring the links between astronomy and ancient culture.”
Dr. Krupp was formally presented with the award at the November 22, 2013 Los Angeles City Council meeting. The award was re-presented in early January at a ceremony hosted by the American Astronomical Society (AAS) at their Washington, D.C. meeting.
Thank You to Author and FOTO Member Janet Cameron Hoult
FOTO Member Janet Cameron Hoult has published a delightful children’s book on solar eclipses and is generously donating the proceeds to FOTO! The title of her book is Where Did the Sun Go? Myths and Legends of Solar Eclipses Around the World Told with Poetry and Puppetry. You can find out more about the book at www.amazon.com. Be sure to get your copy of this wonderful book, and help FOTO at the same time. THANK YOU JANET!
Cosmic Connection Cleanup Corps
by Kara Knack, FOTO Board Member Emeritus
For many, spring is cleaning time; but for the Timeline of the Universe exhibit in the Cosmic Connection at Griffith Observatory, it’s an autumnal activity. In late October 2013, the Cosmic Connection Cleanup Corps gathered to return the sparkle to over 2,300 pieces of jewelry making up the Timeline.
The CCCCers are FOTO volunteers who, once a year, take on the task of removing from the jewelry the annual accumulation of haze, grime, and stardust.
FOTO volunteers have performed this job for the last four years. The large glass doors to the Timeline exhibit case are opened, cleaning supplies prepared, and the task of cleaning begins. It’s hard to imagine the kind of instruction manual that would be required to do a job where no two random and chaotic pieces are exactly alike! We figure it out as we go along the Timeline — sort of like astronomy and life. For the 2013 cleaning, 20 volunteers showed up early on a Monday morning ready to work. A father brought his 10-year-old daughter, our
youngest volunteer. As they worked on cleaning, Dad talked to Allison about gravity, stars, and the pure attraction of rhinestones.
The task of making the Timeline sparkle is filled with a lot of humor, amazement, and a tremendously great sense of how to get a job done. The entire 175-foot-long Timeline is completely cleaned in about three hours. For this selfless hard work, our volunteers get to view close up the pieces that are the most interesting in the exhibit case.
When someone notices a piece that peaks their imagination, I often have a story of where I found the piece and the history that it carries. The chains of stars, the moons with animals…the pieces with strange and wonderful stories keep us entertained as we make the jewelry beautiful.
There is nothing in the world like the Cosmic Connection and the Timeline of the Universe. As a favorite of many visitors and staff alike, those who see the Timeline soon after cleaning experience it at its very best.
When we’re done with the cleaning, have had a little lunch, and congratulated ourselves on a job well done, I begin hearing from Observatory and FOTO staff. The comments validate our day’s work improving the vision of cosmic images.
As for me, I’m impressed with the hard work and the great job done by dedicated FOTO members who deeply appreciate the People’s Observatory. Being a member of the Cosmic Connection Cleanup Corps is a great service to Griffith Observatory and all the people it serves.
Thank you to all the Cosmic Connection Cleanup Corps! See you again in autumn!
POSTCARDS FROM MARS: Using Rovers to Explore the Mysteries of the Red Planet
by Roy Sykes, FOTO Member
MONDAY, JULY 22, 2013 • PRESENTED BY JIM BELL
On July 22nd, those who were curious had the opportunity to enjoy a spirited talk by Jim Bell of Arizona State University entitled “Postcards from Mars,” from his delightful eponymous coffee-table book (Penguin, 2006). Amongst his voluminous credentials, Jim is the lead scientist in charge of the Pancams on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, and Deputy Principal Investigator for Curiosity’s Mastcam. Jim also signed copies of his newest book, The Space Book (Sterling, 2013).
Jim and his teams create lovely images, evocative of many vistas in the southwestern United States. However, as Jim pointed out, Mars is utterly an inhospitable place, bathed in deadly levels of cosmic and solar radiation, dry ice frigid as well as bone dry, and practically (to humans) airless. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic about humans voyaging there, and beyond, in the future. Ironically, in spite of his spectacular imaging results, Jim pointed out that the real science is in “the squiggles”— the measurements from various instruments of X-ray diffraction, spectral distribution, temperature, and so on. He discussed the mineralogy and geology in terms we could understand: “slow and even” rather than “isotropic and homogeneous.”
The selection of images Jim chose to show us was based on numerous criteria, the primary of which was “that’s just purty.” He elucidated the arduous task of driving on Mars — not just because of the 4-20 light-minute delays, but also the steep slopes the rovers navigated, large obstructions, immobilizing sand of flour-like consistency, and fluctuating available power due to dust-enshrouded solar panels (not a problem on Curiosity) — also the tendency of humans to make mistakes: (paraphrasing) “You’re sure that’s meters, not yards?”, “Are those both negative signs?”, “I'm pretty sure we can’t handle that 87° tilt.”
We thank Jim for his enlightening talk, punctuated by amusing slides of lasers vaporizing acres of Martian territory in a giant fireball, discussion of the (pronunciation test ahead) anthropomorphization of the rovers (even an American Gothic portrait), and speculation of critters jumping up in front of the cameras. Now off to Mt. Sharp...
Fun and information-filled lectures you might have missed…
Guest Speaker: Dr. Sam Waldman
September 23, 2013
How to Fly A Dragon to the Space Station
Guest Speaker: Dr. Alan Cummings
October 21, 2013
The Voyager Mission to the Outer Planets and Interstellar Space
DON’T MISS THE EVER-POPULAR FOTO COSMIC MUSINGS LECTURES PRESENTED BY:
To find out more about upcoming lectures and events, please visit us at http://www.friendsoftheobservatory.com/event-registration.html.
FOTO MEMBERS AT THE ANNUAL HOLIDAY PARTY
FOTO MEMBERS AT THE ANNUAL HOLIDAY PARTY experienced the uplifting gospel music of the Mary Lind Choir as they performed in the inspirational Gunther Depths of Space. After the concert, members were treated to a tour of the night sky as can only be seen in the pristine environment that is the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. If you missed this stellar event, please consider joining us for the 2014 Annual FOTO Member Holiday Party. Be sure to renew your membership and encourage others to support Griffith Observatory in its mission to inspire everyone to observe, ponder, and understand the sky.
We deeply appreciate the guest writers whose articles appear in Update and are pleased to credit them with their work. In the last issue, we inadvertently left off the credit line on the wonderful article “Inspiring Future Astronauts, Engineers, Physicists, Scientists and Mathematicians: Who Will She Be?” The writer of that piece was FOTO Member and Volunteer Janet Marott, and we thank her for her contribution.
by Jack McCurley, FOTO Director of Development
On Saturday, October 5, 2013, FOTO partnered with Griffith Observatory and the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program of LA Opera to host yet another fabulous Cosmic Conjunction entitled The Heavens: Exploring Music and Myth. Event sponsors included Wells Fargo, Macy’s, Sobul Primes & Schenkel, Chris Laib, and Joan and Arnold Seidel. Invited guests included Astronomers Society FOTO members, Corporate Partners, FOTO Board, and distinguished City and Observatory officials.
Those in attendance were treated to a very special night that wove together music, art, and astronomy. This magical evening began with a cocktail reception in the Gunther Depths of Space, where FOTO members mingled and got a special inside look at the exhibits. Set against the backdrop of the 150-foot-long , attendees observed the vastness of our universe while enjoying classical music as they explored the gallery.
After visiting with old friends and making new connections at the reception, guests proceeded to the W.M. Keck Foundation Central Rotunda where they were greeted with opening remarks by Camille Lombardo, FOTO Executive Director. Camille highlighted FOTO accomplishments and successes in promoting excellence at Griffith Observatory, noting that thriving member support continues to keep this mission alive.
After recognizing Board members in attendance, Camille introduced Griffith Observatory Director Dr. E.C. Krupp, who provided the special narration for the presentation that evening. Dr. Krupp immediately drew everyone’s attention to the dramatic murals that adorn the Keck Rotunda ceiling. Also known as The Heavens, this masterpiece celebrates classical celestial mythology along with advancements of modern science through the eyes of world-renowned artist Hugo Ballin. Dr. Krupp noted that nowhere else in the world was it possible to witness such a spectacular observatory event that explored the conjunction of music, art, and astronomy.
Dr. Krupp gave anecdotes on various features of the murals, followed by the accompanying songs introduced by Nino Sanikidze, head coach and piano accompanist to the Young Artist singers. The opera performers then gave their illustrative performances, beautifully interpreting each of the selected murals. Performers included sopranos D’Ana Lombard and Rebecca Nathanson and tenors Vladimir Dmitruk and Joshua Guerrero.
Following a very memorable program, the performers gave a powerful encore that moved the audience to a resounding standing ovation. Guests then proceeded to a lovely dinner on the Edge of Space, where the performers surprised everyone with one final encore, marking a triumphant end to a wonderful evening.
For more information about future Cosmic Conjunctions, Celestial Salons, Astronomers Society membership, or event sponsorship, please contact Jack McCurley, FOTO Director of Development, at (213) 473-0879 or jmccurley@FriendsOfTheObservatory.org.
Friends of the Observatory Honor Roll 2013
A look at what you helped accomplish in 2013
- Helped Griffith Observatory remain the leader for public astronomy, providing FREE admission and parking to more than 1 million visitors.
- Supported FOTO's signature School Program at Griffith Observatory, reaching more than 27,000 fifth-grade students.
- Provided Bus Scholarships to more than 5,000 students at schools unable to afford transportation to Griffith Observatory.
- Supported ongoing excellence at Griffith Observatory by providing equipment, technology, and improvements for the exhibit program, the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, and the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater.
A Letter from our Executive Director
It takes extraordinary people to inspire the future, and you never cease to amaze us.
Your commitment to the community and overwhelming generosity continues to ensure that Griffith Observatory remains a free, internationally recognized icon of public astronomy for our community and the world. Admission and parking are always free. The signature School Field Trip program serving 27,000 fifth-grade students annually is free. And so are the best views of the Los Angeles basin and the Hollywood sign.
You are literally inspiring millions of lives and strengthening the curiosity of future generations. Your support allows FOTO to continue its successful partnership with Griffith Observatory, ensuring its ongoing excellence and accessibility.
On behalf of FOTO, Griffith Observatory, and all the people whose lives you've touched, THANK YOU for being a part of our mission. Because of you, we are Inspiring the Future, One Imagination at a Time.
Corporate Partners, Foundations, and Other Partner Organizations
The $1,000,000 Roundtable represents organizations whose unique philanthropic leadership advances the work of Friends Of The Observatory and Griffith Observatory. The Roundtable recognizes organizations who commit a cumulative lifetime minimum of $1,000,000 or more to our work. This total includes all gifts to FOTO, such as annual, capital, programmatic, and deferred.
The Ahmanson Foundation
State of California
W. M. Keck Foundation
City of Los Angeles
County of Los Angeles
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
The Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Oschin Family Foundation
Ralph M. Parsons Foundation
Rose Hills Foundation
United States Air Force
L. K. Whittier Foundation
Partners are organizations whose significant annual generosity support the year-to-year success of FOTO. The Partners program was created to recognize outstanding organizations who commit a minimum of $5,000 or more each year to the work of FOTO and Griffith Observatory.
Title Partners - $100,000 and above
Presenting Partners - $50,000 and above
Rose Hills Foundation
Platinum Partners - $25,000 and above
Ralph M. Parsons Foundation
Gold Partners - $10,000 and above
Joseph Drown Foundation
Carl W. Johnson Foundation
Silver Partners - $5,000 and above
ACBL Charity Foundation
Ben and Joyce Eisenberg Foundation
Sobul, Primes & Schenkel
Union Bank Foundation
Board of Directors and Officers
Joy Picus, Chair
Brett Rodda, President
Rich Semler, Vice President
Dr. Eve Haberfield, Treasurer
Fillmore Wood, Secretary
Holly Bridges Shapira
Dr. Verna Dauterive
Dr. E.C. Krupp, ex officio
Dr. Maarten Schmidt
Dr. E.C. Krupp Director’s Roundtable - $1,000,000 and above
The Dr. E.C. Krupp Director’s Roundtable represents a community of individuals whose significant philanthropic commitment advances the work of Friends Of The Observatory and Griffith Observatory. The Roundtable was created in order to recognize extraordinary donors who commit a cumulative lifetime minimum of $1,000,000 or more to our work. This total represents all gifts to FOTO, including annual, capital, programmatic, and deferred.
Lois and Richard Gunther
Leonard Nimoy and Susan Bay-Nimoy
Ann and Jack Wilder
The Astronomers Society represents a community of FOTO members whose significant annual generosity supports the year-to-year success of FOTO. The Society was created to recognize outstanding members who commit a minimum of $5,000 or more each year to the work of FOTO and Griffith Observatory.
Einstein - $100,000 and above
Hubble - $50,000 and above
Newton - $25,000 and above
Galileo - $10,000 and above
Lorraine and Jerry Factor
David Gold and Caryn Espo
Morton La Kretz
Copernicus - $5,000 and above
Viveca Paulin Ferrell
Anita Goswami and Tom Wilson
Our outstanding Volunteers work tirelessly to ensure excellence at Griffith Observatory. These dedicated individuals volunteer their time to help FOTO provide the best events, Cosmic Musings lectures, greeters at the door, and other support throughout the year.
Valerie and Scott Milano
Amy and Craig Nickoloff
Anne Marie and Chris Scibelli
Julieann and Frederick Wooldridge
The following members have designated FOTO in their estate:
Lydia and Peter Kasabian
Mt. Wilson 60-inch Telescope Trip
by Lowell Orren, FOTO Board Member
IF YOU HAVE A “BUCKET LIST,” then looking through a worldclass telescope should be on it. It was on mine. On July 27, 2013, FOTO gave me the opportunity to achieve that item on my bucket list with the chance to use the 60-inch Telescope at Mt. Wilson Observatory (MWO). I was not disappointed.
The evening started out by boarding a bus near Glendale. It is a beautiful, but winding, road up to Mt. Wilson. I was happy not to have to drive up and even happier at 3:00 a.m. not having to drive back down.
During the evening, we viewed 10 objects through the telescope. We viewed double stars, globular clusters, a planetary nebula, a comet, a planet (Saturn), and more — each one ever more spectacular.
At MWO, Lisa Anderson from FOTO provided hot beverages and a large selection of cookies and other snacks. It is cold at night on Mt. Wilson, and you need this nourishment while exploring the universe.
George Ellery Hale built four telescopes in his lifetime — the 40-inch Yerkes at Lake Geneva, WI; the 60-inch Telescope at Mt. Wilson; the 100-inch Hooker telescope at Mt. Wilson; and the 200-inch telescope on Palomar Mountain. Each was the largest in the world when built. The middle two are in our backyard, and it is possible to view the sky through them. When FOTO offers you the opportunity to visit these telescopes and to actually look at the sky with them, it is an opportunity you must not miss.
Mt. Wilson 2014! June 21st and July 19th
Watch for announcements with details.
Photos courtesy of FOTO members Jill and Todd from their trip to Mt. Wilson Observatory.
FOTO Arctic Adventure
by Carol Davies, FOTO Member
Northern Lights/Greenland Nights
The night sky phenomenon known as the Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights) has long been a subject of fantasy, myth, and legend. Caused by a complex interaction between particles in the solar wind, and the Earth’s magnetosphere and atmosphere, these great curtains that seem to dance against the backdrop of the heavens have inspired, enthralled, and even frightened peoples around the world since they were first observed. Viewing, however, is limited to the auroral oval which is almost always in the Earth’s polar regions. Situated between 60° and 87° north latitude, mostly within the Arctic Circle, Greenland is a prime location for viewing and even studying the elusive Aurora.
But Greenland is also a prime location for viewing and studying geology and planetary science as well. Resting atop the Greenland plate, a subdivision of the North American Laurentian shield (the plate on which the North American continent sits), Greenland comprises some of the oldest crust on Earth’s surface, mostly dating to the Archaean period over 3.4 billion years ago. This ancient landscape may offer clues to the early origins of the Earth and the solar system. The ice cap, which is undoubtedly Greenland’s most prominent geographic feature and second only to the ice sheet of Antarctica in size, is believed to have accumulated over a period of at least 200,000 years and to hold a valuable record of climate and atmospheric conditions throughout that time period. Currently covering some 660,000 square miles, studies over the last 20 years show that, like much of the Earth’s cryosphere, Greenland’s ice cap is receding at an accelerating pace, with the most recent data showing that annual losses are equivalent to the total water consumption of the U.S. for an entire year.
Arriving at Kangerlussuaq, deep in a fjord on Greenland’s west coast just north of the Arctic Circle on a bright but chilly Tuesday morning, October 8, 2013, our first day in this vast and exotic land of contrasts, brought us to the “incoherent community” (so named in honor of its study of incoherent radiation) at the SRI facility at Kellyville, about 14 km from the former U.S. air base that now serves as Greenland’s busiest airport. Jointly operated by SRI International based in Menlo Park, CA, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and Denmark’s Meteorological Institute, SRI studies the upper atmosphere and its interactions with space plasma, the Aurora being one of the most widely recognized and spectacular events produced by these interactions. The facility has over 20 instruments for collecting data, of which the most iconic is its L-Band Incoherent Scatter Radar, a 32-m (105-ft.) parabolic dish antenna (shown above) that takes various measurements of ionospheric particles and their properties. SRI collaborates with five other stations around the world engaged in this type of data collection. Data collected by these stations is available to the scientific community worldwide and contributes to analysis of plate tectonics, polar research, and space weather as well as auroral physics. SRI Site Supervisor, Eggert Gudmunsson, told us that a research station is being planned for Antarctica, since studies show that although theoretically caused by the same celestial events, Aurora Australis (or Southern Lights) and Aurora Borealis activity appear to be independent. The presentation at SRI provided an excellent introduction to the adventure that lay ahead, and the short journey there and back through the former U.S. air base and out into the ancient hills gave us our first glimpse from the ground of Greenland’s open, rugged terrain and low-lying scrub that stretch uninterrupted to the horizon in all directions.
Our destination on day two was Russell Glacier, which descends in central west Greenland from the ice cap to Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua (Sandflugtdalen River in Danish). Estimated to hold 10 percent of the world’s fresh water, the Greenland ice cap is visible from the sky, and many people have seen it from the air when flying the “polar route” between North America and Europe. The weight of the ice cap is so great that it has depressed the Greenlandic land mass beneath it some 900 feet. Recent aerial radar imaging has revealed a mega canyon (much larger than North America’s Grand Canyon) under the ice cap that is over 450 miles long and up to 2,600 feet deep in places. Additionally, exploratory testing in Greenland has found rich uranium deposits and other minerals, which have become a source of controversy for this otherwise imperious land since conservationists want to preserve the natural environment while industrialists and other opportunists are vying for the exploitation rights.
The temperature was -8°C (17°F) as we boarded an Arctic World 4-wheel drive truck to head out to the glacier some 22 miles away, via a dirt road built by Volkswagen in the late 1990s for access to the ice cap as a test track for the VW Touareg 4WD vehicle. On our 2-hour journey to the trailhead, Adam Lyberth, our local guide, told us that the Russell Glacier is about 2.2 km thick in the Kangerlussuaq area, and about 3.5 km thick farther north. Its core temperature is -45°F, and it has experienced an estimated 10 percent shrinkage in the last 5 years. Although some of the ice in the Greenland ice cap is as much as 200,000 years old, the Russell Glacier ice is estimated to be 5,000 - 6,000 years old.
We arrived at the access point for our visit to the ice cap at about mid-day. A light rain was falling as we headed up the trail. The short, 30-minute walk took us over the eroded, gravelly landscape, past walls of rock and ice to the edge of the glacier. Russell Glacier is particularly active now, moving at a speed of about 40 meters per day, which is about double the historical norm, and is attributed to above average melt due to increased ambient temperatures providing greater fluidity under the glacier. Although the surface of the ice sheet further inland appears smooth, here the great river of ice presses against the lithosphere as the glacier grinds towards its terminus, resulting in a panorama of cracks, crevasses, mounds, and cups. Our tour guide, Tom Jensen, had warned us that on this day there would be no restroom facilities for the entire 5 hours of the excursion. But 5 hours stretched to at least 7 as all of us lingered in this stark and frigid yet wondrous realm, captivated at each turn and vista by the play of shadows and light on the vast canvas of glacial ice.
That evening, we sampled a superb buffet of traditional and modern Greenlandic fare, featuring mostly locally sourced foods, at the Restaurant Roklubben, capped by a flashy show of Greenlandic coffee, a rich, velvety hot drink featuring a deep bodied dark roast coffee base, whiskey, Kahlua, flaming Grand Marnier, and topped with whipped cream. The luminous blue glow of the flaming Grand Marnier (left photo) as it is poured into the steaming mug represents the Northern Lights, a fitting end to a wonderful meal just before heading into the darkness in search of the Aurora. And we were not disappointed. Although there was partial cloud cover that evening, and a bit of uncertainty at first, with Adam’s help we were able to see Aurorae flickering between the cloud layers, low on the southeastern horizon and dancing high overhead. Griffith Observatory’s Dr. Ed Krupp, the nominal leader of our group, explained that we were seeing the edges of the Aurora as we looked overhead and the streams as we looked out towards the horizon at the delicate wisps and endlessly variable, luminous patterns in the sky. The poetic beauty of this shimmering, ephemeral glow in the heavens is a breathtaking window into the mysteries of the great cosmos beyond.
A short flight on day three took us to Ilulissat, one of Greenland’s busier tourist destinations and home to the UNESCO World Heritage Ilulissat Icefjord site. An afternoon city tour gave us a glimpse of many facets of town life in Greenland, from the working harbor, home to Greenland’s largest fishing fleet; to the town water pump, the main source of residential water since most Greenlandic homes do not have running water; the local hospital, which, with three resident doctors, is the second largest in Greenland; the oldest church in Ilulissat, dating to 1779 and still in use today; and finally the Ilulissat Museum (right photo), housed in the home and birthplace of one of Greenland’s foremost ethnographers, Knud Rasmussen, whose multi-volume work on Inuit culture chronicling his seven expeditions in the Arctic from Scandinavia to Siberia continue to serve as reference materials to this day about the oral histories and cultural traditions of these isolated communities and peoples who make their home in the polar ice. The attic of the museum houses displays about the ice cap, glaciers, and icebergs, and the impacts of climate change on this most prominent feature of the landscape that is so integral to Greenlandic culture and traditions and to the Earth’s climate as well. Quotes painted on the wall and ceiling (in English!) reflect growing concern amongst world leaders about the impacts of global warming. Amongst them is this gentle warning from Mahatma Gandhi that is profound and prescient in its simple eloquence: “Earth can provide for human necessity, but not human greed.”
Friday morning, October 11, the low morning Sun rising below the cloud cover sparkled on a tranquil winterscape of snow that had fallen overnight and dusted the rocky terrain surrounding the Hotel Arctic, our cozy and very comfortable lodgings in Ilulissat. Although it was cold outdoors with variable clouds, today would offer a spectacular display of color and light. We gathered in a sitting area outside the dining room at 11:00 a.m. for a lecture by Dr. Krupp on native beliefs about the Northern Lights. Dr. Krupp started by explaining that the Aurora is the fluorescence of gases in the upper atmosphere, about 60 miles up. The green color is emitted by energy released from the reaction with
oxygen in the air, while the pinks and reds result from the interactions with atmospheric nitrogen. Legends and other historical records show that the Aurora has been observed and known since antiquity. Inuit traditions mostly regard the Aurora as souls of people who died a violent death, oftentimes a death in battle. But to the Inuit, the movements of the Aurora suggested a football type game they played with walrus heads, so Inuit legends about the Aurora in Greenland and Alaska also involve football and feasting. Canadian Inuit believed the Aurora to be torches that help guide spirits to the realm of the dead, while Norse legends consider the Aurora to be light reflecting off the shields of the Valkyries, who were daughters of the god, Odin, and flew their horses over battlefields to bring the souls of warriors who died violently to Valhalla, Odin’s great hall in the afterworld (Asgard).
In lower latitudes, the Aurora would have been seen only on very rare occasions. In these areas, the Aurora was often considered an omen of danger or impending disaster. Fire-breathing dragon myths are believed to have originated with observations of the Aurora in ancient times. In the fourth century B.C.E., Aristotle described the Aurora as vapors rising from the Earth and colliding with a layer of fire. Some 400 years later, in the first century C.E., the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder described the Aurora as a portentous omen because of its seemingly bloody, flame-like appearance. In The King’s Mirror, a thirteenth-century Icelandic tome, the author offered three explanations for the aurora suggesting it might be (1) light from fires at the boundaries of Earth, (2) the Sun’s rays, or (3) fire ignited by the intense cold of the ice in the Arctic. Galileo postulated that the Aurora was light reflected off the atmosphere, and is credited with introducing the term Aurora Borealis (meaning dawn wind) in his “Discourse on Comets” in 1619. In the eighteenth century, Benjamin Franklin thought of the Aurora as an electrical phenomenon, and in the early twentieth century, Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland theorized that the Aurora was caused by electrons ejected from the Sun that are captured by the Earth’s magnetic field in the polar regions. This theory was met with ridicule in his day; but skepticism drives inquiry, and by the middle of the twentieth century it had resurfaced and gained traction, and today, Birkeland’s once-preposterous theory is the essence of the accepted explanation for the Aurora phenomenon.
After the lecture, we piled into a hotel van that took us to the old heliport at Qaqiffik, the starting point for our short hike through the Ilulissat UNESCO World Heritage area past the Sermermiut archaeological site to a magnificent view of the icebergs in the Kangia Ilulissat Icefjord (above photo). Sermermiut was first discovered in the early twentieth century. Excavations at that time were not well-documented, but later digs and Carbon-14 dating of the middens, artifacts, and other remains suggest that the settlement dates at least to the Early Dorset people around 600 B.C., who, as Tom pointed out, were probably attracted to the area for its beautiful views, just as we would be today. Fromhere, the wooden path turns east and then south through a notch in the rock to a viewing area of the World Heritage icebergs in the fjord. It was a gray, overcast day, but the low Sun peeking through the cloud cover just above the profile of the tallest features lluminated the vast ice field in soft aqua, lavender, pink, and golden hues. The play of luminous colors, light, and shadows in the ice field was mesmerizing, and much like the Aurora, infinitely variable, as the Sun arced low across the sky. This was a truly memorable vista for those of us who had never seen it before, and Tom remarked that as many times as he has seen it he never tires of it. Our group would see these icebergs twice more on this trip, but on this day we lingered in the chill of the late afternoon, enchanted by the wonder and beauty of this majestic terrain, and when it was time to go walked back mostly in reverent silence, awed by the rugged splendor of this frozen land.
We returned to the hotel in time to witness a spectacular sunset of golden light over the harbor and the sea beyond. But the best was yet to come! The dark night sky was mostly clear as we assembled at 10:30 p.m. on a platform overlooking the sea in back of the hotel in search of the Northern Lights. It wasn’t long before the wisps of the Aurora rising in the southeast blossomed into a magnificent display, and for the second time in the same day we were once again mesmerized by the majestic lights of the Arctic, as we watched the curtains of light undulate across the dome of the sky for the next two hours. The display began to dim after midnight, and the last of our group straggled back to the hotel around 12:30 a.m., savoring our views of the quiet beauty of the Northern Lights.
On Saturday, October 12, we headed to the harbor right after breakfast to board the Aleqa Ittuk, a sturdy steel-hulled dual-purpose boat used for tourism and fishing, to go north to the Oqaatsat settlement (also called Rodebay). The transportation infrastructure in Greenland is limited by the rugged terrain and most of the roads and vehicle transportation are within settlements, while transportation between settlements is mostly by aircraft, boat, or dogsled. Our 90-minute boat ride took us along the coast, past floating icebergs on the seaward side with views of the rocky coastline off the starboard side. We arrived at Oqaatsat at about 11:30 a.m. Oqaatsat is a small, stable settlement of about 45 people with 89 dogs and 3 or 4 children. Here, the ancient traditions and modern world have found an equilibrium. The houses have no plumbing, no running water, and no toilets, and there are no roads or wires in view. Yet, the snowmobiles, power boats, and generators scattered about are evidence of the presence of modern technology in the midst of this traditional village. Tom also pointed out the drying racks beside the small factory near the dock where a particular type of dried fish is made in Oqaatsat that is not made anywhere else in Greenland.
A stroll through town revealed elements of daily life, including fish and animal skins drying, a family going to get water, children playing and
pulling each other in small sleds, and the excitement amongst the chained sled dogs at feeding time. It was a cold, gray day with temperatures hovering around 0°C, and the community center where we were to have lunch was warm and welcoming when we entered. Festively decorated inside (evidently left over from a recent 60th birthday celebration), a long table was set for the 24 of us in the group, dominating the interior space, with smaller side tables displaying many locally made items for sale. The eaves below the ceiling featured a row of brightly colored medallions painted with images of local interest, such as reindeer, polar bears, a map of Greenland, a group of kayakers, a large peace symbol, the Greenland flag, the Big Dipper, and more. Lunch was a delicious, typically Greenlandic fish soup made by Ane Marie and Arnaq Reimes and served with hearty bread. Lene Leed, the wife of the Danish school teacher for Oqaatsat, arrived just as we were finishing lunch and told us about some of the craft items that were on offer, including beaded jewelry, wrist bands, and ornaments, picture postcards of the area taken by the children, refrigerator magnets, and a few other items. The beaded sealskin wristbands are an Inuit tradition. Ane Marie is one of few people who know how to make them, and she is teaching the children this craft. The money raised through the sale of the craft items will help pay for the children to go on a journey. Our group made quite a few purchases, which hopefully will help considerably towards making this goal a reality!
On Sunday afternoon, we once again boarded the Aleqa Ittuk for an afternoon boat ride amongst the icebergs. The water was calm as we glided past these majestic repositories of eons of snowfall and rain that bear witness to the history of many seasons and geological eras. Although the icebergs appear solid, resembling a towering bank of cliffs and ice castles, they are moving slowly and steadily to sea at a rate of 20 to 40 meters per day, taking with them the information embedded in the crystalline structure of their frozen depths, which slowly melts away and re-enters the hydrologic cycle as the ’bergs drift out to sea. The Sun arced low in the sky as we cruised amongst these stately ice scarps, once again creating a spellbinding kaleidoscope of subtle light, hue, and shadow reflecting off the flanks of these great planetary coolant massifs. Standing stoically like silent sentinels of a bygone age, the massive icebergs crash powerfully into the ocean when they calve off the glacier, often creating dangerous waves capable of upending boats in the churning water, only to melt away to nothing as they drift silently out to sea and into the coming age of warmer climes. Late in the cruise, Tom dipped a net over the side of the boat, scooped up a piece of ice from the seaand brought it on deck, where he and the crew chopped it up and served it to the passengers with fine Glenfiddich whiskey in paper cups. The ancient ice, perhaps tens of thousands of years old, releases the air that is trapped inside upon coming into contact with the liquid whiskey, emitting a gentle hiss as it fizzes and melts away. As we turned to head back to the harbor, the Moon in waxing Gibbous phase rose over the ice, presenting yet another awe-inspiring view of Earth, ocean, ice, and cosmos, bathed in the gentle glow of the Arctic light. It was snowing when we returned to the dock on Sunday night, and with low, thick cloud cover, the Aurora eluded us that evening.
A bright, clear dawn greeted us as we awoke on Monday morning, October 14, our last full day in Greenland. And this morning, in groups of eight, we were treated to spectacular views of the icebergs from the air on a helicopter tour of the glacier and Disko Bay. The 20-minute flight took us further up the fjord where we could see the rocky terrain give way to the ice-filled waterway against the backdrop of the bright blue sky. The light sparkled and danced as it reflected off the pools of water and ice beneath us, providing a sweeping view of the final journey of these mountains of ice as they flow majestically towards the sea where they will be consumed by the icy waters of the North Atlantic, only to begin the oceanic journey through the hydrologic cycle anew. On this clear, cold day, from the vantage point of a thousand feet, the breathtaking landscape of ancient rock and ice intertwined in infinite undulations and textures that is Greenland as we know it today stretched out to the horizon as we swooped through the air, arcing over the ’berg-packed fjord, then banking back over the town to return to the Ilulissat airport.
The weather held throughout the day, and on our last evening in this remote and desolate yet enchanting land, we once again had excellent viewing of the Aurora we had come to see. The celestial light of the stars, and planets, Sun and Moon, and the ephemeral Aurora paint the ice and sky of this stark and rugged land in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of pastel hues and fluorescent glow that is both captivating and elusive.
The art museum in Ilulissat houses a painting* by Emanuel Petersen of an early twentieth century two-masted ship emerging from the mists of the sea heading landward as a small group of Greenlandic people gaze out from shore. Although the technology in the painting is now old, this haunting image captures the dichotomy that is Greenland today: a native culture silhouetted against the juggernaut of advancing modern technology. While there can be no doubt that there are benefits to be had from modern technology, the majestic yet fragile beauty of Greenlandic ice, melting at an increasing rate as the temperature of the Earth undergoes incremental but steady change, is a reminder of the interconnectedness of our planetary systems. Even this remote, sparsely populated island nation in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic, with very little commercial and industrial activity of its own, is affected by human activity thousands of miles away in the mid-latitudes and equatorial regions of Earth. Greenland is still part of Denmark but has had home-rule since 1979 and is increasingly taking charge of its future as the influence of the modern world encroaches. On Friday, October 25, just 10 days after we left, and after many years of debate, by a one vote margin of 15-14, the Greenland Parliament approved opening the island to mining operations. Although it will take time for the mining to commence, there can be no doubt that this activity will impact the landscape and the ice. Hopefully the industrialists who exploit the natural resources of this island paradise will be good stewards of the environment so that the Greenland ice cap, which is an integral part of the cryosphere and the climate cycles that enable Earth’s biosphere (of which humanity is just one small part), will endure and future generations may gaze in awe as we did at the magnificence of the Arctic light.
*Permission to publish a photo of the Emanuel Petersen Painting kindly provided by Ilulissat Kunstmuseum, Ilulissat, Greenland.
All photos for this article courtesy of Glyn and Carol Davies.
The author would like to thank FOTO and Griffith Observatory for making this trip possible, as well as Montrose Travel, Greenland Travel DK, and Arctic World for making this a truly memorable adventure.
Ring of Fire Expeditions: Total Solar Eclipse
by Janet and Gene Torncello, FOTO Members
November 3, 2013 Mid-Atlantic Ocean
Our thanks to FOTO Members Janet and Gene Torncello for sharing their exciting and remarkable experience with us!
November 4, 2013, the day after the eclipse, dawned with a downpour but soon developed into a clear and sunny day. With blue skies and warm temperatures, this should have been the morning we viewed the eclipse. Unfortunately, the eclipse had come and gone by this time under cloudy, overcast conditions.
November 3, eclipse day, arrived in the Atlantic Ocean with thick, black clouds. Soon these dark obstacles drifted away leaving a thin layer of high clouds to partially obscure the view of the Moon’s shadow. The “serious” photographers set up tripods and we all looked toward the sky hoping for a break in the overcast. Our ship, Sea Dream I, while small, had plenty of deck space for everyone to comfortably view the eclipse. There were many passengers with multiple eclipses under their belts, and they offered advice and assistance to the “virgins” on board. In spite of the weather hazards, photographers still managed to take some beautiful pictures and champagne flowed to celebrate our brief time under the umbra.
The Sea Dream I began the eclipse cruise on October 28, 2013 from the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands are part of Spain and reminded us of a tropical Madrid. The ship was chartered by Paul Maley from the NASA Johnson Space
Center Astronomical Society and Ring of Fire Expeditions in Houston, Texas. Due to the special nature of the cruise, the ship passengers were 100 percent eclipse chasers. The 110 passengers aboard included five FOTO members: Ron and Jan Merlo, Gene and Janet Torncello, and Sam Losh. We joined others we had met on previous trips.
After embarking, we sailed for the West Sahara city of Dakhla, arriving the next day. West Sahara is a protectorate of Morocco. After arriving in early afternoon, those who signed up for the tour were assigned to one of a fleet of SUVs and driven to three points of interest: The Fortress of Via Cisneros; a local Oyster Farm; and the city’s tourist hotel for tea, juice, and cookies. Tour guides accompanied the caravan and gave a short talk at each stop. The infrastructure for western tourists did not appear to be in place, but everyone was friendly and curious about us and our eclipse mission.
On day three we stopped in Nouadhibou, Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Those of us who had acquired visas and yellow fever vaccinations lined up and walked a short way down the dock to the passport control office. There is no tourist office in Nouadhibou, and no tours were provided. This was the first time a tour ship had docked here, and there seemed to be little local curiosity about how passengers would travel from the dock to the town center. No taxis or other transportation being available, it was walk or go back to the ship. Most hardy souls who had invested in visas waited patiently for names to be handwritten into log books and passports to be stamped and then headed off down the dusty road toward town. Mauritania is named for the ancient Libyan district of Mauritania and dates from the third century B.C. Mauritania sits at the end of a long sandy road stretching across the Sahara. As a busy port of export for aluminum, iron ore, and petroleum, there are few points of interest for tourists, but it does present an opportunity to visit a city few westerners frequent.
After a day at sea, the Sea Dream I arrived at the last land stop, São Filipe, Fogo, Cape Verde Islands. There are nine islands in the Cape Verde archipelago. Positioned out in the Atlantic, Fogo Island is a remote and isolated volcanic settlement. When the Portuguese explorers first arrived in 1455, there were no human inhabitants. The Portuguese islands served as a supply depot for the expanding explorations by Europeans. Portuguese courts used Cape Verde to deposit deportees, but over time free immigrants began to arrive. São Filipe is the island’s largest city with 20,000 residents. Small mini-buses and limited taxi service transport tourists (and locals) from the town to the caldera. At the top of the island, the caldera is 5.6 miles wide and has a diameter of 1,640 feet. Surrounding the volcano, locals grow grapes and wine tasting is available. Planted directly into the black volcanic soil, corn, figs, pumpkins, apples, and caster beans thrive. Mountain breezes from the Atlantic bring moisture up the slopes and provide farmers with adequate local crops.
By November 2, we had left all land behind and pushed on to the eclipse site (12 degrees, 06 minutes north, 2 degrees, 54 minutes west). As noted above, the weather was not as cooperative as we had hoped. In spite of disappointing weather, the many photographers on board were able to get some amazing photos. The time of eclipse had been predicted to be one minute and six seconds, but was just short of one minute. As the eclipse ended and the shared photo show concluded, all that remained was to eat and drink our way across the Atlantic, arriving in Barbados on November 9, 2013. One of the highlights of the crossing was spending the night on deck sharing the large Balinese beds with our friends the Merlos. We were able to do some star gazing in search of the Southern Taurid Meteor Showers, but around 5:00 a.m. the night was rudely terminated with a heavy downpour. The weather was not done with us yet!
We continue to marvel at the interesting people who chase eclipses and the great adventures we have had in the pursuit of the perfect diamond ring. We look forward to the next experience “under the shadow.”