Friday, May 24, 2024

The Great Aurora Storm of May 10-11, 2024

Best Auroras in decades! Amazing! When charged particles from the sun (and rarely other sources) encounter the Earth, our protective magnetic field diverts and traps them, eventually funneling them into the upper atmosphere near the planet's poles. At least, that is the simplified normal story. Friday night almost the entire planet could view auroras -the system overloaded! This was the view from Emigrant Gap Scenic Overlook on Interstate 80 Westbound in California (taken with my far-from-top-end cell phone) - this is about what it looked like to the naked eye:
With a bit more dark adaptation, and a better camera (still nothing fancy) on a tripod, it filled the sky! I am still constructing a whole-sky image from individual frames, but this is a single 18mm lens frame on a DSLR
It was clearly visible through city light and household lights in the suburbs east of Sacramento, California:
The Aurora was also visible from Namibia in Africa, The Grand Canyon, and The South Pacific! This movie was captured from the website showing the last 24 hours of auroras on May 11th (PDT) sweeping around the planet's North pole:

There is a lot of information here!

Each frame has the HPI (Hemispheric Power Input) in the upper right along with the lead time (most are forecasts for about 30 minutes in the future). Notice that the normally encountered range of powers are 5 to 200 Gigawatts (GW). For comparison, the California ISO normally peaks in late Summer with the entire grid of California requiring about 50 GW of power. Much of this video is over the top or in excess of the 200GW power number. This is a lot of power!

In the upper left corner is the time of the prediction in Universal Time (UTC). California during Daylight Savings (now) is 7 hours earlier than the UTC time (UTC - 7 hours = Pacific Daylight Time).

The unusual electrical activity in the upper atmosphere also created voltages on the ground - there is a fantastic map here produced by the USGS nd NOAA. Not everything in the photos I took appears to be an aurora, however! Some of it appears to be STEVE, a supersonic flow of superheated air in the thin upper atmosphere - the emissions are thermal, not driven by ion impact! There is a broad red band across the center of the image, looking roughly due west, with the moon in the center (the bright white thing in the center).

Monday, May 6, 2024

Asymptotic Chicken Soup

Chicken Noodle Soup is a classic - we have many versions, this is one of our favorites:

The recipie is fairly simple:

  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped fine
  • Several TBSP of vegetable oil, we use Walnut oil or Safflower usually
  • 1 large head of cellery or 2 medium ones, sliced thin, including leaves
  • 6 to 10 shredded medium carrots
  • 2 pounds of ground chicken
  • 12 ounces of "yolkless dumpling egg noodles"
  • 2 Tbsp of Italian Seasoning
  • 1/4 cup of finely diced peeled fresh ginger root
  • 2 17oz boxes of Chicken Bone Broth (with 9 or 10 grams of protien per cup)
  • 1 Tsp of salt

We do this as a "two pot prep", one large pot for the soup assembly, and a smaller (2 1/2 quart) for the broth.

Fill the large pot with a gallon of water and bring to a boil. Add the egg noodles and return to a boil, then reduce heat, stirring occasionally. Slight undercooking is OK. When done, drain the noodles and rinse with cold water. Set aside in the collander.

Now put some oil in the large pot and brown the chicken in it, working it actively to break up the lumps and provide a crumbly texture, almost like ground taco meat. As it is ground meat, it isn't all going to brown, and some may brown sticking to the bottom of the pot. If this happens, add a cup of water when done browing to deglaze. Remove from heat until veggies and broth mixture are ready.

In the small pot start with the onions: dice them fairly small. The results are best for us if we use a sharp knife and dice by hand, into roughly 1/4" or 6mm (or smaller) chunks. Carmelize the onions in a covered pot (you should start with about 2 quarts of diced onions) over medium heat with stirring every few minutes - this will take about an hour to cook down and carmelize. You are aiming for "light brown and uniform" carmelization, not seared.

While the onions are reducing, shred the carrots using a grater. This seems to work better than slicing or dicing for us. Likewise, using a sharp knife dice the celery into thin slices. Include the leaves and stalks, as the leaves have an excellent flavor. Set the celery aside.

Once the onions are carmelized, add the shredded carrots to the onions and add the broth. Mix and allow to come to a simmer. Add the seasoning. Cook 10 minutes.

Finally, add the celery to the broth. Stir it and bring to a simmer, then dump it into the large pot, covering the noodles. Do not overcook the celery.

Turn over the mixture to separate the noodles and create a uniform mix. Taste the broth after this process, and add the salt (add no salt if you have a salted broth your are using) to taste.

Serve and enjoy!

In the large pot, dump the likely somewhat stuck together noodles on top of the ground meat. Pout the vegetable broth

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Spring and the Dead Horse Arum

Amorphophallus konjac is one of our reliable Spring bloomers. The flower emerges from a giant (like 20 pound) potato-esque tuber without any leaves around the start of April for us. the flower bud rises to about four or five feet tall, then opens. The leaf will show up in about a month...
We have more than one variety of this species, this just happens to be the most reliable bloomer for us (and the one that flowers with the smallest tubers - they don't have to become giant before flowering!). This is this one in bud, when we repotted it with the emerging flower bud compared to another variety of the same species that has a tuber that is still too small to flower every year:
When repotting, generally there are many smaller "offset" tubers that grew from the main tuber the previous season. We pot these up and grow them on to become larger tubers we can sell or give away (excellent surprise value gifting one of these in bud, under the right circumstances and to those who will appreciate the oddity). These are the small propagation tubers found in this repotting cycle. In two or three years time, each will be large enough to flower. This is also handy when growing these as a food crop, as you can harvest the big ones and replant the smaller ones.
Once the flower is finished, it remains Meme-worthy - I don't think I can describe this properly with words:
These flowers are unlikely to grace any florist - they smell like rotting flesh and are pollinated by flies. Definitely an outdoor plant, for a place with neighbors that are tolerant folks! The smell only lasts a few days, and with a little wind doesn't become too strong.

These plants are grown for food - the tubers are processed and eaten. Ever see Konjac noodles or konnyaku in Japanese grocers? Those are made from this plant. Konjac is also made into what translate roughly as "yam cakes", though admittedly plain Konjac is bland (to my taste buds) so appears to be often used as a textural element in food where other ingredients provide the main flavors.

To grow Konjac, the main thing is to keep the root completely dry from Fall until mid-Spring, or whenever the soil is warmed up a bit from Winter lows. It doesn't tolerate frost while in growth, though I know people growing it outdoors in the Carolinas in the ground. We use a commercial cactus mix that we then mix 50:50 or even 1:2 with straight perlite to make the soil airy and to prevent waterogging, even in large pots. Once the flower or leaf emerge, it is a thirsty plant that wants regular fertilizer.