Nature’s Biggest Events Worth a Front-Row Seat

BY JOANN BELL, SENIOR VP OF PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT

Sometimes Mother Nature can be a show-off. And when she is, you’ll want to have a front-row seat! While Old Faithful and the high tides in the Bay of Fundy happen like clockwork, these epic natural phenomenon can only be experienced every so often – from a few times a year to every quarter century or so. Read on to learn about some of nature’s biggest events that may just inspire your next educational adventure. 

 

California’s Super Bloom | Spring Months

What is it? This year, the abundant rainy season that brought needed relief to California also brought with it an unprecedented “super bloom.” This spring, the usually brown California hills were covered in fiery-red, orange and lavender hues: endless expanses of coreopsis, tidy tips and phacelia.

When and where can I see it? Brilliant buds have been popping up all across the state of California, but the brightest blooms can be seen in Southern California, from Carrizo Plain National Monument down to Joshua Tree National Park. You may be able to catch them through mid-May this year. Call the Wildflower Hotline at (818) 768-1802, Ext. 7, open until May 26, for the latest updates. If you miss the Super Bloom of 2017, there’s no telling when it will return. However, spring visitors to California can see poppies blanketing Antelope Valley at the state-protected reserve or Ranuculus fields abloom at Carlsbad Ranch every year!

 

Total Solar Eclipse | August 21, 2017

What is it? For 93 minutes this August, when the moon completely blocks the sun, day will turn to night. The sun’s outer atmosphere, which is usually hidden, will become visible, along with bright stars and planets. This total solar eclipse, predicted by astronomers decades ago, will be the first one visible in the United States in 26 years, which is why they’re calling this “The Great American Eclipse.” Along the North Pacific Coast at sunrise, the sun will rise while totally eclipsed – something few people have ever witnessed. The next total eclipse will appear in Mexico and Canada in 2024.

When and where can I see it? On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, the Great American Eclipse will pass over the U.S. starting at 10:15 a.m. in Oregon and hitting South Carolina, the last state, at 2:36 p.m. It will be visible for 2-3 minutes in each location as it rolls across the country. Places along the “path of totality” will experience a total eclipse, including parts of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The rest of the U.S. will experience a partial eclipse. See the detailed map from NASA for more information, and check out Road Scholar’s Solar Eclipse Collection to find out when and where you can see this can’t-miss astronomical event with Road Scholar!

 

The Great East African Migration

What is it? There are countless astounding animal migrations that happen annually across the planet, but we’ve narrowed it down to the most epic: The Great East African Migration, when millions of zebra, wildebeest and other antelope journey across 800 miles of East Africa’s plains in search of better grazing. The grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. That couldn’t be more true for these determined animals. Also known as the “Great Wildebeest Migration,” this epic animal voyage is considered to be the largest movement of wildlife on earth, and witnessing this awe-inspiring event is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

When and where can I see it? The migration begins in April in the Southern Serengeti in Tanzania, where the herds have been grazing through the winter. The wildebeest, zebras, gazelle, eland and impala travel in a clockwise direction to Maasai Mara in Kenya in October, and make their way back down to the Serengeti in the following months. Witness the highlights of the migration from strategically placed mobile tented camps and study this phenomena and its impact on the land, the animals and the people living on the periphery of the migration route on an East African safari with Road Scholar.

 

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis | Winter Months

What is it? Every 11 years, electrically charged particles from the sun enter the atmosphere, causing a collision of colors in the sky. An eerie light appears above the magnetic poles of the planet in shades of green and pink. This is Aurora Borealis.

When and where can I see it? It’s difficult to predict the appearance of the Northern Lights more than two hours in advance, but we do know that the Northern Lights are more prevalent during the two to three years before and after a Solar Maximum (the period of greatest solar activity in the solar cycle of the sun). The last Solar Maximum occurred in June 2014, so we’re just approaching the Lights’ decline. You’ll still be able to see the phenomenon until 2020, but less and less frequently. Though Aurora Borealis is not more visible at any particular time of year, winter through early spring is the most popular time to search for the lights, as there are more hours of darkness to see them! Alaska, Iceland, Norway and Sweden offer the most frequent views of Aurora Borealis, but it can be spotted anywhere along the 65- to 72-degree latitude lines.

 

Supermoon | Dec. 2, 2017

What is it? A Supermoon occurs when the full moon or new moon coincides with the moon’s closest approach to Earth. This brilliant lunar satellite appears 7% larger than the average moon and 16% brighter. “Supermoon,” coined by astrologer Richard Noelle in 1979, is not an official astrological term. The technical term is “perigree-syzygy.” (Say that 10 times fast.)

When and where can I see it? In the Northern Hemisphere, the Supermoon will be most impressive during winter months, and it’s at its best at moonrise. When it’s on the horizon, the moon looks bigger than when it’s high in the sky because you can compare it to other objects along the landscape. It’s a “moon illusion.” The next Supermoon will occur on Dec. 3, 2017. There can be as many as three Supermoons per full moon cycle (354 days). The Supermoon on Nov. 14, 2016 was the closest since Jan. 26, 1948 (next time it will come even closer to Earth, on Nov. 25, 2034).


  JoAnn Bell
JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President of Program Development, develops and manages more than 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states.