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How to See Comet NEOWISE

This July, Comet NEOWISE is closer to the earth than it will be for another 6,800 years. Make the most of this moment by making thoughtful observations:

cellphone photo of the comet NEOWISE was taken at the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve
This cellphone photo of the comet NEOWISE was taken at the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve on July 18, 2020.

1. PICK YOUR LOCATION
Where is the best place to make observations of the night sky? How does light pollution and weather impact what you can see?

2. ADJUST TO THE DARKNESS
Look at the sky when you first arrive and make note of what you see. After a few minutes, compare what you first saw to what you’re seeing now. Has it changed?

3. USE ONLY YOUR EYES
Scan the skies for a “star” that looks different from the others. Can you find it? Here’s a hint: It will be below the Big Dipper.

4. USE TOOLS
Binoculars and telescopes magnify objects that are far away and are helpful tools for observing the comet more closely. A pen and paper are also tools to aid your observations — draw what you see and write down your thoughts. This helps to focus your observations and creates lasting memories.

5. WHAT ELSE DO YOU SEE?
There’s more to wonder about in the night sky than NEOWISE. Have fun exploring.

Explore more resources about SPACE
Explore more resources about NATURE JOURNALING
Post by Marisa

What’s In a Naturalist’s Backpack?

Who is a naturalist?
It doesn’t take much to be a naturalist – anyone can be one! A naturalist is someone who enjoys spending time in nature, exploring aspects of the natural world, and making observations about the things that they see. Does that sound like you? If so, you are a naturalist! A naturalist is CURIOUS, EXCITED about learning and discovering, and RESPECTFUL towards all living and non-living beings in the world.

What do you need to be a naturalist?
Your most important tools are the senses you have available to you. Those senses may include: SIGHT, HEARING, TOUCH, SMELL, and TASTE. You can use these “tools” in so many ways to observe your surroundings and to discover patterns in nature!There are some other tools that naturalists bring with them to investigate nature more closely. Many of these tools can fit right inside a backpack, meaning that you can take them anywhere! 

Safety first!
Before we talk about WHAT you can bring on your adventure in nature, it’s important that we go over a few things to help keep you and the environment safe.

  • During Corona Virus Shelter-in-place orders: maintain a safe distance of 6 feet and explore the outdoors close to home rather than traveling far away.
  • Some essentials to pack: appropriate layers depending on the weather where you live, water to stay hydrated, a snack to fuel you through your day, and a first aid kit. If you’re going for an adventure further from your house, these things are very important!
  • Kids – make sure to take a trusted adult on your nature exploration. 
  • Avoid touching, picking, or eating plants that you are not familiar with. Even if you think you know what something is, it’s important to ask an adult and get an I.D. confirmation first. Never attempt to touch or approach a wild animal. 

Journal and Art Supplies 
A great place to start is with paper and pen or pencil. An important part of being a naturalist is taking notes and recording the things you see! 

A page full of notes and sketches of plants from a naturalist's journal

Why do you think it’s important to record observations in this way?

If you like to draw, you can take your favorite art supplies with you to make sketches of the things you see. There is no wrong way to nature journal! Ask questions in your journal, get creative, make graphs – it’s up to you! 

If you’re stuck on what to write about, you can try “I Notice, I Wonder, and It Reminds Me Of”. All you have to do is choose something you  see in nature and finish those sentences based off of the observations that you’re making with your senses! 

Some good resources to help you with nature journaling:

A page of notes relating to the definition and functions of a field guide

What’s That?
Have you ever been on a walk in nature, saw something AMAZING , and wondered, “What IS that?”. This is where field guides come in handy! A field guide is a book or handout that helps you identify things that you can find in the natural world. There are so many field guides out there in the world – whatever you are interested in, there is definitely a field guide for it! 

Field guides are great to use after you have spent time with your organism, making observations about what you notice about it. They can tell you the name of the organism as well as any other cool information about it! 

There are a lot of helpful books to get you started on your identification. Field guides can be foldable pamphlets, too – easy to carry around in a backpack! There are also so many field guides online that you can download to either print or view. You can even create your own field guide!

A pair of binoculars resting on a log

Look Closer!
Up close or far away – there are a lot of tools we can use to help us focus our eyes on the things we see in nature! Here are just a few.

Binoculars
Look! There’s a bird perched high up in that tree. One way to look at it a little more closely is by using a pair of binoculars. Binoculars are tools that have two lenses for your eyes that help magnify your vision.

How to Use Binoculars 

  • First, focus on the object you want to see more closely with just your eyes. Then, slowly raise the binoculars to your eyes. 
  • Adjust your binoculars. If it is blurry when you look through the lenses, you can adjust your binoculars to make them more clear. Your binoculars should come with a set of instructions on how to do this – often there is a knob at the top or around the lenses you can rotate.
  • Use binoculars only when standing still, not walking – you could trip and fall! Make sure to never look at the sun through your binoculars – this could cause permanent damage to your eyes.
A naturalist magnifier

Magnifying Glass or Hand Lens
These tools help us see details up close- like the scales on a butterfly wing, tiny hairs on a fuzzy plant, or tiny organisms swimming around in the water! Peer into a magnifying glass or hand lens and see what you can find.

 Good places to find these tools:

A bug net being held outdoors

Gettin’ Buggy!
Watch a spider spinning its web, follow a butterfly from flower to flower, or watch a worm wriggle in the dirt! There is so much to learn about these tiny creatures – they are not to be overlooked! 

There are ways we can safely look more closely at insects. An insect net is a tool that helps you safely capture insects so that you can make observations. You can carry some small jars with holes in the lid or sides to create a temporary home for the insect while you take a closer look. It is always better to just look with our eyes when we find insects, but if we are careful, we can use these tools to get a better understanding of our six-legged friends.

Remember! Never pick up or touch an insect you are not familiar with. Make sure to be gentle when using your net to observe living creatures. Always release insects in the same place you found them after you are done making observations! 

Now your bag is all packed and you’re ready to explore! 

  • Your senses, curiosity, and excitement will help you make observations and discoveries on your way.
  • Your field guides will help you go deeper and learn more about plants and animals that you find.
  • Your insect nets will encourage you to notice the similarities and differences between the insects you may see.
  • Your binoculars, hand lens, or magnifying glass will give you an up close view of nature.
  • Your journal will help you record your findings, take notes, draw pictures, and ask questions about the things you find along the way!

Who knows what wonderful surprises you’ll find out in nature?

Post by: Ellen

Create Your Own Field Guide

Creating a field guide is a great way to become an expert on a location. It is also a great way to share information with others. Choose a location to become an expert on! It can be your backyard, neighborhood, or any other outdoor spot that interests you. Once you have chosen your spot you may choose to focus on plants, animals, or both! Depending on how much time you have and what makes you most excited about learning. 

Recording data in an observation journal
Record your observations with writing, drawing, or by taking pictures.

Step 1: Bioblitz!

  1. Before you can make a field guide, you have to know what lives in your spot–start with a bioblitz! A bioblitz is when you try to find and identify all the species in a certain area over a short period of time. Bring with you a camera or journal to record what you find. You may also bring along field guides, or a smartphone to look up things on the go. Another option is to take pictures or sketch organisms you find outside to look up later. 
  2. On your bioblitz it is important to pay close attention to everything. Taking pictures or drawing what you find will be a helpful resource to look back on. 
  3. After the bioblitz you can do research using the online resources listed below to identify species that you don’t know. Once you have identified all the species you can start creating your field guide!

Making your field guide

  1. Choose your materials. Your field guide can be handmade with pen and paper or it can be typed on the computer. If you make it on the computer, it will be easier to share with others via email or posting on social media.
  2. Organize your field guide to make it user friendly.
    1. Make a table of contents and include page numbers 
    2. If you chose to include both plants and animals you should group those accordingly (plants in one section and animals in the other)
    3. Having images or a detailed description of what the species looks like
    4. Information or facts about the species such as where it is found, what it does, and what seasons it is around.
  3. When you finish your field guide, share it with your community! Then others can use your field guide to learn about creatures and plants in Santa Cruz. “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught”- Baba Dioum

Post by: Elise

Geology of West Cliff Drive

Use this handout as a guide for your walk along West Cliff Drive.

Stop at a few geologically significant locations and see if you can notice where Purisima Formation sandstone meets the Santa Cruz Mudstone, learn to identify concretions, and ponder how erosion might impact the future of the Santa Cruz Lighthouse.

Handout for exploring geologic landmarks while walking West Cliff Drive
Learn more about local geology with our Rockin' Pop Up video series.
Explore all things geology and fossils in our Online Museum Store.

Post by: Marisa