Back to California

It has been quite a while, but now we are back in California. After a few exciting and fruitful, but also demanding years in Siegen, I took a sabbatical to focus on our group’s research. The whole family had been excited for months to get back to the well-known neighborhood and school district in sunny Menlo Park. Over the past years, we have still been in contact with local friends and families.

To organize such a half-year stay with the whole family during the pandemic is quite challenging. But finally we managed almost everything from Germany like accommodation, school onboarding, rental car, health insurance (more details later).

One advantage of the pandemic situation still was that the airplane was only partly booked with plenty of space left for our tall family members. Based on our first experience in the bay area, we travelled light with space left even for our kids’ beloved mermaid monofins for the pool (and other unneeded stuff). When we arrived at SF airport, the sun was shining with a temperature close to 20 °C (around 70 °F). Immigration and luggage pickup just took us 30 minutes and the brand-new rental car was ready for pickup. Based on our earlier experiences with airport transfers and particularly the availability of free furniture in the area, Inge came up the freaky idea to rent a pickup truck with crew cabin rather than a sedan. Finally, she was totally right. Just ahead of our flight she even managed to buy a load securing net of fitting size, which we brought to the US. You can hardly imagine how surprised the Hertz staff was, when they saw us thoroughly securing our luggage on the truck. Particularly our younger daughter drove crazy when she saw the vehicle as in her imagination we will make an adventurous off-road trip through the US with crazy jumps from cliffs and across valleys. Let’s see, how suited our just bought car will be…

We were totally surprised when we arrived in our apartment in the neighborhood so familiar to us. For simplicity, we rented a 900 ft² apartment right next to the middle school. Unknown to us, our Californian “grandma” Oma Sheila, our previous neighbor, with the help of her birthday club had already equipped our empty appartment with inflatable beds, blankets, camping furniture, gifts for the kids, and most importantly food and drinks. Therefore, she just contacted the local housing manager although we hadn’t even signed the contract. Thank you a lot, Sheila, for being our friend and neighbor!

After a few weeks now, the apartment is fully equipped. We got bicycles as well as a car. Moreover, we bought a roof-top tent for our planned camping activities as we have used one already for our past trips (see trips to northern California, south-western US). Those include envisaged on-site overnight stays at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, which I’m affiliated with. After a good start, we are looking forward for another great experience in the Golden State! (BB)

How my picture of our solar system has changed

Do you also explain to your kids that one will never see the sun or moon in the north as both travel from the east through south to the west due to earth’s daily rotation? (at least on the northern hemisphere)

Several peculiarities coincided on our flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco on January 15th this year and I as a physicist was proven wrong! I was surprised when the sky turned jet-black around noon just after a few hours of flight. I even became ecstatic when I saw the almost full moon brightly shining just above the horizon in the north (we had seats on the right side of the airplane).  

How did that come, I asked myself? (Investigate by yourself and read the following explanation later!)

First, our flight was during northern winter, and we took a quite far northern route and passed Greenland around 75 degree north due to a storm at the US east coast. Consequently, we entered the region of the polar night. That far north, it is completely dark for around 3! months (Polar night – Wikipedia). Moreover, Jan 18th (close to our flight date) was full moon night meaning that the light from the sun (left of us) passed earth and shined at the moon (right of us, night-side of Earth). Last, the inclination of the rotation axis of our Earth of around 23° (away from the sun during northern winter, +75° northern transit) allowed us to watch the moon right above the north pole even at midday (and saw it a second time on that day during the following night).

Sadly, enthusiasm for such rare phenomena has limits in our family. When I tried to explain the before mentioned to Inge and our kids, they immediately got back to their movies… (BB)