Star Light, Star Bright

These days most of us are probably getting pretty tired of the inside of our homes, and are looking for things we can get out and do. Boy, do I have something for you — and it’s free! Right now we have not one, but two astronomical phenomena that any of us can observe, as long as you can get your hands on a decent pair of binoculars. I happen to have a nice pair (that I bought from Redwood Trading Post, incidentally, if you are looking for some) that worked perfectly for my wife and I.

First off, Comet NEOWISE (strange name, I know; NEOWISE stands for “Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer,” the NASA mission that discovered the comet in March) is in our night sky right now, and it’s pretty interesting. You can’t see it with the naked eye, at least in our immediate area given all of our light pollution, but as I said, all you need is a halfway decent pair of binoculars to see it. You need to wait until it gets pretty dark — we didn’t spot it until about 9:45 p.m. on Thursday night — and you have to look to the north in order to see it. If you have a smart device with a star chart app that shows comets and such — I used the free version of the Night Sky app on my iPhone — it’ll help you locate the comet. I should note that as we were waiting for it to get dark enough, I was looking at the app and thinking that the comet might not be high enough in our sky: in addition to the distant mountains, there was a cloud layer that I thought might obscure it. But it turned out to be higher in the sky than I expected, and we saw it with no trouble. It wasn’t visible to either of us with the naked eye, but the binoculars revealed both the comet and its tail in all its glory. And there was no question that it was the comet: what we saw was substantially larger than any star, and had a very prominent tail.

Although I don’t have the necessary equipment to take a photograph of the comet, and thus cannot share that with you, I went back the next day and took a picture of the reference points I used in order to direct my wife, using the binoculars, to the comet:

As some of you might be able to guess from this photo, we observed the comet from my new favorite place to watch the night sky in our area: Blu Harbor. We could hear some folks out on Bair Island, and that works, too, but you can’t beat the amenities at Blu Harbor. Just drive straight ahead into the complex, and, at the far end where you are forced to turn right, see if you can find a parking space (most of the apartment complex’s spaces are reserved for the residents, but there are a few designated for visitors and the public). The ones parallel to the street on the left are visitor spaces; that’s where I parked, and that put my car immediately adjacent to where we sat watching. Where the road turned, there is a lovely public seating area with a handful of comfortable benches; we sat on the frontmost one and admired the city lights as the sky darkened.

As to where to find the comet from that spot, assuming that it doesn’t move too much — I’m not sure how much it moves from one night to the next — look for that building you can see in the above photo. For reference, you’ll also see the Oracle buildings from this spot, but they are just beyond the left edge of the above photo; this building is to the right of them, and it stands pretty much alone. On top of the building is a flashing red light (to warn airplanes) and a bit to the left and a bit to the right of the building and closer to the ground you’ll see two even brighter flashing red lights. Locate the lefthand flashing light, and then tilt your binoculars up; for us, the comet was almost directly above the lefthand flashing light, roughly halfway between the horizon and the top of the photo, above. Assuming it doesn’t move too much, you should be able to see it there over the next couple of evenings.

According to this article, this particularly spectacular comet is heading out of the Solar System, but in doing so it is actually approaching Earth at the moment. On July 22 it will be as close as it is going to get to us, so it will be in our night sky for a couple more weeks. Note that the article states that the comet will be visible to the naked eye; that may be true in very dark places, but our light pollution makes it difficult to see without aid.

Once you’ve gotten your fill of the comet, turn around. From that same spot the next astronomical treat can be a bit tricky to see, but only because there are some palm trees in the way. Move around a bit as necessary and look for a very bright “star” in the southern sky among those trees (visible with your naked eye): that’s the planet Jupiter. Somewhat lower and to the left, look for another “star”: that one is Saturn. Then, pull out your binoculars and focus carefully on Jupiter. If you hold your glasses steady, you’ll see an object right next to Jupiter, just to the lower left of it: Pluto! It may no longer be one of our primary planets, but for many of us Pluto still has a special mystique (a mystique that was heightened, at least in my book, when Pluto was demoted to “dwarf planet”). Again, a star chart app on your smartphone or tablet will make all three planets easier to locate.

Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto are up there, and they’re easy to see. My wife and I actually first saw them on Wednesday night, just before we went to bed: at 10:30 p.m. we went out onto our driveway with our binoculars and had no trouble locating all three. Fortunately, Jupiter, Pluto, and Saturn are quite high in the sky right now, so they are easy to see from many places, even if there are trees and other buildings around.

Given the amount of light pollution in the Bay Area you often have to head to the hills in order to find a spot dark enough to see most astronomical phenomena. But I can attest to the fact that Comet NEOWISE and Pluto are both easily visible right now with nothing more than a pair of decent binoculars. And they are both, in my book, worth making the small effort to see. They really help put our current troubles in perspective.

These days I’m seeing plenty of headlines predicting trouble ahead for our economy, and I don’t really doubt them. But as I made my way around the city this week I saw a couple of signs that presented a contrary image, so I thought in the interest of sharing some good news, I’d share some of what I saw.

The first is something I actually noticed a week or two ago, but haven’t had the right opportunity to highlight here. Long time readers of this blog know that I’ve written about the status of the automobile dealership at the corner of El Camino Real and Whipple Avenue many times as I tracked the various dealership’s comings and goings. Most recently it was home to an online-based used-car operation called Carnamic, but they pulled up stakes back in April. Since then, the dealership has sat empty. But a couple of weeks back I noted that some effort was being made to freshen up the dealership’s empty service bays, and just over a week ago new signs went up:

In case you can’t read them, they say “Now Open: Redwood City Infiniti”. The “now open” part of the sign isn’t actually correct, as far as I can tell: there are no vehicles on the lot as yet, and the interior showroom is still being tinkered with. But very soon — perhaps as early as this week — I expect to see cars starting to fill up the lot. FYI, I noted in a previous blog post that Redwood City Infiniti, which used to be located on Convention Way next to our local Lexus dealership, seemed to have disappeared, to be replaced by Toyota 101 (which has been located for years directly across Highway 101 from the Infiniti showroom). These recent moves make sense, though, given the decreased demand for new vehicles. Moving Infiniti into a smaller dealership space seems logical in our current economy, and Toyota 101, which has always seemed somewhat cramped in its East Bayshore Road digs, will have room to breathe over on this side of the freeway. Finally, if Toyota 101 moves their entire operation across the freeway, rather than just expanding into this second space, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Towne Ford or Hopkins Acura ends up in the old Toyota 101 location — helping to make way for Greystar’s latest and largest proposed project…

So, good news! A prominent automobile dealership location in Redwood City won’t be sitting empty after all, as I had feared. Similarly, another empty storefront that longtime readers know I’ve expressed a lot of angst about is the former location of our Orchard Supply Hardware store, next to Costco on Middlefield Road. I’ve previously mentioned that this location was poised to become a new “OSH”: Outdoor (not Orchard) Supply Hardware, and that has indeed come to pass. The new store just opened (and they’re hiring, incidentally)!

If you, like me, made multiple visits to the original OSH store here, you likely got to know the layout of the store. I knew just where to go for electrical parts, for tools, for paint, and for gardening supplies. Well, get ready for an extreme case of deja-vu. The layout of this new OSH is almost identical to the old, with only some minor changes. But come in the main door and make a left, and yep, there are the BBQs. Head over to where you used to find light bulbs, and hey, there they are! Even the tools are in the same quadrant of the store, although they are no longer isolated into a walled-off area of their own.

Somehow the store looks a bit brighter and more open, but perhaps that is just my aging memory…

It feels great to walk into the hardware store. Of course, you can walk into other stores these days as well. Today I was delighted to be able to once again poke my head into our Barnes and Noble store in the Sequoia Station shopping center. The center of the store is more open than before, and they have an informal sanitizing station by the door, but otherwise, the store feels very normal (but wear your mask, of course; that’s required). It is a particular relief for me to be able to wander through a physical bookstore again.

The temptation to set foot in the bookstore was too strong to resist, but honestly that wasn’t why I found myself in Sequoia Station. I was actually there because another project that I’ve been watching for many moons now — one that I’d given up on months ago — is back underway. The windows are grimy, making for very poor vision, but I took this photo anyway, to record the fact that work on the former Max’s Cafe space (also in Sequoia Station) — which permits showed was to become a Chase Bank branch — is again making good progress:

The mere fact that the opening through which I was looking was blocked by vertical elements on either side shows tremendous progress: those vertical elements are interior wall studs, supporting new drywall. Right in the center of the photo (well, just a bit to the left of center) you should be able to just make out a good-sized stack of drywall, just waiting to be applied to the walls of this space. I had hoped to get a photo through the open door — it was open earlier in the day when I drove by for my Meals on Wheels route — but it was closed when I finally got there. Thus, I had to settle for this rather fuzzy photo. But the fact that they are carving up the interior space and finishing it means that they definitely have a particular tenant in mind. Whether that is still Chase Bank (likely) or is someone else, we’ll have to wait and see. Whomever it is, this activity is a very good sign: it indicates that this particular large storefront space will not be sitting empty for much longer.

Across El Camino Real and down a few blocks is the long-empty Aaron Brothers framing and art supply building. Crafts retailer Michaels, owner of the Aaron Brothers brand, closed the independent stores back in mid-2018 (they still use the brand for “store-within-a-store” framing shops in their Michaels stores); this particular location has sat empty, with a “for lease” sign attached, since then. No longer, however! The “for lease” sign appears to be gone, and the interior of the freestanding building at the corner of El Camino Real and Roosevelt Avenue is getting a nice makeover. When I was there, there were lights on inside and out, the walls looked freshly painted, and a guy was hard at work refinishing the (new, I think) wood floors:

I have no idea who might be going in, but the lack of a “for lease” sign indicates that the building is being refurbished for a particular tenant, and not merely to make it attractive to potential lessees. Thus, I expect that this building will not be sitting empty for much longer, which is another win in my book!

Speaking of sprucing things up, I did want to point out the lovely mural that is well underway at the Roosevelt Center (at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Upton Street):

Artist Claudio Talavera-Ballon is having to paint this thing entirely from the elevated platform of a cherry picker, which can’t be easy. But he seems to be doing a really great job. According to the artist, this mural will depict “the thriving chrysanthemum industry established by the Japanese community that would gain Redwood City the title of the chrysanthemum capital of the world in the 1920s.” So far he has mostly painted a stylized, historic view of Redwood City and its waterfront; still to come are the fields of chrysanthemums. (If you are just dying to see what the finished mural is going to look like, there is a rendering on the artist’s website.) This mural is being painted on three sides of the tower block, and should be quite a stand-out feature of this popular residential shopping center. Incidentally, it appears that Project CATA was involved in bringing this to Redwood City. Thanks to CATA Director Cary Kelly and his folks for their continuing efforts to beautify some of Redwood City’s nooks and crannies, especially in these challenging times.

Before I close, no picture, but I wanted to mention that as we were driving back from Blu Harbor the other night, all the lights were on in the nearly completed Chick-fil-A on Whipple Avenue. From what I could see, it is pretty much done inside. If you are a Chick-fil-A fan, from all appearances it should be open very, very soon.

Our rollercoaster economy is certainly experiencing its share of ups and downs. I dutifully try to record the downs — the closing businesses — in our area, but am much happier when I can record the ups: the new businesses that are coming to our area. All is not gloom and doom in Redwood City, it seems! And as we all look for ways to brighten up our daily lives, do think about heading out towards the bay and spending a bit of time stargazing. There is some amazing stuff to see up there right now, and as long as the night is even reasonably clear, you should have a good time. Oh, and while you are there, you just might want to make a wish. You never know; it might come true!

Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have this wish I wish tonight…

8 thoughts on “Star Light, Star Bright

  1. Greg, I’m pretty sure Pluto is far too faint to be visible with binoculars.
    Maybe what you saw was Ganymede or another of Jupiter’s large moons?

  2. Pingback: High-Rise Surprise | Walking Redwood City

  3. Last I heard, the former Aaron’s at El Camino and Roosevelt will be replaced by the terrific bike shop Chain Reaction. As for murals, check out the ones in the alley behind the Sequoia Hotel off Main Street. The city organized a bunch of student groups: Boys & Girls Club, Design Tech etc., eight of them as I recall –a lovely project…

    • I checked the Chain Reaction Bicycles website ( to see if there was any mention of them moving. It looks like Billy may be right about them moving to the Aaron Brothers site because among the bullet points about how busy they are due to the COVID-induced popularity of bicycling, I spotted a bullet point that starts out “Until we move to our new location …”

    • Thanks for the tip on Chain Reaction. And I wrote about the Youth Mural Alley back in January (see “Opening Soon” and “Center Change”). I agree, it’s great!

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