May 15 gave us spectacular displays of the 22 degree and 44 degree ice halos. Most remarkable, in my opinion, was that these unusually intense arcs were seen over a wide area. I had friends report seeing this affect though being nearly 20 miles apart at the time.
12 years ago I opposed a local pumped-storage/energy-battery project because it looked like ruse to establish a privately owned transmission line through the local forest. Since then, the proponents have dropped their request (or perhaps only suspended) to establish an interconnect on the grid and are now pursuing a license for a genuine pumped storage project. The proponents claim the following benefits: 1) stores otherwise wasted renewable energy, 2) load balancing between times of low energy demand and high, 3) makes money by buying power in off-peak hours to resell at peak demand, and 4) can use that profit to outbid other water users in parched Southern California for enough water to top off Lake Elsinore.
I've been looking at the relationship between storing renewables, load balancing, and making a profit. It should be noted that this pumped storage project is very expensive (at least 2 billion) and the proponents have told me in person that a private consortium will operate it (and therefore I infer it must make a profit; an alternative would be to sell it to the public as infrastructure, which I still believe to be plausible).
The plant (called LEAPS) will pump water from Lake Elsinore to a reservoir carved out of the Cleveland National Forest, storing electric energy, from the grid used to pump the water, as potential energy to be reclaimed by letting the water flow back through the turbines. 80% of the energy consumed is returned.
I looked at this as an actual day-to-day scenario using daily energy data for 2018 supplied by CAISO. I'm making a few assumptions. The plant would likely pump one day and deliver the next day or later or would pump intermittently over several days, but as a simple thought exercise, I'm looking at each day and asking how un-used (curtailed) power from renewable energy could be returned on a similar day to provide load balancing and do so when energy rates are highest for maximum profit (or should I say maximum recovery of losses). I also assume the plant needs to deliver power nearly every day to recover losses. Later I hope to compare this to actual energy supplier prices.
I created graphs for the first Monday of the months of May, June, July, Aug., Sept., and Oct. that compare hourly MW of energy production to demand and amount of wind and solar curtailed (unused). The graphs for April and Dec. have different data sources: April is for April 10, a Tuesday, because I couldn't find supply and demand data for April 2 in the same format. December uses curtailment data that is in hour intervals rather than 5-minutes intervals for the same reason.
Of these sample dates, only May 7, Nov. 5, and Dec 2 have enough curtailed renewables to be a noticeable part of the daily energy storage of LEAPS, making up about 1/2 the full capacity of LEAPs during midday and being returned in the afternoon. On June 4, most of the wasted renewables occurred during peak use hours, so this would be the most expensive time for a private consortium to fill the reservoir. On July 2, there is no significant renewables available, and Aug. 6 offers even less renewables and this continues through Oct. So, just on the banking renewables question for these days, LEAPS succeeds three halves out of nine, and so to operate at full capacity it would have to use another energy source if it were to fill its reservoir at non-peak hours. I believe the most likely source will be natural gas and since LEAPS returns only 80% of the energy it uses, this makes the natural gas emissions greater by 20%.
The morning of Sept 15, Comet 21p passed in front of open star cluster M35:
Comet 21p with M35. Image was processed to accentuate the green color.
Comet 21p with M35
My exposures spanned about 24 minutes. So, I put them together into an animated GIF to show the comets apparent motion over 24 minutes:
All photos were taken with a 3-inch refractor at F5. Exposure times and ISO settings varied, but my best results were with 1600 ISO at 30 seconds and 800 ISO at 60 seconds. Any longer, and I get too much light pollution. Still, I'm happy with what I can capture under my semi-urban sky.
While unhinged persons are a threat, and such persons started two recent conflagrations in Riverside County, Magee's argument downplays the contribution of climate, weather, and topology in making fire devastating, whether it starts by arson or by accident.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has suggested that environmentalists are to blame for not allowing forest thinning, claiming that an increase in fire severity is due to a build up of dead trees. In the case of the Holy Fire, steep terrain and abundance of chaparral makes thinning difficult. It's also not clear to me how thinning operations would make forests less prone to fire. Heavy equipment, for example, disturbs undergrowth, promotes erosion, and invites invasive weeds that can make fire more likely.
Yet others, suggest that California's governing political party is to blame for severity of recent wildfires. It's unclear to me how State Officials can be directly responsible for management of Federal forests, but that doesn't stop any finger pointing.
To examine the connection between dead trees and fire, I superimposed a map of the Holy Fire on a Forest Service map of tree mortality. It shows little correlation between the Holy fire and dead trees:
Note that the large pink area on the left is a Tier 2 hazard zone defined by the Forest Service. I believe this definition is based on threat to a region such as a watershed. So, in this zone, should a fire break out, it will likely not be contained till it reaches the perimeter of the watershed. Combined with the presence of high-density tree mortality, this warrants a Tier 2 designation. At least, that's how I interpret the map, yet, there is something odd about tree mortality maps. They are based on aerial surveys from 2012-2017, but close-ups of the region show mostly oak woodlands, chaparral and riparian canyons. So, it is not clear to me how how these fire designations are determined -- a project for further research
Comet 21P is visible in the morning sky. Over the past week it has moved through the constellation Auriga. Here are images taken with a 3" telescope and digital camera.
8 Sept. 2018, 30 seconds, 1600 iso, f5
10 Sept 2018, 21P near M37, ISO 3200, F5, 20 seconds.
Meteors remain one of my favorite targets, being that the equipment set up is simple, tracking errors are easily forgiven, and success is related to opportunity. I've seen meteors brighten, dim, and then brighten, but this is first I caught on camera:
This past weekend was action-packed, so to speak, of objects making the upward or downward trip to and from space.
First, the upward trip:
On Friday, Dec. 22, the southwest United States enjoyed the launch of a Falcon 9 two-stage rocket. The twilight was perfect for illuminating the exhaust plume. From my vantage point, the event lasted about 5 minutes, from seeing the rising glow in the north until the rocket disappeared behind mountains to the west. This was enough time for neighbors to alert each other and run into the street and for friends to start texting. It was enough time for me to correct my original poor choice of camera location , run downstairs and across the street barefoot, dodge one car, and get numerous shots.
Falcon 9 launch viewed from in front of my home:
Moon, stage 2, with stage 1 falling away:
A second burn from stage 1 occurred a second after the first:
And now the downward trip:
On Christmas Eve, at 5:15pm, I saw an amazing fireball, or bollide. Like the Falcon 9 launch, the event lasted a long time, that is, long for a meteor. I was parked and about to exit my car when I saw it. I had time to contemplate grabbing my camera, and chose not to. As a result, I saw a colorful break-up and burn that reminded me of a newspaper bursting into flame and being sucked up the chimney in fragments. My wife and daughter also saw it from about 5 miles away from my location. They also reported a red color to the burn.
However, my friend Andy Abeles from the Temecula Valley Astronomers, captured it from his dash camera. The full burn is cut off by the mountains, and I think most of what I saw is where it goes behind the mountain in this video.
I use this blog as a companion to my website www.brightstarstemeculavalley.org, where I call attention to local light pollution and share my enthusiasm for science and astronomy. I'm also a contributor to www.SkepticalScience.com.