Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Carlsbad Rejects Electronic Sign

The City of Carlsbad has rejected the use of electronic billboards:

Their decision was based on aesthetics, but any sign designed to attract and hold a driver's attention should be considered a driving safety hazard too. I'm not aware of any study linking animated signs to traffic accidents, but this study demonstrated that such signs effectively hold a driver's attention longer than other advertising:

It's worth noting that although the electronic billboard study did not run long enough to establish a link between signs and accidents, the Swedish Road Association had enough information to act:
Based on the results reported in this article, along with the results from other studies, the Swedish authorities decided not to extend the test period and to remove the electronic billboards under investigation.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


While scrambling through a canyon today, I saw a pair of newts mating, or so it seemed to one untrained in the ways of newts. I believe them to be the California Newt.

This reference places the California newt in my region: Identifying California Salamanders


Friday, March 21, 2014

Sucker for Sundogs

Good atmospheric effects like company. When I see the clouds favorable to sundogs, sun pillars, arcs in the morning, the remainder of the day and into the evening often offer similar effects. This isn't surprising because the effects are caused by weather and a specific type of weather conducive to these effects may last more than a day. 

On March 5, 2014, I noticed sun arcs at noon:

Sun arc taken at 28 mm focal length

Sun arc zoomed in (70 mm focal length)

That evening I watched for more effects as I drove home. I was travelling, or else I would have tried to capture the unusual clouds to the west. At the same time, two friends from the Temecula Valley Astronomers were watching, one from Temecula, the other from Anza. Each had a better view that what I had. Here is what they saw:

Sun pillar by Harry Finch

Based on the photo, this was an impressive sun pillar (which is caused by ice crystals refracting the sun light in such a way that the light is spread out vertically).

A similar pattern occurred yesterday: interesting cloud effects in the morning, and good sundogs at evening:
Contrails on the morning of March 20

Right sundog on evening of March 20

Left sundog on evening of March 20

Both sundogs with the sun blocked by the tree

If you see something interesting in the morning, it's a reminder to get your camera and keep it with you for the day. 



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Can't resist a good condensation trail

I can't resist photos of condensation trails in the early morning when the lighting enhances the 3-d perception, and fools the eye. Here, the lower in the sky, the farther away the trail must be, yet the illusion is such that they look like fangs piercing the clouds. The crepuscular shadows add to the image.

Any type of sky watching begins with the atmosphere which often offers something interesting or beautiful.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

One Minute of the Meteor of the Century

During the previous 3rd quarter moon, I was taking wide-field photos of constellations for my March What's Up presentation to my club, the Temecula Valley Astronomers, and to the Orange County Astronomers.
I was able to get the photos I needed over two clear nights. We were expecting a winter storm, and the night before the storm arrived was surprisingly clear. Also, my neighbors didn't have their 15 bright, white, un-shielded lights on, so that made a good opportunity to get better images of Canis Major.

After taking about four images like the photo below, I decided to get an image of Monoceros, which is left of Canis Major:

Wide-field image of Canis Major (Sirius is the bright star)

I moved my camera and took a short exposure to test if I was pointing where I wanted:

Overlapping images show my repositioning of the camera.

This wasn't quite right, so I moved my camera a little farther:

As I studied my photo in the camera viewer, a fireball lit up over head. I saw that it was headed for Canis Major. "Move my camera?" I thought, but rejected that idea. Next thought: "Maybe I'll catch a piece of it", so I pressed the shutter release.

I had the mirror lock setting on. So this first press merely rotated the mirror to reduce camera vibration. I pressed the release again just as the meteor fell out of sight. Once the meteor was gone, I figured there's no need covering it with more exposure, so I stopped my exposure. To my surprise, I captured a fragment of the meteor. I'd describe it as perhaps one year's worth of the meteor of the century, but "minute" sounds catchier.

Fragment of meteor in the bottom corner of my 3rd frame

Trace the path of the meteor

I, of course, regret turning my camera away, but the fireball could just as well have passed through Monoceros. In hindsight, I'm surprised that I reacted in time to catch the fragment. I think this reaction was the result of many cumulative hours of night photography, a reflex I've developed with practice. Had this meteor struck Earth, astronomers would be asking for any image to help identify its trajectory, and my fragment would have been scientifically useful. For now, it's merely a fun story.

Meteor fragment at maximum size


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Explore the Stars 2014

Wide field image of the Milky Way, June 2013, Explore the Stars

Every summer, the Forest Service sponsors a monthly star party at Palomar Observatory Campground. Amateur astronomers from throughout the region set up their telescopes for campers and others who drive up for the evening. Friday night is informal. Saturday night is the official star party and is preceded by a presentation in the camp's amphitheater. Presentations begin shortly after sunset, and may be cancelled during the earlier dates if the mosquitoes are a nuisance. Note that this affects only the presentation. If there are mosquitoes, they are usually done feasting later in the evening when when peak observing begins.

These are the 2014 Explore the Stars dates:
  • April 25,26
  • May 30, 31
  • June 20,21
  • July 25.26
  • August 22,23
  • September 26,27
  • October 17,18
More information is available here: Explore the Stars