Thursday, December 28, 2017

What goes up vs what comes down

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.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Wildomar Fire vis-a-vis the proposed LEAPS project's transmission line.

Many of us in Wildomar and surrounding communities are rightfully giving thanks to CalFire and those fighting the fire at the front lines and from within the organization. We're also giving thanks to the tax base that makes such a response possible, but we should also remember that 10 years ago many local activists stood up to what was apparently a ploy by a small corporation to establish a transmission line for private gain. Activists like Bridgette MooreJohn LloydKristan Lloyd, to name a few that I'm still connected with, were able to win a local election and expose the flawed plans of the chief enabler of the LEAPS project. 

Also, our work halting the transmission line would not have been possible without Federal and State laws (NEPA and CEQA) that require environmental impact reports. Surprisingly, the backers of the transmission line have not given up, and have recently resubmitted their application. So, the fight continues. 

My compilation photo shows a plane last night dropping fire retardant. Also in the photo is my simulation of the proposed transmission line. I dug this file up this morning. I had last labeled it "work-in-progress" so I still need to verify the vertical placement of the towers, but I'm confident of the locations where I placed them. (Update: I'll stand by this simulated view. My placement of towers and simulated view is good.)


Friday, August 18, 2017

I can afford only a partial eclipse

The total eclipse is occurring for those willing to live in or travel to a 70-mile wide-band across the United States. I fear the desperate behavior that afflicts crowds, so I never made plans to attend. Astronomy offers my opportunity to relax, get away from bustle, and I can enjoy it any time. Though a total eclipse would leave me saying, "why didn't I do this before", I'm content to stay local and help others see the partial eclipse.

If you want to see the partial eclipse, come to Wildomar's Marna O'Brien park on Monday, Aug. 21, 9-11 am. If you have any doubt about the quality of your eclipse glasses, please attend and look through my safely filtered telescopes instead of dubious glasses. My solar filters are professional grade, and I've looked through them many times.

I hope to see you on Monday. Look for me and say hello. I'll be the frazzled guy trying to keep his sanity during the excitement.


Marna O'Brien Park:
20505 Palomar Road,
Wildomar, CA

Friday, July 21, 2017

Best ever circumzenithal arc,...

Best ever circum-zenithal arc and my worst camera met on the early evening of July 19, 2017. I drove to Riverside, and on the way, I became interested in the clouds and dispersal of a contrail. It looked like the conditions were right for hole punch clouds. I couldn't take any pictures, because I was driving.

Two hours later I emerged from a building and the sky over head smiled with the brightest and most long lasting arc I'd ever seen. I took numerous pictures with my aim-and-shoot camera and my iPhone. Neither of these devices captures the full color range of bright cloud effects.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Comet Johnson

This weekend, I took a few photos of Comet Johnson. These were 3-minute exposures using a 76mm refractor at prime focus. My camera was set at 800 iso. The comet is pretty faint. I couldn't see it in my 50 mm finderscope. I dabbled in different color balance treatments in Photoshop. 





Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Skeptical Science Projects

I'm a contributor to the website Skeptical Science. Mostly I help with illustrations and when I do, I usually share the projects here. However, I've been forgetting to share lately, so this post catches up on recent projects.

This is an illustration from a post entitled A Deep Dive into Polar Ice Cores:

I had a minor confusion corrected by this post. I thought the diffusion process primarily upward when the air in snow is squeezed by the weight of more snow. Though this happens, it's not as pronounced as the diffusion between air and snow that occurs. This post was part of a new idea of answering questions posed the site from readers.

Skeptical Science also started a new project of science analogies that provide experiments or observations one can make to understand the climate system. These diagrams are from two analogies:

SkS Analogy 3: Greenhouse Effect Is Like Clouds at Night

I'm having a private Ferrari vs VW thing going.


UPDATE: Some recent links to publications that mention Skeptical Science:

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Lyrid, Meteor of the Century (again)

Smoke and Meteors:

I captured a Lyrid meteor last night, shooting 30-second exposures between 11:20 and 11:50 pm. I caught two meteors in this time, but one made it easy to quit for the night.

I didn't see the meteor, and noticed it only when examining my photo on the camera view screen. On a whim, I took a second exposure and noticed that the vapor trail was visible:

"This is interesting," I thought, so I tried to see how long the vapor trail would remain visible:

After about 5 minutes, the vapor trail drifted off of my field of view. I moved the camera twice before the trail was gone, and even captured a faint, second meteor next to the vapor trail. You will probably have to enlarge the image to see the 2nd meteor near the star cluster (Coma Berenices) in the top of this photo.

The last image I captured was very faint, so I boldy tweaked the contrast:

I also made a video of my images, but think just viewing the still photos in sequence is more effective:


Monday, April 3, 2017

Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, Geological History of Vernal Pools

About 12 years ago I created this diagram for the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. It has been on display at the Vernal Pool since then. I learned that it has been vandalized recently, so I'm posting it here should anyone wish a copy. 


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Comet 41p Tose

Ok. "Tose" isn't the name of the comet, but if you take out the 41p, hopefully the joke is obvious.

The night of April 1, I took photos of 41p using a 3-inch telescope at f5. My camera's remote shutter release has failed, so all my photos had to be shorter than 30 seconds:

30 second exposure at 3200 ISO

After some trial and error, I decided 20-second exposures at ISO 3200 produced a series of frames worthy of stacking (combining).

Before stacking:

After stacking 7 images:

After playing around with image-enhancement features that I don't fully understand:

I also put together a video to shore some motion of the comet seen in the span of photos I took:


Update: more photos from the weekend.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Cometose: Comet 41 P, April Fool's Comet

You may hear of Comet 41P making its closest pass to Earth on April Fools' day, 2017. This is true. The comet is real and moving from the Big Dipper to Draco, but it is very, very faint, or as I like to say, cometose.

Last night I got a whisper of 41P using a 28 mm camera lens and 30-second exposure. Here, I've shown its location near Ursa Major (Big Dipper):

The inset is the region with 3/30 and 3/31 but moved out from under the position labels. The full-resolution inset is here:

I doubt this comet will be visible to the naked eye. I also think it's not a good one for suburban skies, but regardless, I'll be looking again tonight, as there's a chance it will be brighter.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

What's Up in the Sky, March 2017

I had the opportunity to present the monthly What's Up in the Sky at the March 10 Orange County Astronomers meeting. I'm sharing a sequence of images and animation that I used to illustrate the zodiacal light and the tilt of the ecliptic.

A high angled ecliptic greets us in the evening, and a low one in morning, making the evening planets easier to see by being farther above the horizon:

So, an observer at 30 degrees north latitude sees this: The planets and zodiacal light are high.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wildomar Light Pollution

I had an opportunity to photograph Orion last night in two locations. One was in front of my home, and the other, out of town, just a few miles west next to an ecological reserve. Both locations have light pollution, but the reserve is as good as anyone can hope for in a region with many cities.

I was able to overlay my two photos without rotating or distorting either photo. Here there are in one animated graphic:

I've also uploaded a video of this to youtube:

The video has better image quality, but doesn't repeat.


Friday, January 13, 2017

What's Up, Orange County Astronomers, 13 January 2017

I'm presented a What's Up in the Sky for the Orange County Astronomers on 13 January 2017, and here I'm sharing some photos and images I created for the presentation.

"Klaatu Barada Nikto"
This time of year offers excellent orographic clouds, 
such as this lenticular cloud over Mt. San Jacinto.

First is a comparison of the size of our sun as it appears now, in January, and as it will appear in July.
The larger outline in the photo is the sun from January 3, when Earth is closest to the sun. This photo was overlaid on a photo from July, when the Earth is farther away. There's a noticeable difference in size.

Below is an exaggeration of the orbit and the orientation of Earth's pole. Perihelion and northern hemisphere winter is on the left; aphelion and northern hemisphere summer is on the left.

The Earth's tilt defines the orientation of the seasons, which I've added as a ring with zones based on which season the Earth is in during its orbit. Because of the elliptical orbit, Earth accelerates as it approaches perihelion and slows at aphelion. So, the Earth is closer to the sun at aphelion, but it also spend less time in this position. The reverse occurs in northern summer. Our Earth lingers in the summer position because it slows near aphelion.

Many people are aware of the sun being closer and farther away while not being aware that earth is speeding up and slowing down.

The longer winter for the southern hemisphere was an early hypothesis for why Antarctica is so cold.

Astrologers like to point to the sun's position and imagine it has some influence in our lives. I like to point to the sun's position and say it has some real scientific relevance. In this case, the astronomer's understanding of Earth's changing orbit is a foundation of the science of climatology. 
This understanding has linked the motions of Earth's tilt with the changing shape and orientation of the Earth's orbit with the rise and fall of Earth's ice ages.

As the Earth's pole precesses, our seasons rotate:

While the pole is precessing, the points of perihelion and aphelion are moving in the opposite direction.

Astronomers refer to the rotation of the season as precession, which as has a cycle of almost 26,000 years. Climatologist are interested in a different cycle that combines the motion of the seasons with the motion of perihelion. They also call this "precession" and recognize a cycle that varies in length between 19,000 and 23,000 years. 

Climbing to Venus. Below is a recent photo of Venus of Intersection Rock at Joshua Tree National Park. The exposure brings out the lights from climbers scaling the rock at dusk. Projecting their path along a rock points to Venus, a worthy goal.

I propose that Astronomy can help. It can calculate the best time for attempting a climb to Venus. Let's look at our planets.

We have 4 planets visible in the western sky at dusk..

Our Evening Planets

Of these, Mars and Venus will show significant movement against the background stars.

Venus, moving the most, will come closer to Earth and change in apparent size. Now is a good time to watch and photograph Venus, aided by the high tilt of the ecliptic at this time of year. This photo shows relative sizes of Mars, Venus now, and Venus in one month if you looked through each with a telescope at more that 100x magnification. (Note that this is size and not position, so you won't be able to see these objects together through a telescope.)

In about one month, Venus will be closer, and because of the growth of the crescent shape, it will be easier to hang on to.

Just to make sure, this is a joke. 

By February 1, the crescent moon joins the bright planets in the evening sky. If you can grab the moon and hang on, it will take you to Jupiter (also a joke).

Jupiter offers a few worthwhile transits, depending on whether you a day job:

Now, a look at the deep sky

Orion, redrawn as a climber.

Orion the Climber seems plausible, as it would explain this photo:

Of course, another explanation of this photo is what you get when you put a $1000 camera on a 5-dollar tripod.