Tuesday, July 21, 2020


These are likely my final images of Comet NEOWISE unless something astronomically interesting happens, such as fragmenting or an outburst.

These were taken in the California desert on July 19:

Comet NEOWISE, 28mm, f3.2, 105 seconds, iso 400

Comet NEOWISE, 380 mm, f5, iso 400, 180 seconds

The first photo has two people in it who I think were facing the wrong direction.

Update: I'm tracking the comet's fading:

Images of Comet NEOWISE taken with identical telescope and camera settings.
Height above the horizon varies and results in a change in the background.


Friday, July 10, 2020

Comet NEOWISE 2020

A modestly bright comet has made it around the sun in one piece. These photos are from Southern California the morning of July 9, 2020.

Image taken through a 3-inch telescope at f5.

Image taken with a 50 mm lens.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Arcs narrow and wide

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.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Lunar Eclipse, Jan 21, 2019

Here are some photos from tonight. I took over a hundred, and picked out a few that look typical. I hope to take a closer look in the next couple days.


Renewable LEAPS of Faith

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%.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Comet 21p tags M35

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.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Holy Jim Canyon Fire

On Monday, 6 Aug. 2018, an arsonist lit fire in Holy Jim Canyon, which quickly spread, and two weeks later burnt 22,986 acres. Since then, flareups have occurred within the burn perimeter.

(Photo: Holy Fire on 6 Aug 2018.
I consider this the most expensive solar filter I've ever used.)

A local politician found the opportunity to remind us that the damages from this fire are a result of unchecked mental health issues in our society: Lake Elsinore Councilman Bob Magee on the fires of mental illness

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



Tree Mortality Viewer

CalFire Incident map

Hotter weather turbocharges US West wildfires