Friday, December 31, 2010

cold weather atmospheric optics

Astronomy is a 24-hour hobby, as I'm always seeing something worth capturing. Below is a Christmas sundog and an exceptional shadow from a contrail.

Sundog photographed on Christmas day

Contrail casting a long shadow


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Vostok icecore and Earth's orbit graphs

Almost two weeks ago, I had the honor of guest posting at Skeptical Science, sharing my latest illustration project, the Vostok Viewer, an interactive graphing tool that displays data from the Vostok icecore alongside calculations of Earth's orbit (data sources: Vostok; orbit; modern CO2).

My guest post: Skeptical Science: Ice data made cooler 

I received a lot of constructive feedback and have started adding the suggested features. I've exposed my version 2 and qualified it as beta (in progress), as I have a couple known programming bugs:

A cautious user (someone not trying to evoke a failure) will have the benefit of displaying graphs, adjusting their scale, and showing and hiding labels for an informative yet uncluttered display.

My known bugs are:
1. Displaying the modern CO2 graph while viewing a pre-modern time era will create a later failure where orbit graphs fail to update when changing time periods.
2. The graph labels may fail to align with their graphs when time periods are changed.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tangential Arc

On Dec 1, I saw for my first time, a tangential arc, an optical effect caused by the refraction of sunlight through ice crystals. Also visible, though barely perceptible, was a circumzenithal arc. The top right photo was manipulated to bring out the color of the circumzenithal arc.

I highly recommend the website Atmospheric Optics to learn more about this an other related phenomena.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Palaeoclimate graphs from Vostok Ice Core and Orbit Calculations

I have envied the climate charts I've seen in Wikipedia and in science journals showing temperatures, CO2, insolation, and orbit parameters over the past million years, so I decided to create my own viewer: Vostok Viewer

I've taken the data from these sources:
  • Petit, J.R., et al., 2001,  Vostok Ice Core Data for 420,000 Years, IGBP PAGES/World Data Center for Paleoclimatology Data Contribution Series #2001-076. NOAA/NGDC Paleoclimatology Program, Boulder CO, USA.
  • Astronomical Solutions for Earth Paleoclimates. A&A 428, 261-285 (2004), DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20041335; Laskar, J., Robutel, P., Joutel, F., Gastineau, M., Correia, A.C.M., Levrard, B. : 2004, A long term numerical solution for the insolation quantities of the Earth.
and created this:
...which is a Flash-based viewer that allows you to see graphs of data from these sources and to zoom in on specific periods, such as the Eemian:

My program is crude at this time. I plan to add more features for controlling the appearance of the graphs as well as flexible views of the timeline (so a user can focus on any period rather than those I've configured). And of course, I'll add other data sets, but for now I hope to iron out the features using the data I have.

I started this project when I wanted to see if observations I was making about the Eemian held up for other interglacials. I saw a strong correlation between summer insolation at 65 degrees N and the onset of interglacial temperatures. This correlation was consistent with what I've read from science journals. However, from my Vostok Viewer, I'm observing that the correlation isn't as visually striking for the interglacials at 240 kya and 325 kya:

The green line in the above graphs is June insolation at 65 degrees N. For the onset of the Holocene and Eemian, you can see that the green curve corresponds to rises in temperature (yellow) and CO2 (lavender), but in the earlier interglacials, the solar forcing peaks before the peak in temperature and CO2.

This discrepancy invites more study from me. Are there see-saw effects that delayed warming in Antarctica or are there margins of error in the dating of the CO2 and temperature values? Is it time for me to open the book on more sophisticated data analysis? I'm sure the climatologists know. Here, I'm trying to do my homework before asking.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dark sky Wildomar, a standard for preservation

I'm using the Milky Way as a metric for local light pollution. I don't expect to restore the skies of ten years ago, rather, I hope only to keep the Milky Way visible from typical backyards. Below is a photo of the Milky Way on August 12, 2010 from my backyard. Though the contrast is poor, our galaxy is still visible to the naked eye and to the camera.

Photo: Region near Sagitarius and Scutum.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Comet Hartely 2

I just started following comet Hartley 2. It's faint, but detectable from moderately light polluted skies. Below is a wide-field view taken with a 28mm camera lens and an inset taken with a 3-inch telescope at a focal ratio of f5. (Click to enlarge the photo.)


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Op Ed promotes geoengineering; my letter refutes

As an informed citizen, I try my best to correct misunderstandings on the science of climate change that appear in local media. This gives me plenty to do.

Eleven days ago, The Californian ran this op-ed by Dana Milbank in which he argues that we need to consider geo-engineering should efforts to control greenhouse gas levels fail.

Climate Change Plan B

I agree with him to the extent that we are failing miserably to control emissions and that some geo-engineering solutions may need to to considered to buy us time, but his description of many geo-engineering options and describing them as opportunities that haven't been explored is ignorant of the science. It is disturbing that columnists say such things and then are allowed additional op-eds before their previous errors can be corrected.

My letter ran today:


The defining feature of my article is that it's 200 words. I'm also guilty of a little political manipulation. I refer to the conservative side of me recognizing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I used the word "conservative" for it's original meaning: tending to conserve the resourses we have. But, I was writing for the paper, and during election season, so I knew people will read "conservative" in it's political sense, where conservative on ecology and conservative in political outlook do not mix.

The issue is not to convince liberals or anyone open to scientific conclusions that climate change is real and dangerous. The issue is in convincing conservatives, as they have to be part of the solution. Climate change is becoming the frog in the boiling pot of water experiment. Next year continues to look only slightly worse than this year. We do not hear the clicking of the rachet.

Of couse, as an animal loving liberal, I've never boiled a frog for myself. I hope I don't have to, and I hope humanity doesn't take the global experiment much farther.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Orbital forcing 135 kya

I'm building a viewer that will show orbital configurations with climate data from the Vostok ice core (and from other sources when I get to them). Below is an orbital configuration from 135 kya. Assuming I've reconstructed this time correctly, it shows an orbital configuration that puts the solstices at right angles to the Earth's semi-major axis (blue line connecting perihelion to the sun). Such a configuration should cancel out the effect of eccentricity, an effect that can heat the hemispheres unequally. In this configuration, no hemisphere gets its peak summer at perihelion, where it would otherwise get significantly more solar energy. Notice how the insolation graphs of 60 degrees N and 60 degrees South cross at this time. Click the illustration to enlarge it.

I'm sharing for the fun of learning about climate, especially the astronomical component of Earth's glacial and interglacial phases. This illustration is an elaboration of one used in my Earth, Orbit, and Climate presentation, which I've recently updated. I claim no scientific credentials; just an enthusiasm to learn and share, while inviting criticism.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stopping to admire the camouflage

You really have to admire the camouflage of these horned toad lizards:

Can you see the lizard?

Here's another photo with my shadow almost holding the lizard (almost, because I didn't want to scare it away):

And another view:


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Supervisor Marion Ashley fails to understand basic lighting design yet speaks

Today's Californian covers the Riverside County Board of Supervisors review of light trespass, brought before the Board by Supervisor Tavaglione (

The article reports Supervisor Ashley saying that
"most commercial properties before the board in the last decade or two have been vetted to ensure they are dark-skies friendly and 'There's probably not a lot more they can do unless they turn the lights out'."
Ashley reveals some misunderstanding of lighting and light trespass. Set aside for the moment that the County has allowed numerous violations of the lighting ordinance on commerical properties, light trespass refers to bad aim, and there is a simple solution.

Consider this photo of an arc around the sun. Notice how the photographer (me) is using the object in the foreground as a shield to block the bright direct light of the sun. I'm not advocating turning off the sun, but shielding it so I can see and take the photograph.

Now observe these lights. The top one is typical light installed by a developer, and shines more light on the neighbor's house than it shines on the property on which it's installed. This is bad design, wasteful use of energy, and light trespass.
The bottom photo is a properly shielded light, and everyone can see (and sleep) better.

Light trespass regulation isn't about denying anyone the right to light their property; rather, it requires that they do just that, light their own property.

The real advantage of a light trespass standard is that developers will stop installing lights that will be subject to a legal complaint. Instead, they should use lights with reflective hoods that aim all the light onto the property the light is intended to illuminate. By using all the light, the property owner will get effective lighting with a lower watt bulb.

Update 20 Oct 10. The Board voted 5-0 in favor:


Friday, October 15, 2010

Riverside County Considers Regulating Light Trespass

Riverside County is considering a light trespass ordinance that will give a property owner some legal recourse to deal with an intrusive light. In doing so, the County will be recognizing the concept of "light trespass," a term I first heard used by the International Dark-sky Association. It's a good term, accurate, simple to understand, and describes a pervasive mis-use of light. I've been approached many times by people asking me if there's anything they can do (legally) about a neighbor's annoying light. "No," has always been my answer. Now, I'll say "wait."

It should be noted that a light trespass regulation doesn't stop anyone from lighting their own property; rather it stops them from lighting their neighbor's property. I've never met anyone who likes having a neighbor's bright light shining into their bedroom windows; and I've never met anyone who insists on the right to light a neighbor's property. I think a lot of people, however, will fall in between: they will want to retain the right to not have to care what type of light fixture they install; thus, they see their right not to care as greater than another's right to enjoy darkness.

I do foresee some challenges, depending on the scope of the ordinance. If the ordinance will not be retroactive on home owners, then it will be difficult to invoke. How does one prove that an intrusive light was installed after the ordinance went into force? One would have to photograph the surrounding properties before the light was installed. Not many people would think to do this before the offense.

Businesses will balk at anything that's retro-active, yet they are some of the worst offenders. Some consider it their right to shine bright white light beyond their property and into the sky as an indirect means of attracting customers or to cater to the perception that light makes for safety, and therefore, more light makes for more safety. (I accept that well aimed light may enhance safety. Businesses should be allowed prominent signs and well lit entry ways. It's when they neglect good design and illuminate indescriminately that the net gain is reduced by the nuisance, glare, waste of energy, and light pollution.)

Billboards are very indescriminate about how much light they use and where they shine it. A downlit design is available. We should require that it be used, especially in the 45-mile radius of Palomar Observatory. No light trespass standards applied to new construction can save money and energy, as well as protect the nightsky. All of these are benefits in addition to the intended goal of freeing people from intrusive lighting.

I recommend that cities encourage the County of Riverside and leverage it's efforts in order to adopt their own lighting trespass regulations. Residents should consider contacting their county supervisors to support the development of light trespass regulation. This issue os schedule for discussion on Oct 19, 2010.



Update: 16 Oct. 2010: I've added some light trespass examples.
This is the type of lighting that the ordinance would address. Notice how far beyond the property these lights shine. Here's a close-up taken with a zoom lens:

The grand opening of Gerrome's Furniture in Murrieta demonstrates a business thinking the sky is their advertising space that they have the right to stomp on research at Palomar Observatory.

The search lights are a violation of Murrieta's civic code. The night I took this photo, I went into the store and had a promising chat with the manager. I said intervening via code enforcement would be a lose-lose situation, and perhaps Gerome's would consider after their opening to bring the lighting the store inherited within the city's code. The manager struck me as genuinely concerned and gave me contact person at the corporate office. However, the contact number didn't work and so I tried contacting other departments at Gerome's corporate office and made polite inquiries via their phone message system. None of my inquiries were acknowledged, and since then, Gerome's has added more snshielded white lighting to their building.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Candidates for Wildomar City Council on Light Pollution

I've asked the candidates for Wildomar City Council to comment on light pollution (see part 1). In my offer, I asked to print what they said or offered to summarize their views. Some accepted my offer to summarize. Others provided quotable prose. I intend no bias in either form of comment, just an acknowledgement that in my summaries, I may have erred and will make corrections. I also put the candidates comments or summaries in an arbitrary order. No bias in sequence is intended.

This project started with a promise to myself to meet each candidate. After getting my first response, which was a pleasant experience, I realized I might be doing a service to the community by capturing and sharing all of the candidates' views.

Though this post is an opportunity to put candidates on record, the real benefit is that these candidates have done the cause of protecting the night sky a great service. They all believe a starry night is a part of Wildomar that they wish to protect.

Ben Benoit (my summary based on a telephone conversation):
I learned that Ben and I both own the same type of telescope. His scope and that he complimented me on the recent astronomy night in the park suggested a genuine interest in astronomy, and therefore, an appreciation for protecting the night sky. He doesn't see dark skies protection as an impediment to commercial growth, but it may not be reasonable to correct via punitive measures lighting that, though in violation, was given an approval by the appropriate agency, such as County before incorporation, and City, after. As I relayed examples of newly constructed facilities that are in violation of our lighting ordinance, he offered to examine whether these new projects were given approval by the County or City Planning Department.  
Sheryl Ade:
I think dark skies/bright stars one of the hallmark lifestyle elements of Wildomar.

I can tell you that I've worked and lobbied over the last year to bring in a new Planning Director for Wildomar. We now have a new Planning Director - Matt Bassi. I will be meeting with him this week to discuss a number of things "Wildomar" and will bring up the importance of the light pollution ordinance. We also have a new public works director, Tim D'Zmura and a new City Engineer, Steve Palmer. All have excellent qualifications and will, I believe, add value to our City planning, development and building processes. I will make sure they all understand that the light pollution ordinance is of significance to our community and give them some background (as well as your webpage).

I'll request that they look at the issues you mention in your email as well as direct them to contact you regarding the Clinton Keith lighting issues.
Tim Walker:
I agree with you that we need to keep our sky as dark as possible. I remember when I first came here in 1979. I purchased my property and was amazed at how many stars there were. Coming from inner-city LA we had no chance to see the beauty that was up there.
The lights of the cities of Temecula and Murrieta drive me crazy. I do want our town to keep light pollution under control. The developer's that will be coming to our city will need to address this in their plans. I'm not sure exactly where the city stands on this. I will try to find out and make sure that all of our concerns are heard.
The business owners that are here now cannot be forced to change their lights if they have been approved before building. I had to place shields on our lights when I had my first company here. The county was very concerned about the Palomar Mountain Observatory. That was 20 years ago and you can see that they let us all down.
Hopefully we can maintain our beautiful skies for our children and  grandchildren.
Marsha Swanson:
I am totally in favor of saving our night sky.  I have lived here for 36 years and the night sky was the first thing I noticed when we moved in.  I also really appreciate the time and information you give to our kids at the park.
Martha Bridges (summarized based on conversation and correspondence):

Martha has shared with me on a couple occasions that she feels we need to protect our night sky. She says that city councils and planning departments in the valley need to be proactive in protecting our sky with strict enforcement of codes, and careful monitoring of what developers and individuals choose for outdoor lighting.  Martha sees a need for balancing the protection of our environment against the drive for commercial development she sees being advocated by most of the other Wildomar Council candidates. Martha also describes herself as an active environmentalist and sees the night sky as part the environment she wishes to protect. Most notably, she has offered to help me in addressing current violations of our lighting ordinance regardless of the outcome of the city council election.
 Kristan Lloyd (Added 12 Oct 2010):

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this issue.
I believe that dark skies are an important feature of our community's rural nature and it's disconcerting that community members have noticed that enforcement of our lighting ordinance falling by the wayside.
Wildomar is very fortunate to have informed and dedicated community members that are passionate about preserving our community for future generations. I would like to see the city council making all efforts to include more of the wealth of knowledge that individuals have to offer with a community committee that addresses issues such as this one.
I have recently read several articles regarding dark skies and its ability to engage our special needs children as well as keeping us in touch with something that is bigger than ourselves. These articles referred to out in nature camping experiences but with our busy schedules we should be able to walk out into our own backyard and see our skies without a haze of light pollution.

Safety is always brought up as an issue but studies have shown that outdoor security lighting does not reduce crime and uses approximately 800 pounds of coal each year per light.
I am very interested in learning more about the alternatives that are available that will put safety first and foremost for the community while also keeping light pollution down so we can all experience a rural night sky. These options need to be brought forth to the city council, staff and planning commission so that future projects not only meet the current ordinance but take advantage of all possibilities available to protect our night skies.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Issa and 'Climategate'

Being a follower of climate science, it has been difficult to not hear about the "climategate" scandal, which is based on the theft and misinterpretation of private correspondence between scientists. I commented in my local paper before on this issue and invited critics to reach me here. This otherwise non-issue returns with my House representative commenting on the need for investigation, as reported here:

I examined my representative's climate change position, which didn't address my concern, so I sent this inquiry (and received an acknowledgement that my comment had been received):
The 9/23/10 New York times says that you will be ramping up an investigation into "climategate" if Republicans take the House. I have been studying climate science and would like to know 1) whether the New York Times accurately portrayed your intentions and 2) what are your plans regarding oversite of climate science and an investigation of "climategate"
thank you,
After three days with no reply, I send this letter to my local paper:

As of today, I have not received a reply from my representative. It's possible that he has been too busy responding to other inquiries made before mine: e.g.,
(I just discovered the above petition today and was disappointed by the lack of date information; it doesn't say when it started nor when it will end.)

Politicians have tried to intimidate scientists before. Such behavior is going on as I write, for example, yesterday's Washington Post covers a similar situation:


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dark skies and Wildomar City Council Elections

In the Nov. 2010 election, Wildomar will elect three council members. I have sent each of the six candidates for city council the following question (see answers):
I would like to know your view on protecting a part of our community's rural nature, that is a fairly dark nighttime sky. Like Temecula and Murrieta, Wildomar has adopted a light pollution ordinance. Much development in Temecula and Murrieta shows that these communities have forgotten to enforce their lighting ordinance. Wildomar is beginning to slip in the same direction with the new developments along Clinton Keith as well as with retrofits to some churches and community group buildings. I believe a dark sky is a rural quality that can be preserved while we still develop economically. I would like to know if you see the issue as I do, and if so how you would protect our night sky.
Below are examples of what I'm refering to. Each of these photos shows lighting installed after Wildomar's incorporation, and each is in violation of Riverside County ordinance 655 and Wildomar's ordinance 8.80. I cite both ordinances because some of these developments would have been approved by Riverside County before incorporation.

Unshielded white light used for Class II application (supposed to be low-pressure sodium and any use of white light must have full cut off shielding)

Unshielded white light on building and white light used for parking lot.
Liberal use of unshielded white decorative lights.
Class II lights should be low-pressure sodium. The main structures on this property use unshielded white light floodlights (not shown)

As with any open-book test, my question gives away what I think is a correct answer. My goal is not to expose a candidate for a view I would find contrary, but rather, to invite candidates to consider, if they haven't before, the value of a dark sky as part of the community they love and wish to serve, and that there will be challenges and opportunities. I do not expect violations of the lighting ordinance to get the same treatment as violations to health and safety. Nor do I wish an antagonizing relationship with any business that is in violation. But I do consider the beauty of our night a quality of life issue, a trace element that cannot be forgotten, and I think it should be a matter of pride, a symbol of support for the community, for a business to comply with all of their community's policies.

I will be summarizing and sharing my responses from the candidates in a follow-up to this post.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Brush fires

The center of this picture shows a hill that burned about 10 years ago. The hill is split at the middle of the picture by a dark vegetation line showing where the fire stopped. The left side burned, the right didn't. The left is now mostly grasses and small herbs; the right is chaparral, consisting of large bushes that are mostly 4-6 feet high but can get up to 10 feet high.
My region offers ample opportunities to observe brush fires. The chaparral and forests are dry throughout June through October. The 14-20 inches of rain per year falls mostly in the winter months.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Back to my roots

My initial fascination with science (not counting dinosaurs), began with the study of botony and my perceived need to be able to identify any species of tree while passing at 50 mph. However, identifying everything one may find while hiking is a lot more difficult. I've started collecting my plant photos in an interactive plant identification guide that will, if nothing else, help me to know when I've already photographed a specific species.

My plant identification guide can be viewed here:

One clicks a category or attribute on the left and the selections get narrowed down and results are displayed on the right.
I'll be improving the interface while continually adding images and new species. The main problem I need to fix first is the biome filters (chaparral, montane, riparian, etc.). I need to make these add each set they describe. Currently, if you click two biomes, my program removes all species except those I've tagged as being in both selected biomes. This is first on my list of enhancements.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Earth, Orbit, and Climate for Sierra Club, 23 Sept

Thurs, 23 Sept., 7:00 pm at the Rancho California Water District building in Temecula, Ca, I'll be presenting the latest version of my talk on Earth, Orbit and Climate. In Earth, Orbit, and Climate, I share what I've learned in the past few years about the astronomical foundation of climatology, and specifically, the roll of Earth's orbit in governing climate over millennial time scales. I also discuss greenhouse gases and Earth's carbon cycle.

I draw heavily on the following resources:
My revised presention will be online within the next few weeks (current version: Earth, Orbit and Climate). My new version will remove the section on the solar system, which was pretty weak (on my part; no reflection on my source). The most exciting change is that I've added a section on the Eemian interglacial in which I've used astronomical solutions, CO2 levels, and temperature data from the above references to illustrate the Milankovich theory of climate. Below is an illustration from the presentation.

Within a few weeks I hope to update the online version and provide elaboration here for the fun of sharing as well as exposing my work for educational criticism.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Eemian orbital forcing

Astronomical solutions for paleoclimates generates Earth's orbital parameters (eccentricity, tilt, climatic precession, and insolation) over a span of 50 million years in the past to 20 million years in the future. One of my slow learning projects has to been to use the output from this program to create illustrations of orbital configurations at key climatic transitions, such as the Eemian interglacial. When graphed, data of orbital parameters often look like this:

(Diagram redrawn from Wikipedia and IPCC 4th Assessment Report)

For a scientist, this is useful, but not being a scientist I looked for a display that I would find inituitive and useful for explaining what I'm learning to others. I'm not going for precision, but rather, for an illustration that can show the change and show when some orbit parameters would have a collective warming or cooling influence. For example, the following contains my exaggeration of orbit eccentricity and tilt:

Tilt is a stretching of the 4-season ring so that the points of summer and winter solstice are elongated. Elongated means tilt is high, making summers and winters more extreme. Eccentricity is the blue elipse, which is exaggerated in relation to Earth's real orbit so that one can easily see when a solstice occurs near perihelion or near aphelion, and then intuitively recognize that this can make a northern hemisphere summer or winter on top of tilt milder (winter near perihelion or summer near aphelion) or more extreme (winter near aphelion; summer near perihelion).

So here are three orbits from the Eemian, starting from right to left, 30,000, 27,000, and 24,000 years ago:

I think I captured the orbits correctly (according to my analogy) in the top half of the diagram. The bottom half is wrong, but I'm keeping it as a puzzle for me to ponder how to fix (the right Earth should be paired with the left orbit; and the left, with the right, but I still want the tilt oriented to the sun).

Using Astronomical Solutions, I gathered the mean monthly insolation for June at 60 degrees North latitude. I chose 1000-year intervals to minimize the numbers I have to chart. I included eccentricity, tilt, and climatic precession. Also, I generated the insolation for 60 degrees South latitude during December, so I could compare the Northern summer's solstice to the Southern summer's solstice. One can see a big difference in insolation as a result of the two summers occuring at opposite ends of Earth's orbit. I also throw in some Holocene values to compare astronomical forcing of the Eemian to today.

Next, I hope to get some data on CO2 increases from warming (which in turn would warm the Eemian further) and add some illustrations of possible arctic and ocean feedbacks that will have added to warming or would have contributed to the rise of atmospheric CO2.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Lizard on mirror

Amateur astronomy presents numerous surprises. In this case, a friend of mine was having trouble collimating his newtonian reflector. Astute problem solving quickly determined the cause:

This photo shows the view down the aperature of a rather high-end telescope he uses for imaging. The sacrosanct mirror is at the bottom of the tube, and the blurry foreground shows the telescope tube and secondary mirror.

The lizard appears to be a species we refer to as alligator lizard, for the pattern of the scales resembles an alligator's scales.


Monday, August 30, 2010

NOSS 3-2(A) and NOSS 3-2(C

While photographing Perseid meteors two weeks ago, I observed two bright satelites travelling in what appeared to be tandem. I turned the camera to their path and caught the photo above. I was surprised to see that they were actually travelling in parallel courses, but with one following the other.

Friends have helped me identify these as possibly Naval Ocean Surveyance System satellites NOSS 3-2(A) and NOSS 3-2(C).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Stars and Strips

I've said before that the light needed to illuminate a flag is not a major problem in light pollution, but I've also said that automating a lighting task (whether its for security or patriotism) often leads to complacency and then to neglect. I think this flag in a Temecula business park shows the concept well: this business was patriotic the day it mounted the flag and lighting. The flag is nearly gone, but the energy use and upward lighting continues.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Public Star Party, Saturday June 28, 7:45-10:00

This weekend the Temecula Valley Astronomers will set up telescopes at Marna O'Brien Park. My best guess at how the evening will play is as follows:

At 7:45, Venus is visible in the west, and maybe Saturn. Saturn will be low and barely detectable to the naked eye. I do not know how well it will be viewed in scopes, but a view is possible before it sets around 8:30 (allowing for the high western horizon).
8:00 pm is the official start. I'll be doing a shortened version of my presentation on Exoplanets. Bring your own chair. During the presentation, people are welcome to wander about looking through the telescopes.
By 8:30, the presentation will end and it will be dark enough to see some star clusters, globular clusters, nebulae, and double stars.
At 9:00 there will be a drawing for Galileoscopes donated by The City of Wildomar. I described these in more detail in a previous post.
At 9:10, the gibbeous moon rises. The moon will wash out the fainter objects but be a fine target itself. Also by this time, Jupiter should clear the trees to the east and be visible in telescopes.
Experience tells me that after telescopes are given away, the crowd thins out, so I'm guessing an end time near 10:00pm.
Below is a map.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Light pollution articles and letters in local press

Here's an example of what I'm trying to preserve by drawing attention to light pollution:

(Of course, I'm trying to protect our window to this view;  I don't claim to be personally saving the galaxy.) I was trying to photograph Scorpius, but I couldn't help getting a part of Sagitarius and the milky way.

This photo was taken in the desert under a cresent moon. I think the exposure was around 3 minutes with a 28 mm lens.

Of course, I'm over-joyed when writers speak to the topic of light pollution:
And I followed up with a letter: Light pollution letter, The Californian 8/18/10.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Perseids, part II

A couple more Perseids from the morning of Saturday, Aug. 14.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Perseids and Imposters

Between 3 and 4 AM on Aug 13, I watched for Perseid meteors from my backyard. Along the light pollution theme, I'm glad to say faint meteors are still visible from my community, but barely.

This photo shows a meteor from last night:
...but I can't claim it as a Perseid. The original wide field image shows that it is an interloper, coming from a different direction than the Perseids (which radiate from Perseus):

A Perseid is in the following photo. The constellation of Perseus is in the lower left and the meteor is in the lower right, however, Blogger's image compression erased the meteor trail, so I've added a closeup below.

I was photographing with a 28mm lens at f4 and ISO of 400. Exposure times varied between 30 and 60 seconds. I will try again tonight using a faster setting, e.g., F2.8 and perhaps shorter exposure times. The faster setting will make any meteors brighter, but I'll need to user shorter exposure times to minimize the sky glow. The disadvantage of shorter exposure times is that I may miss meteors in the time between exposures.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Eemian is pronounced 'aim-ee-un'

In climatology, Eemian refers to the previous interglacial period about 125,000 years ago. I've only read the term, so I needed a proper pronunciation. Web searches, dictionaries, even the Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology failed me, so I asked a scientist who joked that being raised by meteorologists left him no clue on how to pronounce the word.

Then, I contacted the Dutch Consulate. I'm posting the reply for the benefit of others who may have to pronounce this word:
I understand that it can be difficult to pronounce Dutch words, such as the river Eem. You would pronounce Eem, as in the English word 'aim' (as in: I aim for something). So: Eem = 'aim'. For the pronunciation of Eemian, it would be: 'aim-ee-un'. So the letter 'i', you would pronounce like a 'e'. And the letter 'u', like in the expression 'um'.
My thanks to the Dutch Consulate.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wildomar Star Party, August 28, 2010, Marna O'Brien Park

The City of Wildomar and the Temecula Valley Astronomers are sponsoring a star party at Wildomar's Marna O'Brien Park on August 28. A show will start at 8:00 and run for a half hour, followed by observing through telescopes; and last is a drawing for telescopes. The telescopes being given away are the Galileoscopes: a low-cost, yet functional 50mm telescope. This telescope is best suited as a learning activity, as it needs assembling. I put one together last year, and found the directions easy to follow. However, I do recommend reading the directions and test fitting the pieces (to ensure you're putting the correct piece in its place) before assembly.

This is the third annual star party Wildomar has sponsored in its three years since incorporation. Last year, the event was announced by the Press-Enterprise, which interviewed me, and the Press-Enterprise article was reported on by The Californian here. But best of all, the Valley News sent a reporter to the event and published a follow-up story that is no longer on their website ("Astronomy outing draws standing-room-only-crowd"). It is a shame that the Valley News article is not available, as I wanted to commend the reporter for not only being there but for not using flash photography.

As last year's event drew 300 people (a conservative estimate based on the number of raffle tickets --one per person), this year's may be equally large.

Update: Last, I should add that the person most responsible for making this event happen, this year and previous years, is Community Services Directory Paula Willette. Thank you, Paula.

Update 2: map to Marna O'Brien

Depending on the position of Saturn in the sky, viewing may start first to allow attendees to see Saturn before the show starts.  


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Another reason to study climate science

I consider myself an informal student of climatology, and as such, I've been learning what I can about the topic through science journals, scientists' blogs, and books. Though this self-guided method provides a window into the scientific concensus, it also leaves gaps. Stephen Schneider's work was one of my gaps.

I learned today that Stephen Schneider has passed away. He was probably the greatest climate scientist whose name I didn't know, that is, till I read his book Science as a Contact Sport. "So this was the guy who...." was my reaction throughout his book; I had heard of his contribution but not his name, and now I'm enjoying the pleasure of associating his name with his acheivments.

I will continue to study climatology the hope of further understanding his contributions.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

spider with a face

I find faces on insects to be quite creepy, and intriguing. Can you see the face on this one?
Photo taken on 7/16/2010, San Diego, CA

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Palomar Observatory Information

Below is a jpg version of a PDF flyer I've created to give local decision makers some information about the importance of protecting Palomar Observatory. I created it a couple years ago and this is an update to which I've added the exoplanets imaged by Palomar Observatory.

PDF versions of high and low resolution (and file size) are available here:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Drawing Board

A test of animated GIFs (admittedly, of low image quality). CLICK the GIF to see the full size.

Sea level estimates (png and jpg):

Timelines in jpg and png format:

I'm using this post to share some work-in-progress illustrations that will undergo a lot of revision and personal discovery for me. If they turn in to anything, I'll share.

Red still means less; yellow, more.