Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Comet Lovejoy

On December 29 I observed comet Lovejoy using binoculars and a small telescope. It was very easy to see in a 9x50 finder scope, even with a bright moon. Here is a wide field view of the comet in relation to Orion. Lovejoy is in the crosshairs. Over the next week it will move approximately in the direction shown by the arrow.

Here is comet Lovejoy in a small telescope: 

The next best time to watch for this comet will be in the early evenings after January 7th, because the moon will be out of the way.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Iridescent clouds and crazy contrails

December 24 had some interesting clouds that produced great iridescence. My hand is blocking the sun in the picture below.

Iridescent clouds, 24 December 2014, ~12:00

The color in these photos matches that perceptible to the eye, though the sky is darker in my photos due to my camera's adapting to the brightness. Our eye can detect the colors of the sky and iridescence, but the camera, at least mine, has to choose one. If I had taken identical photos using different exposure times, I could combine the the images in Photoshop to reproduce the full range of color; but the iridescence was fleeting, leaving no time for tripod mounting or controlled exposures. My best results came from using the camera's automatic landscape settings.

Minutes after the above photos, a jet passed through the cloud, leaving a contrail up to the cloud but erasing the where it flew through. The erased parts are probably the hole-punch effect, where a plane or strong updraft punches holes in a cloud. This tells me that the cloud was very thin, perhaps a requirement for producing the iridescence. As the clouds thickened in the afternoon, the iridescence was gone.

Condensation trail with hole punch effect


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ursid meteor splits 33 Capricornus

While looking for comet Finlay, which can be found next to Mars throughout this week, I bagged a meteor. Last night was the Ursid meteor shower, a light sprinkling offering 5-10 meteors per hour -- not the type of thing I stay out for on a cold night, but it was a clear night and good for star gazing.

Wide field:


Any meteor that crosses a star is suspect; that is, it could be a plane that blinks or a satellite that rotated its more reflective side toward Earth, but the star it passed through is listed in star charts as 33 Capricornus.

And of course, before after shots include the star:

I did find Comet Finlay, a feat that attests to my community's fairly dark sky. The following photo shows the faint green comet amid 9+ magnitude stars.

The 9th magnitude stars appear brighter than Finlay. Within the circle around Finlay, there's a 10th magnitude star and a few that are probably 11th magnitude (anything fainter is probably camera noise). Finlay is clearly brighter than 11th magnitude but very close in brightness (accounting for its being more diffuse) to the 10th magnitude star.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sun Pillar in Wildomar's Western Sky

Monday was another parhelia day. I saw a sundog in the morning and pulled over to take a quick picture. Upon examining the photos, I learned that my camera's landscape setting had overexposed and lost the color. A lesson I applied later in the day.

When driving home that evening, I saw a sun pillar. Based on the morning's experiment, I knew I had to not just pullover, but pull off the road where I could take my time with manual exposure settings to get the sun pillar:

The sun pillar is the column of light in the center, caused by the downward refraction of sunlight by ice crystals in the atmosphere. Light from the sun that would normally pass over my head is being bent downward so I see it as a column. I suspect the geometry refraction through ice crystals limits how high the pillar can be.

The phenomenon lasted for about 5 minutes, making timing critical.


Monday, November 17, 2014

I loved AR2195, let it go, and now it's come back to me

AR 2195, the largest sunspot I've ever seen and photographed, rotated out of my view after Oct 28. Today, I captured it's return. The sunspot has shrunk, but it is still remarkable that it's visible.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sunspot AR2192 sequence

I assembled my photos of sunspot AR2192 from October 20 to October 28, 2014 into this video:

I also added a reference to the size of Earth for comparison.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Wildomar is slipping into lightness

As is common for all the cities in my region, people tend to forget the lighting policies in place and upgrade or retrofit their businesses with lighting that fails to conform to the municipal codes. For example, this diagram illustrates the effect of poor choice of lighting fixtures recently installed at a business on Mission Trails Road in Wildomar:

Please note that I'm not criticizing the products or services of the business, just the lighting.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Season's Greetings

The first weather indicating a change of seasons has occurred, opening the start of the winter rainbow and sundog hunting season:

Superluminary Rainbow 
(superluminary refers to the duplicate violet bands)

Sundog on morning of 31 Oct. 2014

Prelude to the weather change on 30 Oct. 2014


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Interrupting this Sunspot for an Eclipse

My sequence of images tracking sunspot AR2192 were interrupted by the moon, or a partial solar eclipse. Here's the partial eclipse at it's peak from last Thursday, 10/23/14:

Unlike the eclipse, the sunspot endures to this day,

I will post pictures of it soon.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Still obsessing over the sunspot AR2192

Here are photos of sunspot AR2192 from today and yesterday. I wanted to see it it changed much since yesterday. I think not. Most of the difference appears to result from our changing angle of view as the rotating Sun brings the sunspot to the center.

Sunspot AT2192 on 21 October 2014


Update: Photo from 22 Oct. 2014:

Sunspot AR2192

I continue to be taken by this impressive sunspot. One friend observed that he can see the sunspot using solar glasses. These glasses offer no magnification increase. Below are photos from Monday, 20 October 2014.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sun's up

Another grand sunspot is rotating into view:

The photo was taken today (19 Oct. 2014) with a white-light solar filter over an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassigrain telescope at F10. I added a little yellow tone for aesthetics.

The photo below shows the sun with my scope's focal ratio reduced to F6.3, allowing me to get the full sun on the frame. The inset highlights the sunspot.

This sunspot will rotating toward the middle of the sun (from our viewpoint). It is the type of sunspot that will make news if it lets loose a flare while pointing at us. On the other hand, it may fade slowly and uneventfully.

Below, I've doubled what one can do with a solar filter. It's great for solar selfies. Here's me, my camera, and our sun in the solar filter, which is essentially a mirror that reflects 99.9% of light.

I pulled out just the sun from the above photo. The photo was taken at 39 mm focal length. I believe a camera at 50 mm focal length produces images of a scale matching human perception. So, the sun in this photo should be smaller than human perception. With that in mind, I wondered if this sunspot would be visible to the naked eye under cloudy or hazy conditions that allowed for a safe glimpse. DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN, but I suspect this one under special natural conditions could be viewed with naked eye. You can see a fragment of the grand sunspot in the lower left corner:


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Opening Fire on a Can of Worms

I probably shouldn't touch issues involving the Second Amendment and gun violence. I'm no expert on the risks and benefits, and commenting on this topic gets you labelled as one of us or one of them. Additionally, I've observed how issues such as climate change, vaccinations, evolution, and genetic modification are misreported by various media and amplified by people of specific political views. (Note my examples represent liberal and conservative extremes.) So, the same misinformation is to be expected in the issue of gun safety, gun control, and interpreting the Second Amendment.  It is difficult to know where to get reliable, objective research. It is also difficult to examine and remove one's own biases.

I've known one person who used his gun to shoot and kill his ex-wife and himself. Events reported suggest that he intended to kill his two children too, but they managed to escape. I know one person whose intimate friend was shot and killed by an intruder. I've met a sociopath drunk who screamed murderous threats all night from a neighboring campsite (he was provoked by my asking him kindly to stop urinating in our campsite). I've been threatened directly, words to the effect that "If I had a gun, you'd be dead". I once lived in a home that had been broken into for the former occupant's gun. (Just the gun was stolen.)

I've watched a national organization, which is proud of its values, instruct children in the use of BB guns without adequate barriers between the shooters. They lectured that each person's gun must point up or downrange, no exceptions, but that didn't prevent one clumsy child, perhaps age 7 or 8, from pointing his barrel to the temple of the child next to him. I later learned that a BB gun to the temple can kill a child.

I'm sure there are many more examples if I plumb the murky depths of my memory. And of course there is the ongoing  non-events of many gun owners who are not involved in a shooting, as well as the hard-to-quantify deterrent effect.

A recent shooting in a nearby town got me thinking again, mainly because I've imagined myself in the same situation as the home owner who had to shoot an intruder. But by the grace of God, I could have been that person, and I can guess at the fears, self-doubt, and questioning of what is happening as one warns an intruder and then feels compelled to shoot in self-defense.

Studies I've read cite little evidence of the use of firearms in self-defense compared to other uses. These studies also acknowledge that this statistic is difficult to obtain. How often is a deterred intruder really a dog or a raccoon? Accidental shootings, a mis-use of guns, have a body as evidence. The deterred intruder leaves no evidence.

Studies acknowledge this bias and try to compensate by comparing cities with different gun laws or the same city before and after the enactment of a gun law. But still, they arrive at fewer examples supporting legitimate self-defense and that the majority of incidents (which excludes the daily non-incidents) involve a gun used by accident, in a suicide, stolen and used against others, or used to intimidate spouses and family.

So, when the nearby home owner had to shoot an intruder, I  accepted that this was a clear case that bucked the data trend, a clear case of demonstrating the value of having a weapon and being prepared to use it. But a couple days later, more news of the event was released. It turns out that the intruder was drunk, staying with a friend on the same street, and had mistaken the house for the home of his friend.

There is no excuse for being this drunk and for resorting to breaking a window, but when one steps back from the incident and looks at public policy, it looks like a stupid error on one person's part was made lethal only by the presence of a gun. Yet, it could have gone the other way.

Reading List:
American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: Risks and Benefits of a Gun in the Home
The New England Journal of Medicine: Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home
The New England Journal of Medicine: Suicide in the Home in Relation to Gun Ownership

Added 2/17/2015: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/02/having-a-gun-in-the-house-doesnt-make-a-woman-safer/284022/
Added opinion piece 4/2/2015: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/how-gun-rights-harm-the-rule-of-law/389288/?utm_source=btn-reddit-ppr
Added 4/26/2015: http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-83361247/
Added 6/29/2015: http://patch.com/california/murrieta/burglars-using-breaker-boxes-to-see-if-anyone-s-home
Added 10/8/2015: http://www.armedwithreason.com/rebutting-the-criminals-dont-follow-laws-and-gun-control-only-hurts-law-abiding-citizens-argument-against-gun-control/

Friday, October 10, 2014

Lunar Eclipse, 8 October 2014

Below is a photo of the recent lunar eclipse, or "blood moon, " a term that has become quite popular.

Less popular is the term "selenelion," which is used to describe an eclipsed moon that is visible when the sun rises, such that you can see each in their respective directions. This condition occurred for viewers in the eastern United States.

Compared to previous lunar eclipse from April, this one is a touch bloodier:

Next stop on the moon's busy agenda: a partial solar eclipse on October 23.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Star Party in Wildomar, Sept 20, Marna O'Brien Park

The City of Wildomar is hosting a free and open to the public star party on Saturday, Sept. 20. The suggested arrival time is between 6:30pm and 7:30pm. Bring blankets and chairs for the show at 7:30. Observing will begin, weather permitting, at 8:00 pm. Below are a map and a snippit from the show I prepared for this event.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Comet C/2014E2 (Jacques)

It's exciting to have comets visit us, as they exhibit a range of qualities, defy prediction, and if nothing else, change position from night to night.

I've been able to photograph Comet Jacques twice this week using a telescope. These photos are with a 3-inch telescope at focal ratio 6.3:

Comet Jacques, 26 August 2014 (The image has been
cropped and the exposure level manipulated in Photoshop)

Comet Jacques, 26 August 2014 (Image cropped)

I can see this comet through a 9x50 finder scope, but not in my 7x50 binoculars. Two reasons may explain this: the finder scope isn't being held, so doesn't wiggle, and though both instruments have the same light gathering power, the higher magnification of the finderscope improves the contrast so that there is less glow from the background.

UPDATE: I got a little more quality time and space on Aug 29 to add this:

Same camera, same scope, but better sky.

In this animation, I spliced images taken from 9:40 to 10:20 pm:


Knowledge as a foreign, invading power

Knowledge is power, but there are people who see any application of physics, collection of data, and survey of scientific literature as foreign, and therefore they fight its presence as though it were an invading power.


The Bugle is a monthly paper produced by Knight Publishing. Ad hominem attacks are an assumed risk for anyone offering an informative article. The September 2014 issue published a community forum article that confused a high school reading level with jargon and attacks me personally.

Here is the Sept 4 Community Forum by Ken Woytek:
John Garrett took great exception to my “mythical” claims of fraud in the scientific consensus of climate professionals crying Wolf over dangerous trends in global climate. His response, printed in the Aug. issue, is replete with jargonic references that only serve the unbiased reader to agree with my premise condemning the self-serving 97% of active “climatologists.”
These alarmists are simply furthering their own secure careers in bolstering the theory of  anthropogenic global warming, as they toil away measuring conditions that support their creed. Computer models so key in the mantra are man-made and undeniably reflect the bias of the developer, equally as crucial as the manmade CO2 explosion.
Have you, for example, ever had any faith in a program sponsored by the U.N., which reacts to every open argument with condemnation of the West, USA in particular, to court the majority of General Assembly members that envy and despise America? The vaunted IPCC meets regularly to rebuke our material success, without recognition of our humanitarian exceptionalism, with climate-abuse sanctions never visited upon the grossest violators in China, India, or Brazil who share our planet.
The only answers to 176 climate myths announced by Garrett that were not faith-based are those that refer to the destruction of the Amazon rain forest as a causative factor in growth of the CO2 concentrations in the global atmosphere. That massive CO2 consumer, and all smaller brethren gardens, are pivotal in the equilibrium necessary to radiate heat back into night space after earth insolation temperature rises all day, acting together with cloudless skies. All the other references paraded by Mr. Garrett are similarly flawed pseudo-science, to which he has become irrationally enamored in classic scholastic fervor colored by his political persuasion and shared by Mr. Inconvenient Gore, Sir RT Watson, and eminent scientist BH Obama.
Best regards, Ken Woytek, Menifee
What did I say to deserve such a come-uppance?

I wrote this:

The July Community Voice [by Ken Wyotek] alluded to at least a dozen climate science myths(1), too many to discuss here, so we need to start with the basics to correct the misinformation:
Predictions of global warming are based on fundamental physics. How much warming to expect from a given increase in greenhouse gases is constrained by observations, computer modeling, and past climate reconstructions(2).
Observations include surface and ocean temperatures, solar output, Earth's reflectivity, greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations, and outgoing radiation.
When considering all of these, rising CO2 is the best explanation for a global average temperature increase of 1.44F over 150 years, a conclusion supported by 97% of climate scientists(3). For comparison, cooling of 9F gives us an ice age. Warming of 3.6F over pre-industrial climate is worrisome but possibly safe, so our current 1.44oF increase is almost halfway through our safe zone.
Observations can be compromised by small sample sizes and measurement errors; thus decade-to-hundred-year trends such as global warming can be masked by natural year-to-decade long fluctuations. It takes 30 years to see the long term rise among short-term waves; and no one region can be taken as typical of the planet as a whole.
Computer modeling tests our understanding of the underlying physics of the climate system. Models are tested against observations and past climate reconstructions. Any scientific theory is incomplete without a physics-based model. Models have even identified errors in observations(4) and have demonstrated how global warming can dry the western US while cooling the eastern US.(5)
Climate reconstructions are based on ice cores, sediments, plant residue, and cave formations. These reconstructions of past climate smooth out the short-term effects. For example, when you look at an ice core, you’re seeing hundred-year trends, not decadal trends. It is these hundred year trends that are most disturbing, for they show:
• Our climate has changed drastically due to very small but gradual changes in energy.
• Naturally occurring changes in atmospheric CO2 levels regulate global climate on thousand-year timescales.
• Warming trends invoke feedback effects that amplify the warming.
• Our current rate of warming and level of greenhouse gases have no precedent going back millions of years.
The concern for global warming will not go away because the science will not go away despite the steady stream of misinformation.
1. SkepticalScience: Rebuttals to 176 climate myths, http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php
2. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Assessment Report 5. On my entire summary of observations, modeling, and climate reconstructions, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/#.UxNwv_ldWBR
3. Environmental Research Letters, Cook et al., http://www.skepticalscience.com/tcp.php?t=home
4. Nature, Fu et al. How a long-standing discrepancy between models and temperature observations was resolved. htttp://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v429/n6987/full/nature02524.html
5. Geophysical Research Letters, Wang et al. Modeling study shows global warming influence in the 2013-2014 California drought, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL059748/abstract
Additional information:
For instrumental temperature records, see http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/
(I’ve created interactive version here: http://www.brightstarstemeculavalley.org/science/InstTempRecord.html
For CO2 and temperature data for the past 800,000 years, see CO2:
(I’ve created an interactive version here: http://www.brightstarstemeculavalley.org/science/climate.html
Questions and criticism are welcome
at my blog: http://www.brightstarswildomar.blogspot.com
John Garrett -Wildomar

I think the differences between these two illustrate the gulf between reason and ignorance in the climate debate and in many other unnecessarily politicized issues.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Comet Splicing

Last night I observed a comet passing through Cassiopeia. Here is a wide-field image with Cassiopeia rising on the right and the comet (a green smudge) almost dead center.

I was using a 28-105 mm zoom lens, so after centering the comet, I took images at maximum zoom:

The comet is just left of center and Cassiopeia's center star is at the right.

Here is an un-cropped wide-field image. Depending on how well this web media preserves the image size and quality, you may be able to click into the image and see the comet and the Andromeda galaxy.

When you think about it, the above image shows Earth, an object from our solar system, our galaxy, and a distant galaxy. 

Using the telephoto lens, you can also detect the comet's movement against the background stars. This animation joins three images taken between 9:40 and 11:05 pm:

The first two frames were taken at focal length 70 mm, and the last at 105 mm. I wasn't planning to capture an animation, so I failed to keep consistent camera settings throughout my session, but you can tell the comet's motion is not due to my inconsistency.


Update: I've added a map showing where to look on Aug 25:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Astro Time Machine

Last night I presented my talk "The Astro Time Machine" to the Julian Starfest. My talk is about my dabblings in the field of archeoastronomy. I share some examples of North American sun shrines and examples of observations made by pre-western contact Native Americans, as well as my own inquiries about local artifacts. Recent work on understanding the alignment of the Egyptian pyramids and the Greek antikythera mechanism comprise my closing chapters.

Image: an illustration I created to depict the loss 
of what came to be known as the antikythera mechanism

As with all my talks, I like to provide my material online, though it lacks suitable annotations for all to follow the talk without assistance.

I'll be giving this presentation to the Temecula Valley Astronomers on Oct. 6, 7:00 pm at the Temecula Library on Pauba Road. This meeting is free and open to the general public.

It is probably my best talk ever. "I wasn't wondering when it would end," said a child in attendance.

My show is on my website here: Bright Stars Temecula Valley
If you view my online version, be prepared for a dearth of on-screen instructions, but an inquisitive person will be able to find the chapters and page through the illustrations. Note: my presentation is in Flash, so I recommend using a standard Flash-enabled browser. Soon, I hope to have an html5 version.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Star Parties in August and September 2014

There are four star parties approaching. Each is free and open to the public.

Saturday, 23 August:

  • Julian Starfest, Menghini Winery, Julian, CA
  • Explore the Stars, Palomar Observatory Campground, Cleveland National Forest
Saturday 20 September:
  • Wildomar, Marna O'Brien Park
Saturday, 27 September:

  • Explore the Stars, Palomar Observatory Campground

The Julian Starfest requires a fee for attending more than the free Saturday night event. For more information, see http://www.julianstarfest.com.

Explore the stars is also free, but takes place at Palomar Observatory Campground, therefore most of the attendees are camping. Camping is not free, but people do drive up for the event without camping. For more information on the location, see http://www.nanzscience.com/explore/index.html.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Climate Summary in the August Bugle

I published a summary of climate science in The Bugle, an local paper published by Knight Publishing:
In the summary, I provided my blog address for anyone wishing to comment. Comments and criticism are welcome here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Climbing over Graffiti

This is a personal post for friends who can't view the videos I posted on Facebook, but not so personal that I can't share for anyone. I like to rock climb, and I keep in shape in a nearby canyon that two years ago looked nearly pristine. Within the past two years there has been a increase in graffiti, such that I've been expecting some of my favorite climbs to become slicked up by layers of paint. This finally happened last weekend, so as personal therapy, I tried to dramatize the change in adhesion and therefore the tangible damage to me from someone's vandalism.

However, though I'm confident the new paint on my critical foothold will make it more slippery, and therefore, the climb more hazardous, it's hard to train one's body to not compensate for the increased hazard. So here was my first attempt to illustrate the increased risk of falling:

That was too easy. This day's temperature and humidity made for optimal adhesion between my climbing shoe and foothold. Plus, my instincts for preservation were strong.

Here's my second attempt:

But I think I over-acted, and I was afraid to simulate a genuine fall.

After two more tries I think my dramatization shows would would happen to me on a less than ideal day:

And last, a bit of climbing on a clean rock.


Illustrations for Seal of Approval, a Article about Bio-Logging

I've had the pleasure of contributing a few more illustrations to an article on Skeptical Science. I've shared the illustrations here, but recommend the article: Seal of Approval: How Marine Mammals Provide Important Climate Data.

A summary of advances in the use of animals to carry sensors.

A summary of the data collection cycle of an ARGO ocean sensor.

A summary of the how seals contributed to our understanding of the collapse 
of an Antarctic ice shelf.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Solar observation must be done in the sun, no exceptions

It was a hot, sunny day yesterday. Whimsically, I checked for sunspots with my Sun Spotter telescope. I had checked within the past week, so I wasn't expecting anything. However, a constellation of sunspots demanded my attention, so I set up the equipment for this photo.

I would have tried higher power magnification, but my equipment was getting hot to the touch.

The previous night I took my yearly light pollution monitoring photo. I try to capture the Milky Way from my backyard to verify that I can still do it and that protecting the night sky is still worthwhile in my community. My methods are inexact because I've switched from slide film to digital over the years, and I'm always dealing with variations in seeing conditions.

This time of year at 3:00am, the Milky Way rises straight up from the west and crosses the sky. This photo is a composite of two images from the morning of July 5.

This night was a bit humid, so the viewing was compromised by visible wispy clouds. I also tweaked the photos to enhance contrast. Directly overhead, I could see the Milky Way through Cygnus:

 However, once I turn northeast, the sky is heavily polluted:

The southwest, west, and overhead is our "Wildomar Window" and still worth protecting.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy Summer Solstice

Every summer solstice, the sun sets behind a nearby mountain topped with communication towers, as seen from my backyard. And every year, I forget to get a picture. This time, I remembered. Below are two photos of the sun dipping behind the towers. Both were taken with a 3" telescope at F6.3 using a white light solar filter. 


Saturday, June 14, 2014

When looking up, don't forget to look down

A keen-eyed observer at the May 31 Explore the Stars noticed a glow on the sidewalk that turned out to be a caterpillar with a bio-luminescent belly. I tried to take photos, but getting a good focus in the dark was difficult. Still, I got close.

This close up captures the color of it's glow. I think this was a 5-10 second exposure.

Curious observers soon arrived and examined the sight with their red flashlights, which lit up the scene. 

I quickly realized that some context was essential to the photograph. The shadow of my tripod can be seen next to the glow.

A friend tells me that most likely it's parasites in the caterpillar that are creating the glow -- another subject to look up sometime.