Category Archives: Astronomy

Full Moon & Christmas Lights

Okay, so the moon was only about 97% full. Close enough for government work!

It’s tough to find a balance…

..between the moon & the Christmas lights. The dynamic range is too large!

Up close and personal…

…it’s even worse. Overexpose the moon just enough so you can still see features, and you can barely tell there are Christmas lights to be seen here. But…

…pull in the Christmas lights and the moon is completely overexposed.

This is why composite photos are needed. Or you can get artsy-phartsy…

…and just go for something more abstract.

Time to post this before the electricity goes out. It is REALLY howling out there tonight, and it’s just a matter of time before the wind brings down a tree branch and we go dark!

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Filed under Astronomy, Christmas Lights, Photography

Spooky Explained?

A few days ago I posted pictures of “Spooky Finger Clouds“:

Some speculated that it might be contrails or something, but the explanation turns out to be more exotic.

See a day or so later:

Hey, you can see our house from here!

While they’re referred to as “gravity wave clouds,” they’re not in fact (much to my disappointment!) caused by gravity waves like those produced by colliding black holes. They’re caused by oscillations in the atmosphere where a disturbance of some sort causes moist air to rise and fall (due to gravity) much like ripples spreading out from a stone dropped into a pond.

The end result is that you get these rows of linear clouds. They can be extremely spectacular – they’ve even been seen on Mars!

Science! For The Win!

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Filed under Astronomy, Space, Weather

Clouds vs Luna, Part Deux

Some nights, especially after a week when you just want to beat your head against a brick wall until the fear stops, it’s good to stop and say, “Hey! That’s pretty freakin’ neat looking! Maybe that wall can wait until tomorrow!”

Thanks, Moon! Thanks clouds!

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Halloween 2017

When possible we celebrate Halloween by bringing out the telescopes and binoculars and throwing a star party on the front sidewalk while handing out candy. It has on occasion been spectacular.

After a year or two in which there wasn’t a lot of easy stuff to see from the bright, light polluted city, tonight was going to be great! The quarter moon was high and a trivially easy target. Saturn was up in the west and by the time it set Jupiter would be up in the east. Easy peasy.

Not tonight. The weather gods hate us.

Did anyone see the World Series Game Six from Dodger Stadium, which is about twenty miles from here as the crow flies? Drizzle, clouds, occasional light rain? Most of the actual rain missed us, but the clouds had us totally socked in.

The neighborhood knows us and we got asked all night about the telescopes. Sorry, I don’t have a radio telescope. If we have to stick to the optical wavelengths, tonight it was nothing but listening to the Dodgers game and handing out candy.

Also, in an hour NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starts. As much as I enjoyed participating in past years (just search this site for “NaNoWriMo”), just as I was forced to admit last year, there’s no way this year that I have the time to even think about participating.

Not surprisingly to me, having participated in both activities, NaNoWriMo reminds me a LOT of running a marathon. Just as I am melencholy watching the LA Marathon every year when I’m not running (which is most of them these days – I ran in 2011 and 2012, trained but didn’t fun in 2013 and 2014) I will no doubt be wishing that I was writing every day in November. The reality of my schedule and multiple other commitments is little consolation.

As noted previously, being a responsilbe adult can suck.


Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Weather, Writing

For Cassini

Tough night. As they say, let’s not be sad because she’s leaving us, let’s be joyful because of all she showed us and taught us.

And when you’ve sworn that you’re going to put on your big boy pants and make it through the vigil, you get this thread:

Then of course you have to watch the Cassini “Grand Finale” video:

Tomorrow, maybe it would be a good thing to start working a little harder to try to figure out how to get the powers that be in Washington to fund the next mission to Saturn. Maybe a Titan explorer, a boat to sail those methane seas or a balloon to soar over those petrocarbon pinnacles. Or an Enceladus orbiter to taste the plumes coming out of the polar tiger stripes.

Or both.

But for tonight, hail and farewell Cassini. You will always be Queen of the ringed planet in our hearts.


Filed under Astronomy, Music, Space

Home Again, Home Again

Long, long day, lots of (uneventful) travel. Up late, late last night packing and being CLOBBERED by some freakishly HUGE thunderstorms in the KC area. Up early, early this morning to get everyone off to the airport. Then home, unpacking, and trying to get a grip on where I’m at with all of that work and hangar stuff that I have to dive back into.

I’ve had just enough time to glance at the first of the photos from the DSLR with the big lens on it. Needless to say, compared to the stunning and gorgeous pictures that you can see online from a zillion people who had clear skies, mine don’t compare. On the other hand, pulling them up on the desktop, it’s surprising what I did manage to capture, even through the clouds. I’m seeing some of the corona, as well as some pink and reds from prominences around the limb. It’s blurry, but it’s there.

I think the best representation that I captured of what we saw will be in the videos, which I haven’t touched yet. I may have to start my own YouTube channel in order to upload the full resolution versions.

Meanwhile, it turns out that NASA had a pro film crew just a couple of miles away from where we were. This footage was shot by them in Beatrice, Nebraska. We were about five miles outside of Beatrice and this is pretty much what we saw with our eyes. They say they had 10,000 people there – we had maybe 200 to 250 at the gas station and country store where we made our stand. But the excitement and joy and noise from the crowd was the same, as was the movement of the clouds that you see in front of the eclipsed sun, preventing us from getting a super clear view, yet allowing us to see what we came to see and be awestruck by it.




Process video.

Still flashing back to the experience and still in awe.

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Filed under Astronomy, Travel


Much more, of course, after I get home and have a chance to download the pictures from the DSLRs and the video from four different cameras. But for now, let’s say that it was an exciting and wonderful day with a fair amount of adrenaline expended.

We woke up to clouds.

By the time we hit the road, there were thunderheads starting to build.

We were heading to NE Kansas (the Sabetha area) or SE Nebraska (Humboldt or Pawnee City).

By the time we got to St. Joseph, it was raining. At times raining hard. Once out of St. Joseph and across the river into Kansas, we saw a bit of a rainbow. The good news is that a rainbow is a hopeful sign? The bad news is that in practical terms, you only get rainbows with rain, which means clouds.

We stopped in Hiawatha, Kansas to look at the maps and search for guidance. It basically looked bad and/or worse with a wide line of storms and clouds stretching from Tulsa to Minneapolis. Our only hope was to try to get to the far side of it to the west. We had about three hours before totality and decided to go for it, heading toward Beatrice, Nebraska.

A few miles shy of Beatrice, it was looking worse ahead of us, but maybe clearing just a touch behind us. We looked for a way to head south and ended up between Beatrice and Filley, Nebraska. With time running short, only a bit over an hour to totality, we made our stand.

Note the video cameras on the liftgate and on the luggage rack, as well as the two cameras on tripods. This was about thirty minutes before totality and we could all clearly see the partial phases. Everyone had our eclipse glasses and it was just amazing to see the moon moving across in front of the sun. Astonishing.

And in the last five minutes, the clouds got thicker again.


We got lucky in that the clouds stayed thin enough to see all of totality. We couldn’t see all of the corona and there was no way to see any other stars or planets, which we would expect to see easily with a clear sky.

But we all did see totality, the full 2:38.4. We ended up less than a mile off of the center line.

How lucky were we? Less than ten minutes after totality ended, the sun was totally obscured. We saw almost nothing of the partial phases following totality.

Some days it’s better to be lucky than good. Today we were both.

How is totality? Almost beyond description. It truly is an astonishing, bizarre, beautiful, and moving experience.

I was wearing a head-mounted GoPro – it will be interesting to see how much actual squeeing and burbling I did.

A quick glance at the photos on the cameras shows that, while there aren’t THOUSANDS of pictures that will just awe and amaze you, there are probably one or two that don’t completely suck.

I’ll get back to you when I get home and have a bit of time to process, both my thoughts and my photos.

Final thought – if you EVER have an opportunity to see a total solar eclipse live and in person, TAKE IT! Find a way to make it happen, accept no excuses.




Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Travel, Weather