My Letter From Hogwarts

Or at least, its equivalent.

IT’S FROM KENNEDY SPACE CENTER!!! TO **ME**!!!

It MUST be the letter telling me that I’ve been picked to be an astronaut, RIGHT??!!

Or maybe they’ve heard about how I want to go to Mars and they want me to join NASA and head up that project, RIGHT??!!

It’s too thin and flat to actually be the keys to my very own space shuttle – but, hey, they probably don’t use keys, they probably use a credit card like ID thingie, and that will fit in here so that MUST be it, RIGHT??!!

Oh…

It’s those masks that I ordered from the KSC gift shop.

Oh…

Sniffle…

Deep, shuddering breath…

A single tear…

Well, they’re very nice NASA face masks. I’m sure they’re exactly like the ones the astronauts wear…

 

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Filed under Farce, Space

Unanchored

Sunday nights seem to be the worst.

The whole world’s going crazy and it’s getting harder to hold on to a sense of balance. So much going on at home, trying to just hold on to a sense of normalcy in our own bubble. So much to do at work, trying to carry my weight and help where I can for those who need it. So much to do at the hangar as we’re shut down but still trying to survive. So much to going on across our country as actual forces of evil are trying to divide and destroy us from within.

Am I doing enough? Or am I doing too much and will I recognize the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Or does that whole “you’re stronger than you know” thing still apply and I need to buck up, get my ass in gear, and do even more?

Overlying all is a growing anxiety and fear over the COVID-19 virus. We’re still healthy, but know folks who aren’t, and have seen just how bad it can be.

Where’s the center in all of this? Where’s the balance point? Or is there one, or is it constantly shifting and moving?

There’s a little bit of relief on the weekend as we can force ourselves to make time to relax, to watch a ballgame or movie. But even there I feel a constant dread, a guilt, a pressure that time is being wasted when I watch that game or show. Which I know is wrong, but which in turn just feeds into the cycle of angst.

Baseball is back, which is good – but I can’t help but feel that the other shoe is going to drop any day, with a whole COVID outbreak that could devastate a team, teams, or the league. Hockey and basketball return this weekend, and pro football is less than six weeks away. Who even knows if we’ll get college sports in the fall.

So much uncertainty, so much stress, so much impending doom. But tomorrow we’ll tackle it all again and do our best. Mainly because we really don’t have any choice. As the saying goes, “The only way out is through.”

But Sunday nights seem to be the worst.

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Filed under CoronaVirus, Deep Thoughts, Sports

The Comet From The Back Yard

I think I said two nights ago that I was probably done trying to take pictures of Comet NEOWISE F3 since it was starting to fade significantly (it still is) and being a low-contrast object that has its light spread out across the tail and comet head, it was difficult to photograph well from my front yard given all of the street lights and lights from the neighbors’ houses (which are still on).

I was wrong.

The key is that the obvious finally clicked for me tonight and I realized that I was still thinking like the comet was way down near the horizon and I had to see it from the front yard just before it set. But it’s now moved way up by the bowl of the Big Dipper, so maybe I could see it from my back yard? Where the house and trees that would have blocked seeing the comet when it was near the horizon now will block the light from all of the streetlights and neighbors’ porches. Maybe?

Yes, indeedy, that works like a charm. With one little non-insurmountable problem.

It’s lovely and all, but it causes its own share of light pollution. Tonight was tolerable but in a week it will be full and freakishly bright, while the comet will continue to fade, so that will become problematic. But a problem for another night.

A 20-second exposure at 70mm shows where it is. It’s definitely dimmer by a lot, but the green color is still evident.

But without the street lights in view, I can go to a 30-second exposure and bring out more detail and color. The stars are no longer pinpoints, “trailing” as the Earth moves. The next step would be to mount the camera on my telescope’s equitorial mount so that it spins the camera “backward” at exactly the same rate as the Earth rotates “forward” – maybe I can try that later.

Zooming in to 300mm, a 4-second exposure keeps the trailing to a minimum and the green color really pops, but you don’t see much of the tail.

Zoomed in part way at 114mm, a 25-second exposure starts to bring out the tail.

Finally, zooming in to 300mm and taking a 30 second exposure, the comet’s head is trailed but really shows it’s green color, while the tail is smeared due to trailing, but has more detail showing.

Finally, because I remembered an old trick used by earlier astronomers when searching for comets and asteroids on photographic plates, I inverted the image from black to white and I enhanced the contrast in Photoshop. Now that tail is really obvious!

Not bad for haven called it quits 48 hours ago!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

The Final Roses

As the comet fades and vanishes from our skies (but remember, with binoculars you should still be able to spot it for a couple of weeks!) so do the roses that grow next to the driveway.

It’s gotten hot and dry in SoCal, and while these get some drip irrigation, they’re not going to be blooming much until it cools off and gets moist on a regular basis.

As always, I rather like these roses, not despite the fact that they’re imperfect and a bit ratty, but because of it.

They are fist-sized chunks of beauty and color in a year that is mountain-sized chunks of dreck.

From bud to bloom to blight in just a couple of weeks, but oh so glorious while they’re here.

And even when they’re gone, their memory lingers and brings enjoyment, while their spiky bushes promise beauty to come in days ahead.

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The Comet Closest

Tonight’s the night that Comet NEOWISE F3 is closest to Earth. This is not to say that it’s actually really close at all (approximately 64,300,000 miles), but it is the closest it will come as it heads back out to the dim, cold, empty regions of the solar system.

But first, before it gets dark, the monthly cycle has rolled around and the three-day-old crescent moon is back in our skies.

As always, the crescent Moon is a high dynamic range object. The illuminated crescent is quite bright, to to capture it you need a short exposure (1/25 second), but doing so makes it hard to see the palm trees that it was sharing that spot of sky with – perhaps if you have a good, high contrast monitor you can see their faint silhouettes.

Shoot a two-second exposure and the darkened face of the moon starts to come out due to Earthshine, sunlight reflected off of the Earth, onto the Moon, and then back to us. You can also start to see the brighter stars, as well as the aforementioned palm tree silhouettes. But the illuminated portion of the Moon is completely overexposed.

Finally, if you wait until about 21:45 and shoot a 15-second exposure, you’ll catch the comet with a distinct green color showing around the head, but not as much tail visible in the hazy, light-polluted skies of Los Angeles.

That’s the big difference in location – you’ll notice in all of the really fantastic comet photos taken from dark sky locations, the sky is almost jet black and a ton of detail can be seen in the tail, including the ion tail which is split off from the dust tail. Here in the big city, a long exposure just starts to turn everything grey.

So while I’ll still be going out and watching the comet, I don’t anticipate too many more photos, if any, unless something dramatic happens. “Dramatic” could include getting my telescope cleaned and repaired, getting the chance to drive for a few hours to get off to a dark sky location, or both.

The odds of either or both happening are…astronomical!

But the comet is still visible easily with binoculars, even from a city with all of its lights, and in a dark sky it’s still (barely) a naked eye object, so if you haven’t seen it yet, take your shot!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Entropy Sucks

Things break.

Cars.

Houses.

Bodies.

It’s been a tough day.

Tomorrow we’ll fight again.

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Filed under Paul

The Comet Continues

I was pretty sure for a while that I wouldn’t be seeing the comet tonight. I’ve at least gone out and looked at it for a few minutes every night for more than a week now, but near sunset it was looking marginal.

Pretty – I like clouds and sunsets – but marginal for comet watching.

It’s okay if I didn’t see the comet again tonight. Sometimes we can all use a night apart.

With the comet getting higher in the sky by 3° or more per day, I knew that it would be up for a longer time after full dark every night, so missing it tonight wouldn’t be the end of the world by any means.

I was ready to write it off, not even bother to look later when it got dark.

Yeah. RIGHT!

By 22:00 it was completely dark, almost two hours after sunset, and the skies were again totally cloudless. The comet was even higher than it had been when I was taking pictures at 21:00 to 21:20 the other night. It’s nice and high, actually above that big pine tree across the street and above those power lines. It’s still remarkably easy to see, given that comets normally fade fairly quickly. This one is hanging on.

It’s barely visible to the naked eye still here in the light-polluted Los Angeles metro area, but still an easy target with the binoculars. It took me a minute or two, but only because I didn’t realize how high it was now. I was scanning the horizon given the hour, but it was up above those wires!

If you’ve got binoculars of any kind, don’t give up if you haven’t seen it yet or it’s been cloudy. You’ve probably got at least a week more, maybe two.

Happy Hunting!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Apollo Again

It’s the 51st anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and while it’s not one of those big, fancy, “ends in a zero!” anniversaries, it’s still a great opportunity to re-live the experience. A reminder to all that the ApolloInRealTime.org site is available any time you want to listen to a number of the Apollo missions. It’s truly an incredible site, with not just *ALL* of the audio but tons of video, pictures, and other materials all synced to the mission time line. In addition, it’s not just the ground to space audio, but there are multiple side tracks from the different flight controllers all talking to one another.

At the moment one of the listening options is to have it playing in “real time” as it did in 1969, but you can listen to any part, any time.

So that’s pretty spectacular, there’s a comet that’s still up there and very visible for the next couple of weeks (and then visible in binoculars and small telescopes for another couple of months), and there are folks doing almost unbelievable feats in space every day.

SpaceX did another satellite launch, and stuck the landing on the booster on their drone ship out in the middle of the Atlantic, and for the first time caught both payload fairing halves for re-use. (They’ve successfully recovered both fairing halves on several flights, fishing them out of the ocean and then getting them refurbished for re-flight and re-use.) That’s the 57th successful landing of a first stage booster by SpaceX, something I remember first hearing about maybe seven or eight years ago and initially believing to be utterly ridiculous to even try, let alone succeed at.

Astonishing wonders 51 years ago – astonishing wonders today.

Let’s not forget, but let’s also keep pressing on.

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No Context For You – July 19th

It’s Sunday night.

The weekend was…not sufficient. Disappointing.

Last week was…difficult. Frustrating.

The upcoming week will be…unknown. Anticipation.

The good news is that we all have tremendous potential to make wonderful things of tomorrow, this week, this remainder of this month, the remainder of this year, the remainder of our lives. If we have the strength.

The bad news is that we may be facing tremendous forces opposed to us, both intentionally and otherwise, and the race may never have an end or even a chance to catch our breath. Our strength will be sorely tested.

I was thinking this week of Grant Imahara. And Jim Henson. And Stan Rogers. And listening to “Hamilton” brought all of those thoughts together. “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”

Indeed.

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Filed under Art, Deep Thoughts, Photography

ME-108 Panel

Ever wanted to see the panel on a Messerschmitt 108? Today’s your lucky day!

Enough normal to be flyable (airspeed, altitude, compass, turn & bank, oil pressure, fuel, radios, landing gear, etc…) and enough different to know you’re not in a Cessna.

But the really weird thing(s) that I’ve never, EVER seen in an aircraft panel? Want to take a gander and see if you can spot them?

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If I had a list of things that were the least likely things that I expected to see today, this probably would have been pretty high up on the list.

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Filed under CAF, Photography