Venus & Saturn

If you have a clear Western horizon and no clouds one of the next couple of nights, take a look about 45 minutes to an hour after sunset.

(Photo by Steven Willett)

In Texas tonight, they had a more colorful sunset than we did, but up at the top center you’ll see two objects. The bright one at the bottom is Venus. Just above it, dimmer, is Saturn.


From Los Angeles’ west San Fernando Valley, there was a much more blase sunset, but the planets were no less bright, even on a cell phone.

With the good camera (Canon DSLR) and a telephoto lens you can start to see the bright white color of Venus, as well as the softer, more yellow color of Saturn. If you have a small telescope or even a decent pair of binoculars, the rings of Saturn can start to be seen.


These two have been getting closer for weeks. Venus is rising into the sunset sky, it’s apparent motion taking it away from the sun, while Saturn’s apparent motion will be taking it behind the sun from our viewpoint, so it’s sinking quickly into the evening twilight. In about two weeks it will be almost impossible to see, being too close to the sun to be seen after sunset.

Tomorrow night, just after sunset on the North American East Coast on Sunday, January 22nd, will be the closest they’ll appear to each other, both easily visible in a telescope or binocular field of view. But you’ll still see them near each other on Monday, or Tuesday, or the next several days. Just a little bit further apart every day.

But, like I remind you with all of these events, no matter what the mainstream media would like to tell you about, “***TONIGHT***, there’s this ***AMAZING*** THING going on!” it’s not just tonight. Or tomorrow. So if it’s cloudy this weekend for you, but nice on Monday or Tuesday, go look anyway. Be a rebel!

And while you’re out there and you’ve seen bright, white Venus and dimmer, yellow-ish Saturn on the Western horizon after sunset, look up, near the zenith.

That really bright object almost directly overhead? That’s Jupiter. And if you have binoculars or a telescope, the Galilean moons are easily visible.

If you stay up a little past sunset, out in the east where you see Orion (one of the easier constellations to find), look just to the west of Orion and you’ll see the Pleiades cluster (lovely!) and between it and Orion you’ll see a bright-ish red object. That’s Mars.

If you have a telescope that’s just a little bit bigger than a beginner’s model, about halfway between Mars and Jupiter you might see Uranus, a blue-green object. But you will need that telescope.

If you have a decent telescope, probably 8″ or bigger, look just to the west of Jupiter to find Neptune, which will be a deep blue color.

But remember, even if you don’t have a telescope or binoculars, even if all you have is your Standard Issue Mark I Eyeball, you can see Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and of course, that fourth planet that’s easily visible in this picture.

Earth. Third rock from the Sun. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.

Enjoy your sightseeing!


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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space, Sunsets


We haven’t seen this for a while.

That’s a LOT of blue, so many shades, such an astonishing gradient from horizon to zenith.

And it was so warm today in the sun (pushing 60ยบ after days of only being in the mid 40’s).



Filed under Weather

Random Old Photos – January 19th

For giggles, today I set the Way-Back Machine to before I had the good Canon DSLRs. (Which are something like 13 years old themselves, which in “electronics-years” makes them about a gazillion years old.) From just under twenty years ago, I stumbled across some pictures of the Lucky Puppy, of whom I have surprisingly few photos.

It’s only a 640×480 pixel format, so it’s really old and small even by the standards of even the cheapest cell phones and cameras today. The EXIF information says it’s from a Sony DCR-TRV350 camera – a what?

Jeez Louise! Yes, I had one of these, and I’m sure it’s still around here somewhere, but that means that these are screen grabs from a Digital8 video! Even more amazing, you can buy refurbished models of these, which I might need to do if I can’t find the camera one day. I know where the tapes are, but if I want to digitize them I’ll need something to play them back on.

Twenty years. Damn!

As for the Lucky Puppy, she was one of the best dogs, a reminder that we don’t deserve dogs. She, like Jessie, was always a good girl. (Except, of course, when she wasn’t.)

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Filed under Dogs, Photography

Sunset – January 18th

There are views of the sunset to the west (where else would it be?) that don’t involve the neighbors’ houses across the street, a dozen power wires, a street light, and that stand of really tall palm trees.

You just have to walk down the hill a couple hundred yards and the west side of the road drops off toward the road below it and the view opens up.

Today was a good day to remember that. I had a suspicion about a half hour before sunset that it might be a good one – I was right!

After weeks of rain (which, again, we needed pretty badly, but right now we need a chance to dry out just a bit) and some very blah sunsets, tonight was nice.

Castle Peak off on the right hand side, looking off toward Agoura, Westlake Village, Camarillo, Oxnard, Ventura, and the Pacific Ocean.

The view doesn’t suck.

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Filed under Photography, Sunsets

And The Flip Side Of That Is…

Yesterday I talked about “once in a lifetime experiences” and how I thought that some things that are fun and exciting (my example was hot air ballooning) shouldn’t necessarily be done just once. I thought that perhaps we should re-examine things we’ve done in the past as a “life list” thing (or “bucket list” to some) and maybe go do some of the really good ones again.

First thing this morning, serendipity reared its ugly head and I saw the flip side of that argument.

Twenty-nine years ago today, at 4:31 AM on the morning of of January 17, 1994, the Northridge earthquake ripped through the San Fernando Valley and beyond at a magnitude 6.7. There were 57 fatalities (72 if you count the heart attacks) and over $25B in damages. Our house was 5.88 miles from the epicenter. We got rocked pretty good, had shelves & things knocked over, were without power and water for a few days, but otherwise came through it okay.

(Image: Google Earth)

It was, I most sincerely hope, a “once in a lifetime” experience. I know, living in SoCal, that there could be one as bad or worse at any second, and there have been dozens and dozens of noticable but much smaller earthquakes that I’ve felt here, but the odds say that’s probably as bad as it gets.


So “once in a lifetime” experience has a flip side. Ask anyone who’s had their life scrambled for a couple of days to a couple of years (or more) by a hurricane, tornado, brush fire, flood, earthquake, landslide, or any of a dozen other life-changing forces of nature that can just jump up and slap you at any time.

Hot air ballooning, trip to Asia, solar eclipses (thanks to Jemima Pett for that suggestion!), flying in a B-25 – all GREAT things that I’ve gotten to do once and can’t wait to try again!

Major earthquakes or other natural disasters? Thanks, once is enough.

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Filed under Disasters, Paul

Not A Once-In-A-Lifetime Experience – January 16th

We all have heard or sometimes talk about getting to do something that’s a “once in a lifetime” (OIAL) experience. Some folks refer to these kind of things as “bucket list” items, although I prefer the term “life list.”

While there are some things that might be OIAL experiences for you, they might be everyday experiences for others. Getting to meet a favorite ballplayer or stand at home plate at Yankee Stadium might be your OIAL experience – but for someone on the training staff or grounds crew, it’s a job. Times change as well. To our grandparents, getting on a plane and going across country or to Europe or Asia might be a OIAL experience. To us, it’s just another vacation or business trip.

What got me thinking about this was a picture that popped up on a screen saver that loops through favorite photos. I got to wondering, where’s the proper middle ground for something that you consider special, exciting, a OIAL experience on the one hand, and something routine on the other? In other words, if a “life list” item is really great, why do you only do it once?

This isn’t to say that you have to do it daily or annually or whatever. But more than once would be good if it was really fun and exciting, right?

We need a name for “really cool, unique, rare, unusual, but more than ONCE in a lifetime, I really need to go do that again!” experiences. “RCURUBMTOIALIRNTGDTA!” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, I’ll have to work on that.

Meanwhile, the picture that inspired this train of thought?

March, 2010. Temecula, CA. Hot air ballooning. So much fun, so exciting.



Filed under Flying, Photography

Echoes Of Christmas

With our lights down as of last weekend, I’m simultaneously both a bit jealous of the couple of houses down the block which still have theirs up, and grateful for them since it gives me something brilliant and bright to look at.

Later, I noticed that, even from the back yard, there were still reflections of our Christmas tree visible in the back yard, via the china cabinet.

It’s there if you look for it.


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Filed under Christmas Lights, Photography

No Context For You – January 14th

There’s probably only one person who might read this who would recognize it, so for you there’s context. Sort of.

For everyone else, you get to wonder how little sleep I’ve had recently and how many times a night I’ve been getting woken up with leg cramps. Or maybe it just shows.

Getting old is not for the meek.

And the thought for the day, thanks to Dr. Julie Gurner (@drgurner) on Twitter:

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Filed under Uncategorized

NASA Engineering Humor

Late. Tired. Keep It Short, Stupid!

I may have posted this at the time (I can’t imagine that I would have passed up the opportunity) but I don’t see where, so let’s go with it.

From back when I could go to NASA Socials, i.e. 2015, here’s a picture of an unpowered drone that would carry instruments and be pulled behind an aircraft at the end of a long rope or cable.


…it’s a toad drone.

I’ll be here all weekend. Tip your waitress!


Filed under Photography, Silly Shit

Is It February Yet?

There are a lot of things in my life that all collide in January. It’s a busy time.

So far I’m keeping my head above water, but there are days when I start to see just how close it’s going to be on a project or deadline or another…

As Crash taught us, “Don’t think. You can only hurt the ball club.”

When in doubt, post a picture of a dog or cat.

Jessie was the best girl. Except, of course, when she was being a total brat and getting into a ton of trouble…

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Filed under Dogs, Photography