April 28th, 2013
About one year ago I started archery and nearly every single day since I’ve been loosing arrows. Its become part of my life. Today was the first time I’ve scored a 25, that is, all five arrows in the center. In this case that’s all five arrows in the yellow circle(s). You’ll note in the picture that one arrow is on the line, that counts as a yellow! I was shooting outdoors exactly 20 yards from the target with a light wind.
There are many ways to score shooting. For me I print and use FITA style indoor 20 yard targets but score my rounds like I’m using a NFAA target. The NFAA and FITA circles are the same diameter, the NFAA scoring is easier to keep track of. Charles Archery blog has a nice write up on terminology and scoring if you really want to know more.
For the past few months I’ve been shooting the Hoyt Buffalo take down recurve bow you see in the picture. Its a 60 inch bow rated at 50 lbs made in 2011 that I bought used through an online archery forum. It took me awhile to get used to the heavier weight of a metal riser verses the traditional wood bows I started with. But the additional mass has helped my accuracy, it dampens the vibrations when you release the string. Speaking of strings, the previous owner put a Silent But Deadly (SBD) string on the bow and I really like this high performance well made string. Recommended.
April 1st, 2013
Its been almost three weeks since Comet PanSTARRS popped into the night sky for us and sadly I’ve hardly seen it. Life and weather have gotten in the way. Also the comets in a poor spot, setting before its really dark and low in the sky. I was lucky to get out a few times. On Tuesday, March 12th, Phil and I caught our first glimpse of the comet from the Flint Hills. Here it is setting in the evening sky, right next to a slender moon:
The comet and moon are only a few degrees above the horizon at that time. An hour later it was truly dark and the zodiacal light was a bright cone in this exact location. The next night I went to the AAL public observing of comet PanSTARRS in Lawrence. A number of people came out as you can see in the next picture:
Ironically I got a better view of the comet from the KU campus then I did from the previous nights trip. The sky was just a bit clearer.
There is one big difference between the two nights: I didn’t get that wonderful dark sky full of stars like I did the first night. The trip was worth that alone and I wish the people that came out in Lawrence had gotten a chance to see that.
February 19th, 2013
2012 da14 Asteroid Observing Expedition from J.D.Strikis on Vimeo.
an excursion, journey, or voyage made for some specific purpose, such as discovery or exploration.
I so like this short video, kudos to the producer. Over the years I’ve taken many pictures of my own expeditions and found still shots rarely capture the essence of the experience. It takes video and a soundtrack to express it. But what the hell is going on in this video?!
We start indoors with a telescope, then someone that appears anxious, someone is working at a computer and a telescope mount is seen slewing. This is the planning stage, perhaps the final test and preparation stage before leaving. In this case the expedition will attempt to photograph asteroid 2012 DA14 as it flies close by Earth. They will only get one shot at this. It appears they have developed a custom program to move the telescope mount to follow the asteroids path. A challenging task as mounts are not made to do this, hard to simulate this motion ahead of time.
We cut to the waxing moon and all the activity taking place in the field. Equipment is setup and aligned, tested, checked again and shared with others around. If something breaks or fails to work as planned you hope spare parts or a friend can help. Otherwise your mission will fail. I’ll note there is a whole bunch of white light around, there would be howls of protest from the star party light Nazi’s I’ve known.
Around the two minute mark we see the fruits of their labor, it appears they were able to image the asteroid and track it reasonably well. Seventeen seconds later in the video they are packing up to head home. I’m going to bet they were a happy bunch!
All this is speculation on my part, I don’t know this group of astronomy enthusiasts. But I do know what its like to plan a trip, chart my target, fret over the weather and finally be under the night sky to implement my plan. Successfully completing a quest is exhilarating.
February 1st, 2013
Is this year going to be like the late 1990′s where we have several wonderful comets? Sadly I don’t think so. Recent news articles have mentioned approaching comets and how visible they might be. That this could be the year of the comets. Thats to be expected for regular news stories but I cringe reading them. Its just too early to tell for sure. One thing I am certain of, one must get away from city lights to appreciate a comet, any comet.
You might not know theres always comets floating around the night sky. Most of the time you need a telescope to see them and even then they aren’t very impressive to the eye. They might appear as a small fuzz ball. So the chance a new comet will arrive visible for all to see makes a good news story. The first comet like that this year is C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS. Astronomers believe this ball of ice and rock is making its first visit to the sun. Right now it’s headed towards the sun and will circle it around the 10th of March.
First time comets are notorious underperformers, remember Kohoutek? PANSTARRS is already not following the earliest brightness predictions so its now very unlikely to be a spectacular sight. For those of us in mid northern latitudes the comets closest and brightest time will be in mid to late March. The comet will be low in the west, setting below the horizon before the sky is completely dark. There is a chance that it could develop a large dust tail like Comet McNaught did for southern observers. That would be exciting and very noticeable. We’ll soon find out.
Second major comet of 2013, Comet C/2012 S1 ISON is coming at the end of the year. This comet comes from the Oort cloud and has a real chance of being something exciting. While its still a long ways away its very interesting because it seems to be similar to the Great Comet of 1680. We’ve got many months to go to find out, it will round the sun at the end of November 2013 and if it survives we’ll see it in December 2013. Can’t wait!
December 15th, 2012
The Geminid meteor shower peaked on December 13th and for the first time in years I got a chance to see it. Wednesday night the 12th of December started clear but rapidly clouded over. Not forecast and unexpected. Jeff and I laid out back at my place and saw a bunch of meteors despite the clouds, including several fireballs.
The next night, the 13th of December I traveled out to and watched from the Flint Hills. For December you couldn’t ask for better weather, about 40F all night with light south winds. It started out crystal clear but thin clouds did move over the area around midnight. The show was still fantastic. Its the best meteor shower I’ve seen in many years,
Photo below is a composition of the night including the approaching clouds. This is made from many exposures taken through out the night. The constellation Gemini is lightly outlined and over two dozen Geminid meteors are visible (click for bigger version).
I didn’t start counting meteors until 9:00pm but prior to that Phil and Thomas were seeing many meteors. The count I recorded is below:
||21:00 – 21:30
||21:50 – 22:20
||22:50 – 23:20
||23:35 – 00:05
||00:30 – 01:00
||01:32 – 02:02
||02:31 – 03:02
Thats 201 Geminids in 3 1/2 hours effective observing time. Going to be hard to top this shower for awhile.
November 13th, 2012
Late Friday night my friend Jeff stopped by the house to observe the night sky. It was a nice clear night, reasonably warm but annoyingly windy. As we gazed upward from the shelter of my observatory we saw a number of Northern Taurid meteors.
I don’t normally go out of my way to watch minor meteor showers. Perhaps I should rethink that for I was pleasantly surprised this night. I was not expecting many with my sky conditions and a partially obstructed view. Over the one and a half hours effective observing time I saw 8 Taurids, including a very bright one that popped. The Northern Taurid meteor shower was forecast to peak this weekend, it must be having a good year.
September 22nd, 2012
The Okie-Tex star party ran from September 8th through the 15th this year. For the thirteenth time I traveled out to western Oklahoma and got a pretty good dose of dark skies. It started out great, the first few nights were clear. But, in my opinion the timing was not the best, the moon was last quarter on that first Saturday (8th). I’d much rather give up some dark sky at sunset, with the moon at or before first quarter, then lose the midnight to dawn dark period. The early moon rise on Saturday and Sunday night was particularly unfortunate as these turned out to be some of the clearest nights.
Speaking of the weather, it was all over the place. Hot the first few days and unexpectedly cool a few of the last nights. My Kestrel recorded the following:
The high temperature readings are suspect, sometimes I left the meter in a sunny area or my tent. Overall you can see a declining temperature trend throughout the week. The 37 degrees reached Saturday morning was unexpectedly cold. Much cooler than had been forecast the previous week.
Like last year the Black Mesa area has been in a drought and I’m sure the locals were happy with the inch of rain we got Wednesday night. That night marked the change from hot and windy days to cooler nights. This was good. The dusty conditions the first weekend seemed worse then I can ever remember.
Despite my grumbling about the moon wiping out the dark sky the first few nights it did present an interesting opportunity. Sunday night, about 2:00am Monday morning, John and I grabbed a few shots of the camp illuminated by the moon. This was well past the end of true darkness yet the Milky Way was still very distinct. Below is the best image I got showing the northern half of the eastern observing field (click for bigger image).
Even to the eye the field was well lit at this time. Most people were shutting down (except of course Greg and John over in the western field!). Wish I had tried to shoot this picture an hour earlier. I wanted a better balance of light, enough to illuminate the mesa but not enough to wash out the stars. Interesting that even with strong moon light the camera picked up air glow (faint greenish color along top of mesa).
Overall the star party was pretty good. Its always fantastic to see fellow star gazers, especially those I see just once a year. As usual the night sky here tantalizes me, that it can be even better. Over the years I’ve seen several fantastically clear nights at the star party. That next year the skies could be perfect all night long, for days in a row, keeps me looking forward to the next Okie-Tex star party.